It’s a common exercise for individuals and organizations alike: reflecting on everything you learned last year and then making plans for acting on those new insights is the best way to grow in deliberate, strategic ways.
For nonprofits, few areas of their operations require deliberate strategy and careful balance of needs, goals, and limitations quite like technology. This makes the first few months of the new year the perfect time to review the strengths and weaknesses of your nonprofit’s technology.
That’s because you’ve likely just wrapped up your busiest period and have had a chance to catch your breath. In the rush of the year-end fundraising season, you most likely noticed a few gaps in your technology strategy that need addressing, but you didn’t have the time back in November or December to think about it just yet.
With these more pressing needs still fresh in your memory, consider your big-picture goals for the coming year, too. How can you improve your technology strategy to more actively support these goals? Here are a few simple steps for evaluating your nonprofit’s tech strategy this year and developing some next steps for improving it:
- Audit your tech infrastructure.
- Review your past data.
- Identify your highs and lows.
- Consider your options.
Here at Soapbox Engage, we work primarily with nonprofits using the Salesforce CRM platform. However, these steps, tips, and best practices apply to nonprofit technology toolkits of all shapes and sizes. No matter the size of your organization’s team or budget, there’s always room to improve your tech strategy.
Let’s get started by covering the importance of first conducting a careful review of your existing toolkit.
Audit your tech infrastructure
Your team has probably experienced gaps in your technology strategy in the middle of fundraising or marketing campaigns, and that’s a great way to identify issues that need resolving. However, when evaluating your tech strategy, it’s important that you take the time to assess your toolkit again in a more thorough way.
The immediate pressures of a campaign in progress often lead us to create patchwork solutions that resolve the issues for the time being. It’s easy to then become accustomed to these solutions and forget that they can be improved or resolved with more deliberate and comprehensive updates to your strategy or software.
Thinking back to your most recent campaigns, ask yourself a few questions:
How well do we currently use technology? What works well?
What aspects of our tech strategy need improvement? Are we making the best use of every tool?
Do we have any technology or processes that aren’t useful anymore? Or are there any that should be replaced or upgraded?
Do we have tech assets that need repairs? What improvements or new integrations would they need?
These are just a few examples, but the main idea is to take as systematic an approach as possible. Make a list of all your existing tech tools that you regularly use; analyze their quality as well as how well you currently use them.
Review your past data
After you’ve got a big-picture view of the current state of your technology strategy, dig into the data that your most recent campaigns generated.
Specifically, focus on the online elements of your campaigns, since data generated in online fundraising or marketing campaigns will be the most representative of how your tech strategies impact donor engagement on a day-to-day basis. Remember to review engagement data from any donor-facing online tools, most notably:
- Your website as a whole. Measure the web traffic that different marketing and fundraising campaigns drove to your website. Using specific landing pages for different campaigns will help you more easily analyze this data in the future.
- Donation pages and apps. Pay extra attention to your online fundraising data, since it’s the most direct way to measure the impact of a particular campaign on your mission.
- Event fundraising tools and registration pages. If you regularly host fundraising events during your campaigns, it’s important to examine the tech tools you use to manage and promote them. Remember to consider every type of fundraising event software you might use, since complex events typically involve multiple tools.
The main idea to review the performance of each of your tech tools or platforms during each campaign you’ve conducted over the past year. This will help immensely as your team begins to identify and rank new priorities for any strategy updates you choose to make.
Identify your tech highs and lows
Using the data you’ve compiled on the performance of past online campaigns, start to generate some insights about what works and what doesn’t. During which campaigns did your tech really excel, and where did it fall short?
During this stage, it’s important to use KPIs, or key performance indicators, to provide an objective measure of success for each type of campaign you conduct. For instance, you might judge the success of an online fundraising campaign by measuring metrics like:
- The total amount of support raised over the course of the campaign
- The total number of separate donations generated
- Donor acquisition from one campaign to the next
- The retention rate of past donors from previous campaigns
The metrics that you use to measure the success of your fundraising and marketing efforts will vary depending on your mission, your broader goals, and the specifics of each campaign. Remember, too, that the slower times of the year in terms of fundraising are still important periods for measuring engagement.
Whichever metrics you choose to focus on, use them to identify your highs and lows over the past year. Then, carefully examine any commonalities shared by the underlying tech strategies of your most successful campaigns. For example, maybe all of your top-performing strategies involved peer-to-peer fundraising or social media marketing techniques.
Similarly, look at the times when your organization’s strategies underperformed. What do they have in common? Maybe your social media techniques failed to engage many supporters or grow your audience over the course of the past year. This might be an area worth investing more time and resources in.
Consider your tech options
Now that you’ve identified the elements of your tech strategies that helped you reach your goals and those that underperformed, you can begin to fill in the gaps that might’ve led to underperformance.
It’s important to take your time working through the steps above before jumping into making any purchases. It can be tempting to go with the first tool you find that addresses what you think are your most pressing tech needs, but big-picture issues with your tech toolkit might not fully reveal themselves until you’ve carefully assessed your strategy and analyzed performance data.
Another best practice when it comes to considering new tech tools to adopt is to look at the platforms you already use and try to consolidate as much as possible. If you’re already working on a leading CRM platform, for instance, look for additional tools that address your needs and integrate with your database. Salesforce donation apps are a good example of how you can improve the donor experience and streamline long-term data management.
When you’ve identified the types of tools that can improve your tech strategy, it’s time to begin building out a more comprehensive technology plan. Explore DNL OmniMedia’s guide to creating a nonprofit tech plan for more context and information on specific next steps.
Remember, evaluating your technology strategy is only the first part of the process of implementing meaningful improvements.
You need to have plans in place for how you’ll choose and implement new tools. Otherwise, you risk losing time, focus, and money while training your team and incorporating new tech into your broader campaign strategies. Always take steps to make sure your tech process improvements stick, and you’ll start seeing results in no time!