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My Tips on Using Technology in Fundraising

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode related to this topic, click here.

Technology is a huge topic, and there are countless ways that nonprofits can use it. Today, we are just scratching the surface of some of the more basic components of how nonprofits use technology, but I encourage you to take a look at the resources at the end of this post for more.

Remember: just because a technology exists doesn’t mean you have to use it. Be thoughtful about what technology you choose – choose things that make your work more efficient or that enhance your donors’ experience.

As far as raising money goes, direct mail is still king for most nonprofits, but electronic communications are also important as they are an important component of relationship building.

Before we get into revenue generating activities, let’s talk about something super important: donor databases.

Donor Databases

Donor databases are important because they help you manage relationships. It’s a system where you can create a record of every donor to your organization and their donation history, and can contain a notes section where you can share and track other information. So, if you win the lottery tomorrow, your replacement will be up to speed on the relationships the nonprofit has with its donors.

It’s also a good checks & balances system to compare with your financial books – so it’s a good way to manage and steward donors’ money.

There is a huge variety of databases, so choose wisely! Do adequate research before you select the one you want. Think about what you might use the database for… the very basic functionality will be to record donors and their donations (including details like amount, date, method, and what appeal they respond to). But, there are other functionalities that you can also have. Do you want robust reporting, to track volunteer hours, manage your events, track campaigns and/or moves management? Think about all of your potential needs and find something that works with all of it.

Once you’ve found your ideal database, follow some best practices. Make sure you have standard data entry rules where consistency is the main focus. Do annual maintenance checks of things like duplicate checks and blank addresses – this will save you time in the long run.

Electronic Communications

Websites

Everyone has a website (I hope!), so we don’t need to talk about why to have one, but let’s talk about some things to make sure you have. Try to consider everyone who might be looking at your website: clients, donors, media, the general public. Do a delicate dance of addressing the needs of everyone. Make sure to have a Donate button in the top banner of every page on your website, that links directly to the transaction, not another website. Make it very easy to donate on your website.

E-newsletters

Much like donor databases, there are a wide variety of e-newsletter vendors available, so try out a few and see what you like. Many of them have built in analytics, so take a close look at those and use them to your advantage, doing A/B tests with subject lines and content to see what your audience responds to. This is especially helpful with fundraising emails, as you can see what resonates with your audience

Social media

Get on channels that your audience is on, not everything. Have a playful voice that rings true to your organization, but also feels authentic. Interact with people and make it feel like a conversation, acknowledge comments. But don’t stay on everything all the time, as that gets overwhelming. Try to check in daily.

As I mentioned up top, there are tons of ways you can use technology, and I encourage you to use the web as a resource. Check out the Nonprofit Technology Network (www.nten.org) and their spectacular conference, or participate in online webinars through places like Foundation Center (www.foundationcenter.org). Many tools will also have online communities and blogs that you can interact with.

And of course, if you want more in depth help looking at your technology (especially your use of your donor database – one of my specialties!), you can always hit me up.

-N.C.

Announcing My New Website

As I pivot into contract based work helping nonprofits do fundraising, it’s important that my message is clear: and so, I’ve launched a new website! It’s likely you’re reading this post on my new website, but if you’re reading this post from an email subscription or another way, check out www.nonprofitchapin.com and let me know what you think!

Last Thursday was my last day with my previous employer, a wonderful theater nonprofit in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a few weeks off before I start my first contract, where I’ll be helping a nonprofit put together a three year fund development plan and evaluate their fundraising systems, including their donor database. It’s going to be a whole new type of relationship to my work, and I’m excited to try something new!

This transition has not been easy, and it has not been quick. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. But after a whole bunch of informational interviews and a lot of soul searching, I’m proud of this leap I’m in the middle of. And I implore you to think about a leap that you’ve been considering. Get out there and do some research! You never know where those thoughts might lead you…

-N.C.