This post was co-written by Ashley Patterson, External Relations Assistant.

WITNESS' in-office Project:FOCUS donation trackerThanks to incredible response from our supporters, WITNESS’ spring fundraising challenge has reached and exceeded our goal! To date, Project: FOCUS has raised $73,948 (that’s 106% of the $70,000 goal) and checks are still coming in. Because we met our goal, the generous WITNESS supporter who made our spring challenge possible, donated an additional $5,000 to match donations through June 14th (our original deadline was June 3rd).

As we start to wrap up this year’s campaign, we wanted to share our experience thinking through a few other factors that are critical in developing any fundraising push.

What is the Ideal Length for an Online Fundraiser?

One of our concerns this year was how long the fundraising campaign could/should last? In 2008, when we first launched our annual spring challenge, it was generally accepted that six weeks was the right length of time. Today, with nonprofit fundraising professionals increasingly incorporating outreach via Facebook, Twitter and personal fundraising sites into their overall strategies, six weeks felt too long. The digital world just doesn’t have that kind of attention span and we risked losing any sense of urgency. On the other hand, two weeks would be too short to reach our entire community.

After a few helpful conversations with experts from the digital world, we decided on a four-week campaign with a unique push associated with each week.

Keeping it Fresh: Outreach Ideas for Online Fundraising

The following are different ways we highlighted our campaign from week to week. These vehicles not only served to keep the momentum of donations moving but they also built awareness, engaged our community, and introduced us to new supporters.

  • Traditional communications and appeals
    • Via email and hard-copy to donors and newsletter subscribers
  • Awareness-raising on partners’ websites
    • Our co-founder, Peter Gabriel, ran an announcement on his website
    • featured Project: FOCUS as the “Deed of the Day
  • Awarness-raising on our own websites
    • We rebranded our website, our YouTube channel, our Facebook page and our Twitter homepage to call attention to Project:FOCUS (On Facebook, we also utilized the events section and updates)
    • We wrote a series of blog posts (here’s the first, and second in the series)
  • Incentives for our online donors
    • Any donation from May 11th – June 3rd was entered to win one of two “Scratch My Back” CDs signed by Peter Gabriel
    • Any donation of $50 or more from May 23rd – June 3rd was entered to win a three-day/two-night stay in a Deluxe Ocean Front Suite at The Cove Atlantis
  • An in-person event in New York City
    • This was a great opportunity for us to connect with our supporters on a personal level (Check out pictures from the night here)
  • A personal challenge from our Executive Director, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm

We had other outreach ideas that we didn’t pursue this year but would like to revisit in the future. For instance, we considered using digital posters in spots around New York City that contained a QR code linking to our teaser video. Since we didn’t set up an easy way for mobile users to donate, we made the decision not to use a QR code in this year’s campaign. However, it is a great tool for building awareness and with the expansion in mobile advertising it’s a good option to keep in mind when launching a campaign.

Choosing an Online Donation Platform

Democracy in Action, which hosts our website donation page, has a peer-to-peer fundraising functionality that we have used in the past with mixed success. It requires a lot of development and maintenance for what we wanted this year. We really enjoyed using Crowdrise for our fundraising push during the 2010 ING NYC Marathon, so we thought of using the platform for Project: FOCUS as well. One of the main goals of Crowdrise is to make personal fundraising easy and enjoyable, which is exactly what we were looking for. However, before deciding on Crowdrise, we explored a wide range of other available platforms that we found useful for varying degrees of peer-to-peer fundraising needs.


Do you have ideas for how to make an online fundraising campaign successful? What motivates you to give? Do you think our project video was effective? We’d love to hear your comments!

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