5 Essentials for Online Fundraising from the St. Baldrick’s Team

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation is an amazing nonprofit who works to promote childhood cancer research. In 2012, St. Baldrick’s raised an astounding $33 million in donations to fight childhood cancer.

How did St. Baldrick’s Foundation start?

In 1999, three colleagues were sitting around, brainstorming ways to use their business success to make a difference in the world. One made a joke about being willing to pay money to their friend to shave his head.

Out of that joke, a brilliant fundraising model was born. In the coming years, hundreds of head-shaving events are thrown to raise money, and each event is dedicated to a specific child diagnosed with cancer. The idea is simple: you volunteer to shave your head, and your friends donate money for childhood cancer to see it happen.

The St. Baldricks approach has been hugely effective, as demonstrated by the organization’s explosive growth. To date, St. Baldricks has become the largest funder of childhood cancer research, outside of the United States government.

The St. Baldrick’s Secret Sauce: Online Fundraising

Obviously, St. Baldrick’s couldn’t come far without the many heroic individuals who have volunteered their money, time and hair to strive toward a common goal. The donors are always the heroes. But another important key to St. Baldrick’s organizational success is their dedication to online fundraising.

Anyone can go online and organize a head-shaving event. The St. Baldrick’s website allows you to register your event and dedicate it to a specific child, then invite all of your friends and family through social media. This system of online fundraising allows St. Baldrick’s to empower those who are passionate about curing childhood cancer, and has raised millions in funded research.

In other words, while the St. Baldrick’s fundraising model is event-based, their scale wouldn’t be possible without a carefully constructed online fundraising model.

Through Nonprofit Hub, we’ve been able to talk with and learn from the team that helped engineer St. Baldrick’s online fundraising process. Since St. Baldrick’s works with a large sample of traffic, they’ve been able to do simple, systematic tests to refine their donation process and fundraising appeals.

We got to talk with the team behind the magic. Here are the insights we’ve gleaned:


The biggest problem with many nonprofit websites is that they confuse the visitor. Instead of understanding how people want to use our website, we think about the sections that are important to us. Every department and every program thinks they deserve a page or a place in the navigation bar. But donors are confused by having too many options. Put yourself in your visitor’s shoes: what are they looking for? How would they ask for it? Does every page have a clear goal? Does your visitor know what action they need to take once they finish reading the page?


ROI is your return on investment–the reward you get for taking a course of action. If you spend $200 on an advertisement and you raise $300 dollars, your ROI is $100. It’s important to design your website and your online fundraising in terms of ROI.

Only spend time on things that can give you a clear benefit in return.

Don’t invest paying for beautiful landing pages if they won’t convert visitors into donors. Do invest in a simple website where every page has a purpose. Only work towards goals that will bring you positive ROI.


In order to process online donations, you need to get information from your donors—typically credit card numbers and billing addresses at minimum. But often, you and others in your nonprofit will want to insert additional forms, depending on your agenda. “Where did you hear about us?” “What’s your email address?” “Please sign in or create an account.”

The truth is that each additional form that you add to the donation page directly correlates to fewer donations. Even adding optional forms will decrease your donations. Only ask for what you absolutely can’t live without.


Many fundraisers focus on the programs and minute details of their organizations instead of how those programs positively change real humans’ lives. Your donors are people who care passionately about your cause, and if you explain why you’re making them jump through hoops, they’ll often be happy to help you. For instance, after their donation, send an email to thank them and ask them to volunteer whatever information you left out of the donation process, but could be useful. If you explain why the information you’re asking for would help your organization improve, your donors will probably be happy to assist you.


Much of St. Baldrick’s online success is the result of a drive to always be improving. The world needs remarkable nonprofits to step up and tackle seemingly intractable problems. While St. Baldrick’s has a ruthless focus on minimizing organizational expenses, they still realized the importance of investing in improving their online fundraising process by collaborating with Firespring, a marketing firm specializing in creating revenue-boosting nonprofit websites. Thanks to that investment, they’ve been able to raise millions more to fight cancer. Now that’s ROI.

Don’t settle for less than your organization is capable of achieving. If your work is important, take the time to think about how these five steps can help you raise more online. We wish you the best of luck.