Tag: Fundraising

Earlier this year, NTEN rolled out an improved Tech Accelerate. This free benchmarking tool connects your organization to resources to help you understand where to invest in improving your technology plans, policies, and infrastructure.

This spring, we’re expanding this commitment by offering additional support for you to evaluate your technology, get direct, expert advice from community members, and apply for a small grant to begin your improvements.

Community Call on May 9

Complete your organization’s free Tech Accelerate Assessment by Tuesday, May 7, and you’ll receive access to an exclusive Community Call with an expert panel to give advice and recommendations about your results. The panel includes Emilio Arocho, Kayleigh Collins, and others whose diverse perspectives and tech backgrounds can provide guidance to move you and your organization forward.

The Community Call is free to join but reserved for organizations with completed Tech Accelerate Assessments — those with completed Assessments will be emailed access details prior to the Community Call at 2pm ET/11am PT, Thursday, May 9.

$1,000 grants available for completed Assessments

Organizations that complete their free Tech Accelerate Assessment by Tuesday, May 7 —whether they participate in the Community Call or not— can apply for a $1,000 grant to invest in improving your organization’s technology effectiveness. A $1,000 grant may be a small piece of the project budget you need, but we hope it is a start and an incentive to move ahead.

Applications for the grants will be emailed to all organizations with completed Assessments. The deadline to apply is Monday, May 27.

Tech Accelerate Demo on May 2

Need a refresher on what Tech Accelerate is, and how it could benefit your organization? Join me and NTEN web developer Dan Fellini for a free demo at 2pm ET/11am PT, Thursday, May 2. You’ll learn more about how and why we built Tech Accelerate, and how you can use it to evaluate your organization’s current technology investments and plans.

You can complete your Tech Accelerate report with colleagues to ensure the most accurate assessment of your organization, so we encourage you to invite others to join you for this webinar.

Organizations have used Tech Accelerate to make budgeting decisions, lead staff and board in planning discussions, and to inform a technology roadmap for the organization. All staff connected to your organization’s profile in their NTEN account can collaborate on an Assessment together, so get started today!

After a fundraising campaign, many nonprofits often realize the gaps in their technology strategies. During large campaigns or projects, you’re working with all of your software as a “cohesive” unit, which makes it especially easy to identify these gaps.

While it may seem frustrating in the moment, this is a good thing for your nonprofit. By identifying the issue, you can evaluate your tech strategies to ensure your organization is operating as smoothly as possible.

One common software weakness that nonprofits experience is with their accounting tool. As nonprofits grow, they often find they quickly expand beyond the capability of their initial accounting software solution.

If your organization needs to boost your accounting software functionality, here are some fundamental questions you should ask to choose the best solution.

1. Why does my organization need accounting software?

Accounting for nonprofits is unique. You rely on donations, stay accountable to donors, and aim to fund a mission rather than make a profit. With unique goals and functions, why would your nonprofit invest in accounting software built for for-profit businesses?

Invest in nonprofit-specific software to adhere to these specific needs of your organization.

Nonprofit accounting software is designed to help your nonprofit save time and energy by automating accounting processes. Your accounting software should help you:

  • Make informed decisions. With ensured accuracy of data, your nonprofit can make educated decisions based on facts and metrics rather than guesses.
  • Budget according to your specific needs. Save budgets from previous years to compare to your current budgets and estimate the cost of different recurring needs.
  • Take care of internal operations. Keep internal operational costs within your main budget system to pay employees, check timesheets, and store human resources records.
  • Be prepared for the future. Create and store accurate records to track your finances now and into the future.

Accounting software is designed to help your nonprofit save time and money that are best directed towards your mission. For more information about what to look for in your software research, check out Community Brands’ nonprofit accounting software buyer’s guide.

2. How flexible is my software budget?

While a tempting option, free fundraising software isn’t always a great idea. Generally, it takes an investment of some sort to access accounting software with the functionality and security you need to succeed.

Plan out a specific budget you’re willing to use to invest in your accounting solution. Try your best to stick to this budget, while still maintaining all the important functionality you need from the software.

Make sure your software will help your nonprofit measure important fundraising and financial metrics, while still remaining within the set price range.

We recommend creating a software budget range instead of a set number. This helps nonprofits resist falling into the trap of choosing the cheapest solution and missing out on features, but also helps them cap the budget at a certain amount.

Effective budgeting for accounting software all comes down to extensive research. Start by listing the features you need from your software. Then, reference guides like this one to learn more about software offering those features.

Don’t forget about additional software expenses such as:

  • Implementation costs
  • Cost of training
  • Additional fees
  • Hardware hosting or purchase

Get an idea of the price range those are in and decide if you can afford them. If you can, great! Go back and check out your own finances to set a budget range for yourself. If you can’t, start brainstorming alternatives or opportunities to cut budgetary expenses elsewhere.

3. Will the software help me track my campaigns?

Your nonprofit’s main source of financial revenue likely comes from your fundraising campaigns. Therefore, it’s important to have a location within your accounting software to track these campaigns, from their costs to their successes.

Some of the true costs of fundraising campaigns include:

  • Fundraising platform fees and contracts
  • Fundraising software implementation costs
  • Hours of training staff to use fundraising software
  • Fundraising events to garner support
  • Fundraising consultant fees for major campaigns

Tracking your fundraising campaigns within your nonprofit accounting software will help you plan for these costs and will increase the likelihood of a positive return.

Before investing in a software solution, be sure it will help your nonprofit track your various fundraising campaigns to keep an eye on both cost and ROI. From there, you can accurately budget for the future.

If you are planning a long-term major campaign, such as a capital campaign, it may be worthwhile to invest in a consultant to help you plan and budget. He or she will show you some capital campaign best practices to save you money and encourage a better ROI.

4. What else should my accounting software help my nonprofit do?

While fundraising campaigns may be the primary source of funding for your nonprofit, tracking this fundraising should not be the only requirement you have for your next accounting software solution.

Other functions your accounting software should have to aid your nonprofit include tools for robust budgeting, employee compensation, and grant tracking.

Robust Budgeting Tools
Nonprofits rarely have a single budget. More often than not, they need to create multiple budgets and set up “what if” scenarios to track all of the different funds and projects. Watch out for accounting software that limits the number of budgets your nonprofit can make or forces you to pay extra for more budget functionality.

Employee Compensation Tools
One of the biggest stress points for nonprofit leaders is compensation for their employees. It’s difficult to encourage employee retention while operating on a lean budget. Accounting software with tools that factor in your nonprofit’s employee compensation will streamline reports for these internal operational costs and help you stay on budget. If you’re having difficulty retaining employees or want to learn more about proper and effective compensation, check out Astron Solutions’ nonprofit employee compensation guide.

Grant Tracking Tools
Tracking grants is a little different from tracking other finances. The allocations required by grantors dictate that your nonprofit provides a complete audit trail for the finances spent. Accounting software should offer advanced calculation options to allocate and report on fixed or dynamic percentages, unit measurements, and more. These features are essential for better tracking of grant expenses.

5. What if my nonprofit gets audited?

Your nonprofit’s accounting software should prepare you for the potential of getting audited. Your reporting tools are designed to give you a better view of your funding and expenditures. However, they should also protect you from potential audits.

Look for accounting software that offers reports that automatically adhere to the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) standards and the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) guidelines.

Instead of looking up all the different compliance rules every time your nonprofit generates a report, use a fund accounting software for nonprofits to ensure your reporting is quick, easy, helpful, and compliant.

One thing to watch out for is that many software providers require nonprofits to pay additional fees to access this type of reporting. Make sure these reporting standards are included in the core features of the software solution in which your nonprofit invests.

6. Will we need to switch software again in a couple of years?

Finding evergreen software is a tricky business these days. Technology advances so quickly! There are all sorts of advanced concepts regarding technology that your nonprofit needs to understand already. How will those concepts change and advance over time? You should be prepared to handle those changes.

Accounting software should be ever-evolving to fit with the times. Check out the changelog for the accounting software your nonprofit has researched. The changelog should show you how often updates are run and what increased functionality has been added to the software solution over time.

Your nonprofit should not only be prepared for the state of technology to change over the next few years, but also how your organization itself will change. Nonprofits everywhere are looking to grow, so it’s easy to expand past the functionality of an accounting software solution.

Look for accounting software with flexible options. As you grow, your organization will be able to reevaluate and add-on software modules. While you may not need these modules now, you may need them in the future.

A flexible solution helps nonprofits obtain the features they need now, but also gives them the room they need to continue growing in the future.

Asking the right questions will help your nonprofit make the best decision when it comes to purchasing a new nonprofit accounting tool. Conduct plenty of research before making an investment. This will save you time and energy in the future.

9/9/19 Update
Facebook has made a major change to its Messenger policies. Starting January 15, 2020, pages can no longer broadcast to subscribers who haven’t interacted in the past 24 hours without paying for sponsored messages.

Sponsored messages are billed on an impression basis. Your ad account is charged for an impression when someone sees they have a message from your organization in their Messenger Inbox.

There’s an exception for news pages, but that is restricted to pages that “primarily create journalism,” not advocacy organizations that post news stories.

We think Messenger can still be a good channel for email and phone number acquisition, but the economics of it has changed.

We are testing tactics that are compliant with the new rules. Email Randall if you would like to collaborate on tests or want to know what we learn.


In the last few months, the two of us —Patricia and Randall—have had experiences that changed what we thought was possible as digital organizers.

We discovered a communications channel that combines the scalability of email and text marketing with the effectiveness of one-to-one conversations. It doesn’t hurt that we see response rates in this channel that are 800% higher than email asks.

That channel is Facebook Messenger.

Over one billion people around the world use Facebook’s messaging platform—Messenger—every month to connect with friends, family, and businesses.

Advocacy organizations are using automated Facebook Messenger conversations powered by bots to raise money, educate the public, contact their elected representatives, and turn people out to vote. These Messenger programs have no interaction between humans—it’s all between the user and a pre-programmed bot.

We saw those automated Messenger programs and wondered—could we combine the higher response rates and scalability of a bot to recruit people and ask them to participate in small advocacy asks with the effectiveness of one-to-one interactions to move people to get deeply involved with an organizing campaign?

Here are four ways we’ve experimented with Messenger, along with our early results.

Recruit new supporters via Facebook Live

Movimiento Cosecha organizes to win permanent protection, respect, and dignity for the undocumented community in the United States. The primary audience for their Messenger program is Spanish-speaking parents and workers.

Cosecha uses Facebook Live broadcasts from office or home settings to inform their supporters about campaign updates and recruit new supporters and broadcasts of rallies and marches to recruit new supporters.

They ask viewers of the broadcasts to comment a keyword on the broadcast to get connected to the movement. When someone comments a keyword, they receive a message in Messenger. When a supporter replies to that message, they are opted-in to Messenger conversations. The process is easy for the supporter. They don’t need to wait for a web page to load or type in their contact information on a petition.

In the five months since Cosecha launched a pilot Messenger program in New Jersey, they have recruited 900 subscribers from a page with 4,600 followers—primarily via Facebook Live broadcasts.

Drive calls to elected representatives

Cosecha uses public pressure to create political change and organizes immigrants to tell elected representatives the issues that are important to them. When driving calls to representatives, we knew that many of the Spanish-speaking parents and grandparents we are organizing had never made these types of calls before and may be hesitant because of language barriers and unfamiliarity with the tactic.

We used Facebook Live broadcasts to explain the effectiveness of calling elected representatives and encouraged people to call even if they were nervous. We then asked supporters to comment a keyword on the livestream to open a conversation in Messenger. The supporters would then receive a daily messages asking them to call a different elected representative throughout the week. The message included a call button that acts like a speed dial, when the supporter presses it, it calls our legislative hotline. We saw a nearly 99% open rate for these broadcasts.

Given the 1:1 conversation capabilities of Messenger we were able to help anyone who replied to a broadcast because they were uncertain about how to complete the call or asked questions such as “Can I call when I get out of work?”

We used Twillio—a cloud communications platform—as a legislative hotline to patch callers to our selected representative. When someone made a call, they heard a pre-recorded Spanish-language message that guided them on how to effectively convey their message. In just 10 days, we were able to drive over 500+ calls to decision makers in New Jersey from Spanish-speaking immigrants. We also captured their phone numbers, which enables us to communicate with them via phone and peer-to-peer text. Nearly 25% of those callers answered follow-up messages asking for their city and we can now send them information about local events.

Connect people to local events

Sunrise Movement is a movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process. The primary audience for their Messenger program is high school and college age youth.

Sunrise Movement used Manychat, a Messenger marketing platform, and LocationKits,  a tool that takes user location data and returns locations near them, to help supporters find a rally at their Senator’s office. Organizers also answered questions from supporters and pointed people to resources if they wanted to organize their own rally.

Four percent of the message recipients RSVPed to attend a rally near them, a 300% increase over the same ask made by email. Due to the overwhelming success, Sunrise is now expanding its use of the tactic to connect subscribers to one of the hundreds of town halls nationwide or encourage subscribers to organize their own town halls discussing the Green New Deal.

Cosecha invited people to attend a march and rally via peer-to-peer text messaging and Messenger. The RSVP rate for peer-to-peer texting was 4% and 10% for Messenger, a 150% increase over peer-to-peer texting.

Engage in one-on-one conversations

People primarily use Messenger as a channel for conversations with friends and family and aren’t accustomed to receiving broadcast messages. That leads them to reply to messages with questions about getting involved, sharing their personal stories of why the issue matters to them, and other replies.

For organizations running a bot only program, these replies are a problem because if people don’t click the buttons or respond with the keywords that were set by the bot builder, the organization is unable to deliver the series of messages they created.

We love these replies because they are openings for organizers to engage in a conversation and move people to participate more deeply in the campaign. For example, Cosecha uses these conversations to recruit people to attend an organizing meeting or other events in their community.

“Using Messenger for one-to-one communication and relationship building has been essential for growing Cosecha’s base. We have had a campaign in New Jersey for years – and one mother had previously attended meetings but had never taken a leadership role. nThen one day, I noticed her name pop up responding to a broadcast we had sent in Messenger. She was responding to an RSVP message we had sent out saying that she ‘wanted to get involved again.’ That week, we found other people who had been engaged through Messenger in her area and sent her their contact information. Within a few weeks, she organized an event and started a new chapter in her town.”
Christine Miranda, organizer, Movimento Cosecha

The bot platforms

There are several bot platforms that are easy to use and inexpensive. The examples above use Manychat. A full review of the platforms is beyond the scope of this post, but here’s a couple of platforms that advocacy organizations are using.

  • Chatfuel
  • ManyChat
  • Strive Digital
  • @Mssg

Creating a basic chatbot on your own on the ManyChat or Chatfuel platform takes 10 to 30 hours. You could also hire a bot expert or agency to build a bot for $500 to $2,500 (or more). You can expect to spend 5 to 20 hours a month managing a basic Messenger program.

Cosecha and Sunrise Movement spend much more time on their Messenger program each month because organizers are connecting 1:1 with people in Messenger and recruiting them to participate in campaigns.

Risks associated with using Facebook Messenger

The biggest risk is that Facebook changes how organizations can use Messenger.

In 2018, Facebook announced that they are focused on building out the business ecosystem around messaging on WhatsApp and Messenger over the next five years. In March of this year, Mark Zuckerberg announced that the vision and principles of Facebook are changing from an open platform to a “privacy-focused communications platform.”

Those two announcements might seem to be in conflict, but the privacy-focused communications platform might be a pivot to messaging (and generating revenue from messaging) and away from a platform that is focused on a News Feed. We don’t know what Facebook will do in the future, so it’s important to consider the risks. Facebook could change the types of messages we can deliver, change inbox placement, eliminate the use of push notifications or eliminate the ability to use Messenger for marketing all together.

Sunrise is proactively collecting email addresses and phone numbers of Messenger subscribers with petition asks in Messenger to hedge against these risks and to reach their supporters across channels.

Running a Messenger program that combines bot and one-to-one conversations is a lot of work. Aside from the Messenger bot set-up, your organization may have dozens or hundreds of new messages coming in each week from people who want to be involved in your work.

If you have a people-powered theory of change, it’s a great problem to have. Those replies can be handled by volunteers or staff and are the beginning of a conversation that moves the supporter up the ladder of engagement.


We’ve discovered that Messenger is an effective channel to supplement peer-to-peer text messaging, phone calls, email, social media, and the web. Supporters can complete a variety of tasks from within one app — or move from the initial introduction (livestream of action) to completing the task (calling the rep) with minimal friction. Like any new platform, it comes with risks and requires a strategic assessment, but the ability to combine the breadth and scalability of broadcast messages with the depth of 1:1 conversations makes it the most effective communications channel we have right now.

This article was originally published by Mighty Citizen. An edited version is republished here with permission.

One of my first questions for any new nonprofit client is: How good is your data?

I’m not asking if they have data, but how good is it? As a marketer, I want to build communication strategies that are founded on research and real insights from everyday donors. I want to know what your donors care about, how they want to be communicated with, and what kind of content resonates with them. This information allows your nonprofit to better engage your donors and leads to long-term benefits like increased and repeat donations.

Without data, your communication strategies are likely to be built on gut feelings and opinions. The beauty of data is that it negates opinions. Data can guide us; it can be a beacon of truth in a sea of opinion.

If you’re like most nonprofits, you have data available, but it’s either 1) housed in many different tools, rendering it cumbersome and useless, or 2) limited to basic insights like “total lifetime giving amount.”

Sound familiar?

If so, let’s take a gander at how to collect useful donor data without being annoying. Why do I say “without being annoying?” Because most donors view survey questions as a nuisance, in the way of a task they’re trying to complete, like filling out your donation form.

Option 1: use your thank you page as a data collection point

On your website, your thank you page can be an unbelievably valuable asset if used correctly. After all, your donor feels great about the commitment they’ve just made and is more likely to continue giving—this time, in the form of information.

Often, nonprofits use their thank you pages to say nothing more than “thanks for the donation.” But what if you popped a couple of questions around donor motivation onto your thank you page? For example, you could ask “What motivated your donation today?” and offer up three to five optional answers. You could also offer a text field if they wanted to provide additional info.

Or you could ask “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” Or, if your marketing strategy benefits from it, you could ask their age, what part of town they’re in, or which of your programs they care about most.

There’s a plethora of questions you might ask to help you segment your donors for future campaigns. The thank you page is a great place to get answers.

Option 2: send a quick donor survey

Has your organization conducted a donor survey? Was it short? Probably not short enough.

The inclination is to create a donor survey that allows you to find out anything you could ever possibly want to know about your donors. (Favorite color, everyone?!) You must resist this inclination!

Instead, put a survey link in your donor’s email receipt. Remember, they’re feeling good about that donation they just made. They’re looking for a receipt in their inbox to confirm the donation went through successfully. And now, within that same email, you’re simply asking them to tell you how you might serve them best by answering a short 3-5 question survey that takes less than 2 minutes to complete. Emphasize how quick and easy this survey will be, and make sure it is!

Using this strategy, the survey is not a cumbersome initiative for your nonprofit. It simply rolls out on a continual basis whenever a donation is made. And with a seamless integration of your donor database, you can ask different questions each time the donor gives.

Option 3: ask them during the donation process

I’ll be honest, I don’t like this option as much. That’s why it’s down here at the bottom! This option requires that you include a couple of questions for donors to answer as they’re filling out your donation form (online and off).

I’m hesitant to recommend this to our clients because I never want donors to fill out more than they have to in the process of donating. The less friction in the donation experience, the better. We don’t want them having to think too much. But sometimes—depending on your donation form software and internal IT resources—this is the fastest and easiest route.

If you take this approach, ask questions that might enhance the donor’s experience, like “Which of our programs most interest you?” or “How best should we communicate with you?” This is not the time to ask age or income or any other question that might give potential donors pause. My recommendation is to ask no more than 2 of these questions in your donation form.

Ask questions that might enhance the donor’s experience.

Test, and test again

I’m admittedly biased toward some of these options over others but you should test all of the options to see what works best for you. Test all of the options and see what gains the most traction with your particular donors.

Keep in mind that if you don’t receive a large quantity of online donations, you’ll want to test over a longer period of time to make sure you’ve got enough data to accurately compare your options.

Now, go get your data!

I hope you’re now primed and ready to learn valuable information about your donors so you can serve them better. Not only does this require some forethought, but you’ll likely also need to tap into your IT pro or an outside consultant to set your systems up properly so this doesn’t become a manual burden for your team. But once you’ve got the machine running, you’ll never look back!

Do you think your nonprofit should try live streaming or different kinds of videos in 2019? Desperate to try new software for your editorial calendar? Tired of producing long, boring printed annual reports and wish you could put it online?

When you want to try something new or make a change at your nonprofit, someone may ask you if other nonprofits are doing it too and if you have any research to support this change.

For nonprofit communications and marketing questions, you don’t have to post plaintive requests for help on social media. Instead, the annual Nonprofit Communications Trends Report produced by my organization Nonprofit Marketing Guide, can be a helpful resource.

The 2019 Trends Report covers all of these questions and more. It was compiled from the answers of approximately 600 nonprofit professionals who took the 2019 Nonprofit Communications Trends Survey in November 2018.

More than half of nonprofits live streamed video in 2018

Several social media platforms are encouraging live streaming video as an especially engaging form of social content.

Nonprofits are giving it a try, with 39% saying they live streamed video to Facebook, 9% saying they live streamed on Instagram, and 4% saying they live streamed on YouTube. Just under half of nonprofits, 46%, said they did not live stream at all in 2018.

Nonprofits use video in numerous ways

We also asked about recorded videos. By far, the most popular type of video among nonprofits is storytelling about participants or supporters, with 60% of nonprofits creating them.

Video appeals for fundraising and “thank you” videos to share with supporters are created by about a third of nonprofits each.

For many nonprofits, video is considered too time-consuming, but it’s one of the first tasks they would ask a new communications team member to take on, if their team were to grow. The same is true of social media in general: it’s viewed as too time-consuming but important enough to assign to a new team member, if the team were to grow.

Shorter annual report formats are most popular

At Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we have long advocated for shorter annual report formats. We contend the traditional 20+ page print reports no longer provide the value they once did, especially given the exorbitant amount of time and money required to produce them.

Nonprofits agree, with only 10% of nonprofits choosing that long, traditional format. That’s not to say print annual reports are disappearing. About a third of nonprofits will produce an 8-20 page print report with another 23% opting for a 2-4 page report. Print is still in – but the page count is definitely coming down.

Only about 10% of nonprofits say they will create a web page, blog post, or microsite as their primary annual report. Another 12% say they will produce an infographic as their primary annual report. If you want to drop print entirely, you won’t be alone, but you won’t be in the majority either.

Editorial calendars most often built in common office productivity software

Using an editorial calendar to manage content creation and publishing is a fundamental best practice that most effective nonprofits use. More than 80% of nonprofits surveyed use an editorial calendar.

There is, however, no one type of software that’s best for an editorial calendar. Much of it is personal preference – at Nonprofit Marketing Guide we often talk about whether staff have “calendar brains” or “spreadsheet brains” when discussing software preferences.

Almost half of nonprofits said they used either Google Suite or Microsoft Office products to manage their editorial calendars. Project management software such as Airtable, Asana, Basecamp, Coschedule, Smartsheet, and Trello, collectively account for another 16%. Another 10% prefer to use a simple wall or paper calendar.

Nonprofits still rely heavily on email and meetings for internal communications

When it comes to internal messaging, nonprofits still rely on traditional tools, especially email and meetings, in spite of how time-consuming and unproductive they may be. We hope in future years to see more adoption of internal communications tools like instant messaging and messaging through project management software, rather than email. But for now, nonprofits adopting those tools are in the minority.

Only 14% of nonprofits reported regularly using instant messaging apps for internal communications and just 7% reported using messaging features within project management software.

Text messaging for internal communications was popular only for smaller organizations (under $1 million) and with CEO-led communications teams (which tend to be within smaller organizations).

Communications strategy, team structure, and salary data

In addition to these tech-related insights, the 2019 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report also includes new and updated data on:

  • The priority level, experience level and effectiveness on nonprofits for 12 marketing strategies
  • Communications teams sizes, structures, and budgets
  • Communications team salaries, including regional differences
  • The link between organizational culture and effective communications work

Interested to learn more? Download a free copy of the 2019 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report here.

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.

It will soon be spring here at NTEN HQ, in Portland, OR. The days will lengthen, the campsites will reopen (hurrah!), and the bulbs we planted in previous years will start to peek up out of the ground. The upcoming transformations will be outward signs of a lot of intentional planning on the part of our ecosystems, and a reward for the effort we put in last year.

Gardens, like fundraising, take planning and effort. You can’t expect a bumper harvest of vegetables in the spring if you forgot to plant them in the fall. Here’s how you can keep your fundraising strategy from going to seed.

Sow on time, harvest on time

Every year, we backyard gardeners faithfully open our almanac for advice on what to plant, when and how. We follow the book when it says plant peas in the fall and lettuce in the spring. Likewise, fundraisers should know the seasonality of your organization’s fundraising activities. Membership organizations often have an annual drive, some are linked to anniversaries or news events, and event-driven campaigns have their own peaks and troughs. Write the almanac for your organization, starting with the harvest times and work your way backward to activities that create thriving donor relationships.

Fundraising calendar template: https://www.mobilecause.com/fundraising-calendar-template/#yearend

Note: This doesn’t mean GivingTuesday. It may mean the opposite, in fact. If the tall stalks are stealing your sun and distracting your donors, find another time to make your ask.

Show care, especially when it’s quiet

This far north, gardens don’t do much over the winter. However, that doesn’t mean you should neglect them. We spread mulch and eggshells around our plants in the winter, when they’re most vulnerable to cold, disease and pests. Likewise, it’s important to reengage your supporters during the quiet times, send them thank-yous, and make your non-monetary asks. Donors often love to be asked to help year-round, and if you keep the conversation going during the off months, they’ll be more receptive to your in-season ask.

Year-round engagement practices: https://grantspace.org/resources/blog/6-best-practices-for-engaging-your-donors-year-round/

Protect your truffles

Most donors, especially the generous ones, connect with an organization because they believe in its values and its ability to meet its mission. Often, that means that your big donors are also people who hold leverage in other ways, such as being a leader in their community or a well-connected person. That means that sometimes, other parts of your organization might want something from them. But, like truffles, sometimes you should leave them in the ground until they’re ready. Experienced fundraisers will know, sometimes it takes years—even a lifetime—in the case of a big bequest.

Who would want you to risk that relationship? Marketing departments do this all the time: Would you mind if I asked Marcus to reshare this tweet? Can I take Ethan’s photo to show his support for this initiative? Would Sadie be available to talk to the Sentinel about our new campaign? And trust me, as a marketer, you have to tell us, in no uncertain terms: No. Sometimes, this means getting buy-in from the very top of your organization. We marketers might think that whatever we’re working on is paramount but we’re probably not going to argue with the CEO about it.

Be bold

Sometimes, however, fundraisers run the risk of being too precious with our donors. I once worked at an organization that was so timid about asking for money that they suppressed their regular donors for almost their entire summer campaign. They started getting calls from donors who were annoyed that they were running a big campaign and hadn’t asked them for help. It was only then that they changed their strategy and made 40% of their earnings in the last two weeks. Most of them—you guessed it—from regular donors.

A couple of months ago, I fell off my bike onto a row of fava beans, crushing three or four plants and snapping all the struts. After a few minutes of detangling them, I let them be. To my surprise, the next morning there they were, standing at attention once more and straining for the sun. Donors, like plants, are sometimes more robust than we give them credit for. Keep them engaged and push them further with each ask. They might surprise you.

Positive reinforcement for donors: https://www.classy.org/blog/asking-donors-to-give-again-through-positive-reinforcement/

How can your organization find new donors every year? By leveraging the events that you already hold to intentionally expand your community.

1. Host a joint event with another nonprofit

I know what you’re thinking: Wouldn’t sharing an event with another nonprofit, especially one with a similar mission, make it more difficult for you to find and retain donors?

Not at all! Fundraising isn’t a zero-sum game, and the best indicator of philanthropic giving is… you guessed it, philanthropic giving. Sharing an event with another nonprofit has multiple benefits. You can:

  • Split the cost of the event.
  • Attract a larger crowd than you could on your own.
  • Share a supporter pool.

Events, while being both time- and resource-intensive, are a vital part of any nonprofit’s engagement and fundraising strategies. But if you split the cost and the work of planning and hosting with another nonprofit, you’re doubling your capacity.

For example, think of all the effort it took to pull off your last charity auction. With another nonprofit onboard, you split both the costs of the venue and catering, as well as the task of finding high-level prizes that inspire people to make bigger bids.

Then, when the event is over, you’ll both have collected the contact information of many more new friends than you could have alone. The best part is that you already know that these people are engaged with and supportive of your mission, which is half the battle.

Reach out to other nonprofits in your region with similar or adjacent missions, and see what fun event ideas your teams can brainstorm together.

2. Raise funds peer to peer

Peer-to-peer, or social, fundraising is one of our favorite types of fundraising. It allows your nonprofit to reach a far wider audience than you could on your own through leveraging the power of your supporters’ social networks.

All those shares on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have real-world value for your nonprofit. They increase brand and mission awareness for your nonprofit and expose your fundraiser to people who have a personal incentive to care: your supporters’ friends and family.

If you’ve never hosted a peer-to-peer fundraiser and aren’t sure where to start, check out this ultimate guide from OneCause to get you started.

Peer-to-peer fundraising is great for increasing your ranks of donors because most of the people who donate to the campaign probably don’t know about your nonprofit—they just know that their friends care!

When they fill out the donation page, make sure you make the most of having their contact information by following up with a personalized thank-you letter, more information on the cause, and ways to get involved.

We like to combine peer-to-peer fundraising with fun concluding events like:

  • Dance-a-thons and walk-a-thons
  • 5Ks, 10Ks, or marathons
  • Block parties
  • Silent auction dinners

Then, collect contact information from your event attendees and follow up with them about becoming a donor or a volunteer.

3. Consider awareness-raising events

One of the best things that you can do to attract more donors is to make your nonprofit’s mission and presence in the community more relevant to more people.

For this reason, consider hosting an event outside of your comfort zone to attract people you haven’t interacted with before. Some fun ideas for these types of events could include:

  • A talent show featuring local musicians and comedians.
  • A speed dating night featuring your single donors, some local personalities, and anyone who wants to come to make new friends.
  • A performance like Shakespeare in the Park (consider partnering with a local theater!)

These events provide a two-fold advantage for your nonprofit. First, they increase name awareness in your community. Second, they allow your team the opportunity to mingle with people they don’t know and collect contact information for future cultivation.

Another idea that can both help attract new donors and make the efforts of your current donors go further is to host a volunteer day. Plan a series of tasks that volunteers can do that help your community and your mission, and then promote volunteer grants!

Volunteer grants are when an employer donates money to a nonprofit that one of their employees donates their time to. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of these programs. But promoting them to your volunteers can make their time worth more than it already is.

4. Host a donor thank-you event

A surefire way to increase your donor population is to ask your current donor pool for help.
Next time you host a donor appreciation event, ask your donors and board members to bring friends that they think might be interested in becoming a donor.

This benefits your nonprofit because:

  • The people who are brought to your event already have an emotional connection to your nonprofit, because of their friend.
  • The people who don’t know your organization get to see how well you treat your donors and how gracefully you show your appreciation.
  • Your current donors get to help your nonprofit in a way that doesn’t involve digging deeper into their pockets.

It’s a win-win for everyone, no matter if you host a cocktail party, a picnic in a park, or even a potluck dinner at someone’s house.

5. Conduct prospect research before events

The best way to optimize any event is by conducting prospect research ahead of time. Prospect research is when you access publicly available information about someone to learn more about them and their capacity and willingness to give.

The things you can learn about prospects, or potential donors, include:

  • Wealth markers like real estate or vehicle ownership
  • Philanthropic habits like any previous donations
  • Network associations like employer or alma mater

Knowing these things makes it easier to approach someone at an event. If someone has a history of donating to an environmentally-minded nonprofit, your nonprofit’s Save The Trees drive is probably of great interest to them.

You can also use this research to determine who to add to your invitation lists, to maximize your event’s impact.

The takeaway: Finding new donors may seem intimidating, but it’s not impossible. The donors are out there! You just have to meet them where they are, and encourage them to join your community.

Giving Tuesday is the biggest single giving day of the year. And this year, Facebook is running a match campaign for US-based nonprofit organizations that has the potential to level the playing field for small nonprofits – to the tune of $7 million. Here’s how you can get your slice of that donor match pie.

Register as a nonprofit organization on Facebook

First, you should make sure that you are set up as a nonprofit organization with Facebook. It will take time for Facebook to verify your legitimacy, and they’re likely to get an influx of applications the week before Giving Tuesday, so don’t delay.

For example, here’s the setup page for an organization I work with, the Friends of the Multnomah County Library.

Facebook page setup

Deputize your donors

Facebook’s rules on matching stipulates that there is a maximum of $250,000 per nonprofit and $20,000 per donor. With competition for a share of the $7 million matching pot, you need to get in quick on Giving Tuesday – and that means increasing your number of donors.

A good strategy is to find deputies who are supportive of your cause to create fundraiser buttons. This works a lot like other crowdraising strategies, helping you reach not only your existing donors but their friends and connections.

Help them raise funds on your behalf

Start reaching out to potential deputies early with information on your campaign, how the platform works and what you need from them. Send them stories and impact data that they can reshare with their networks to help them see the importance of donating to your cause. Use your existing donors to seed your list of who to recruit.

Once you have your deputies in place, it is important that you communicate with them how this works and what their expectations are. At minimum, you should send them this article. You also may want to send them some Facebook resources and volunteer instructions that are unique to this task.

Make it a competition

I recently attended a gala for L&LS Man and Woman of the year. It was the final event of several weeks of fundraising initiatives, each participant being a member of a team that was trying to raise more than the others. And every team had a team leader who was in the running for the top prize. The event was not only an awards ceremony but an auction that served as a last-ditch effort for a team to pull ahead. By building this competition, hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised in the Portland area alone.

This is a rather grand example, but if you’ve ever been involved in a fundraising penny war, you’ll realize it’s the same basic principle. Even if you can’t afford to do something as big as L&LS, you can learn from them and apply it to this fundraising event. Make your own competition to encourage people to donate that has rules and prizes that speak to what your organization is about. Giving a prize that is relevant to what your organization does will be a more personal touch in reaching your deputies and remind people of why they’re advocates of what you do.

The early bird gets the $7m worm

Not only should you get the jump in getting verified by Facebook, recruiting and training deputies, you should be timely in the donation ask. The hungry, hungry hippos race for those seven million matching dollars begins at 8am ET. That’s 5am on the west coast. So you have to get rolling on this bright and early in the morning. Reach out to donors beforehand to encourage them to make a donation first thing in the morning on Giving Tuesday.

Get started right now to unlock your Giving Tuesday match.

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.