Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

August 21, 2013

Evaluating GoodSearch: Effective e-philanthropy or fundraising fad?

Special to Philanthropy Journal

Ann Roper Bowen

Nonprofit organizations are increasingly engaging in online philanthropy to promote their mission, communicate with constituents and fundraise. Volunteer-matching websites, strategic email marketing, social media tools and click-and-give sites abound.

In 2005, the GoodSearch search engine emerged as a way for nonprofits and schools to raise money for their mission simply by surfing the web. Partners with Yahoo!, GoodSearch donates $0.01 to a user’s designated charity for each Internet search conducted through the site.

To date, more than 110,000 nonprofits and schools have joined GoodSearch, collectively earning more than $9.9 million. But does it really work? According to a 2010 study of 400 registered GoodSearch organizations, it depends. 

The study randomly selected 400 of the nearly 87,000 registered nonprofits with the GoodSearch site (as of 2009) to investigate trends in GoodSearch revenue. Through data analysis and a 14-question survey, the study sought to answer a number of questions: What is the average revenue generated? Do certain organizations yield more money than others? Are there any strategies to achieving success? The goal was to help nonprofits wisely allocate their limited resources when developing their online fundraising strategy.

Of the 400 organizations studied, nearly 89 percent earned less than $100 through GoodSearch, with nearly a quarter earning nothing. The most revenue earned was $1,700, which represented less than 1 percent of the organization’s total revenue. GoodSearch touts the great success of organizations like the ASPCA; however, the $10,000 the ASPCA raised through the site in 2008 was a drop in the bucket compared to its $127 million in revenue the same year.

While the revenue potential is modest for those who join GoodSearch, many organizations choose to use this free, relatively simple form of online fundraising to increase their web presence, join the e-philanthropy movement or appeal to the desires of board members. Whatever the reason, nonprofit professionals should bear in mind several factors to make the most of GoodSearch for their organization:

First, consider your mission. Organizations with a religious mission, such as faith-based services, and those with sports and recreation programs, such as school athletic teams, earn more revenue than other nonprofits studied. The reason why is unclear, but you’re more likely to see success if you fit one of these categories.

Second, stick with it. Revenue tends to increase with each additional year of use from an average of $3.53 in the first year to about $82 in the fourth year. The longer and more frequently you use it, the more your money will grow.

Third, promote GoodSearch to your constituents. Web-based marketing is the most effective strategy for increasing GoodSearch revenue. GoodSearch offers its logo and other free, user-friendly tools to assist participating nonprofits with their marketing efforts. Those organizations that took advantage of these tools raised more money than those that did not.

Web-based announcements about GoodSearch also contributed to increased revenue. Post the GoodSearch logo on your website along with a blurb that links directly to the site. This makes it easy for your supporters to get started and will result in more money earned.

Finally, manage your expectations and those of your staff and board. GoodSearch will not be your organization’s answer to its fundraising woes. But it is a fun, free and rather easy way to generate some money for your agency’s cause. And in the nonprofit world, small gifts can make a difference.

Note: Since the original study was conducted in 2010, GoodSearch has added new features such as GoodShop and GoodDining and launched a new website and logo which differ from images presented in the study’s appendix.

Ann Roper Bowen holds a Master in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her research of GoodSearch was conducted during her graduate study at UNC. After three years in membership development and communications with the YMCA of South Hampton Roads in Norfolk, Va., Ann is staying at home with her young twins.

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  • At 2:03 PM, Blogger Carrie Robbins said…


    My name is Carrie and I’m working towards my masters in Public Administration from Arizona State University. I’m the process of writing a research proposal on how faith-based and secular nonprofits are different in terms of how they fund their human resources services either by government contracts and/or by public donations.

    I was interested in your article because you featured how faith-based used GoodSearch as a way to create revenue. You mentioned that many organizations earned less than $100, some nonprofits earned nothing, and the most revenue generated was $1,700. If possible, can you explain these vast differences?

    What are your thoughts on faith-based nonprofits using online methods to generate revenue versus faith-based nonprofits receiving traditional assistance through public donations and/or assistance from the government?

  • At 2:14 PM, Blogger Ann Bowen said…

    Hi Carrie,
    I apologize for just now responding to your message. I was a special contributor to the blog and have only recently revisited my article. Thanks for your interest in my research!

    The $1,700 raised was not representative of my sample or the GoodSearch population and was only one organization. The organization's mission was focused on animals. They did have the GoodSearch logo on their website, which I found was associated with increased revenue. Unfortunately, this organization did not take my survey so I was unable to find out more about their marketing efforts.

    In regards to your second question, my research found that organizations with a faith-centered mission faired better than others in raising money through GoodSearch. This might suggest they could have similar success with general online fundraising, but more research is necessary. Online fundraising is certainly becoming an important tool for nonprofits, but in my opinion can't replace more traditional forms of fundraising such as personal solicitations and government assistance.

    Please let me know if you have additional questions. Best of luck with your research!


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