by Jay Wilkinson, Firespring
Like most people who work for a nonprofit, you want to do more good and ensure every dollar spent helps accomplish your mission—I get that. But as counterintuitive as this seems, sometimes the best way to create a bigger impact and further your mission is to invest money right back into your organization. The key to investing wisely is to spend money on the things that make your organization more efficient and effective, thus more impactful.
Here’s where we talk about “the T word.”
Before you say it, let me acknowledge this: Technology can be aggravating. Once you think you have a handle on it, it changes. There are always new tools and better apps and more software cropping up, and sometimes you just want to stay in bed and pull the covers over your head. It can be overwhelming.
But the truth is, once you embrace it, technology can be liberating. And you don’t have to be tech-savvy to benefit from technology. Nonprofits like yours just need to focus on three areas: simple online apps, your website CMS and donor/member management tools. You don’t have to fear technology or its costs—it can become your best friend when you realize how much it can expand your organization’s capacity to do good. In fact, spending money on technology is not a cost in most cases; it’s an investment with a significant ROI.
Let me give you some quick “for examples.”
- Online event registration lets you cut way down on manual data entry hours.
- A donor management tool gets you off Excel spreadsheets and onto a platform where you can track donor activity with just a few clicks.
- A good email marketing program allows you to segment your audience and target the right message to the right person at the right time, increasing engagement and conversion.
- Online donation processing makes it easier for donors to give and for you to track your fundraising efforts.
The list could go on, but you get my point, right? Technology both expands your capacity to get things done and to store and track important information about your constituent base—two things that will make your organization more efficient.
Where do you start? If you’ve hesitated to really embrace technology and adopt the software and tools that nonprofits need in 2018, this might be the burning question in your mind.
Here’s what I would recommend.
Embrace online fundraising. For real. Why? Four clear-cut reasons:
- It’s more cost effective. One print campaign can cost you thousands of dollars to implement. If you can email 20,000 constituents—and effectively connect with that many—it will cost you pennies on the dollar compared to sending out that many direct mail pieces.
- It’s fast to implement. If I implement an online campaign today, I’ll know within 24 hours whether it’s going to work. Within 48 hours, I’ll know if it’s a success. With direct mail, it could take a few weeks to a couple of months. Plus, I can launch an online campaign quickly.
- It’s more personalized and targeted. With email, I can easily target different groups. How I message Millennial parents would be much different than how I appeal to Baby Boomer grandparents. It’s possible that these two groups have similar values, but the way they make decisions and what they respond to is quite different.
- It’s where people are. You want to extend your reach and expand your audience of potential donors? Go where the masses are: online. People increasingly rely on mobile devices and tablets to access the internet, so it’s important to not only reach them online, but to reach them via a website that looks great on any device.
Marry your offline world with your online presence. For example, you can gather email addresses both online and off. This is the beginning of your online dialogue with someone—access to their inbox. You probably have a way to capture people’s email addresses on your website, but don’t forget to capture them offline too. One of the best times to grow your email list is at events. You automatically have an audience that you know cares about your cause and organization.
Also, use your offline marketing efforts to drive people to your website. Do you include your URL on your direct mail pieces, conference materials and swag, brochures, fliers, even branded T-shirts and other apparel? Always look for ways to get people to your site—that’s where you can tell your story and engage with your audience. And that brings me to my next point.
Make it easier for people to engage with you. Do you know one of the biggest things constituents want from a nonprofit’s website? Easy online event registration. If I want to participate in your organization’s end-of-year silent auction and banquet, don’t make me print out a PDF file and mail it or scan it back to you. I just want to fill out the registration form online, pay and be done. If I want to make a donation, please let me give you my money with a seamless process that keeps me on your website and makes me feel secure. See where I’m going with this? The easier you make it for people to do what you’d like them to do, the more likely they’ll do it.
Keep track of your donors with tools that take away the headache. A Rolodex is not a professional donor database tool. A file cabinet is not a donor database tool. Even an Excel spreadsheet can be clunky and cumbersome. Bloomerang, however, does offer a wonderful donor database tool (that integrates seamlessly with the Firespring website platform). Why does this matter to you? Because it can make your life infinitely easier by storing all your important donor data securely and right at your fingertips. If you think, “But that’s just one more tool I have to learn how to use,” I would say, yes. It is. But you don’t have to be tech-savvy to learn it, and once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it.
Prioritize your website design. Once a prospective donor hits your website, it takes a split second for them to form an opinion. According to research from Missouri University of Science and Technology, people get a first impression of a website in less than two-tenths of a second. Clean, intuitive design can help draw people in immediately. On the other hand, poor design can make them bounce. One study found that 94% of the reasons visitors reject or mistrust a site is related to design. Plus, if you develop an attractive website that’s easy to navigate, you’ll connect instantly with young supporters who (let’s face it) have grown to expect that legit organizations will have a fresh, engaging online presence. That’s just the world we live in now.
Embrace mobile, if you haven’t already. You know it, I know it: Smartphones aren’t going anywhere, and users are now accessing the internet more on mobile devices than they are on computers. The Millennial Impact Report found that 76% of users get frustrated when trying to navigate nonprofit websites that don’t show up well on mobile devices. Your takeaway: Don’t settle for anything less than a responsive website that adapts to any screen so supporters can engage with you wherever they are. If you’re not there yet, I would suggest making this a high priority for 2018.
Work with a software and technology provider that gets you. You’re going to sleep much better at night knowing the dollars you invest in technology are with a company that understands nonprofits. I’ve been serving in the nonprofit world for decades now—long enough to know that the challenges and issues you face are not the same as for-profits. So choose a technology provider who gets you and the specific needs you have.
For example, keeping your website updated with current information and events is crucial—it tells people that someone’s home, things are happening, your organization is alive and active. You need more than a brochure site that looks pretty. But it can be a pain (and expensive) to always go through a developer or that one volunteer who updates your site now and then but isn’t always available when you need him . . . does this sound familiar? That’s why it’s important to have a user-friendly CMS that allows you to go in and make updates yourself, with point-and-click simplicity. Work with a technology provider who understands your needs. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and angst.
This old adage remains true: The only thing constant is change—and when it comes to technology, it’s never been truer. But please don’t let that keep you from embracing it.
We understand that technology can be overwhelming, which is why we’ve teamed up with Montana Nonprofit Association. We want to make it easier and more affordable to leverage the kind of technology that can help you increase efficiency, raise more money and connect with your community without confusion and high costs. See how Firespring’s partnership with MNA can expand your organization’s capacity while offering you significant savings.
About Jay Wilkinson: Jay Wilkinson is an entrepreneur who has started and sold 5 companies, invested in 25 startups and founded, co-founded or helped start 7 nonprofits. As a philanthropist, Jay has raised millions of dollars and spends half his time empowering nonprofits. Today, he focuses on his role as founder and CEO of Firespring—a B Corporation in Lincoln, Nebraska and one of Inc. Magazine’s Top 50 Places to Work in America.
Jay has been a sought-after speaker for two decades, educating thousands of nonprofit professionals and inspiring business leaders to adopt a purpose-driven business model. Jay’s TEDx talk on company culture has more than 1 million views. A graduate of MIT, Jay has appeared on national news outlets discussing the impact of nonprofits on the economy.