As with commercial industry sectors, nonprofit organizations in the past year have seen a paradigm shift in constituent behaviors and engagement models. Their mutual experiences have been heavily skewed due to the physical, psychological and economic restrictions and limitations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Challenges have come in many forms. Financial uncertainty in households has forced people to reconsider their spend. Unfortunately, donations and active affiliations with nonprofits have too often been the casualties of those decisions. Many nonprofit organizations have had to take difficult cost-cutting measures, such as reduced work hours, furloughs and even layoffs. This is the only way to preserve enough funds to be put toward the missions for which they care so deeply. Coordinated public fundraising events like walks, runs and bike rides that drive major corporate funding were paused and have yet to resume. And organizations and their affiliations are challenged with keeping up with local COVID-19 regulations, which further stall their ability to get back to business as usual.
It's clearly become a race to stay afloat for organizations. There is tough competition among the roughly 1.8 million nonprofit organizations registered in the U.S. to attract, draw and convince donors to support their causes. Every dollar makes a difference.
The pandemic accelerated the shift of constituent behavior, experiences and interactions to digital channels. And most nonprofits, especially small and medium-sized, are not prepared; they lack the digital infrastructure needed to support this shift. While offline channels remain relevant, it is becoming evident that organizations and nonprofit leaders must reevaluate and revisit their technology infrastructure, as the foundation to fuel this pivot toward an integrated digital ecosystem. The key is to find the right balance between the online and offline channels — to engage the members at the right time in the right channels.
So, what should nonprofit leaders take into consideration while evaluating technology-related decisions?
- Integrated technology platform(s). Customer relationship management providers are being loosely sold as a one-stop shop for all needs of a nonprofit marketer. While CRMs are great at handling sales processes, fundraising and future giving, they alone are not enough to solve a challenge of this magnitude. They lack customizations, they store/present limited data history and they do not adequately support multichannel marketing. A complementary agile platform that connects your CRM, eCRM and digital data is a must to enable relevant donor experiences that matter.
- Strategic alignment. Organizations must be aligned at the leadership level on their go-to-market strategy and requirements. Quite often, the IT, marketing and fundraising teams within nonprofits do not collaborate properly upstream and end up with solutions being built on platforms that do not meet the marketing or fundraising needs, ultimately affecting the nonprofit's outreach and growth.
- Scalable and cost-effective technology. Infrastructure that was very relevant 10 years ago is now becoming a cost burden to maintain and scale. IT budgets are getting tighter and tighter. It is evident we need to build for today, but anticipate future growth. Cloud platforms make it easier for nonprofits to harness, analyze and activate the power of their enterprise data, allowing them to scale as the business needs evolve. It also limits the effect of technical debt and enables rapid adaptation to changes.
- Connected data asset management. Clean and high-quality data is the biggest asset for any nonprofit organization. A centralized and connected platform that brings together the disparate data from online and offline touchpoints and makes the various data dimensions accessible anywhere is critical in getting a comprehensive 360-degree view of a constituent.
- Personalized customer experience. Today’s constituents expect a seamless, timely and consistent cross-channel engagement and experience. Having a cross-channel identity resolution solution is key to providing a personalized customer experience that drives competitive differentiation and measurable business results.
- Data security and privacy. As the digital footprint expands for nonprofits, they must have a good handle on how data is collected, handled, tracked and reported. Nonprofits are not fully exempt from data privacy regulations mandating that constituent PII (personally identifiable information) is protected and readily available when requested. Cloud technology offers continuous data protection, thread detection and monitoring, identity and access management, compliance auditing, and data accessibility features for nonprofits to leverage.
Nonprofits should seek a technology solution that will bring together data from all online and offline touch points and transform it into meaningful campaign audiences, which will allow for hyper-personalized experiences. With data management and insights under control, you can spend less time navigating spreadsheets and tech tools and more time focused on building the right messaging and experiences for your constituents.
Ann Doolittle leads analytic strategy across a variety of nonprofit clients in sectors including health, humanitarian relief and associations. With more than 15 years of experience, her breadth of knowledge across the direct marketing spectrum allows for an all-encompassing approach to how data can be leveraged in fundraising programs and across the enterprise to drive better ROI. She has been integral to developing segmentation models for multiple clients, in addition to maximizing campaign performance through advanced modeling and audience selection techniques. Prior to joining Merkle, Ann managed all direct marketing for The Great Courses. Her prior agency experience includes Marketing General, exclusively focused on association marketing.
Anant Veeravalli is an innovative and passionate marketing technologist with 15+ years' experience specializing in large-scale solution transformations and marketing technology consulting. Anant currently serves as a VP of solution delivery for the nonprofit vertical at Merkle, supporting some of the top Philanthropy 100 organizations. He is a senior leader experienced in CRM, business process improvement, software lifecycle management, cloud solutions, customer data integration, privacy/preference management, data governance/quality, campaign management and business intelligence systems.