Here Comes the Future: New Tech Trends in Fundraising
For those of us who are still waiting for teleportation, the future can seem very far away. And for those of us who live and breathe fundraising, our work is often entrenched in old school practices and feels amazingly complicated at the same time. I bet that you’re using many of these fundraising program components right now: direct mail, phone solicitation, events, email appeals, online donation forms, social media ads, donation forms, search ads and peer-to-peer fundraising (thons and DIY).
Phew! Who has time for the cutting-edge stuff? You do! While it’s important to have the basics set up properly and converting well, once your fundamentals are humming along (hopefully with some degree of automation), put your explorer helmet on and look to the horizon. Cool things are happening way out there on the bleeding edge that may be worth a try at your organization. And as technology trends take hold, some of those cool things may become “must-haves” within a year or two. Let’s take a tour through four of the most promising.
You may have visions of robots taking over the earth when you read the words “Artificial Intelligence” (AI). Using AI really means leveraging all the data! Most nonprofit organizations are great about capturing data—and not so great about using it effectively. AI programs can apply complex formulas to your supporter data and serve up predictive analytics beyond your wildest dreams. Imagine a custom moves management process that uses all publicly available data for your unique mix of supporters, allowing your team to focus their efforts on the right segment of your file.
Chatbots are another great example of AI in fundraising. Imagine when a prospective supporter visits your online donation form, they are welcomed warmly and are led through the donation process. (I see that you want to make a tribute gift today—who are you honoring?)
AI can also create a sense of community among your supporters. They expect you to know their preferences and respond to them. It feels good to be known, recognized and appreciated; and that feeling of belonging may turn into more dollars raised.
It’s not hard to figure out how virtual reality can be used to bring a deep sense of empathy and realism to nonprofit fundraising programs. Looking around a village ravaged by a natural disaster, your donors can see the need as if they were standing alongside a rescue worker. Imagine the feelings of empathy that virtual reality can generate. Early indicators show that the virtual reality experience will increase brand recognition, which means that your organization will remain top of mind.
The experience of being there and seeing things up close can extend to demonstrating outcomes as well. Your virtual reality movie might show before and after scenes of a program for youth or perhaps magically bring a supporter to the finish line of a fundraising event, so they can feel the excitement as your participants celebrate together.
Virtual reality movies can be expensive to produce, but early adopters are seeing big upticks in their fundraising programs when virtual reality is added to the mix. If you want to go this route, it’s important to work with a pro to create your movie and have the right strategy in place to promote it and track your results.
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) has grown into a monster over the past few years. Yes, we’ve all seen the futuristic fridge that reminds you to buy more mustard. Many of us have used Siri and other voice control devices, like Alexa. But the sheer numbers are staggering. There are almost eight billion people on the planet, and by 2020, there will be more than 25 billion objects connected to the Internet—cars, watches, fitness trackers, doorbells, televisions. You name it and it’s connected to the Web.
IoT can give your organization an advantage when it comes to identifying what your supporters are passionate about and testing different conversion tactics. You can easily find supporters who share your values via their social media posts and other publicly available data. Use geotargeting to find new pockets of potential donors in areas where you may not yet have a strong presence.
Demonstrating program outcomes can be super interactive with IoT. Add sensors to track real-time impact data and display it for your donors to see and react to (e.g. 250 kids got free meals today, and here are the places they were served). Using IoT might be a great way for your organization to start moving toward more innovative, data-driven fundraising.
Now we’re really at the bleeding edge, aren’t we? Some of you may have started moving in this direction by adding digital wallet payments, like Apple Pay, to the methods of donations that your organization accepts. Digital currency, also called cryptocurrency, is definitely one of the riskier trends in nonprofit fundraising. It can be complicated to understand, because there are more than 2,000 currencies out there; and the value of the currency is quite volatile.
Retail is leading the way here. Some major companies have added digital currency to their online stores, and more are sure to follow by the end of the year. The retailer downloads the currency at the time of purchase and converts it into cash. Some companies don’t convert to cash right away—they wait until the value of the currency is high and then cash in.
However, there are some good reasons for nonprofits to evaluate Bitcoin and other digital currencies. Some digital payment processors do not charge a processing fee! Yes, you read that right. A $50 donation is really a $50 donation. The IRS has guidelines in place that treat digital currency like stock and other property, so it’s not a problem for you or the donor at tax time. Might be worth putting on your list to evaluate over the next year or two.
Don’t Wait to Innovate
If I had enough space to write about everything that’s cool in fundraising today, you’d be reading for hours. I’d include the maturation of user generated video and the apps that make it easy, platforms that create automated donor journeys with deep social media integration and super sophisticated personalization made possible through custom data integrations. There’s literally no end in sight when it comes to the ways that technology can drive creativity and innovation in your fundraising programs. Smart fundraisers will find an area in which to take a strategic leap forward this year—which one will you pick?
Maureen Wallbeoff brings more than 20 years of strategic and technical experience working inside nonprofit organizations and supporting nonprofit staff as a trusted advisor. Maureen was a founder of Firefly Partners, a creative digital agency providing services exclusively to nonprofits, in 2008. She spent the past decade as VP of Firefly, directing a team of twenty designers, developers and strategists. Her clients include Be The Match, Boston Medical Center, New Hampshire Public Radio, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Greater Yellowstone Foundation, American kidney Fund and the National LGBT Task Force.
She has authored two popular guides to nonprofit engagement software. Maureen’s sweet spot is merging the 30K foot strategic view with practical, hands-on-keys recommendations. She is focused on helping nonprofit staff solve technology challenges, so they can use their marketing, fundraising, and CRM systems more effectively.