We’re well into the second decade of the 21st century, yet many nonprofits still operate like it’s 1999. There’s a pervasive anti-technology bias that’s causing well-meaning organizations to shoot themselves in the foot.
The reasons I’ve heard from nonprofits include:
- Technology is expensive.
- Our current staff doesn’t have technological expertise.
- We don’t have the resources to hire technologically-savvy staff.
- We’ve done quite well in the past without all this technology.
- We don’t want to chase shiny new objects.
- This is a fad. Tried-and-true techniques will win in the end.
While there may be a nugget of truth in all these excuses, they’re still just that.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses, Excuses, Excuses, Excuses.
If you have to excuse yourself that many times, it may be worth reframing the issue and looking at things from a different perspective. Because the surest way to lose out on opportunity is to pretend that change isn’t happening.
You can either jump onto the technological rocket ship that’s taking everyone else into the future, or you can get left behind. You can embrace, or reject.
The world will change. And keep changing. Will it be with you, or without you?
Let’s take a look at how to embrace change, get on board, hold on and keep up.
How Much Does Technology Really Cost?
The easiest way to determine how much is an appropriate investment in staff, hardware, and services for a nonprofit of your size is to download the free NTEN Annual Technology Staffing and Investments Report. The Report distinguishes between organizations that are leading, operating, functioning and struggling, so you can see where you might fit. And where you, hopefully, are headed.
As technology becomes increasingly essential as a “cost of doing business,” spending on technology is climbing. In the latest findings, nonprofits on average spent 5.7% of their overall budget on technology (this compares with an average of 1 – 2.2% in 2014). Spending varies, depending on size. Larger organizations, which benefit from economies of scale, spent less as a percentage.
You don’t have to go from struggling to leading all at once, but you do have to get in the game. If you’re spending significantly less than others in your space, you’re likely leaving money on the table. Did you know:
- 82% of donors visit your website before they make a gift to you? (Firespring).
- Use of a mobile device to donate to a charity’s website has jumped by 80% since 2013? (Dunham + Company)
- 18% of all online donations come from mobile device users? (CDW)
- Online giving continues to grow approximately 7% year over year, while overall giving remains relatively flat, growing only 1-3% per year? (Blackbaud Index for Canadian giving and U.S. giving)
- The most likely to give online are donors in the prime giving years of 40-59? (Dunham + Company)
- 34% of Americans ages 65+ use social networking sites, a seven-point increase from 2013; these older adults also increasingly making donations online as they become more comfortable with technology? (Pew Research Center)
- Millennials are most inspired to give by social media; Gen X and Baby Boomers by email, and it’s predicted Gen Z will prefer mobile apps? (Global NGO Online Technology Report)
- Short videos, short online articles, and short emails keep donors the most engaged, informed, and inspired to give? (Abila)
Based on the current zeitgeist, not investing in technology has a real cost!
What Additional Skills Does Your Current Staff Really Need?
Not surprisingly, “leading” organizations have the greatest number of tech staff. These may include IT support staff, web staff, data analytics staff and online/digital staff. If you’re a smaller organization, you may not need – or be able to afford – all this staff. And it’s hard to hire folks for just a few hours, or one day/week, you might need.
So determine what you really need on site. What do you do every day, and what requires only periodic support? What are the areas of expertise of your current staff responsible for daily digital operations, and what skills do they lack? Make a list of “must have” vs. “would be nice.” Then determine whether you can train current staff in some of the missing areas, or whether there are some essential skills you’re missing.
What New Skills Do You Need to Add?
Since often tech folks specialize in a particular area, small nonprofits might consider outsourcing some of these functions to a professional team that can assist you with skills you lack on staff. There are companies specializing in IT support, website management, online fundraising, digital marketing and other functions. Where you may wish to add skills is in the area of social media. 27% of donors worldwide cite social media as the communication tool that inspires them the most often to give (see 9 Winning Nonprofit Social Media Strategies).
How Much Better Might you Succeed with the Addition of Digital Technology?
Ever hear the old advertising adage that folks need to see/hear something at least 7 times before they notice it? Our airspace is so congested these days I wouldn’t be surprised if folks today must be exposed to your nonprofit brand as many as 20 times before they take notice. This means you need to avail yourself of multiple communication channels if you want a prospective donor to respond positively when your fundraising appeal crosses their threshold. Even though the bulk of the money is still raised offline, it’s no longer enough to simply be in the mail. Social media is the new nonprofit advertising.
Additionally, the online world is fast moving, just like the real world. This is what you need to stay relevant and top of mind with folks! When an emergency happens, you don’t have to wait a week or more to reach out to those who need your help (or who may be able to help). You don’t have to wait to publish your quarterly newsletter or send your annual appeal in order to communicate, do it in real time – when folks will be most receptive to your calls to action.
You can also reach people online you’d never have met otherwise.
- With email, you can send multiple appeals over the course of a few days with very little cost.
- With peer-to-peer fundraising, people raise money for your cause from their friends.
- On social media, people share.
What Do You Really Need vs. What are Just Shiny Objects?
The best way to build your brand and authority is online. Social media. Referrals. Organic search. Your own website. Some of this is worth paying for; some you can get for free. Here’s what you need:
Buy Cloud Hosting
Hardware is one of your biggest technology expenses. Staff is required to maintain it. As your servers age, you need to replace them. As you grow, you may need to add infrastructure. Paying for on-site servers and staff to manage these servers is no longer your only option. Today you can work more cost-efficiently by outsourcing to the cloud. This places the cost of maintenance, load, security and data recovery in the hands of experienced professionals — leaving you free to focus on areas where your greatest strengths lie (or where you need to develop new skills that don’t lend themselves as well to outsourcing).
Buy Web Hosting
There are free options, but for just a little bit of money, you can get something (e.g. a template) that will improve your professional appearance and give you the flexibility to grow. 42% of nonprofits use WordPress (see chart below from npENGAGE). You really don’t need to spend a lot of money on flashy stuff. Some good content, photos, and graphics, plus user-friendly navigation, is all you really need.
Buy a CRM
Customer relationship management software helps you build and maintain strong relationships with donors, enabling you to develop a full view of their engagements with you across your entire organization. You can then store contact and other information, keep a history of your communications with supporters, set reminders for when someone needs to be contacted, and automate follow-ups. For the difference between the more old-fashioned donor database and the more modern approach of a CRM, see here.
Buy Email Automation Software
You need a place to house your lists that provides customer-centric functions like segmentation, automated campaigns, unlimited sending and delivery time optimization. This will also help you avoid being marked as spam. Did you know nonprofits lose an average of $15,000 in donations due to email getting stuck in a spam filter?
Use Free Social Media Content Marketing Tools
First, you don’t need to be on every platform. Begin by surveying your current donors to find which channels they use. Go where your constituents are. You also don’t need to do everything; just what gives you the return on investment that meets your awareness-building and fundraising goals (see 8 Routine Social Media Practices of Successful Nonprofits). Of course, you want to be efficient with your limited time, which is where social media management tools come in. Some good ones are:
- Buffer — allows you to schedule posts in advance and track engagement for one profile on each supported platform for free; Hootsuite does the same for up to three profiles.
- Tweetdeck allows you to manage and respond to engagement on multiple Twitter channels.
- Crowdfire provides recommendations for how to improve engagement.
Use Free List-Building Tools
One of the most important things you can do is build your online mailing list. Without such a list, you can have the best fundraising appeal in the world and it still won’t raise much money. And the truth is that 70% of website visitors will leave after looking at just one page; most won’t return. Unless… you do something to grab their attention and secure their email. Generally, this works best when you offer people something they want in exchange (e.g., free “how to,” “Recommendations List,” recipe, whitepaper, video, chance to win something, etc.). There are free re-engagement tools you can use:
- Hubspot provides a free pop-up plug-in to redirect visitors or collect contact information.
- Hello Bar helps you sign visitors up for a newsletter or direct them to your social profiles.
- Sumo provides free pop-ups and a tool to “stick” your call to action (CTA) so it remains visible as users scroll the page.
Use Free Graphic Design Tools
You may not think of graphic design as a technical skill, but in our digital world, it’s become an essential tool. People have limited attention spans, and visuals can grab folks in ways that mere text cannot. In fact, blog posts that include a visual every 75-100 words get double the social media shares than those with fewer images; tweets with images get 150% more retweets than those without. Here are some user-friendly tools you can get for free:
- Canva comes preloaded with templates for a variety of digital and print design needs — ads, social media posts, invitations, business cards, and so on.
- Pablo is a free tool from Buffer to create social media images.
- PicMonkey is used to edit images.
How Can You Best Integrate New with Tried-and-True Strategies?
You’ll get best results if you meld yesterday’s fundamentals with today’s tools. Keep doing direct mail and face-to-face fundraising. They work! But also do more online fundraising. And engage more on social media. Also, consider Google nonprofit ad grants. This is a big missed opportunity for most nonprofits; you’re leaving up to $10,000/month in free in-kind advertising on the table! Check out the “how to’s” here and pros and cons here.
There are also key fundamentals that apply to any kind of fundraising, no matter where you deploy it. Because people are still people. You’ll still want to connect based on commonalities. Shared values. Emotions. Passions. Just using different tools and channels (see Future of Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising: Technology + Social Tools + People).
Reinvent the Way You Use Technology to Communicate and Fundraise
Honestly, you have no other choice. Slowly but surely, you must meet your supporters where they are. They communicate differently today than they did 10 years ago. They give differently too. If you’re to attract people’s attention, inspire engagement and secure investment, you’ll need to make technology your friend.
Figure out what you need the most. Develop a budget so you can spend your resources wisely. Take some risks; track your results and measure the return on your investment. Then tinker and fine tune.