Embracing Nonprofit 2.0 in Your Organization
With Web 2.0, as with all emerging technologies, there is a fine balance with what to use, what to lose and where to start. What is clear though, is that nonprofits need to embrace these technologies to take themselves to the next level.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in an event hosted by a forward-thinking nonprofit organization that invited its technology partners to an open discussion about Internet trends in the nonprofit industry.
As I prepared for the discussion, I jotted down four key concepts every nonprofit should embrace when thinking about where technology and the nonprofit sector are headed. Adhering to these principles will help your organization succeed with its Web strategy — no matter how basic or advanced it is
Personalize your mission
From companies like Amazon and eBay to nonprofits like National Parkinson Foundation and Clinton Global Initiative — the big winners online have embraced the power of personalization. Saying that people prefer to be recognized and treated like individuals might be stating the obvious, but it doesn’t make it any less true. The organizations that will succeed will be those that transform their mission into personalized experiences for constituents.
Take a look at what your organization is doing online and ask yourself if you’re getting personal. Do you treat constituents like an anonymous mass of unknowns or do you treat them like individuals? Can visitors to your Web site or subscribers to your e-newsletters express their interests and personal preferences? Do you provide content and communication that is meaningful, relevant and individualized? Do you allow volunteers, donors, activists, alumni or other groups to tell their own personal stories online? If not, what are you waiting for? Organizations that have been successful online didn’t adopt a “wait and see” attitude before seizing this important opportunity.
Embrace your frienemies
Some organizations view Web sites like MySpace, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube as competitors. Others view them as valuable outposts on the Internet to attract supporters. What kind of organization are you? In both the online and offline world, there is a constant struggle to build awareness in a sea of competing messages. The organizations that stop viewing external Web sites as competitors and start embracing them as a part of an online strategy will be more successful.
Lately, everyone seems to be questioning whether Web tools such as social networks are actually resulting in donations. This line of thinking is a bit too facile. Since when is the rationale for doing anything solely based on whether it is a direct fundraising source? Sites like Facebook and Eons can help your organization build and maintain relationships with constituents in a high-volume and low-cost way that few offline programs can match. Who could argue that this is good for an organization’s growth and eventual financial stability? Organizations that extend their reach to places frequented by millions of current and prospective constituents are demonstrating their keen understanding of the power of the Internet.
Integrate your channels
Traditional fundraising channels include personal solicitation, events, publications, telephone, stewardship letters and direct mail. These are some of the basic offline tools that most nonprofit organizations utilize. The Internet adds another entire set of channels including Web sites, e-mail, search engines, social networks, (RSS), weblogs, podcasts and more. The organizations that leverage both online and offline channels together will have the agility to communicate in more successful ways.
The first step to integrating your channels is to stop seeing the Internet as an alien technology and start seeing it as a more dynamic and cost-effective set of channels to use when interacting with constituents. Blend these new channels together with your traditional channels to improve your results.
The second step is to stop using fragmented systems that turn your constituents into irreconcilable carbon copies regardless of the channels they use. You need to have a holistic view of your constituents across channels, and it shouldn’t require a Herculean effort. Remember that integration is not about data — it is about leveraging information to take strategic actions. Organizations that treat individuals as individuals no matter the communication channel are best poised for success.
Measure your progress
There’s an old saying that not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. This might be true, but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have measurable goals and a way to measure them. Every goal must have metrics, and it all begins with measuring where you stand today. Your first basis for comparison should always be against your own past performance. Start by measuring how you performed in the last capital campaign, the last annual appeal, the last e-mail message, etc.
At the same time, don’t get make the mistake of getting too caught up in statistical averages and benchmarks. Being below the average doesn’t tell you how to improve, being above the average doesn’t tell you how to stay there, and being near the average only encourages mediocrity. The organizations that understand that both qualitative and quantitative measures help guide decision making will be best able to confirm their success.
Steve MacLaughlin is the practice manager of Blackbaud Interactive, Blackbaud’s Internet strategy and solutions group. To read more about Steve’s thoughts on leveraging the Internet, read his chapter in the recently released book “People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities.” For more information, contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit interactive.blackbaud.com.
Steve MacLaughlin is the vice president of data and analytics at Blackbaud and best-selling author of “Data Driven Nonprofits.” Steve has spent 20-plus years driving innovation with a broad range of companies, government institutions and nonprofit organizations. He serves on the board of the Nonprofit Technology Network and is a frequent speaker at conferences and events. Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in interactive media from Indiana University.