In Beyond the Bake Sale: Fundraising for Local History Organizations, fundraising expert Jamie Simek has written a practical and thorough guide designed to help small cultural heritage organizations improve their strategies for raising money. Drawing from her experience at organizations like the Indiana Historical Society, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, and the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, Simek has written a valuable read for local museums ready to take the next step in improving their fundraising strategies.
In the digital age, one key to successful fundraising is, of course, an effective online giving platform. In prior years, fundraising happened primarily through the mail. As recently as 2010 Simek notes, half of all donations were still sent through the mail; by 2018, that number had gone down to 23%. (Today, it is even less.) A variety of online platforms have taken the place of snail mail, including not only traditional websites but also donations via social media and SMS texts.
Simek’s advice for building an effective online donation platform can be broken into three broad categories: (1) Make your donation page appealing and user-friendly, (2) Choose the right software for processing donations, and (3) Review donation data to assess and improve fundraising strategies.
Sounds straightforward, enough, right?
The challenge, Simek writes, is this:
While there are many options for online donation platforms…researching the best solution for your organization may take some time. The many available choices can seem a bit overwhelming.
It’s true—just like with other products, the wide variety of options available can be both a blessing and a curse. Out of all the options out there, one will wonder, which has the features we need? Which is the right cost? Which can we get up and running fairly quickly? Which will have the optimal compatibility with our existing systems?
Speaking of compatibility, this question raises another challenge: how many different applications, software packages, and subscriptions do we already have, and how excited are we about adding yet another? Perhaps we use one service for mailing lists, another for online ticket sales, another for overseeing collection management systems, another for tracking membership records, and another for who-knows-what. Keeping all these records straight can be time-consuming, and without the ability to seamlessly integrate them, helpful insights that could come from effective data analysis will be lost.
An Integrated WordPress Solution to Fundraising Needs
The good news is that for many organizations, the best online donation platform may be already available—and hiding right under their noses.
For years WordPress has been the go-to platform for website development. Since 2012, it has grown from 15.8% of all content management systems to 43.1% in 2023. Data collected in 2019 showed that out of the 143 museums most-visited in the U.S., about 32% were using WordPress.
One of WordPress’s best features, its plugins, have radically expanded its capabilities. One of its most popular plugins, WooCommerce, has grown to become the most widely-used e-commerce platform in the world.
What fewer people know is that, out of the tens of thousands of plugins WordPress offers, a small handful of fantastic new plugins can streamline an organization’s donor, membership, sales, CRM, email campaign, and data evaluation needs.
Let’s take a look at just two: FluentCRM and GiveWP.
Released in 2020, FluentCRM is a self-hosted email marketing automation plugin for WordPress. It can help create detailed databases of users that can be used to send email campaigns (as a potential replacement for MailChimp, Constant Contact, etc.) and integrates this database with other plugins like WooCommerce, MemberPress, and LearnDash that handle online ticketing, membership, donations, and learning management systems. It also provides detailed statistics to help organizations assess and improve their marketing strategies.
Here are some ways FluentCRM can help organizations improve their fundraising strategies:
Email Campaign Management
If effective fundraising requires making sure the right people get the right message at the right time, an email blast to everyone on a mailing list will be limited in its effectiveness. But the more customizable email campaigns are, the better. Because of its integration capabilities, FluentCRM can easily allow the creation of precise and customized emails based on online purchases, member and donor traits, prior responsiveness to email campaigns, and more. Automated emails can be set to trigger when particular conditions are met. For instance, the submission of a form could trigger the following sequence:
Email automation can also be associated with WooCommerce purchases:
If this is what FluentCRM can do with WooCommerce, imagine what it can do with a membership platform like MemberPress or a donor platform like GiveWP. When a user signs up for a museum’s membership, makes a donation, responds to a survey, purchases something from an online store, or registers for a webinar, a complete pre-written marketing campaign can automatically activate.
Data Management & Reports
Next, having implemented a donation strategy, it’s time to assess the results. In Beyond the Bake Sale, Jamie Simek describes how important this is:
Track Your Results: Put plans in code to track appeal responses in your database. More data can equal better strategy. Ideally, you’d like to be able to take into account factors such as how many years a person has given (longevity), the number of gifts given in a year (frequency), the dollar value (amount), as well as when the last gift was given (recency). By tracking this information, you can start identifying patterns, including total giving and average gift ranges.
While this kind of information can provide crucial insights, “your data will only be as good as the records you keep.” Tracking data and integrating data from various sources are both keys to good record-keeping.
Simek recommends taking the following six steps for evaluating data effectively. This list is helpful in evaluating an online CRM/donor platform, as we may ask, “Can it help us to take each of these steps as effectively and seamlessly as possible?”
- ID Primary Users – Who are our members, supporters, visitors, etc.? What do we know about them that will help us develop the best strategies?
- Determine What You Need to Know – What does success look like, and what data should be collected to assess the degree of its attainment?
- Identify Useful Indicators – What specific and measurable results will indicate success?
- Collect, Document, and Manage – How will we capture the data we need, and do we have an effective system in place for storing and managing it?
- Analyze the Data – What quantitative and qualitative conclusions can we draw from our data?
- Share Your Findings – Once our data has been analyzed, how can we take the most important parts and summarize them effectively?
- Reflect, Learn, and Adjust – Did we capture the right data, was it useful, and how can we improve our strategy going forward?
That FluentCRM is a great example of an effective CRM/donor platform may be seen in the way it meets these needs. First, its capabilities help clarify what can be measured, thus helping to determine what should be measured. Second, its integrated user information provides instant insights into a user’s purchase, membership, donation, and email open rate and click-through patterns, allowing key users to be identified. Finally, its reports and analytics provide the ability to assess what to do with the data that has been collected and to export it through graphs and charts for intelligible circulation.
Connecting to a High-Quality Donation Plugin – GiveWP
FluentCRM has built-in integration capabilities with dozens of plugins, and plugins like WPFusion or Uncanny Automator allow it to integrate with many others.
GiveWP is a top online donation plugin widely used by nonprofits. Like FluentCRM (and especially when combined with FluentCRM), it provides the tools organizations need for effective fundraising that we saw in Beyond the Bake Sale:
- Attractive and user-friendly donation pages are easy to configure and feature customizable forms. Users can make one-time or recurring donations. Peer-to-Peer and Text-to-Give options are available.
- Data and reports are easy to access. GiveWP provides overview of individual donors, summaries of fundraising campaigns, data about donation trends over time, and more. Data can be published in graphs and charts or exported as CSV files. When integrated with FluentCRM, all of this information can be combined with data from other sources like WooCommerce or MemberPress.
The Beauty of Online Giving
At the end of the day, what matters most for any museum is that it has the tools it needs to accomplish its mission. As we have seen, WordPress is revolutionizing online giving by providing organizations with unique CRM and fundraising tools which, if configured effectively, will save time and money while also providing key insights into member and visitor habits and needs.
Jamie Simek closes Beyond the Bake Sale with the following encouragement, reminding us why we do what we do:
Most of us do this work because we love local history, and we want to protect and share it with others. The efforts we make today will ensure that history is still available for future generations. The work we do is important and worthy of support.
Thanks to WordPress, the tools we need to gather that support are here—and they are better than ever.