We’ve all heard the success stories of online fundraising… John McCain, Howard Dean, Barack Obama, and a few other well known national personalities who have raised millions of dollars through their online efforts.  We’ve also heard the horror stories… campaigns that have foolishly staked the success of their entire fundraising effort on the strength of their online operation, and ended up raising only a few hundred dollars.

Which model is right?  Has the Internet completely revolutionized the way that campaigns raise money, or is the net simply a side-story, a small drop in the bucket next to the time-tested tactics of fundraising events, direct mail, and major donor solicitation?  The answer is… somewhere in between.

In some ways, the Internet has totally revolutionized the way campaigns fundraise.  But the net will never replace fundraising calls, events, and direct mail as the way in which the majority of campaigns raise most of their money.  Used properly, however, the Internet can and should be a major component of your fundraising plan.  Here’s how to make sure your campaign or group makes the most of the fundraising power of the net:

1.  Build an Informative Website

Your campaign website shouldn’t be one big fundraising pitch.  People come to your site for information… on your candidate or group, your stance on the issues, recent press releases, information on where to go and vote, this list is endless.  Pack your website full of information to make sure visitors are glad they stopped by.  Be sure to find out who your visitors are.  This brings us to…

2.  Capture E-Mail Addresses

On every page, offer your visitors the chance to sign-up for campaign updates and action alerts.  Ask them to enter their e-mail address, and in doing so, give you permission to e-mail them with information about the campaign later on down the line.  Be sure to prominently post your privacy policy, telling your visitors that you won’t sell or rent their e-mail address to anyone.

3.  Add to Your Prospect List

This list of e-mail addresses captured on your site becomes your online political fundraising prospect list.  You need to keep growing this list to make it more and more valuable.  You can do this by getting people to sign-up for your e-mail updates every chance you get.  Have sign-up forms available at every event and rally; ask callers if they would like to receive the updates, and include your website address on all of your literature, to make sure that people who are interested in the campaign go to the website and hopefully… sign-up for your e-mail alerts.

4.  Use Your List

Now that you’ve got your list going, be sure to use it!  Send out useful information to your supporters… stuff they really are interested in, like positive poll numbers, political scoops, campaign information, invitations to rallies, etc.

5.  Fundraise!

You’ve got an informative website.  You’ve built a list of supporters who are interested in your campaign.  You’ve given them useful information.  Now, you’re ready to fundraise.  Now, you can send out some e-mail fundraising letters to your list, and they’ll be attentive to your solicitation.  Why?  Because they have a relationship with your campaign.  They’re part of the team.  They’ve signed-up to receive updates, you’ve sent those updates, they know how the campaign is going, and they’re invested in your effort.  Be sure not to over do it though… send out online fundraising solicitations via e-mail on a regular basis, but more often than that, be sure you send out information updates and action alerts.

Be sure to include a Donate Now link on your website so that anyone who gets one of your updates, or sees your URL on a piece of direct mail you send out can make a contribution immediately if they want.

Remember, the online fundraising can and should be a vital part of your campaign’s fundraising plan, but it is only that… one part of an overall strategy.  When combined with the traditional fundraising methods such as events, direct mail, etc., Internet and e-mail fundraising can prove to add a significant boost to your campaign’s bottom line.