Guest column – Nonprofits can learn from Dean

By Vinay Bhagat

Whether or not you support former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, his campaign has been successful at using the online medium for fundraising and grassroots mobilization.

By July, Dean For America had raised more than $5 million online this year. Dean also has built a network of 280,000-plus online supporters by mid-August, with a Sept. 30 goal of 450,000.

And the campaign has recruited 1,600 volunteer fundraisers who use Internet tools to raise money from and recruit friends and relatives.

Every nonprofit can learn from Dean’s success.

First, treat the Internet as a strategic marketing tool.

The Dean campaign treats the Internet as a significant medium for constituent outreach, engagement and fundraising.

The organization has invested in an integrated online marketing solution that uses online community tools and is staffed appropriately.

Most nonprofits use the Internet much less. They have web sites with basic organizational information and some handle online donations. Groups that use email for direct communication with constituents are the exception, not the rule.

Second, actively recruit and cultivate an online constituency.

Like Dean, nonprofits should:

* Ask people to sign up through web-site registration and petitions.

* Send regular email communications with compelling, consistent messaging.

* Involve constituents by giving them a voice through online surveys, polls and petitions, and online forums such as “blogs.”

* Ask people to forward messages to others to spread the word; use “viral marketing.”

* Create urgency by using web content-management tools to update your web site frequently to drive repeat traffic and participation.

Third, leverage volunteers as fundraisers

Each of the 1,600 volunteer fundraisers Dean has recruited uses web-based tools to create a personal web page that explains why he or she supports the candidate and asks others to get involved by donating and/or participating in other ways.

Some nonprofits already use these tools to drive registrations and donations for offline fundraising events such as races, walks and bike rides.

Now, they should put these tools to work to generate support without physical events.

Vinay Bhagat is the founder, chairman and chief strategy officer of Convio Inc., a provider of software and services for political campaigns and nonprofits.

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