total giving for all charities in the
survey, meaning that half received a bigger
share of gifts online and half a smaller
The slow economy has prompted
many charities to focus their online solicitations on smaller gifts: In 2010 the
average online gift was $136, compared
with $146 in 2009.
Charities say they are attracting bigger numbers of donations as a result of
the push for small donations, and they
are benefiting from increased promotion of monthly gifts that donors can
automatically charge to their checking
account or credit card.
However, some groups are focusing
more on big online donors. For instance,
Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, reported the largest online gift of any
organization in the survey: $500,000.
It was part of a four-year, $2-million
pledge, but this year the donor decided
increased 15. 7 percent over the year.
The charity plans to do more to improve
its site, such as offering more cultural
background information about each
country served and enabling donors to
send updates to the children and older
adults their gifts support.
“We hope they will see it as a more
personalized experience,” says Laney
Haake, director of sponsorship operations. “It’s never been more important
to have a good Web site. People have become more selective about who they give
to, and they are researching organizations online. Once you get them, you
have to treat them like they are gold.”
“People have become more
selective about who they
give to, and they are
The U.S. Fund for Unicef’s programs, such as tetanus vaccines in
Cameroon, were financed partly by the $32.5-million it got online in 2010.
it was easier to make the payment online, says Charles Melichar, associate
vice chancellor of communications at
Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston, landed its first $100,000 online gift
from Chris Brown, a 40-year-old energy trader, and his wife, Jennifer, who is
34, The Browns say they do everything
they can online. They believe others of
their generation want to do the same.
(See article below.)
Before the recession, Texas Children’s
Hospital didn’t do much with online
fund raising, but it expanded efforts to
promote Internet giving in 2008.
The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, in Kansas City, Kan.,
which helps more than 250,000 donors
channel gifts to 300,000 needy children
and older people in 22 developing countries, is among the 82 groups in The
Chronicle’s survey that say 2011 is thus
far shaping up to be a stronger year for
online fund raising than 2010.
In September 2010, the organization
unveiled a new Web site that profiles
the children aided by the charity and
allows donors to select the individuals
they want to help.
The average online donation rose
from $71 to $78, and total online funds
Most of the charities in The Chronicle’s survey are focusing on the basics,
like strengthening their Web sites, and
not on using cutting-edge techniques.
Of the 129 charities that answered
The Chronicle’s question about text-message fund raising, about half said
they have no plans to offer such appeals
But more groups may soon embrace
“If you asked me six months ago if
I could envision doing anything with
cellphone giving, I would have said ‘no
chance,’” says Greg Baker, president of
Renaissance Charitable Foundation,
an Indianapolis group that manages
donor-advised funds. (Such funds allow donors to make a gift, take the tax
benefit, and later decide which causes
should receive the money.)
But he got a call from a Pennsylvania State University student who was
organizing the annual dance marathon
to raise money for children’s charities.
Students wanted to use text messaging
during the marathon to raise additional
funds but needed a sponsor to handle it,
and Mr. Baker obliged.
Several times during the 46-hour
event, dancers were asked to get out
Continued on Page 13
Donors Say Many Nonprofits Aren’t Ready for Big Gifts Online
By Maureen West
AFTER Jennifer and Chris Brown make their standard charita- ble donation on an unsuspecting organization’s Web site, they expect
to get a phone call asking them if perhaps they meant the last two zeroes to
be cents. No, they didn’t; they meant to
The Browns, a Houston couple, get a
few of those calls each year. Mr. Brown,
40, an energy trader, is used to doing
all of his business online. So is Jennifer
Brown, 34, a former mechanical engineer who now is a full-time mother of
two. Ms. Brown, who is involved with
several Houston charities, says she’s
busy and likes to make the donations
with a few clicks.
“With our generation, it’s going to be
more online giving in the future,” she
They say they give 10 percent of their
income to charities, often in $100,000
online donations to groups they have researched on the Internet. In 2010 one of
the nonprofits that received an online
gift of that size from the Browns was
the Texas Children’s Hospital, in Houston.
They like not only the convenience
but also the low-key nature of online
giving. Says Ms. Brown: “I know people
who like to give big checks and have a
ceremony, but generally that isn’t our
Web Site Obstacles
They have advice for charities that
want to see major online donations increase: Make sure the organization’s
Web site can accommodate six-figure
“We have given to charities over the
past five years, and only about half can
take that large a donation online,” Mr.
“You don’t want to turn away the major donations because your system isn’t
in place,” his wife agrees.
When she tried to make a donation last year to one organization, she
says, she had to make several calls to
her credit-card company because the
gift kept getting rejected. Ultimately,
she had to break the gift into installments of $90,000 and $10,000 because
the charity’s Web site couldn’t handle a
six-figure gift. “It was embarrassing for
everyone,” Ms. Brown says.
They like to use the same card for all
online gifts, they say, and pay it off the
next month—and they rack up airline
miles in the process.
The couple has selected a few groups
to support through the watchdog Web
site Charity Navigator, typing in “
Houston” and then looking for groups with
good ratings. They give to social-service groups, and because three of their
parents were educators, they include
schools in their giving, too.
They made a big donation to the
American Diabetes Association last
year, they say, because Ms. Brown has
family members with the disease and
because their son participated in the
Some of their giving happens the old-fashioned way: A friend took Ms. Brown
on a high-profile tour of the Texas Children’s Hospital, and she met with a top
physician, which resulted in a donation—after she checked the hospital out
on Charity Navigator.
The Browns carefully peruse charity
Web sites. “It helps you understand the
culture,” Ms. Brown says. “If a Web site
or contact information isn’t updated, it
makes you wonder what other aspects
of the organization are neglected.”
Their decision to give 10 percent an-
Chris and Jennifer Brown
nually comes from their Methodist faith
and their desire to be models of generosity to their children, who are 3 and 6
years old. The couple wants to use some
of the airline miles they have earned
via their online philanthropy to travel
with their kids when the youngsters are
old enough to appreciate it.
“Or,” says Mr. Brown, “maybe we’ll
donate those miles somewhere.”