Politics & Government

Charities find new ways to ask for your money

WASHINGTON — U.S. charities, which took in a reported $306 billion last year, hope that new strategies for finding and pressing donors will help them keep up the pace in hard economic times.

Among the fresh pitches are these:

_ Seek monthly gifts.

When donors give monthly, their annual totals usually exceed what they'd give to a traditional once-a-year appeal. Moreover, donors tend to give indefinitely once donations are part of their monthly bill-paying, said Vinay Bhagat, the chief strategy officer for Convio, an Internet software and service company for nonprofit agencies. As with gym memberships, he explained, monthly donors tend to forget about quitting.

_ Raise the bar.

A typical pitch to a prospect these days includes a range of donation options: $20, $50, $100, say. Give $50, and the charity's next appeal will offer a higher set of options: $50, $100, $200.

_ Make friends.

Giving is contagious, and the Internet can make it downright viral. Care USA and other nonprofits created MySpace and Facebook pages to reach new donor networks. Other online companies let individuals build their own fundraising pages. Many people give because others they know do, said Thomas Backer, a psychologist and the president of the Human Interaction Research Institute in Encino, Calif. "There's a certain social pressure that goes along with it," he said.

_ Know thy donor.

Data-mining is big when charities go prospecting. Register a new BMW and you're likely to be asked for a bigger gift. Give to a political campaign and your nonprofit appeals will grow. Background information such as this "takes away some of the gossip," said Kim Mullins, the director of marketing at WealthEngine, a company that does data-mining for nonprofits. "It puts real research and data behind who these people are."

_ Stay on top.

If your charity's name comes up first when Web-surfers type in "tsunami," donations will rise. To accomplish that, the international relief organization AmeriCares, for example, redesigned its home page to mention every country in which it works. A $10,000 grant from Google, usable in Google's keyword auction, helped the organization maximize its hits, a strategy called "search engine optimization." The more money that a charity pays for a keyword, the higher its name appears on the search results list.

_ Spend, spend, spend. Give, give, give.

Shopaholics feel less guilty when some of their money goes toward a good cause, charity experts say. So tie-ins that give charities a piece of high-end sales revenues, and brand names a share of the credit, usually work. UNICEF, for example, has teamed with Gucci and Tommy Hilfiger to aid poor children. "Wealthy donors that have a lot of resources feel like they're required to give," said Tim Seiler, the director of the fundraising school at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University in Indianapolis.