Friends groups Web pages typically highlight park needs, engage the public in giving to parks and programs and accept donations to benefit park projects and programs online. Online fundraising efforts on behalf of the park by a friends group must be in accordance with the appropriate fundraising agreements outlined in Director's Order #21, Section 8.1.
It's highly recommended that fundraising agreements address links and material to be posted on NPS Web sites. Links from NPS Web sites to non-NPS managed Web sites will trigger a WASO-IT produced disclaimer intercept, unless the partner's Web site has been approved by the NPS under a formal agreement, as described in Director's Order #70, Section 6.7.
Friends groups Web pages may recognize donors on their Web sites by including a page that functions as a donor recognition board, where name plates or other markers honoring donors can be added and updated with ease. Friends groups that include a donor recognition board on their Web site should establish a minimum threshold for recognition and duration. The period of recognition should be commensurate with the level of the gift and life cycle of the campaign.
There is a variety of partner Web pages that successfully raise funds online. To ensure effective online fundraising:
Demonstrate need. The Yosemite Fund, Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Washington's National Park Fund and the Yellowstone Park Foundation all provide strong, compelling messages on their home pages. They convey why visitors should support the park by highlighting the need for donor support, identifying park priority projects and costs, and outlining the mission of the organization.
The Yellowstone Park Foundation's How You Can Help page for example, includes "Where Your Contribution Goes" that breaks down funding categories into aid to the park, management and general, and development. The Foundation highlights projects to be funded through fundraising efforts, including public information and education, trails and backcountry cabins as well as three fund initiatives. Additionally, the Washington National Park Fund reported on the Park Flood Damage Fund that was established after the park sustained flood damage in winter 2006. At the bottom of the pitch, donors can donate by clicking on the "make your donation" button on behalf of Park Damage Fund.
Predominately display numerous opportunities to donate. The Yosemite Fund provides numerous opportunities to donate on their home page. Visitors to the site can donate by clicking on their “Donate Now” button which is bolded in large print and prominently displayed in the upper right hand corner below a quote of John Muir. The tool bar includes a “ways to give” link that is displayed on every page. A message for the Campaign for Yosemite Trails is displayed with a support link to the donation page. Visitors can link to a description of the project which also links to the donation page.
Provide donation options. Those who donate to the Golden Gate Parks Conservancy can choose from a number of donation levels beginning at $25 up to $1,000 to help rebuild their Warming Hut after a recent fire or $100 to $10,000 for the Presidio Trails Matching Fund.
The Cuayahoga Valley National Park Association allows donors to sign up for monthly donations for 6 months, 12 months or more. The Yosemite Fund offers three donation options: “Where ever needed most”, “Campaign for Yosemite Trails”, or “Red Peak Pass”. Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway's “Help Us Preserve the Legacy” page allows donors to choose which projects or programs they would like to support, including their volunteer program, Save the Parkway Views, Trails Forever, and Preserve the Hemlocks.
Demonstrate that donation page is secured. Yosemite Fund employs Entango software and Versign Secured System. Both logos are displayed on donation forms so donors can feel confident that their personal information will be protected. A message that donors are on a secured system is included in the upper right hand corner of donation form.
Acknowledge every online contribution immediately, with an email thanking donors for their gift. The email should include all the information needed for their tax records. Emails should be followed up with a thank you note , personal call or letter delivered via regular mail. Contact information such as donor address and phone number should be provided on the donation form. After donors contribute online to the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, they receive an instant reply, “Your partially tax-deductible contribution will help fund exciting projects such as the multi-million dollar “Trails Forever” project to improve access to the Lands End Trail. Thank you for your support!” Cuayahoga Valley National Park Association includes a thank you for your support message on its online donation forms.
An electronic acknowledgement of a donation can serve as required tax documentation for the Internal Revenue Service if the name of the organization, the date of the contribution, and the amount of the contribution are included. (See IRS publication 526, Charitable Contributions, Records to Keep Section, pg. 18)
Keep constituency informed while developing an email list. Visitors to the Yosemite Fund's Web site can sign up for free newsletters and Cuayahoga Valley National Park Association gives donors the option at the end of the donation page to send information on the Association to a friend through a link.
Solicit member feedback. Donors to the Yosemite Fund are asked on their online donation form what inspired their donations, enabling the Fund to pinpoint what form of communication had the most impact among donors, such as direct mailings, the monthly newsletter or quarterly, quarterly journal, emails, the Web site, newspapers, TV, radio, on-line mention, park visit(s), or through an in-park brochure.
Offer on-line vending services. Visitors to the Yosemite Fund's Web site are invited to visit the virtual Yosemite Fund Store through links located in the center of the Web page. Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway offer an extensive selection of merchandise through their Web site's on-line store.
Online Donation Engine Providers A donation engine is software that allows organizations to post a donation link on their Web site. The software collects and processes credit card information. Generally the Application Service Provider (ASP) receives the funds, which are then transmitted to the nonprofit. While it appears that the transaction is occurring on the Web site, it is actually being processed on the ASP's server.
There are numerous ASPs, ranging from free and simple to expensive and sophisticated. Most charge an initial fee and small percentage of each gift. In choosing one of the 40 plus donation engines out there, consider more than just transactions costs. Find out if there is a set up fee, monthly fee, maximum transaction fee, credit card processing fee and if a private merchant account is required.
Your organization may already have the capability to process credit card transactions. If not, you will need to establish a private merchant account before you begin online fundraising. This capability is important for donors who prefer to charge their donation over the phone, in person or through the mail. By being able to process credit card transactions, members can give in monthly payments. One resource that offers merchant account information is http://www.merchantaccountforum.com/.
An ASP should provide a customized giving page with a secure server, have the capability of generating an email acknowledgement, and be able to transfer money to your organization regularly or deposit funds directly into a merchant account. The organization should also be able to access and view all current donation information on the Web.
When considering online donation processing options consider:
- Can the design of the donation page be similar to the site so that donors don't feel they are leaving the site?
- Is the donation process simple?
- Does the donation page offer an opt-in option to be part of a distribution list, email announcements and newsletters?
- How much content control does the organization have on the giving page, acknowledgement screen and email?
- How are funds transferred to the organization and how often?
- Can you choose suggested donation amounts?
- Can you update or change your page?
- What does the donor's credit card statement read?
- Is it possible to import the donor information into your donor database? If so, is it easy to do?
- Will the system automatically send the organization a notice when a donation has been made?
- Are unwanted links on the giving page?
- Does system have memorial, honorary and monthly gift options?
- Can an organization create additional giving pages, and if so, can it do this or does the ASP create them for the organization?
- Is the vendor reputable? Is the vendor charging enough money to stay in business?
Provide a “Donate Now” button for visitors to donate online. Or for those that prefer to call in their donation, provide a contact telephone number on the Web site. Others may be more comfortable mailing in their gift, so it is important to provide a donation form that can be downloaded, printed and mailed with their donations to the address indicated at the bottom of the form.
Many Web site visitors have limited experience in donating online - so it is important to build their confidence in online giving. After receiving a donation, respond immediately with an automated confirmation email, thanking them for their donation and listing the amount of their gift that was received. The confirmation should include everything needed for the donor's tax records. A timely response is critical to building trust in online donors and inspiring additional acts of giving in the future. Follow up with some form of a personal thank you and update donors about how their money is being spent.