The Evolution of Multichannel Fundraising
The concept of multichannel fundraising isn’t new, but it has certainly evolved to new levels of relevance as the result of the recent advances in and proliferation of mobile and social media. Traditionally, multichannel refers to "offline" as well as "digital" channels. However, the evolution of digital tools and social media has not only redefined the role of these channels, but also the way people seamlessly and instantaneously move between channels. The three phases outlined below highlight the evolution of multichannel fundraising.
Phase 1: Channels as islands
Previously, multichannel referred to methods by which a nonprofit reached its supporters: mail, phone, face-to-face and online (the Web). In this context, multichannel fundraising employed individual strategies for using some, or all, of these to engage supporters. Usually these channels were handled with separate strategies and very often regarded as "islands" separate from one another — and in many cases, they were even "owned" by different groups within the organization.
Phase 2: More digital channels and your donors decide which ones
Over time and with the continued development of technology, multichannel transitioned from focusing on how you reach your donors with your messages to how they connect to your organization and brand. Increasingly, the donors control the channel, not the organization.
With each of these channels comes opportunity for connecting your organization more deeply with your donors. A relationship and dialogue can occur more easily and in a way that is in tune with how your donors want to engage. There is now an emphasis on creating strategies for using multiple channels as well as connecting how they work together. Most recently, multichannel fundraising has begun to focus on connecting various channels. For example, inviting people to "like" you on Facebook from the website or incorporating a QR code in your direct mail or print advertising. Even in this scenario, the channels continue to work as individual entities to a large degree.
It’s in phase 3 where the promise of these channels working together makes the sum greater than the individual parts.
Phase 3: Seamlessly connected channels
At Apple’s recent unveiling of the new iPad, Apple CEO Tim Cook proclaimed that “we are in the ‘post-PC revolution,’" and that it is "advancing at an amazing pace.”
It’s not a surprise really, as units of smartphones shipped outpace the total number of PCs sold. In addition, tablet devices such as the iPad, Kindle and others have created a category that didn’t exist two years ago. These devices are changing how we consume media, check e-mail and interact with friends. With upward of 10 percent (and growing rapidly) of donation pages being visited via mobile/tablet devices, it’s an area that is quickly becoming highly relevant in the world of fundraising.
Perhaps the most important aspect of this phase of digital channel evolution is the way people seamlessly move between channels and devices to the point where the actual devices and sites become irrelevant and the actions they are taking moves to the forefront, regardless of how or where people look to accomplish the activity.
Single sign-on from Facebook, Google and others is becoming ubiquitous and enables easy sign-on to (online) donation forms and registrations. Single sign-on also removes the friction for accessing services on the Web, mobile Web or even mobile apps, and is key for signing on to mobile apps.
Here’s an example of how a multichannel approach works in phase 3: Suppose your organization runs a walkathon fundraising event where your supporters visit an online registration form on your site. You can enable Facebook Connect to facilitate the registration process for the fundraising. This allows your supporters to use their Facebook login credentials to work through the registration process more quickly and helps you spread the word to their networks. Once participants are registered online, it’s easy to tell all of their friends that they are signed up by posting their participation in this event on their Timelines and on their friends' feeds in Facebook. Participants can then create online fundraising pages to solicit donations.
Now it’s time to tell friends, so the participant sends out an e-mail with a link to his or her online fundraising page, which can also be posted on Facebook. His or her friend receives the e-mail on her smartphone while riding home on the bus; she opens the link and then visits the mobile Web version of the fundraising page. She clicks the donate button and sponsors using PayPal mobile express checkout. It takes just a few clicks and less than a minute to make the donation.
After the donation, the friend shares the fact that she donated on Twitter right from the donation confirmation page. Another friend sees the tweet, and the cycle continues.
On the receiving end, the participant opens his fundraising app on his iPhone at a restaurant that evening to check his fundraising total and post the total on Facebook right from within the mobile fundraising app. A friend working at home on his laptop sees the post and clicks through to the online fundraising page to make a donation.
In this scenario, the use of mobile devices, social media, single sign-on, Web pages, mobile apps, e-mail, laptops and mobile Web all work in harmony rather than as individual devices or channels. The activities (of registering, fundraising and donating) are central, and the channels (devices and methods) used move to the background.
Phase 3 is driven by how people use technology in the post-PC era. The question becomes how to enable this sort of scenario at your organization. A great start is to ensure that you are putting the building blocks for phase 3 multichannel fundraising in place:
- mobile Web-optimized Web and donation pages
- enabling single sign-on for areas of your site, event registrations, etc.
- Social-media sharing (with Facebook Connect, Like, Google +1, AddThis, etc.)
These building blocks aren’t gated by significant investment, but there is a learning curve that starts with asking the right questions about how to integrate these building blocks as you meet with your vendors, webmaster or internal IT staff. As you get these phase 3 building blocks in place, human behavior will take care of the rest.