Tag: Fundraising Management

You’ve seen articles with titles like “Top Ten Technology Trends For Nonprofits in 2019,” promoting artificial intelligence, automation, hyper-personalized content, and other buzzwords. Yet the reality is that we are putting the cart before the horse when it comes to our priorities.

What really brought things into focus for me was a recent workshop I did with my local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. We put on a one-day seminar on donor retention, using the free tools of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. In the workshop, we looked to identify the ways that nonprofits are losing donors, and how to address that in real, practical, and data-driven ways.

The dozen or so people in the room were savvy with articulating their mission, had a passion for data (they did sign up for a full day on donor retention), but still articulated issues they had around data management.

That’s when it hit me. We are being led toward solutions that answer problems that aren’t real problems yet for the vast majority of nonprofits. The root cause of our fundraising struggles isn’t lack of tools that will automate things for us. The issue is low-quality data on our donors.

Bad data costs your organization a lot of money

Low quality and mismanaged data costs organizations a lot of money. In the United States, it is estimated that bad data costs $3 trillion per year. It costs an organization $1 to verify a record upon entry, $10 to dedupe and clean data AFTER input, and $100 per bad record if nothing is done.

The average nonprofit is using between three to five different data systems to complete their daily workload. In practical terms, we typically see organizations using at least one (if not more!) digital fundraising tool that is loaded manually or haphazardly into their donor management system and then reconciled with their email marketing and accounting systems.

Good intentions don’t generate good data

There is concrete data that shows the top reason a donor stops giving to your organization is because of inadequate communication. Retention rates are dropping across the industry, with the organizational average being 46% and new donor retention rates nearly half that rate.

A common suggestion is to address the problem through “personalizing content” and “building a culture of philanthropy” through donor-centered messaging. Yet these are tactical applications that need to be applied once the root cause of bad data is addressed.

With the average technology budget for nonprofits coming in at 5.7% of overall operational expenses, there will be pressure to have that technology perform more efficiently and effectively for the organization. Focusing in on what will generate both immediate revenue as well as long- term growth is where we can begin to address the retention losses we are seeing industry-wide.

Data stewardship needs to come first

When I worked at a school in Chicago, we held a donor gratitude event. I printed name tags using the information from our donor management system and walked around the party when I noticed a woman had used a marker to cross out the name on her tag and write her nickname. I immediately ran upstairs and updated that field on her record, so we’d always refer to her by her preferred name.

If we begin to integrate process adjustments like this into our organization’s data management, we will begin shifting toward a model of data stewardship that will have major impact on our ability to communicate and excite our donor base. Small ways to begin this process can be:

Okay, NOW you can automate

Good data means we have done the hard work on understanding our relationship with our donors and other supporters. It takes time, analysis, and quick thinking to do this properly and we need to provide more education to our community on proper data management best practices and the right tools to get clean and accurate data in the first place.

Of course we should have conversations on how to then engage our donors around increasingly sophisticated content to engage and retain them. As NTEN’s 2018 Digital Outlook Report shows, organizations are beginning to invest more in donor-centered experiences for their website, video content, social media, and more. This should be encouraged and supported, but not at the expense of ensuring that fundraisers are able to do their jobs in the first place.

If we invest in solid data stewardship, then we will begin to be able to stop the attrition of donors investing in our missions and be able to utilize strategies and tactics that will speak to the experience our donors are looking to have with our nonprofits. So before you click on that next article on why artificial intelligence will remake the world, go back to your database and run a new donor report and check if you have the right phone number for them first.

With the light still with us to mid-evening and the pumpkin spice barely dusted, it’s hard to think about the negative wind chill and frantic fundraising that is coming in December. But as one of Big Duck’s resident fundraising mavens, year-end campaign season–often dubbed “a nonprofit’s most financially rewarding time of the year”–is always on my mind. So why do I want it on yours? Well, it’s really never too early to get started, and I want to help make it easy—so let’s focus on the tools you already have: your brand and your donors.

Use your brand strategy to guide your fundraising

If you’ve read Brandraising, or attended one of our sessions at the NTC, you know that the heart of your brand strategy is positioning and personality. Positioning is the big idea that you hope supporters associate with your organization. It’s also what sets you apart. Personality is the set of attributes or feelings you want people to associate with your organization. With your organization’s positioning and personality in hand, you can develop or judge different creative themes for your fundraising campaign.

Farra Trompeter quote: By tailoring your approach to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you.Because your year-end fundraising should be an extension of your work year-round, these communications should feel like an extension of your usual communications. Yes, your year-end campaign should be special, and this may be a time of year where you invest more time and money into what you send out. But if your year-end fundraising does not sound, look, and feel like you, your current donors may be confused and less likely to give. Use year-end fundraising to accentuate your incredible work and reinforce what they already know– and love– about you.

As you develop the campaign theme and roadmap to connect all campaign elements, don’t forget to start by breaking down your fundraising goals into SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) objectives. Once you have crafted those objectives (download this handy worksheet), it’s easier to hone in on the strategies and tactics that will achieve them.

Appeal to your core donors – and acknowledge them too

Fundraising campaigns typically focus on renewing or appealing to existing donors, reinstating lapsed donors, and/or acquiring new donors. For year-end fundraising campaigns, we often recommend organizations focus first on renewing past supporters, either recent or lapsed, rather than running a major acquisition campaign to get new supporters. That’s because less than one of out of every three new donors renew their support (based on the latest data from Fundraising Effectiveness Project summarized by Bloomerang)–but when they do, they are 15% more likely to keep on giving–so the value of a donor retained can be far greater than that of one acquired.

By tailoring your approach to year-end fundraising to the people who already know you, you celebrate how they have helped you accomplish your victories and invite them to continue partnering with you into the future.

As we enter the season of giving, be sure to give donors other actions to take beyond giving and remember to say ‘thank you’ to all of your supporters. This can be a great time to make phone calls, send handwritten notes, post a video message or thanks, and let donors know that you love them. Not sure what to say on a thank you call? Try this thank you call guide so that staff, board members, and volunteers go into each call with a game plan.

If you do want to acquire new donors through your year-end appeals, consider running a mini-campaign for #GivingTuesday. While some organizations just send out one email on #GivingTuesday, many nonprofits find success sending out multiple emails before, during, and after that day, as well as posting on social media channels and their website. If you acquire new donors on #GivingTuesday be sure to engage them once they give via a welcome series or a more segmented approach in your follow-up communications.

Still hungry for more tips?

My colleague, Ally Dommu, Big Duck’s director of strategy, shares these five high-value tips that you can put in place now and test before year-end season.

Online fundraising holds unlimited potential for nonprofits. Armed with a strategic email campaign or timely social media appeal, you can raise thousands—or even millions— online in a matter of days. As online giving grows by millions of dollars every year, access to online fundraising is crucial for nonprofits.

There are so many tools and strategies out there to help nonprofits, but most come with a hefty price tag. According to NTEN, the average nonprofit spends almost $100,000 on technology per year. Seems high, right? But after you take a look at the costs that go into online fundraising, which is just one slice of the pie, you’ll start to see how things add up.

Here’s a breakdown of the costs nonprofits should be aware of when fundraising online, plus important considerations and strategies you should keep in mind to save critical funds in the process.

Platform fees and contractsFundraising costs quote: One of the sneakiest hidden costs of online fundraising is time spent by your staff figuring out how to use the technology.

Getting started raising money online requires online fundraising technology—or a fundraising platform. However, these platforms can cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, usually in the form of annual or monthly fees, sometimes both. The most popular platforms cost as much a $400 per month and some will take an additional 3% to 8% per donation in fees. Many platforms also require you to sign lengthy contracts, locking you in for a year or more.

Implementation costs

Nonprofits usually need additional help setting up online fundraising—it’s rarely as easy as “sign up & start fundraising.” From initial setup to ongoing issues, hidden costs add up quickly.

When nonprofit customers run out of the allotted support time included in many platform packages, they’re charged at an unpublicized per-hour rate. Additionally, adding features and integrations costs extra so it’s important for nonprofits to anticipate any future needs when evaluating the cost of a platform.

People hours

Along with implementation costs, one of the sneakiest hidden costs of online fundraising is time spent by your staff trying to figure out how to use the technology. Whether you’re working on integrating systems that don’t speak to each other, trying to figure out an archaic platform, or managing manual processes, these activities can be a time suck and cost burden on you and your staff.

Limited feature offerings

There are a few bare-bones options nonprofits can use to save, but those come with indirect costs too. For example, a platform that offers limited features may save money on the front end but will result in money lost due to untapped opportunity. It’s important to fundraise online with a variety of different strategies like customizable campaign pages and peer-to-peer functionality to maximize your efforts.

From a quality perspective, unbranded, or clunky donation pages don’t appeal to donors the same way customized pages do. Plus, a barebones platform may be limited in providing access to donor data and transferring funds to your account. Quality and functionality matter.

How nonprofits can save

So, how can nonprofits that are spending tens of thousands of dollars per year on technology cut costs?

Look for high-quality, cost-effective alternatives

Nonprofits that are sick of paying too much for online fundraising should look for a cost-effective or free alternative that won’t jeopardize the quality of their appeal. For example, some platforms charge little to no fees per donation, and no setup fees or monthly fees either. If you go with a platform that charges fees only per donation, make sure it gives donors the option to cover those fees.

Keep your options open

Organizations should avoid signing exclusive multi-year contracts that bar them from using another company’s platform. You should be able to take advantage of new tech offerings that could even be free and help you reach your fundraising goals.

Focus on easy-to-use tech

Nonprofit staff are busy tackling the world’s most pressing issues and are already overworked. It’s crucial to go with a platform that’s user-friendly and doesn’t require a computer science degree to operate.

Ask your peers

Online reviews are full of insights on the different platforms out there. Look to blogs, message boards and social media groups (e.g., Facebook groups like Nonprofit Happy Hour and The Thriving Nonprofit with Joan Garry) focused on helping nonprofits understand all their options, ask specific questions, and get a breakdown of the real costs that are often hidden.

Whatever your level of online fundraising prowess, it’s crucial to take a step back, audit your current fundraising costs, and assess where you can save. Keep your eyes peeled for new technology that will help you maximize your online fundraising potential, and keep up the good work.

Auctions can excite donors and raise funds fast, and that makes them an ideal way to engage your base of support while hitting your fundraising goals.

Experienced fundraisers know that collecting key fundraising metrics is a valuable part of any fundraising event. When collected during a fundraising auction, this data can help guide your organization’s future events and greatly refine your understanding of your donor base.

With smart planning and some adaptive digital tools, you can host an online or live charity auction for any level of donor. Thoughtfully planning your auction and considering your exact goals well ahead of time will ensure a successful event that boosts engagement and raises funds.

1. Use targeting in your auction strategy

Segmenting your donor base is never a bad idea. In fact, it’s the first step in targeting your auction strategy.

Depending on the kind of auction you want to host and the level of donor you’d like to engage, you need to consider your organization’s options and tools for organizing and directing the event. For instance:

  • Major donors are more likely to enjoy live auction events. Simplify the entire experience by providing digital tools for mobile bidding.
  • Mid-level donors and members will enjoy live and digital fundraising auction events that foster a sense of community and have lower stakes.
  • Your entire donor base will enjoy online charity auction events, with extended timeframes and a reduced sense of competition.

It’s always important to speak your donors’ language, which includes understanding and anticipating their expectations of any given fundraising event.

The takeaway: Digital auction and bidding tools help you target your charity auction to specific segments of your donor base, increasing engagement and ensuring a successful auction.

2. Tailor your catalog to specific donor levels

Once you’ve thoughtfully adjusted your event strategy and digital toolkit, it’s important that you do the same with your catalog of auction items. Consider these questions:

  • Who are your intended donors for this auction? Just one segment or everyone?
  • Will this charity auction event be live or hosted online?
  • What initially drew your supporters to your organization?
  • What are the goals of your campaign and of this specific event?

Consciously tailoring your catalog to your specific campaign and intended donors ensures your event will be relevant to the interests of those you want to engage. For instance, a high-profile auction might offer items in a higher price range since attendees will be more excited for some friendly competition.

In contrast, auction items for a local school fundraiser need to be suited to a wide range of donor levels. Including some raffle items and events within a more traditional auction would be a great strategy to address this need, and this is why it’s important to invest in versatile school auction software or other tools that can adapt to your needs.

For online auctions, offering items with starting bids higher than your average online donation is the quickest way to lose your donors’ interest.

The takeaway: Offer items that your intended donors will want and can also easily afford. Otherwise, you could alienate your broader donor base or waste your major donors’ interest.

3. Use integrated event software to plan your auction

Using a comprehensive event planning software can make the entire planning process considerably more efficient, saving you time and resources.

For a charity auction of any size, live or online, it’s important that you be able to compile and access information quickly. Keep the entire event running smoothly with functions like:

  • Event website hosting, registration tools, and check-in functions
  • Automated invitation emails and mailing lists
  • Ability to store and process payment and shipping information
  • Online and mobile bidding support

Not only will a strong event management software solution prevent any logistical hiccups in your auction, it’ll also provide you with important analytic reporting that will be invaluable to your future campaigns.

The takeaway: Find event management software that will support online and mobile auctions as well as integrate and process all your data.

4. Consider the broader context of your fundraising campaign

Is your charity auction a standalone fundraising event, or is it part of a broader fundraising campaign?

A larger standalone charity auction is a major fundraising event in and of itself and should be marketed as such. Online auctions and mobile bidding, while also unique events, are a perfect element to configure into your broader social fundraising campaigns.

Think of your different fundraising strategies and the ways that online auction events might be integrated into them:

  • Augment your peer-to-peer fundraising campaign. Peer-to-peer fundraising pages can provide donors with information on your online auction.
  • Offer special promotions from your sponsors. If your organization is supported by local businesses, offer special discounts or service packages in a special online auction.
  • Use online auctions to promote other fundraising events. For instance, if you’ll be hosting a charity golf tournament, let participants bid on mulligans!
  • Online and mobile bidding tools have made it cheaper and easier to incorporate auction elements into other fundraising strategies, which will boost your overall campaign strategies.

The takeaway: If your overarching campaign involves other digital outlets or fundraising events, brainstorm some ways that an online auction could contribute to overall donor engagement.

5. Promote your auction through targeted outlets

Marketing is an essential part of any successful fundraising event, and it’s crucial to spread the word through channels relevant to your supporters.

Here are some targeted methods that you might use to promote your auction event:

  • A social media campaign to spread awareness among all your followers
  • An email campaign to more specific segments of donors
  • Special promotions or printed material at your other fundraising events
  • A direct mail campaign to all your members

A social media blast would be perfect for a broad online auction event, while targeted email, direct mail, or phone calls might work best for a live charity auction for your more major donors.

Additionally, create a dedicated microsite for your live or online auction events through your event management software or online auction platform. This is the best place to direct supporters for more information and to tease some special items from the auction catalog.

The takeaway: Depending on the type of donors that you’re hoping to engage with your auction event, you should specifically target your marketing strategies to best catch their attention.

As with any fundraising event, it’s important to put as much planning and forethought into your charity auctions and online auction events as possible. This ensures that both your donors and your organization will get something of value from the event.

By targeting and tailoring every aspect of your event to maximize its relevance and appeal to your supporters, you’ll be sure to host a successful auction and reach your fundraising goals.

Spring has sprung, and we all know what that means—time to start thinking about your GivingTuesday strategy!

If only it were this easy…

Yes, it’s not until November, but if you want your nonprofit’s worthy cause to stand out from the crowd and inspire your supporters, now is the time to start your plans.

Coming up on May 23, Digital Storytelling in Fundraising will help you create compelling narratives to share with your supporters, so that they feel more connected to your work and your mission.

Once you’ve got those creative juices flowing, make sure your plan is powered by data: define the metrics you need to engage donors and increase income with our Data-Driven Fundraising course.

There are many pieces to the fundraising puzzle, and our online courses can help you see the big picture and all the little details. By the time GivingTuesday rolls around this year, you’ll be calm, cool, and collected in the midst of the storm, watching all your hard work and preparation pay off.

There are trees, and there is forest. There are anecdotes, and there is data. There are the pinprick pixels of our individual experiences, and there is the vast picture they paint together of the world we share.

The M+R Benchmarks Study is our annual attempt to bridge that divide. This year, we have collected an extensive array of data points from 154 nonprofit participants. Each of them marks a single digital interaction with a supporter: an email opened, a donation made, a petition signed, a website visited, an ad clicked, a Facebook post liked, or tweet retweeted. All told, these add up to 4,699,299,330 email messages, 527,754,635 web visits, and 11,958,385 donations.

NTEN is proud to partner with M+R once again for the latest Benchmarks report. Explore or download it here.


NTEN is proud to release a digital fundraising workbook designed for nonprofit professionals: Embracing Your Strategic Potential.

Taking you step-by-step through the development of a successful strategy, this workbook helps you craft a plan that includes a single goal, clear objectives, and detailed, measurable tactics. The framework is fit for organizations big and small, and emphasizes collaboration among relevant departments.

Written by digital fundraising consultant and trainer Todd Whitley, this 21-page toolkit will guide you from crafting a strategy through tactical implementation, testing, and review.

Thanks to our sponsor, DonorPerfect, we are able to offer this resource free of charge.

Click on the image and enter your name and email to opt in to NTEN alerts and download the workbook. You can change your email preferences at any time.


Todd Whitley leads our online course, Digital Fundraising Fundamentals, March 14, 2018.

The digital landscape is changing at a dizzying rate and sometimes it feels like the plans you made yesterday are obsolete by morning. But help is at hand!

For the third year, NTEN is proud to partner with Care2, hjc and Resource Alliance on a report that sets the standard for nonprofit digital planning. But we need your help. The 2017 Digital Outlook Report is powered by responses by nonprofit professionals just like you. The survey will take about 10-15 minutes to complete and you’ll be entered in the drawing for some great prizes.

Take the survey today and be the first to know when the findings are published later this year.


This infographic shows trends in sustaining donors as compared with one-time donors. It is based on data from DonorPerfect.

sustaining donors


It’s a fact: Thirty-nine states as well as the District of Columbia require charities and other nonprofit organizations to register in order to solicit donations within their jurisdictions. These laws pertain to all media: direct mail, email, telemarketing, door-to-door, etc. If you are sending a fundraising email to a person in one of these states without first registering, you are fundraising unlawfully.

Because state legislatures enact statutes that govern charitable solicitation, regulatory requirements vary by state. This means different filing forms and exhibits, different renewal dates, different filing fees and late filing penalties, different rules to extend filing deadlines, and so forth.

In ten states, the legislatures have not enacted a statute. As a result, registration is not required to solicit in these states: Arizona, Delaware, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.

Twenty states also require a charity’s fundraiser to register. A state may hold a charity liable if its outside fundraisers fail to register.

Public Policy Objective

The purpose of this type of law is to provide reliable financial and other information to the public concerning nonprofit organizations that solicit donations. Basically, the State wants its citizens to be able to discover how much money a soliciting organization actually spends for the purpose for which it solicits donations, hence the requirement to submit audited financial statements, IRS Form 990, and other data.

State regulators have little discretion in administering the statute that govern charitable solicitation. Many states mandate that soliciting organization disclose at the point of solicitation where prospects may obtain the information that states require charities to file in order to obtain a license to solicit.

Email Solicitations

Solicitations via email suggest outbound emails as opposed to a passive “Donate here” icon on a screen that a prospect may happen across while surfing. Outbound solicitations are analogous to direct mail solicitations in that each is targeted at a specific person even though you may not be able to decipher the prospect’s name from his or her email address.

The problem is that, unlike a physical mail address, it is usually impossible to determine from the email address alone the state in which the email addressee resides. Therefore, the soliciting organization may need to register in all states that so require in order to avoid receiving a “cease and desist” letter from a regulator.

A cease and desist letter means that the soliciting organization must refrain from sending more solicitations until it has duly registered in the complaining jurisdiction. Some state statutes impose penalties for soliciting without a license to solicit. Some statutes impose a fine per solicitation, so the total penalty can be expensive.

Unless the organization that sends outbound email solicitations can show that it did not send any to a particular state that requires advance registration, it is prudent to stay in compliance with state laws that govern charitable solicitation. Remember the burden of proof is on the soliciting organization.

Photo credit: Joe the Goat Farmer