How Does Organization Structure Affect Online Success?

For those of us who have responsibilities in online fundraising / marketing / technology, often our work doesn’t fit within the traditional department structure of most nonprofit organizations. So depending on the results of the most recent reorganization, we may find ourselves working in many different departments.

At this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, I brought together a panel of representatives from two nonprofits and two organizations which serve nonprofits to discuss how organization structure affects the success of our online campaigns. The issues we discussed, and the lessons we learned, translate to sound organizational strategy and leadership when it comes to digital communications. An important thing to remember is that leadership, especially when it comes to digital technologies, can come from anywhere in an organization. As nonprofit leaders and leaders-to-be, our goal is to set our organization up for success so that we can achieve our missions.

The background for our panel comes from the Non-profit Digital Teams Benchmark Report, which was presented at the previous annual NTC, as well as the earlier three-part article series from the Stanford Social Innovation Review on digital teams for nonprofits: “Five Dysfunctions of a Digital Team,” “Four Models for Managing Digital at Your Organization” and the “Seven Patterns of Nonprofit Digital Teams.” (Also see my 2011 blog post, Thoughts on Managing an Online Strategy.)

The panelists in our 14NTC session shared their examples and lessons regarding organizational structure and online success:

I shared my own experience in a variety of roles in both nonprofits and nonprofit service providers. (Currently I am Project Manager, Technology at the Center for Court Innovation.) While large organizations have the benefit of more resources to devote to digital, smaller nonprofits have an advantage since they are less likely to have the ‘silos’ that develop as organizations grow.

Rusty Burwell, who has excelled in a long career at the American Lung Association and has worked in many different positions, suggested that no matter what role you have in your organization, you will get best results by modeling behavior for how you’d like others to behave.

Mark Pothier discussed how he moved from a strongly silo’d environment at the Golden Gate National Park Conservancy to a web team and social media working group which meet regularly to plan and implement online strategy.

Blue State Digital’s Ryan Davis offered practical tips such as preparing a content calendar in advance and making sure to get content from across the organization.

Bright+3’s Ted Fickes discussed how organization structure can support an environment of collaboration, learning and sharing.

In the end, most of us can’t always control how our organizations are structured. And even if we could, there isn’t any ideal structure that will work at every nonprofit. But there are common characteristics of organizations that excel online:

  • an environment where departments work together every day, not only when they are forced to collaborate on a specific project
  • clear reporting of digital campaign results so management understands its value to the overall organization mission
  • all staff members (not just marketing) are seen as organization ambassadors and actively seek ways to promote digital initiatives
  • a willingness to learn from other nonprofits who are already doing digital well (and sharing successes to help others)

For more, view our presentation (Ryan’s slides are available here).

Norman Reiss currently works as Project Manager, Technology at the Center for Court Innovation, where he oversees the planning, development, implementation and support of new and existing court technology at multiple demonstration projects throughout NYC. Previously, Norman managed online systems at Jewish Funds for Justice (now Bend the Arc), completing an integration of Convio’s Online Marketing and Common Ground platforms, and project managing the development of a Drupal based online registration system. Norm has also consulted for Cathexis Partners, Common Knowledge and Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. Active in the nonprofit sector since 2000, Norman has led or participated in conference panels / webinars on content management / constituent relationship systems, ePhilanthropy strategies, and project management for nonprofits. Follow Norman’s blog at Nonprofit Bridge.

Norman Reiss
Project Manager, Technology
Center for Court Innovation
At DOROT, I am rolling out a new one-on-one tech coaching program to match older adults with volunteers to learn to use technology for social connection and accessing resources. I also enrich the lives of seniors through my current work with Selfhelp Community Services (virtual senior center facilitator) and the Radical Age Movement (technical advisor). At the Center for Court Innovation, I oversaw the planning, development, and implementation of a case management application to be used to enter client assessments and track compliance with court mandates. I also managed multiple Salesforce implementations, one using Nonprofit Starter Pack to track contracts and grants for Development and Fiscal, another for an infant involved court cases and a customized application for Brooklyn Justice Initiatives program. At other nonprofits, I completed the integration of Convio's online and offline platforms, managed the development of a Drupal based online registration system, led a cross-functional team which raised over $15 million in online fundraising revenue through special events, donation / registration forms, email marketing, memberships, memorials / tributes and ecommerce, managed multiple website redesigns and implemented search engine optimization techniques which ultimately doubled web driven information requests and drove increased program participation. I've presented at several nonprofit venues, including the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference. Please follow my blogs at YourAgeDoesntMatter and NonprofitBridge or contact me at or at 646-827-0635