Last month I had the pleasure of contributing an article to CIO Update regarding cloud computing in the nonprofit sector. You can read the full article here or get a sampling through the excerpt below.
The idea of changing to new technology can seem incredibly daunting and overwhelming, but the reality is that the new technology is here to stay and will eventually become mainstream. Nonprofits that don’t look to cloud will be left behind -- regardless of how compelling or important their mission happens to be.
Accessibility: How important is accessibility to the organization? Are there multiple offices or multiple people in multiple locations? A cloud-based database can provide 24/7 access to every member of an organization that allows multiple staff members to manage a single database from virtually anywhere in the world.
Cost: For nonprofits, cost is always a major factor. An on-premise solution or a workaround solution (such as Excel) might be sufficient enough and cost effective for smaller organizations with single offices and single access points, but for even organizations with two offices or even one staff member in another location, the capital investment in technology could prove costly. Cloud services come in a variety of flavors that don’t always require a significant investment up front.
Innovation: If there is one fundamental truth in this world (or Truth with a capital "T"), it’s that technology will always change. Innovation will always happen. The next iteration or generation of technology will come along that makes the current version seem not quite as complete.
On-premise solutions typically require time and money to stay abreast of latest developments, something that most nonprofits have in short supply. If any technology comes close to fulfilling the promise of being “future proof,” it’s cloud computing. In most instances, updates and upgrades happen seamlessly behind the scenes so you always stay current with the latest technology.
Audience engagement: Similar to for-profit business, nonprofits are trying to engage an audience in a very dynamic way. Traditionally, nonprofits have relied very heavily on direct mail to appeal to their audience for much-needed funds. Traditional channels still do, and will continue to, play a key role when engaging constituents. But the world is changing.
Digital channels are becoming the norm in terms of information consumption, and nonprofits need to stay current to be relevant to their audience. cloud solutions offer a variety of engagement tools geared for the digital/social/online world that provide most nonprofits with a very necessary multichannel approach to constituent engagement.
For most nonprofits, the cloud will provide significant dividends in both the short and long term, and will set up most nonprofits to be ready for the opportunities that exist both today and tomorrow.
I’ve been following the fundraising response to Japan very closely and so I was very pleased to be able to sit down with Katie Beth DeSchepper of StrategicOne earlier today. Convio acquired StrategicOne earlier this year, and they have done significant analytics on disaster donations with some hefty data sets to look at, so Katie Beth had some excellent suggestions.
She’s quick to point out though, that success has really got more to do with knowing enough about how well your strategy is working before a disaster strikes.
Molly: Let’s start out where the real analytics come in. A disaster happened and an organization receives a sudden, spontaneous burst of giving. How do you approach analyzing that kind of response?
Katie Beth: Disaster donors really have a trifecta effect going on. Not only are they new donors and getting new donors to convert is tricky, but there’s also the emotional response, plus they’re seeing a huge amount of news coverage about the disaster. For example, they’re seeing the pictures of what’s going on in Japan – it’s on their mind all the time.
Getting them in the door is relatively easy but you have to find a way to convert donors with something less emotionally driven.
The first thing I always ask is “What is the current conversion package for donors in general? Is it working?” You want to think about it compared to how the organization responds to any new donor, it’s as if the new donor just walked in the door and you need to point them in the right direction.
M: How can organizations look at categorizing disaster donors when they first “walk in the door”?
KB: You really have to use what you have and what you know, so how did they pay? What channel did they use? Did they designate the gift? What third party data can I use?
Then we go into a cloning process. There are many tools to create these profiles – we’ll try to find similarities to get to a similar group.
But that is not the be-all answer. That doesn’t mean that because you look like, say, a monthly EFT donor I am automatically going to send you only down that path and cut off everything else you could be getting.
Once we have a hypothesis about who you are like, we create an experimental design that will test different communication strategies. One is always the control so we have a baseline. The next is more similar to the hypothesis. The third is probably some hybrid, which educates you more broadly before we push you down a path.
A lot of organizations really want to jump the gun and say ‘because the model suggests something is the right answer, we’re going to go right there,” but we really want to dissuade organizations from doing that. We do ourselves a great disservice if we don’t do our homework.
We can actually limit the time it takes to get to the epiphany moment though, if we’ve done all our data homework, but we still have to do the communication testing to know if it’s going to work.
For example, maybe I can get a longer-term retention on that monthly EFT if I’ve done a great job of getting you hooked on the bigger picture of what I do.
M: So…how hard is it though to get people hooked bigger picture?
KB: That’s tough because of that tendency to jump to the end. Sometimes organizations don’t even actually get to the ask unfortunately – they know the best window is right after someone has made a gift, but they need to be prepared to run a test. The best answer is likely some version of a hybrid approach but it could go a number of different directions, which is why it’s so important to stick to your testing.
M: What types of tests should organizations plan? Or what would you like to see tested?
KB: Before you even get there you really want to establish your own non-emergency benchmarks for all acquisition sources. How are they really converting donors from one channel to another? Do you even know your own benchmarks? That’s what I would want to know.
In an emergency you’re going to be focused just on the emergency, and in order to put a good test together, or the right test together, you have to know what’s happening in general first.
M: Any other insider tips?
KB: Well, first, don’t think that because someone was a disaster donor for an emergency a while ago that they’ll respond to another emergency now. We don’t really see that kind of emergency-to-emergency conversion, and region also plays a big part. For example we know that there’s a big difference in groups that donate to domestic disasters and the groups that donate to international disasters. Katrina donors didn’t necessarily give to Haiti.
We’ve also seen that organizations can struggle a bit more with receipting after an emergency. Because of the increase in donations, they get behind. You get an online receipt and email of course, but you still need that offline follow up “thank you”. We really think that’s an opportunity to use some of your higher touch tactics to make up for what may be a slower follow up response. Increase the look and the feel of the appreciation effort on disaster gifts if you can.
M: Should that “thank you” include an appeal?
KB: Organizations vary philosophically on whether to include an ask in their thank you’s. We’ve found that just including a remit device can generate a high response but we understand that there are reasons organizations choose not to do that as well. However we hope there is an appropriate follow up ask in the plan, and sooner is better than later.
Don’t tell anyone, but there was a time in my life when I didn’t know what “tabling” was. I was familiar with the idea of kitchen tables (for doing homework, eating dinner), coffee tables (for displaying large books and a few stems of an in-season flower), bed side tables (often crowded with books, to-do lists, glasses of water, and hair things)… but it wasn’t until my entrance into the wonderful world of grassroots organizing that I truly learned “how to table.”
Tabling, as defined by an informal survey of several of my favorite organizing buddies, is the act of standing behind or near a table in a conference setting to distribute branded swag, engage with conference attendees, and gather the names and contact information of constituents.
I learned to table from the best of ‘em… other grassroots organizers that is. I learned all the tricks to make a table popular (candy!) and how to keep passers-by flowing at a good rate so nobody actually monopolized the table’s real estate in a crowded conference setting. And above all else, I learned how to rake in the e-mail addresses so I could follow-up with folks post conference. I pressed all these tabling skills into service over the last two weeks when I attended both the Non-Profit Technology Conference in DC and the Association for Fundraising Professionals Conference in Chicago.
Here are a few rules of the road to follow as you pack up that fancy display, mini Snickers, and tons of branded pens and head to conferences in the future.
Capture Contact Information
Sure, it is fun to talk about the fact that your parents live in the same apartment building as the person who just stopped by your table (side note: this really happened), but getting a name and e-mail address can help turn this new best friend into next year’s top donor.
Once you’ve got the contact info, use it! There’s nothing worse than getting the “thanks for signing up” e-mail months after a conference ends (okay, there are worse things, but this is certainly not a best practice).
And with that, tabling rockstars, I think you’re ready to go! Oh, I almost forgot… don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes and stay hydrated while on your tabling shift, too.
Recently, I was watching a presentation that Melinda Gates gave at a TEDTalk last fall. She was talking about what nonprofits can learn from for-profit businesses like Coca Cola. It boiled down to three main points:
I started to really ponder the first point: Use real-time data. The truth is that data can tell a story. It can better inform your mission's work. But, you have to be listening to what it’s telling you. And you need to be listening all the time.
As Melinda Gates pointed out, nonprofits often analyze data at the end of a project instead of throughout the execution of the project. As a technology consultant for nonprofits, I work with many organizations, often helping them implement and optimize their use of software to collect various types of data, and I see that when you regularly capture and use your data, it can help you to run your organization more efficiently and serve your mission more effectively.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Ideally, you should consider collection and use of data as part of the planning phase before any big project or campaign. You should at least have a general idea of:
This type of planning is second nature to for-profit companies, which must constantly increase their margins and profit in order to meet shareholder demands. But as a nonprofit professional, the extra planning and record-keeping involved may seem daunting — or even wasteful — to you since it means spending time on "business" instead of on the mission.
In reality, a well-executed data strategy can help you increase the success of your overall mission by helping you identify successful fundraising strategies, recognize changing trends in donor response to different campaigns, and allow more accurate predictions of future campaign results.
Consider the example of a large fundraising campaign. To use real-time data effectively, you need to do more than count donations at the end of the campaign. Instead, divide the overall campaign into a number of smaller segments or phases, and use the data collected during each phase to fine-tune your fundraising techniques for the next phase. For an annual giving campaign, you could plan for quarterly phases with a brief pause for data analysis between each phase.
The details about exactly what data to collect for each campaign or project may vary. But in general, one of your main objectives should be to find out as much as possible about donors, what portion of your campaign they are responding to, and why.
Back to the example of an annual giving campaign: For such a campaign, you might deploy both direct mail and email marketing, and perhaps social media. For each of these strategies, you need to be able to judge how well it is working, so at a minimum you should keep track of:
By reviewing this data continually during the campaign, you’ll be able to recognize if a certain strategy is not producing the results you were expecting. This, in turn, will let you make adjustments to how (or even if) you employ that strategy during the next phase of the campaign.
Beyond collecting and using basic data, diving deeper to collect more detailed constituent data can help you know your constituents better and spot trends as they develop. Consider an extreme example: Say you notice after the first phase of a campaign that a large proportion of those who donated in response to a particular email appeal were high-income married couples living in yurts. With this knowledge, you could then (1) review the wording and targeting of that particular appeal to make it more effective outside this fairly narrow demographic , or (2) decide to augment some of your other fundraising strategies in order to build even stronger bonds with these constituents, turning more of them into long-term supporters.
Collecting real-time data can also help you determine where you have the greatest need so you can concentrate efforts and resources in the most meaningful way. For example, if you’re campaigning for specific programs, you don’t want to be surprised at the end of a six-month campaign by finding out that you didn’t raise enough to fund the project. By continually tracking the effectiveness of different campaigns and strategies and identifying which ones are "on track", you can evaluate your campaign marketing strategies and decide where to focus your efforts in order to meet your desired goals. And, conversely, knowing which ones are not "on track" can help you provide a more narrowly focused and compelling appeal to your donor base.
By gradually introducing these real-time data concepts to your fundraising activities, you’ll be able to both increase the efficiency of each individual campaign and recognize longer-term trends in the outcome generated by different strategies year over year. The result will be more money raised, a more involved constituent base, and less time spent wondering if you reach more high-income yurt-living couples via direct mail, by emailing, or on Facebook.
How many times have your constituents emailed you about forgetting their password?
My newest pal at Convio, Natalie Cole*, sent me a link to this blog post that confirms using a what I think we all feel in our bones: more people prefer signing into websites using an existing account over creating a new profile.
I've certainly seen a lot of this all over the internet lately - websites from The Huffington Post to commerical sites have been offering me to sign in using my Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, or other account instead of registering to create a profile. And I do that pretty often - mostly because I am less likely to forget my Gmail or Facebook password as opposed to the hundreds of logins that I have for all the random sites I've create profiles in over the years.
It's also a great idea to let your users have a choice about how their login credentials. Using something that's already familiar to them, like Facebook, Google or Twitter will make it easier to sign up new members on your site. If people are signed into your site, then you can offer them different content based on who they are or what they are interested in (see my post from last week about segmenting - the principles can apply to content on your website as well). This is a more compelling experience for visitors to your website.
And finally, from a practical perspective, if people remember their login, then you'll have fewer duplicates created. Nobody likes duplicates!
Convio clients can do this right now. In a previous release, Convio started offering clients the opportunity to configure your Convio Online Marketing and Convio CMS software with Gigya - a provider that enables social sign-in and also social sharing, an easy way for your constituents to post links to your pages, Action Alerts, donation forms to their social networking sites.
Let's look at some examples:
If registration is a part of your organization's strategy for your website and online engagement, then I think this would give your efforts a boost. There's really no reason not to do it!
*Not the singer Natalie Cole, although this has made for some amusing and witty one-liners as we've gotten to know Natalie. So please, no phone calls or requests for autographs.
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