Out of the Trenches
If you love thinking about how social media and technology can be used to raise money, increase visibility and create social change (is there an app for that?), there's no better place to be than the annual NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference, which took place this year in April in Atlanta. Once I got done ogling all of the new iPads and finished searching for places to plug in my laptop, I actually had real conversations with a few breathing humans. Look, ma! No plugs!
The NTC is dominated by a young, wired crowd — so it's a good place to find out what's new on the digital horizon for nonprofits. This year, there was chatter about Foursquare, a social geo-tagging tool, and lots of ongoing debate about the ROI on Facebook, Twitter and other social tools for nonprofits.
But the more significant conversations I heard took place around the topic of how to manage and prioritize. Jeff Patrick of Common Knowledge summed it up beautifully: He asked a group, "How many of you have Google Analytics on your website?" and all hands in the room shot up. Then, "How many of you review your analytics regularly and use that data to make changes and adjustments?" and only a few people raised their hands.
A few years ago, it was unthinkable that a small shop could conduct its own multivariate tests on its own website (e.g., testing different ask strings or donate button designs). These days, it's easy and free with Google Website Optimizer. Until recently, no one bothered to listen to chatter on Facebook or Twitter about an organization or its work because the chatter wasn't significant. Now Facebook has more than 400 million active users — impossible to ignore.
A section in my book, "Brand raising: How Nonprofits Increase Visibility and Raise Money through Smart Communications" (Jossey-Bass, 2010), is devoted to a basic marketing principle I call taking the long view. The long view means getting out of the trenches to see what's coming: Identify new fundraising tools and techniques, and plan for them, monitor what peer organizations and competitors are up to, and keep up with trade publications like this one, for instance. It's the view from high up — and it allows you to plan for what's coming before it sneaks up and bites you.
Sarah Durham is president of Big Duck, a New York City-based branding, marketing and fundraising firm for nonprofits. She serves on the boards of the National Brain Tumor Society and the New York Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP).