Online Fundraiser’s Glossary

Have you discussed online strategy or fundraising technology and been unsure of terms or jargon used by consultants, websites, or sales representatives? No more! Next time you or a colleague are questioning what an online fundraising word means (or doesn’t mean) reference this glossary.

501c3 This is an IRS designation for tax-exempt nonprofit organizations and is named for section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Most charitable nonprofits in the United States are of this type. In general, donations to 501(c)(3) organizations are tax deductible. Nonprofits with this status must be careful not to engage in certain activities, such as supporting political candidates, and are subject to limits on lobbying.
A/B testing A/B testing is when you test two versions of one element with your audience, leaving all other variables the same, to see which one produces better results. For instance, you could write two different subject lines for an email, divide your email list in half, and deliver one subject line to one half of your list and the other subject line to the remaining half. Results could show which subject line gives a greater open rate.
Abandonment rate Abandonment rate refers to the percentage of users who didn’t follow through on a specific action, usually in an online payment scenario such as your donation page. Common reasons for abandoning a donation include a complicated checkout process, too many questions to answer, or limited payment options. Keeping your donation pages simple, uncluttered, and easy to use will help to reduce abandonment rates.
Appeal Your fundraising appeal is your organization’s request for donations to support your mission. It can take the form of an email, print letter, social media post, even a live or broadcast event. An appeal explains your cause, shows its impact, and creates a sense of urgency on the part of your donor.
Atlas of Giving The Atlas of Giving is a comprehensive monthly estimate of charitable giving in the United States by sector, source, and state. The objective is to identify specific factors that correlate with charitable giving. Monthly estimates identify current events and how they might affect giving in specific nonprofit sectors.
Call to action Your call to action is a specific instruction that asks your donors to do something right away, such as donate, volunteer, or sign a petition. An effective call to action creates a sense of urgency and is brief, clear, and easy to do.
Charity Auction Charity auctions are a fun and effective way to raise funds, build energy around your organization, and tell the story of your mission. People bid on items like physical goods or services that are usually donated for the event, and the proceeds benefit your general fund, a campaign or project, or even a specific individual. Charity auctions can be live, meaning people openly bid in person or online, or silent, which allows donors to keep their bids private.
Charity Navigator Charity Navigator is a nonprofit corporation that evaluates U.S. charities and posts nonprofits’ publicly available tax returns on its website. Its rating system of zero to four stars is based on a nonprofit’s financial health and accountability/transparency. It recently began including a metric evaluating how well charities report on the results of their work.
Clickthrough A clickthrough is when a person follows a link from one online page or email to another. Measuring your clickthrough rate is one way to determine the success of a campaign. For example, how many users clicked through to your donate page from an email, and of those, how many completed a donation?
Conversion rate Conversion rate is the percentage of users who followed through with an action you wanted them to take. A typical example is how many people visited your donation page versus how many of those completed a donation.
Crowdfunding A fundraising method where an individual or organization asks many people for small donations to reach a larger goal. In an online crowdfunding campaign, the fundraiser creates a personalized page on a site that allows them to collect donations, share the page via social media channels and email, and update people on their progress.
Donate button The big, bold graphic that features a clear call to action (“Donate now!”) and links to your donation page. Place your donate button in a prominent location on your organization’s website, such as the top of a sidebar, and in your email outreach.
Donation page The Web page where your supporters make donations to your organization. It might be built directly into your website or hosted by a third-party service. The ideal donation page allows for recurring gifts and customization to match your branding and suit the specific needs of your campaigns.
Donor Advised Fund A donor advised fund is an account administered by a 501(c)(3) organization, which acts as a fiscal sponsor to manage donations on behalf of organizations, families, or individuals. This fund allows people to make a donation in return for an immediate tax benefit. The fiscal sponsor has legal control over the fund, but contributors retain the right to recommend (or advise) which groups or projects the assets should benefit.
Donor Database, Donor Relationship Management Tool , DRM, CRM Your donor database is the list of people who’ve given to your organization either currently or at some point in the past. It might also include people who are strong potential donors, such as volunteers or anyone who has attended one of your events. A donor database will include things like contact information, when and how much a person gave, whether they’re recurring donors, and how often they volunteer with your nonprofit. This list could be kept in something as simple as an Excel speadsheet or as complex as a donor management system like Salesforce.
Donor retention Donor retention is the percentage of people who repeatedly support your organization. Retention rates are typically calculated by year.
Double opt-in Double opt-in ensures that the people on your email lists actually subscribed to your list. It works like this: A potential donor signs up for your email list at your website. Your email system sends an automatic response confirming the sign-up and including a link the person must click before they’re added to your list. The person clicks the link to confirm they made the request, and the system adds their contact info to the list.
EFT An electronic funds transfer (EFT) is the computerized system that transfers money from one bank account to another without any paper money or checks changing hands. Common examples of EFTs are credit or debit card payments, online bill payment, and direct debits from a savings or checking account.
EIN EIN stands for employer identification number. This is a nine-digit number assigned by the IRS to identify tax accounts of employers and others, such as self-employed individuals, who are required to file business tax forms. Entities that use EINs include employers, sole proprietors, nonprofits, corporations, trusts, estates, and more.
EOFY EOFY is an acronym meaning “end of fiscal year.” A fiscal year, also called a financial or budget year, is the period used for calculating annual financial statements and/or tax returns. Fiscal years can vary between businesses and jurisdictions and don’t necessarily correspond to the calendar year. Knowing your major donors’ fiscal year schedule, for example, can help you determine the best time to make your ask so it ties in with when they’re budgeting for the next fiscal year.
ESP (Email Service Provider) An email service provider (ESP) is a company that provides email hosting, meaning you can send, receive, and store email. Using an ESP allows your organization to send bulk emails to your lists quickly and efficiently. They usually allow you to track useful data like email opens (how many opens and who opened), when people open your emails, and which links they clicked in your messages. ESPs often allow you to segment your lists so you can target specific audiences. Using an ESP can help prevent your messages from landing in spam folders and offer people a quick and simple way to join or unsubscribe from your email list.
Fiscal Sponsor A fiscal sponsorship is an arrangement between a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and a project or entity that does not have that tax status. The fiscal sponsor offers its legal and tax-exempt status to assist a group or project that shares its mission. The nonprofit receives and releases funds on behalf of the other entity. In addition to expanding the nonprofit’s mission, this arrangement can give the sponsored party more funding options, like grants.
Gift String A series of suggested donation amounts varying from a conservative gift to a generous donation. Your gift string appears on all of your donation pages and printed fundraising material. Ideally, your gift string should range from a little below your average donation to a good amount higher, such as $25, $50, $100, and $500 for an organization that receives an average donation of $40 to $50.
Giving Days A giving day is a 24-hour fundraising event that rallies donors, volunteers, even entire communities around a common cause. It can be driven by geography, a theme, or an organization. Giving days are a fun way to leverage the energy of your team and constituents, tell your nonprofit’s story, and acquire new donors (data from past event shows that 20% to 60% of giving day donors are new to the organization).
Giving Tuesday Giving Tuesday is a global day of giving that takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving as a way of countering the consumer-oriented holiday shopping season. Often hashtagged #GivingTuesday on social media, the event began in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Today, it’s a global fundraising event that has engages more than 10,000 nonprofits.
Giving USA Giving USA is a comprehensive annual report from the Giving Institute that estimates each year’s total charitable giving in the United States. The report calculates total giving from about 53 million U.S. households, 16 million corporations that claim charitable deductions, more than a million estates, and 82,000 foundations.
Google Analytics A free service from Google that tracks traffic to your website and offers a wide variety of ways to report that data. Your website must include the special HTML tracking code to capture traffic data. Google Analytics allows you to see which pages on your website are generating engagement, where visitors come from and when, and even conversion activity like whether a site visitor clicked through to your donation page and completed a transaction.
Great Nonprofits Great Nonprofits is a website featuring stories, reviews, and ratings from clients, donors, volunteers, and anyone else who has experience with a particular organization. The goal is to help people make an informed decision about whether to support a specific nonprofit. The website offers a platform for nonprofits to share and collect reviews and stories about their mission.
hyperlink A hyperlink, known more simply as a link, is a highlighted element in an electronic document (website, email, Word doc, etc.) that, when clicked, takes the user to another page on the Web, a different section in a document, or even a downloadable document. A hyperlink can be built into a word, phrase, or image.
Impact labels Impact labels are statements that help donors visualize what each donation level will provide your constituents and often encourage higher levels of giving. For example, if your organization provides medical assistance, you might tell donors that $25 will provide a first aid kit and $50 will vaccinate 30 children. Donors are likely to decide to give the extra amount if they perceive a much higher value attached to it. Another way to use impact labels is to offer donors some sort of reward or recognition for their contribution, such as special membership privileges. The donation page can list benefits next to each giving level on your gift string, which also entices higher giving.
Landing page A landing page is the page on a website that a user comes to when clicking a link from somewhere else, such as an email, social media post, or another page on your website. Note that a landing page is not necessarily your website’s homepage.
LYBUNT or lapsed donor LYBUNT is an acronym for donors who gave “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This” (year). They can be great prospects to reach out to during your year-end appeals.
Merchant account A type of bank account that enables your organization to accept and process credit card payments for donations. These accounts charge a transaction fee to the account holder, typically a small percentage of the total donation.
Monthly giving A monthly giving program allows supporters to make an automatic donation of a specific amount every month, typically as a recurring credit card charge. Donors who might not be able to give a large one-time gift are often willing to sign up for monthly giving, ultimately donating more over time than they would have otherwise.
Open rate Open rate is simply the percentage of people who opened or viewed an email. Common things that reduce open rates are vague subject lines, messages landing in spam folders, or what time of day you send your message. Often, the larger your list, the lower your open rate tends to be. Be aware that most tracking systems count a message as opened when it appears in an email client’s preview pane, even though the recipient might not have actually read it.
PCI Compliant This applies to any financial transactions (donations, memberships, ticket purchases, etc.) that your organization facilitates involving people’s credit or debit cards, whether online, in person, or by phone. A PCI-compliant website, for instance, adheres to a set of requirement set forth by the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council designed to ensure that all companies that process, store, or transmit credit/debit card information maintain a secure environment.
Peer-to-peer fundraising or social fundraising A fundraising method where your supporters raise donations from their social networks on your organization’s behalf. The nonprofit usually supplies the tools, such as social media assets, a personalized fundraising page, and sample messages, to help their fundraisers succeed.
QR Code A QR code (short for Quick Response Code) is a smartphone-readable barcode made up of black and white squares. Reading a QR code requires scanning it with the camera on your cellphone via an app that can decode the encrypted information. QR codes can include things like a direct link to your nonprofit’s website or donation page, links to your YouTube channel, or more information about a fundraising event. They can be particularly useful in printed materials or on signs or kiosks. One benefit to QR codes is that you can track user traffic much like you can with your website.
Recurring giving An important option on your donation page that allows donors to give an amount in regular increments, typically monthly. Donors will often choose recurring gifts when presented with the option. Recurring giving is an easy and effective way to boost overall fundraising over the course of a year, so this option should be prominently displayed on your donation page. People who strongly support your cause but might not be able to make a large donation all at once like recurring giving because it allows them to give more over time than they could otherwise. It also helps your organization budget more effectively since you can predict how much money will come in going forward.
Responsive design Responsive design means creating websites, email campaigns, and other digital media that are automatically optimized to be read easily on all electronic devices, from full-size laptops to tablets to smartphones, so readers need to do minimal resizing to read or click. Some website themes and email services have responsive design elements built into them. Recent data shows that well over 50% of all emails are opened on smartphones, making it more important than ever to make sure your content is readable and clickable on as many platforms as possible.
Segmentation Breaking down your overall audience or email list into smaller, targeted groups that your organization can market to directly. Some ways to segment your audience are by giving history (frequency and how long they’ve been a donor), lapsed donors, gift size, program interest, email inactivity.
SEM Search engine marketing (SEM) is a method of promoting your website by increasing its visibility in search engine results via paid and unpaid traffic. SEM encompasses search engine optimization (SEO), research into the best keywords relevant to your target market, and paid listings (like AdWords). SEM differs from SEO in that it helps you target users in search via both paid advertising and organic optimization methods.
SEO Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of practices and techniques to boost the visibility of a website or page in unpaid, or “organic,” search engine rankings, such as Google. The higher a website appears in a search, the more likely the user is to click through to that site. Common SEO methods include using appropriate keywords, link building, and writing content that’s relevant for the target audience. SEO is considered a component of the broader search engine marketing (SEM).
Social Fundraising Also known as personal fundraising, peer-to-peer fundraising, or simply P2P—happens when nonprofits empower supporters to raise money on their organization’s behalf. Typically run as campaigns, it allow causes to extend their reach far beyond their core network, raising awareness and attracting new donors. 
These campaigns center around a passionate desire to make an impact on a problem or cause, and then “recruit” supporters based on a shared interest in the cause, the social momentum of the campaign, or in honor of the friendship with the original project sponsor.
Social share A social share is when someone shares, pre-written content with their social networks. For example, after a donation is made a follow up page requests that you post a pre-populated status update on your Facebook page to show your social network that you support an organization.
SYBUNT SYBUNT is an acronym for donors who gave “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This” (year). Depending how long it’s been since they gave and how often, these folks can be good prospects to reach out to during your year-end appeals.
Tax ID number A tax ID number (TIN) is any one of various identifying numbers used for tax purposes in the United States. Your TIN could be your Social Security number, employer identification number (EIN), individual taxpayer identification number (ITIN), adoption taxpayer identification number, or a preparer tax identification number.
Tax-deductible amount This is the amount of a donation that a donor can claim as a deduction on their income tax return. Charitable donations must be paid in cash or as other property before the close of the tax year to be deductible. In general, donations to charities can be deducted up to 50% of adjusted gross income, though some gifts to private foundations, veterans’ groups, and the like have lower limits.
Text to Give Text to give is a way for people to make donations via a text message on their mobile device. The donor sees your call to action—in a direct text, on your Facebook page, in print outreach—asking them to text a keyword to automatically give a certain amount to a cause. When the donor sends that text, the donation amount is added to their cellphone bill and the nonprofit receives the funds. The organization sends a follow-up text to confirm and thank them for the donation.
Transaction fee The amount a payment processor deducts from each donation to cover its costs for acting as a financial intermediary. Typically this is a small percentage of each donation. Some payment processing systems allow donors to pay the transaction fee so the nonprofit receives the full amount of their donation.
Unrestricted funds Unrestricted funds are financial gifts that an organization may use as it sees fit, such as to offset operational expenses like rent, payroll, and utilities.
URL In short, a URL is the address of any online page. URL is an acronym for Uniform Resource Locator. Network for Good’s complete URL, for example, is You can usually skip typing “http://www.” when you enter a URL into a browser, but you do need to include the full URL when creating linked images or text. The “.com” part is called the extension; .com is for commercial enterprises and is by far the most common. Others include .org for nonprofits, .edu for educational institutions, and .gov for government-run websites.
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