Nonprofit Evolved: Is Technology the Solution?
It’s no secret that nonprofit organizations are late adopters of technology. While the rest of the world has been on that train, adding the latest and greatest technology tools into their organizational strategy, the nonprofit sector is just catching up. But we’re not too behind, right?
In the nonprofit sector, the boom of technology only happened within the past five years or so. But it seems like once that boom happened, the technology in our space skyrocketed. There is a multitude of nonprofit technology vendors creating, what seems like, an infinite amount of technology solutions for social good organizations. Just take a look at the Cabinet M Nonprofit Technology Stack.
With such a large amount of options of technology tools, one would think that nonprofits have become super tech-savvy. The reality is that nonprofits struggle with technology. And the reason is pretty simple: The majority of nonprofits don’t have the dollars to spend on technology. Candid. reports a total of 2.7 million nonprofits in its database, yet, at the time of writing this, just over 113,000 nonprofits report making over $1 million in revenue.
When thinking about technology, nonprofits have to be more strategic in their thinking. Before investing, nonprofits need to consider which techno-
logy tools would best fit in their overall organizational strategy and help empower staff members, stakeholders, volunteers and supporters in walking toward the path in achieving what matters most: the mission.
Saying ‘Yes’ to Digital Tools
Now that we’re in an age of digital innovation, the first step is to accept that technology can actually help your nonprofit in achieving its goals. No, we’re not saying that an investment in a shiny new technology will be the answer to all of your problems. Yes, we are saying that the right technology investment can help your nonprofit become more efficient, saving it time and money in the long run, helping to achieve those lofty goals for its mission.
Many organizations are interested in taking this digital leap, but are hindered by its executive team — because leadership doesn’t want to waste resources on an expensive new technology tool. This mentality could potentially cause more harm than good to the organization; causing staff members to take on more responsibility, which, in turn, causes staff burnout.
This is why it’s vital to have leadership understand and support the power of technology.
“When our president and CEO, Izzy Tapoohi, joined us in 2016, he came in with a true understanding of the importance of technology and the digital landscape. And because of that, he was able to be open to ideas and support ideas that previously might have not been part of our direction,” Pamela Fertel Weinstein, VP of marketing and communications of Birthright Israel Foundation, said in an exclusive interview with NonProfit PRO.
She added, “With that direction and support from our leadership, we were able to totally revamp our digital marketing strategy, not just to increase revenue, but to build digital awareness and brand awareness.”
With the support of leadership, Birthright Israel Foundation (BRIF) was able to put an emphasis on its Google search SEO (search engine optimization), invest in SEM (search engine marketing), test out retargeting methods and boost its social media presence.
Who Needs Data, Anyway?
Data this, data that, data here, data there. Data is everywhere, but is it really important to look at? Can I get a resounding YES, please? All those questions that you want to know about donors — those questions can be answered if you know how to interpret the data. And... it seems like the nonprofit sector is almost purposely trying not to use its data effectively.
The “State of Data in the Nonprofit Sector” report shared that 90% of nonprofits are collecting data. While that might seem like a great statistic, don’t go jumping for joy yet. Although nearly all nonprofits are collecting data, only 5% are using data for every decision
Sure, maybe you and your team aren’t the most technologically savvy group of people, but there are technology partners out there that want to help your organization understand its data. It’s all about finding the right partner that is mission-driven and has your organization’s best interests at heart.
When BRIF revamped its digital marketing strategy, it prioritized to better understand its audience, and it wanted to make sure every single person on its database did not receive the same creatives and ads.
“We were able to drill down — thanks to the incredible data from our Salesforce platform. We were able to send targeted ads and messaging to people who were the parents of our participants; to people who were lookalikes of our parents; and to participants who might have similar interests but might not be in our world yet, but may have some reason to want to connect and engage with us,” Pamela explained. “This is really helpful to us. And through that, by being able to really understand the different audiences, we were really able to put a lot of effort into our storytelling.”
By analyzing the data that it had, BRIF was able to get its mission and objective out in a personal way, using words and videos that would resonate to the right audiences. And the organization has seen an immediate response to that kind of personalization.
“We’ve really invested a great deal of money in creating video content that tells the story and the impact of the generosity of our donors,” Pamela said.
One of the key things donors are looking for when they decide to donate to your organization is ROI. When a donor makes a gift to a nonprofit, and the nonprofit is able to tell them where their money is going and how it’s making an impact, that shows donors that they have the power to make a difference. And it gives donors more of a reason to continue to give and to continue as a member of your community.
Data is more than just simplified metrics, like names, addresses, phone numbers and emails. The beauty of it is that you can get high-level information about your donors and their behaviors by understanding what to look for.
“It is a living breathing vehicle. And you have to give [data] the attention and time to know what it is doing and how people are responding to things. Have people been spoken to on the phone? Have they received emails? Have they opened them? What kind of things are they engaging with?” Pamela said. “It has been really amazing for us to grow, not only our mass marketing efforts, but the portfolio efforts from our fundraisers and the staff who are looking at the high-end donors to drill down, get to know them and keep track of what they’re doing and what they’re responding to.”
Avoid Falling Into the Dreaded Spam Folder
Email campaigns are a useful and popular way to push out fundraising initiatives and accrue dollars for your nonprofit. While email sounds pretty tame and simple, it’s anything but. It’s easy to grow your email list — and pushing an email out to your audience list is as easy as a click of a button.
But email service providers (ESPs) are becoming more and more sophisticated, resulting in a higher chance of your email appeal getting lost in the spam folder. According to “2019 Email Deliverability Benchmarks Study, nonprofits are losing 20% of email revenue due to spam filters.
In fact, according to the “2019 M+R Benchmarks Study,” email list size increased 5% since 2018. However, the fundraising email response rate fell 13%, with nonprofits sending out an average of 59 emails per subscriber. Are nonprofits sending out too many emails? And are they not segmenting their lists, resulting in donors getting hit with the same email two, maybe three times?
If ESPs are getting more sophisticated with their metrics and algorithms, it’s time for nonprofits to step up their game, too. It’s time to focus on email deliverability — make sure you are segmenting your donors and make sure you are regularly cleaning your lists. You know those email addresses that are bouncing back? Those got to go.
A few years back, BRIF learned a very hard lesson about quantity versus quality. Its program was growing, and its list was growing and growing… and growing! But suddenly, it saw a big decrease in its online giving and its open rate.
“We started digging deeper, deeper and deeper. As the technology and the tools became more advanced, we were able to get to know our real inbox deliverability — not just overall. It was by ESP. And we started to see we were getting blocked by Gmail, getting blocked by AOL, getting blocked by Yahoo,”
“Those set off big alarms in our office, and, as we like to joke here, we had to burn our IP down and start from scratch to rebuild our digital footprint and our email marketing.”
She continued, “We realized if you don’t open a certain amount based on our patterns and our algorithms, we’re not going to email you again. Because eventually, you’re going to get annoyed or maybe you don’t use that email anymore. Or maybe for some reason, we’re ending up in your spam folder. Or one day, the one time you see us again, you’re going to report us as spam.”
BRIF learned how to nurture its audience to make sure they felt respected, which can be an important lesson for any nonprofit. Hammering away at the same list numerous times is not going to get them to continue to give to your nonprofit. It could have worst repercussions, like never giving to your organization ever again.
“When a nonprofit is coming into your email, your personal space, and it’s asking you for money, it’s a different [from a for-profit company sending an email about an upcoming sale]. Yes, you get the warm and fuzzies, and the feelings of supporting something, but it’s a different experience,” Pamela
emphasized. “And we really have to respect that with our data and know that these are not just names, these are not just emails, these are people.”
Artificial Intelligence Improves Your Communication
You’ve heard this word more than once, I’m sure. Artificial intelligence (AI) is more than just a buzzword that’s buzzing around the nonprofit space. It has real potential for nonprofits if they understand what it can be used for — you can forget aliens and robots.
In a previous NonProfit PRO article, authored by France Hoang, co-founder and chief strategy officer of boodleAI, AI can be utilized in three ways:
- Peer-to-peer fundraising. AI can sift through the data and find the most promising fundraisers. It can also pair AI-assistants with human fundraisers to discover overlooked fundraisers and tailor messaging.
- Board fundraising. AI assistants can team up with board members to find high-level donors.
- Capital campaigns. AI assistants can help with data hygiene, data analysis and visualization, and fundraising recruitment.
BRIF is just dipping its toes into the world and potential of AI. The organization has used it to work with fundraising staff on how to manage their donor portfolios.
“It helps really pay attention to [donors] and their behaviors, and helps trigger, are they in need of an outreach, are they in a cultivation stage where they should still be hearing from you, have they recently made gifts that you need to be stewarding? It’s really providing some insights that are really helpful to manage these donors who are at a larger giving level,” Pamela shared.
She continued, “[AI] is providing our staff with the ability to know how and when to communicate with them and keep that relationship going, because it always comes back to... these are people, and you have to have relationships with them.”
Because we are all so busy in our day-to-day lives, she explains that it’s helpful to have technology to remind you to be a person and connect with people.
Yes, technology can help your nonprofit in a magnitude of ways. But it’s not going to be the solution to all your problems. Fundraising still boils down to human connection and real, authentic interaction. And BRIF is well aware of that. The organization is doing its due diligence of connecting people to its organization by giving its audience the content that they’re looking for.
“We’re giving them the content they want because it’s not as simple as just saying, ‘Hi. We’re BRIF. Send us your money. Here’s a slip. Write your credit card number.’ Or, ‘Here’s a link. Click it.’ We have to connect with people,” Pamela said. “And I think as much as we’ve talked about the tremendous growth in digital marketing, I think it’s also important to know your good old-fashioned snail mail is still vital to this market and to this audience.”