Online Revenue

Successfully creating online revenue - seen as both fundraising and also commerce, sales or affiliate activities - will remain a central strategic aim of voluntary and community organisations over the next five years.

Social media and its potential effects are likely to play an increasingly important role and - looking beyond the increasing availability of the tools themselves - we feel organisations that begin to understand and engage their audiences with fundraising calls that speak to the key 'soft' motivational values of social media: attention, influence, identity and social capital, are likely to have the most success.

In tandem, we expect the increasing convergence of social networks, online utilities, location-based services, ubiquitous mobile access, smartphone apps and micro-payment options (paying or donating small amounts) to lead to 'de-centralised fundraising' becoming more prominent. That is, where the primary fundraising activity either happens outside of the organisation's own online or web presence; is highly 'contextualised' to respond directly to the users own interests, preferences and online usage patterns or involves elements of mixed-media and / or real-life interaction (for example, the London Twestival in aid of ChildLine or the Red Cross's online alternative reality game 'Traces of Hope').

In addition to the current paradigm of mainly money and physical goods being offered, we also expect to see growth in new, non-traditional categories of donation, some of which will embody important changes in the sense of what is valuable to your audience. These could include personal surpluses (e.g., time, bandwidth or storage space), remnants of other online services (e.g., unused minutes on mobile phone plans) access (e.g., sharing trusted, personal networks) or virtual goods (e.g.,Facebook virtual gifts) for subsequent exchange, re-trade or conversion back into cash.

Lastly, the range and variety of online commerce opportunities will continue its current growth (e.g., new  services such as MissionFish) and mobile-enabled payment options will become seamless offering a viable monetisation route beyond credit / debit cards and SMS.   

What are the implications?

  • The online 'landscape' will continue to offer significant opportunities for fundraising but it'll be a more nuanced environment in which one-size-fits-all campaigns may simply fail to move your audiences.
  • Failing to engage with your online audience via meeting their motivational needs may increasingly damage their receptiveness to your appeal. Social media is built on constructing viable, two-way relationships first and foremost.
  • Online audiences increasingly seek on-demand, participatory experiences that allow them a sense of ownership and control. This kind of expectation and behaviour may run counter to what you'd normally expect or be comfortable with.
  • A need to better understand the online habits, interests and motivations of your audience.
  • Knowing who your audience is connected to is likely to become as important as what you know about them individually. That is - given the characteristics of social media - each users network is potentially available to you. This is known as the 'social graph' and its through these relationships that your organisations profile, reach and revenue-generating impact can be extended.
  • The types of donations commonly seen as being of value to VCOs may no longer fully reflect the emergent attitudes of your audience - you may only value the amount of money they can give, they may see items such as their 'social graph' as holding greater long-term benefit.
  • The number of digital payment options is likely to increase.

Moving forward

  • Are you actually thinking about the online experience you're asking your audience to go through to help you? Ask how your current fundraising process effects them. Do they like or dislike it? Have you done it yourself? A poor experience will always effect the level of revenue generated.
  • Begin to think in a more 'distributed' fashion beyond only your own organisation's website. We know this is tough, but remember it's what your audience is likely to be doing already. Find and share good examples.
  • Think about the level of customisation and personalisation you're prepared to offer your audience as they interact with your core revenue generation messages. This is the control issue and you must find a level on which you can be comfortable with this - your users will spot any inconsistencies on your part or actions they perceive as unnecessary or unfair.
  • If your organisation is constrained in terms of time or resources, then investigate ideas that would actually try and leverage the help of your current supporters - what can they do to help you online? Make an appeal for ideas or information.
  • Always remember that issues of transparency and trust are crucial to establishing and building longer-term online relationships.
  • Try and be proactive in your online revenue generation activities. We accept this can raise issues of resources, skills and confidence, but 'build-it-and-they-will-come' is unlikely to generate the results you're looking for. Start small, work with a group of supporters who recognise what you're trying to do and - most of all - be prepared to learn from your results.
  • Don't just concentrate on the web: you must increasingly think about how mobile phones can be used to generate revenue too!

This driver was written for NCVO Third Sector Foresight by Guy Yeomans

Want to know more?

The Marketing & Communications needs of charities

Published by: Media Trust

Date: September, 2009

Format: PDF document

What is it? The summary of an in-depth research report which highlights the importance Third Sector organisations - of whatever size - place on trying to maximise their online presence as means to drive fundraising opportunities

How useful is it? This report offers clear evidence of the strategic importance placed on fundraising via online interaction. However, it also highlights how organisations are unsure how to engage with emergent forms of online services and behaviours and suggests a lack of resources, skills and confidence all currently hinder efforts to fully engage with this area.


Passion, Persistence & Partnership: the secrets of earning more online

Published by: Institute of Fundraising & MissionFish

Date: June, 2008

Format: PDF

What is it?: An in-depth report looking specifically at how third-sector organisations are engaging with the internet and online fundraising issues.

How useful is it?: This is a comprehensive report which also offers examples and case-studies to help illustrate some of the key 'frontline' issues involved. It makes clear the - as yet - unmet potential of this area. It also offers 5 trends it believes will be important.


Last updated at 11:38 Thu 24/Feb/11.


How will this affect your organisation? Have you considered it during your strategic planning? Can you share any interesting relevant links?

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