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Blog Posts

Constituent Empowerment

Breaking out of the Volunteer Data Silo

Posted by Amber Wobschall at Mar 10, 2011 08:52 AM CST
Categories: Advocacy, Constituent Empowerment, Data Integration, NPtech, Volunteerism

In many of my past jobs and internships, I worked with volunteers. And I loved it. But, I struggled with data and I know many organizations still do.

In college, my non-profit internship had me managing my program in a three ring binder. Useful for me, but not so useful for other staff members of the small office who might benefit from the information I gleaned. And my bad hand-writing, use of acronyms, and cryptic notes might not have made that much sense to my colleagues or future volunteer coordinators.

As my career progressed, so did the role of technology in my volunteer management and tracking. I went from binders, to excel, to access, to creating custom fields in database programs. And it helped, the writing was cleaner, the types of information we gathered was more streamlined. I could finally figure out quickly and easily who had actually shown up before to phone bank, so I could start with that list to fill up the slots when urgent legislative action called for mobilization.

ToySiloHowever, a large problem remained even as my data solutions improved – the data was always sitting in a silo. And I’m not talking about the kind of silos you find on a farm. Even in an office of 5, the person in charge of asking for donations didn’t always know who had volunteered. Or the volunteer coordinator didn’t know that the person signed up to table at the county fair was also a board member.
Organizations large and small could benefit from sharing volunteer information. One of the primary barriers to integrating volunteer data with other important organizational data was showing the potential value that volunteers bring across the organization. There are many “outside the box activities” that volunteers can be involved in, which points to the need for your volunteer information to live and be accessible in the same place as your other important constituents.

Here are a few ideas of how other departments, programs or teams could collaborate with you to make the most of your volunteer base.

1. Volunteers as Donors:  I wish it was more widely known and accepted, but volunteers are current or future donors and should always be treated as such. While it may be true that some volunteers may never donate and some donors may never volunteer, those who do both will likely give you a lot more money.  In fact, a 2009 study indicated that on average, volunteers donate 10 times more money to charity than people who don’t volunteer.

2. Volunteers as Spokespeople: Volunteers can help you write letters to the editor, produce heartwarming videos about the work your organization does, submit quotes for your newsletter or mailing and more.

3. Volunteers as Media Resources: Volunteers can tweet, comment on your blog, post to your blog, and even connect you with their friend who happens to write for the local paper, blog or other media outlet.

4. Volunteers as Government Relations Resources: Volunteers may want to participate in a lobby day or lead a portion of a lobby day training for their peer activists. They may also have a compelling story to share with an elected official on lobby visit.

When all is said and done, your volunteers will feel ever more valuable to your organization and you will have more resources at your disposal. Just don’t forget the most important thing – thank your volunteers early and often!


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Think Global, Act Local

Posted by at Mar 04, 2011 04:07 PM CST
Categories: Advocacy, Constituent Empowerment, NPtech

Two recent advocacy victories this week by PETA and my former colleagues at Defenders of Wildlife are a great reminder of a little practiced truth:  organizations are seeing greater (and often easier) success in leveraging online advocacy to change policy at the state and local level.

I, personally, have a renewed interest in local issues after losing my power over four times in the last year.  If I want to see someone hold my power company’s feet to the fire, it’s going to be local and state officials who make that happen– not my US Representative or Senators.

Just as with national advocacy, that local policy campaign will need some online/offline synergy to succeed.  So, it’s still going to be necessary for activists to step away from their computers.  But, grassroots organizing becomes a little easier when asking activists to do that at the local level.  US Representatives spend most of their time thousands of miles away from their constituents in Washington, DC and have a long line of lobbyists and constituents jockeying for their time.  They also represent hundreds of thousands of constituents and are often overwhelmed by the constant influx of inbound constituent communications.

In comparison, local officials are much more accessible and, for many constituents, reaching out to them is less intimidating.  For organizers, identifying your grasstops, or influencers, has become a cinch in the world of social networking.  All you have to do now is check out how many of your Facebook fans or Linked In connections are also connected to a councilmember that you are trying to target.  Opportunities for your constituents to connect with local officials face-to-face are also much more plentiful than with national officials.  Whether it’s on their Facebook fan page, at a neighborhood event, at public hearings, or even in line at the grocery store, your constituents have a lot more access to their local officials. 

ActLocalIn fact, right after our major four-day power outage last summer, I only had to walk a couple blocks to the “National Night Out” event in my neighborhood park to bump into Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett.  It was the perfect opportunity for me to let him know how I felt about Pepco’s performance and ask him what he planned to do about it. As you can see in the picture, I also made sure that my 1-year old daughter shared her thoughts with our elected officials.

Unfortunately, I'm not yet able to point to a Pepco campaign as an example of advocacy success (I'm actually still trying to find a citizen group that is working on this).  However, one of my favorite examples of successful local advocacy is the Wildlife Conservation Society's (WCS) annual campaign to protect funding for the Bronx Zoo. The efficacy of advocacy has been debated a lot over the past year and this is one great example of how an organization is using advocacy for all the right reasons and with a great outcome.  Year after year WCS runs successful budget campaigns and the outcome is not just a protected budget, but also a growing list of committed supporters who want to support an organization that knows how to win a legislative campaign. 

The WCS success story is one of hundreds that happen each year. Share your advocacy success stories here in our comments section or if you are DC for the Nonprofit Technology Conference, stop by my session on March 18th.

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Reach Out and Charge Someone

Posted by at Mar 03, 2011 11:49 AM CST
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Fundraising, Nonprofit Trends, NPtech, Research, Social Media, Technology, Usability

DeloreanRemember the movie Back to the Future II, where Marty McFly travels to the future in a flying Delorean? My eleven-year-old self was convinced that we would all be flying in cars and eating re-hydrated pizza by the year 2015. Well, we’re creeping up there, and can you believe it - nary a hoverboard in sight! No, I think Writer/Director Robert Zemeckis missed the mark just a tad, but I have to admit I never would have guessed our true direction either… I would never have believed that in my pocket, I could carry a device that lets me call my mom, send a text message, check my e-mail, listen to music, play games, watch movies, take pictures, manage my finances, read a book, map a route to anywhere in the world, and search for information on just about any topic I could imagine.  That’s pretty rad.  

And it’s just the tip of the iceberg.  

Lately, more and more of my conversations with nonprofit fundraisers have turned to mobile technologies and how nonprofits should be leveraging mobile to further their missions.  As we all know, text-to-give has proven successful(ish), especially around disaster relief like last year’s Haiti earthquake. (Read 5 Ways to Promote Your Text-to-Give Campaign on Social Media from Nonprofit Tech 2.0). Mobile applications have also begun to surface to empower peer-to-peer fundraisers to check their progress and send appeals straight from their phone.  Plus every organization wants to be sure their website is mobile-friendly and easy to navigate on a screen the size of your palm.  So where is all of this going?  What’s the next big mobile trend to consider?

If Starbucks is any indication, we should turn our attention to mobile payment technologies. Did you know that you can download an app that will allow you to pay for your coffee with a quick scan of your smart phone?  Take that, Marty McFly!  This technology relies on a mobile bar code, or QR code, that debits money from a pre-paid gift card you purchase ahead of time.  That seems to work for Starbucks, but not many nonprofits have brick-and-mortars with gift cards and check-out stands at the ready.  No, where I see the biggest opportunity for nonprofit orgs and mobile is with Near-field Communication, or NFC, technology.  NFC is a chip installed in or stuck on your phone that allows you make a credit card payment and/or gain access to information from a “smart object” with a tap of the phone (think of Exxon’s “Speedpass,” but installed in your phone and accepted anywhere).

phone So let’s brainstorm – how could you leverage a “tap-to-pay” or even a “tap to get more information” feature on a smart phone?  What application could this have for:

  • Visitation – Parks, zoos, museums, etc.
  • Events – Galas, walk/run/ride-a-thons
  • Peer-to-peer Fundraising
  • Advocacy 
  • Direct Mail
  • Others?

In my mind, the possibilities are limitless – smart mail that allows you donate by phone, self-led tours or art exhibits, peer-to-peer donations made by bumping phones together.  I’m excited to see what the future holds for mobile technologies in the nonprofit space – aren’t you?

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Who are the people in your database?

Posted by Jennifer Atkins at Mar 02, 2011 03:44 PM CST
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Fundraising, Nonprofit Trends, Research

At the end of last year, I spent a good deal of time analyzing our database (yes, my inner geek is showing) and asking the big questions: where do I need to make an investment? Do I have the right geographic coverage to support sales? And, most critically, what “personas” or profiles currently make up my list?  Are they in development, do they manage special events, or do they play a technical role in the organization?  What do these people have in common, what do they read, and what is their biggest pain?  How can I communicate with them more effectively? Annual
The reason marketers start here is the same reason a nonprofit should – making a connection to the real people in your database. 

So what is a "persona"?  Think of it as a fictional character created to represent the different groups that you interact with (e.g. “Soccer Moms” or “Nascar Dads”).  A persona allows you to step into their world. It allows you to communicate with or serve groups of people with similar desires.  It allows you to deliver a more relevant message.  And, most importantly, it can allow you to connect the dots between your mission and their daily lives in a way that is meaningful to them.
Nonprofits interact with such a variety of groups - annual fund donors, foundations, corporations, volunteers, practitioners, program recipients, advocates, journalists, major donors - and each group has a set of unique characteristics. What’s the best way to engage these groups and the different personas within them?

We’ve just recently put together a great webinar on 10 key supporters to focus on. It covers how to create engagement plans based on the interests of these personas and their interactions with your organization. There is also a great blog post by Nancy Schwartz that talks in depth about personas and includes a sample persona checklist that you can adapt for your organization.

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Coming Soon to a City Near You...

Posted by at Feb 16, 2011 01:32 PM CST
Categories: Constituent Empowerment, Fundraising, Nonprofit Trends, NPtech, Social Media

Convio is coming to a city near you!

Coming Soon...

Come one, come all! Convio is setting up shop in a city near you—a workshop to be specific. We're hosting a free Nonprofit Success Workshop in cities across the country and right now we have February and March all set! The workshop will be highlighting best practices in marketing, fundraising and constituent relationship management (CRM). Session topics include acquiring and cultivating supporters through an integrated, multichannel approach, leveraging CRM to get control of constituent data across an organization, accelerating fundraising for small and growing nonprofits, social media and more.

Are you hungry? Good. We have breakfast! Oh, and did I mention it was free? Free! The day begins with a breakfast keynote featuring ground-breaking research into the giving trends of four different generations and how to reach and communicate with them effectively. Several of our highly trained and nonprofit-loving professionals will be leading these workshops, giving your big nonprofit heart all the fundraising, CRM, and marketing tools it so desires. See below for the upcoming cities and be sure to click here for more information and registration! We hope to see you there!

February 22 | Washington, DC
February 24 | New York, NY
March 1 | Boston, MA
March 8 | Seattle, WA
March 10 | San Francisco, CA
March 16 | Denver, CO

Check out our facebook page to see all of our upcoming events!

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