Blogs

Investing in Infrastructure: What Holds Foundations Back From Funding Technology?

Today 1400 foundations received a letter from 22 organizations that support nonprofit infrastructure. The letter urges those foundations to commit to directing at least 1% of their grantmaking budgets to support the infrastructure upon which the nonprofit sector is built. I believe that the majority of grantmakers already understand the importance of infrastructure—yet that understanding isn’t often reflected in their grantmaking. Why is that? And will a letter like this make any difference?
 
Last week, I had the privilege of dining with some program officers. They came together specifically to talk about how grantmakers can advance the use of technology at nonprofit organizations. A lot of grantmakers are allergic to technology, but not them—these people get it. Even so, they admitted that they struggle with how to make funding decisions and whether technology funding aligns with their foundations’ priorities or will satisfy their trustees. 
 
Based on conversations I’ve had with grantmakers, here are the top three reasons why they are reluctant to fund technology.
 
“I don’t know enough about technology.” 
One program officer had a bad experience funding a CRM system. The project failed because the grantee and the grantmaker both were naive about software selection and implementation. They missed early clues that the organization was not ready for a technology change of this magnitude. They also neglected to conduct a thorough software selection process and therefore chose a product that was a poor fit. Now the foundation is cautious about funding other technology projects. Its program officers simply don’t feel confident in their ability to differentiate the good investments from the bad ones. I want grantmakers to know that understanding technology well enough to make good funding decisions is not so far out of your reach. There are a lot of resources available and in relatively little time you can understand just enough to know what questions to ask and to be able to engage in an open conversation with grantees.
 
“It’s too risky.” 
Technology is often an important facilitator of innovation. I hope funders will accept that in order to foster innovation you have to be willing to fail with technology. But although failures can occur, there are many ways you can use your funding to reduce the risk. Can you fund self-assessments, training, or consulting services that improve grantees’ capacity to make good decisions about technology and manage a successful implementation? Can you start by piloting a new technology on a small scale?
 
“It doesn’t align with our funding priorities.” 
Well, maybe your funding priorities are wrong. Even though it might not be exciting or sexy, funding basic infrastructure is one of the best things that you can do to make an organization more effective at achieving its mission. Technology infrastructure is a prerequisite for performance management, innovation, and sustainability. If this letter helps foundations see that truth, then I’m all for it.
 

You can read the letter for yourself here. It’s inspiring to know that so many of my peers, as well as funders, are concerned about this issue. I hope we can continue an open conversation, and I hope infrastructure—including technology—becomes the priority that it ought to be.  

Best of the Web: May 2016

 

Do They See What You're Saying?

In college, I had a professor who asked, “Do you see what I’m saying?” after nearly everything he said. It was a nervous tick more than anything, but I was tempted to stand up and say, “No! I don’t see what you’re saying!”

It was a philosophy class and, while he was an interesting guy, his lectures weren’t. I really didn’t see what he was saying. That is, until one class when, to explain Hume’s ideas about causality and perception, he drew a little sketch of a movie reel and made a stick figure on three or four frames. I don’t remember much from that course, but I still remember Hume’s point about reality versus our impression of it and how proximity does not prove causality. For the first time all semester, I could see what he was saying.

We all learn in different ways and for many of us, maybe even most of us, visual information is important. It can mean the difference between a constituent or future donor “getting it” and engaging more deeply with your organization or moving on and forgetting that you exist. 

Of course, infographics, charts, photographs, illustrations, videos—they all take time and money to create. But if your mission is to reach as many people as possible, you should find a way to get them into your communications mix.

A few posts this month offer information about how infographics can help nonprofits get the word out about their good work. Check them out and think through whether you might consider creating infographics of your own.

Thanks for reading, liking, and Tweeting this month. It’s always interesting to hear what you’re thinking.

Cheers,

Dan


Best of the Web: May 2016

How Information Graphics Reveal Your Brain’s Blind Spots (ProPublica)

Your brain can play tricks on you. We’ve all seen the optical illusions where identical shapes or colors look different depending on the context. (Maybe you’re still arguing about the color of a certain dress. Get over it!) What does this have to do with nonprofits? When you create a chart or infographic, you can use visual “tricks” or cues to help your audience get an important point. But be aware that you may also be injecting bias through your visuals, so be careful that your graphics are fair and accurate. ProPublica’s article contains dozens of great examples and is a must-read for anyone publishing infographics. 

Data Visualization (TechSoup)

TechSoup offers a couple of interesting posts to help you think through how to use visual content to engage with your followers. This post discusses a few innovative approaches, delivers some common sense reminders, and links to visualization tools. TechSoup created a similar article for librarians. It offers chart principles, design tips, and tools.

How to Fundraise Like a Rockstar: Tips From Nonprofits Doing It Right (Care2)

Allyson Kapin makes a good point in this summary of a report commissioned by the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund. “What if we could learn from these organizations what’s working—not so we can copy their strategies and tactics but so we can get a better sense of the beliefs, values, and organizational cultures that create the conditions for fundraising success?” The post includes a lot of important takeaways that get at the heart of what it takes to be a successful fundraiser. It also includes a link to the report. 

How to Receive a Google Grant and Manage it with Analytics (501cTech)

If you’ve heard about Google Grants, but aren’t sure how to sign up or how they work, 501cTech spells it out for you. There’s no excuse not to apply. Thousands of new people may find you for the first time this year thanks to a Google ad. That’s a lot of impact being left on the table if you put off the application for another year. 

Advice from Nonprofit Leaders on Budgeting for Technology (Tech Impact)

You may not like spending precious resources on technology, but not budgeting time and money to acquire and maintain technology can be more expensive and can hold back your programs. In this post, nonprofit leaders who’ve had to make tough choices about technology give their advice.

A Few Good Methods for Processing Credit Cards (TechSoup)

Credit card processing can be confusing—both how it works and how to choose the right provider. We break down what you need to know about the process and highlight a few useful tools.

How Political Giving Impacts Nonprofit Donations (Care2)

Every four years, development directors fear that donors will focus on national elections and overlook or be less willing to donate to causes. New evidence suggests that the political season has little effect and may even boost donations to nonprofits. 

The Next Generation of Nonprofit Data Standards (GuideStar)

GuideStar is an important leader in the movement to increase transparency in the nonprofit sector. What’s especially interesting and encouraging is how much it’s investing in data—both to help nonprofits get better at collecting and reporting it and to share nonprofit program data with donors and funders.

Budgeting for Cloud Based Technologies (Tech Impact)

The ubiquity of the Cloud in nonprofit software has meant that leaders have to think differently about tech spending. Tech Impact outlines what to consider in your budgeting process.

5 Essential Topics Every Email Marketer Should Understand (Mashable)

Believe it or not, email is still a big deal. To do it well, especially when problems arise, you should probably understand how broadcast email works. Mashable takes you behind the scenes.

Impressions Are A Sham: The Path to Better Media Metrics (Institute for Public Relations)

As media platforms mature and our understanding of what is happening when people encounter ads increases, we’re going to need to get more sophisticated about how we look at the value of our marketing. The Institute for Public Relations outlines its vision for the future of marketing metrics.

 

Your Donor Management System Questions Answered (Part 3 with Karen Graham)

Editor's note: The final installment in our series comes from Karen Graham, Idealware's Executive Director. She used one question as a jumping off point to talk about examples of how processes can affect your software purchase decisions. To get caught up on the whole series, read Eric Leland and Robert Weiner's posts. Enjoy!
 
Can you recommend resources for setting policies/procedures for handling donor info, acknowledgement of gifts, reporting, etc.—especially as the guidelines impact selection of software?
 
I’m going to approach this question at a tangent because it brings to mind an important point about selecting technology.
 
When you're selecting new data management software—whether it's for donors, grantees, or some other type of constituent—it’s often a good time to review and improve your internal processes. Why? Because documenting existing processes helps you understand what you really need from a new software system. 
 
I like to think about it this way: Your processes are real-life use cases that can help you evaluate products.
 
For example, when I was a consultant I worked with a community arts center that was looking for a donor management system that could handle online registrations for art classes. Sounds straightforward, right? When I talked with the woman who helped people register by phone, she explained that she was doing a lot more than just inputting data. Her process included looking up whether the registrant had any credits for past cancellations due to weather or instructor illness. She also had additional paperwork to fill out if the caller was registering on behalf of a child. As I learned more about the organization’s processes, it quickly became clear that the ability to handle these scenarios was going to be a big factor in choosing one system over another. 
 
Here’s another example of processes informing purchase decisions. 
 
I worked with a reproductive rights organization that identified gift acknowledgement as one of its most important tasks. In every vendor-led software demonstration, staffers asked to see this in detail. They asked questions such as: What if an online donation comes from an individual but we want to acknowledge the household for the gift? It was clear they needed to see the system in action. We set up “test drives” that allowed them to try out their top choices and made sure to structure those sessions around key use cases so that they can get an apple to apples comparison. And it worked! Staffers were happy with their choice and the system met their needs.
 
One reason to review processes before choosing software is that you might uncover processes that just don’t work.
 
Organizations that evaluate several software packages and struggle to find one that fits well with their processes should recognize that as a red flag. Do your processes really need to be so unique? Process improvement often goes hand-in-hand with a software conversion. If you can be flexible enough to follow a more typical process, you can significantly reduce your need for customization. Minimizing customization not only saves you money in the implementation phase, but it also makes it easier for your staff to take advantage of vendor-provided training and support, helps new staff to learn the system, and keeps you on a smooth upgrade path with fewer potential glitches when system changes get rolled out.
 
Then, once you’ve thought about your processes, it’s important that you find a way to institutionalize the ones that work.
 
One grassroots organizing group I worked with chose to supplement a vendor-provided user manual with its own data entry standards and internal procedures. These internal documents specified which method was used for linking household members, whether to use Street or St, and how often to run pledge reminders, among other things. Creating its own version of the user manual took time, but it also helped the organization achieve broader and more consistent user adoption.
 
But to answer the original question, here are a few policy/procedure resources out there on the web. Everything we found was created by a vendor and, as an independent voice that takes care to protect ourselves and our audience from bias, we generally we don’t like to link to vendor content. However, in this case, the content is solid and we didn't want to leave you without anything. Together, these examples give you a good sense of what you’ll need to include in a document that provides guidelines for how to handle donor data. Best of luck!
 
Links
 
 
 
 
 

Your Donor Management System Questions Answered (Part 2 with Robert Weiner)

Editor's note: A few weeks back we led a panel discussion on how to choose a donor management system with Eric Leland, Robert Weiner, and our own Karen Graham. The webinar was so popular and the questions so good that we couldn't get to everything in the hour. But we didn't want your questions to go unanswered. Our panelists split up the remaining questions and offer their answers.

Our second installation comes from Robert Weiner, a longtime nonprofit technology consultant and a good friend of Idealware's since the the beginning. He has worked with hundreds of clients to set up donor management systems and is deeply involved in numerous organizations that help nonprofits manage their data and technology more effectively.

 

If your organization hasn't done much fundraising in the past, is it prudent to start with a donor management system or better to start with spreadsheets and such?

I am 99% opposed to using spreadsheets. The exceptions are organizations that have very few donors, don’t seek or get multiple gifts or grants from the same source, and don’t need to track relationships between constituents. It would also be ideal if they don’t need to track multiple addresses for constituents. While it’s possible to work around each of these issues, it’s seldom worth it. Spreadsheets are delicate and grow like weeds. One wrong click and poof — no data. See my article “Back Away From That Spreadsheet.” 
 

For very small NPOs (500 – 1000 members), can a DMS also function as a membership database if you are moving from a spreadsheet-based approach to tracking members and donors?

Yes, many donor management systems can track simple memberships, just like they track annual gifts. You’ll need to set up some codes to track your membership levels (if you have more than one), renewal dates, and any benefits the members should get (or might decline).
 

For a tiny organization with a budget of $25,000, the rule of thumb would indicate that we should plan to spend $100 a year on a DMS, which would mean we shouldn't get anything, even if it is warranted by our needs. Correct?

Your needs must come first. The rule of thumb is just a starting point for thinking about your budget. Don’t cut off your ability to track your donors to comply with a made-up rule. Also, keep in mind that you might (might) be able to find a DMS for $100/year. Just remember that they might be “free like a puppy.” See Laura Quinn’s and Michelle Murrain’s Idealware blog posts about the true costs of free software:
 

 

Your Donor Management System Questions Answered (Part 1 with Eric Leland)

Editor's note: A few weeks back we led a panel discussion on how to choose a donor management system with Eric Leland, Robert Weiner, and our own Karen Graham. The webinar was so popular and the questions so good that we couldn't get to everything in the hour. But we didn't want your questions to go unanswered. Our panelists split up the remaining questions and over the next three weeks we'll publish their answers.

The first batch of answers come from Eric Leland from FivePaths. Eric is an Idealware Expert Trainer and a longtime consultant who has helped nonprofits do just about everything, from setting up a website to implementing a database system. Enjoy!

Is one solution for us, with barely 4,000 constituents and being cash poor, to go from our Excel spreadsheets to a free service for a year or two and then to one of the bigger ones in the near future, or will this be too much work to do twice!?

The "switching" costs (moving from one system to another) are typically a lot more effort than you predict. Ideally, you remain in a system you chose for a few years chosen to support your longer-term organizational goals, unless changes in your data management needs are significant enough to force an earlier transition.

Is there a potential issue with locking my data into a specific vendor product and not being able to migrate to another system in the future? How easy is it to move to a new product in three years?

Vendors are not eager to lose their customers—they often do not provide easy ways to get all your data out of the system. The key is to explore your migration options BEFORE you settle on a vendor. If you can prove that the vendor offers a way to get all your data out in a standard format (csv or xls for example) that can be absorbed by many other systems, then you are in good shape. Also keep in mind that the cost to move completely into using new system, even when you can easily get all your data out of the old system, is often much more work than you expect when you account for the new system setup, fields and report building, and training.

Outside of the intake of donations, what are the differences between donor software and other CRM software?

Donor software focuses on tracking information about people who are donors and details about their gifts. CRM software tracks people who may be one of many roles to you (donors, volunteers, staff, customers, etc.) and who may have a variety of interactions with you (gift giving, volunteering, employment, services provision, event attendance, etc.). If your focus is primarily donors and their gift giving, you may be well suited for software that specializes in donor management. If your focus is on a larger variety of people you engage, and engagements they have with your organization, a CRM may be a better fit.

The 4 Parts of a Successful Digital Strategy

 
Editor’s note: Becca Bloch from Elevation—a web solution agency that works primarily with nonprofits—offers her take on how any nonprofit can develop a successful digital strategy.  
 
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For many people out there in cyberspace, if you don’t have a digital presence, your nonprofit does not exist. 
 
Technology has opened many new outlets to engage supporters, motivate volunteers, persuade donors, and raise awareness for a cause. But without a clear digital strategy, all that opportunity is going to waste.
 
Think of it this way—your digital strategy is the blueprint of your technology-enabled outreach. Your online presence is the end result. No strategy, no presence.
 
Here’s the good news. If you build out your strategy and focus on these four areas, you can significantly increase your presence and online reach.
 
Responsive Website Design
Your nonprofit’s online presence starts with your website. This is the first interaction your future supporters will have with your organization. In the mobile world we live in, making sure your website is responsive so that every visitor has a good user experience, no matter what device she’s using, is critically important. In fact, we’re already at a point where more people use mobile devices than desktop computers to view websites.
 
Google has responded to the mobile trend and your mobile friendliness now affects how high your site appears in searches conducted on mobile devices.
 
If your solution to mobile viewership is to create two sites—one for desktop and one for mobile—don’t do it. Multiple sites are going to negatively affect your SEO. Google doesn’t like content repetition. (Which is also why you shouldn’t repost identical content from other sites, even if you have their permission.) 
 
Moreover, SEO goes hand in hand with UX or User Experience. A positive UX makes your content more sharable. This opens up more channels and outlets for your nonprofit to get noticed and advocate for your cause. If you don’t create a site that is adaptable to all browsers and devices, you’re shutting out a big audience and reducing the opportunities for your content to spread through new networks of people.
 
Email Marketing
There are approximately 2.5 billion email users. Why? Because it’s the simplest, fastest way to get information to a specific person or group of people. 
 
Your nonprofit is likely already soliciting donations, recruiting volunteers, promoting events, or providing useful content via email. But ask yourself: Are the right people getting your emails? 
 
It is important to focus on building a list of responsive followers to ensure optimal success. Thanks to a handful of extremely effective broadcast email providers, email marketing is more straightforward than ever. You are able to implement list segmentation, integrate with other applications, encourage sharing, as well as view and analyze the effectiveness of your campaigns. 
 
Here are some simple email marketing tips: 
 
●Keep it short and simple—people are skimmers.
●Craft a catchy subject line to lure your readers in.
●Timing is everything. Schedule emails for when people are most active on the web.
●Be a regular. People like consistency (and it boosts your credibility).
 
Keep in mind that however you decide to approach email, you’ll want to test your ideas to be sure they work and adjust your approach as you go. 
 
Social Media
Social media is a powerful interactive tool for sharing your nonprofit’s mission and accomplishments. There are more than 2.1 billion social network users around the globe. To be part of the digital world, social media is a must! 
 
When tackling the social media part of your strategy, your first step is to understand and evaluate how your current supporters use their online platforms. This will allow your nonprofit to effectively serve and engage its current and future followers. 
 
Second, take the time to set goals. Are you looking to raise awareness? Engage members? Retain donors? Whatever it may be, make sure your nonprofit has an objective in mind. 
 
Third, assess your networks. As a rule of thumb, pick 2 – 3 online platforms to start out with. You don’t want to spread yourself too thin across too many networks. It is better for your nonprofit to provide quality posts on fewer networks, than mediocre posts on all networks. 
 
Social media is essential to your online presence. Take the time to use it to foster deeper engagement with your community.
 
Blogging
What does blogging have to do with your online presence?
 
●Builds trust, credibility, and authority within your community.
●Boosts search engine rankings.
●Drives traffic to your website through donations, volunteers, and supporters.
●Provides opportunities to engage on social media—more blog posts mean more content to share!
 
Your blog is the heart of your website—continuously providing valuable information for your supporters. 
 
When developing your blog’s content strategy, consider the kinds of stories and information your supporters value. Some nonprofits use their blog as a place to share the human side of the organization. Others use it to delve deeply into issues or provide additional information about a major news story. Still others focus on practical content—events, news, updates. Whatever approach you take, remember that the goal is to create content that will generate action, that can be shared, and that ultimately drives new traffic to your website.
 
This involves time and energy, which let’s face it, can often be tough to find. To get started, gather a team and brainstorm a big list of blog post ideas. This will allow you to plan ahead and schedule a diverse range of posts for times when they’ll make the most sense. It will also alleviate the stress of scrambling to fill the blog with content on a regular basis. Just remember, you’ll need to lead these brainstorming sessions regularly, otherwise you’ll run out of content and again be scrambling. 
 
As a nonprofit, it is extremely important to convey your organization’s mission clearly. By taking the time to create a digital strategy, you can be sure your nonprofit will have a reliable online presence that has the potential to engage with your supporters in new and exciting ways.
 

About the Author

Becca Bloch is the communications & partnership manager at Elevation Web, a full-service nonprofit website design agency. As a lifelong volunteer for nonprofits, Becca has taken her passion to the next level, assisting nonprofit organizations in developing an online presence in order to influence greater change within their community. When she isn’t working, Becca enjoys snapping photos, Netflix movie marathons, and catching up on her favorite blogs. 

 

Best of the Web: April 2016

 

Over the last decade or so, Silicon Valley has generated more than apps and IPOs. It has proliferated a worldview, one that prizes innovation above all else and has made everyone aspire to be “disruptive.” 
 
You’ve probably read a few critiques of what I like to call “valley think.” The New Yorker has published excellent pieces, especially George Packer’s essay Change the World. And the Baffler’s Dale Lately offers a sharp criticism of the cultish language used by Silicon Valley leaders. 
 
Nonprofits are in an interesting middle. We generally agree that change—sometimes radical change—is what’s needed to solve many of our world’s problems. We think of ourselves as innovators, as people coming up with novel solutions to old problems. And, of course, many of us rely on philanthropy from large tech firms. 
 
But I’m guessing that many of us also feel uncomfortable at seeing so much wealth get concentrated among so few people and in such a precise geography. And we’ve also observed by now that “disruption” is a privileged point of view. Disrupting the lives of vulnerable people can do more harm than good. Maybe I’m only speaking for myself here, but I also worry that the go-go, create-and-destroy paradigm is generally doing more harm than good, as profit drives entrepreneurs to dismantle institutions without really considering what they leave in their wake.
 
I suppose I’m saying that, as a nonprofit tech enthusiast, I feel ambivalent about what Silicon Valley is creating. It’s amazing what I can do for free or almost free at home on my laptop. But I’m also starting to recognize that free isn’t quite as free as I hoped.
 
I mention all this because a few stories came up on our Twitter feed that seemed to push back against valley think. Tech companies say they want more diversity, but as the Fast Company article shows, they still don’t understand the basics of how to attract a wide range of people. There’s also an insightful post on Aeon that pokes holes in our love of innovation. And the Harvard Business Review reminds us that many of the most useful platforms are not hunting for an IPO—they were created and offered for free because the solution to the problem was more valuable than the profits they could take.
 
Take a look at these stories and let me know what you think. As always, this digital world is full of fascination.
 
Cheers,
Dan
 
 
These Female Developers Explain How to Recruit More Female Developers (Fast Company)
The focus is often on helping underrepresented groups gain additional skills or making sure companies are exploring all recruitment angles. Less attention is paid to how to build a company culture that a diverse range of people would like to join. In some ways, it’s amazing that this article needed to be written. 
 
Hail the Maintainers (Aeon)
Is innovation overvalued? That’s the argument made by two professors of science and technology studies. They trace the rise of “innovation” as an antidote to a post-Vietnam War era crisis of faith in social progress and point out the lack of inherent value in novelty.
 
Some of the Most Successful Platforms Are Ones You’ve Never Heard Of (Harvard Business Review)
Open source programmers and nonprofiteers of all stripes already know this, but it’s worth repeating and looking at a few examples—a lot of really useful technology was created without profit in mind.
 
Short Course in Digital Storytelling (TechSoup)
If “storytelling” is something you know you should do, but you aren’t quite sure how to do it, TechSoup makes it incredibly easy with this modular course.
 
Simple Surveying (Pamela Grow)
Surveys are a useful way to gather information to help you raise more money, serve your people better, or learn about the success of your communications. But often questioners make their surveys too complicated or don’t know exactly what kind of information they want. Pamela Grow offers one example of how a simple survey can be very effective.
 
Q&A: Heather Mansfield Is Ready for Nonprofit’s Mobile, Digital Future (BizTech)
The woman behind Nonprofit Tech for Good talks about how she got into #nptech, the emergence of real-time storytelling, her inspiration, and the good and bad of online fundraising. 
 
5 Tips to Rule Both Paid & Organic Social (Chris Tuttle)
Words of wisdom from our expert trainer Chris Tuttle: “The good news for communications professionals of both nonprofit and for-profit brands is that content remains king and organic social is the crown. So wear it well. Paid social helps people to see your content; Quality or relevant content gets people to engage with it.”
 
Select the Right CRM for Your Nonprofit (Tech Impact)
Selecting the right CRM is about planning and following your process. This article outlines the steps in the process to help you start developing your implementation plan.
 
The Correct Way to Use Pie Charts (Randal S. Olson)
Pie charts seem simple, but there are a few important mistakes people make that can skew the data.
 
A Quest to Incorporate Quantitative Data Into Qualitative Storytelling: Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco’s Experience (Markets for Good)
The Director of Measurement and Learning at Habitat for Humanity Greater San Francisco shares how she seeks to balance hard data and compelling stories to help her community understand why its mission is so critical to the health of the San Francisco area.
 
What Outsourcing Your Data Services Does to Help Your Nonprofit (Tech Impact)
Should you rely on someone from outside your organization to manage your data? For many nonprofits it makes sense. But remember—the critical part you can’t outsource is the strategic side of data. You need to know why you’re collecting the data and have a plan for what to do with it once you have it.

 

Dramatically Oversimplified Website Graphic Design Trends (And Why Nonprofits Should Care)

 

In the beginning, nonprofits were excited to have a web page. And it was really was just one page, or a couple.

 

Around about 2001, nonprofits began shifting to what I’ll call a “Text is King” model. The cutting edge was to have great content that actually changed on your website. But by today’s standards, these sites look text heavy and somewhat cluttered.
Around 2004, organizations began shifting to what I’ll call the “Feature Image and Sidebar” model—there’s a lead photograph or slideshow, front and center, with a right sidebar and then a set of articles beneath.
 
This trend lasted a really long time—about a decade. In web years, that’s an eternity. The sites above are both from 2005, but if you’d seen either one a year or two ago, you probably wouldn’t have thought they were horribly dated. In fact, a lot of nonprofits have sites in this style right now (Idealware included), and if you’re just a casual user of the internet, you probably don’t care.
But there’s an important change happening. With the emergence of mobile phones as a critically important way for people to view your website, a quite different “mobile first” graphic design is becoming the norm. Designers are creating sites that can adapt to different screen sizes and that don’t require zooming to read the text.
To accomplish this, they’re stripping down text even further, using bold images, adding white space, and creating blocks for content. Visually, this is quite different from what was common just a few years ago.
What does this mean for nonprofits? Well, for quite a while, if you had updated your site within the last 4 or 5 years, you could assume that another update wasn’t urgent. Today, if you haven’t thought through what this “mobile first” graphic design means, you probably should. Very soon—maybe in just another year or so—websites in the “Feature Image and Sidebar” model may look out of date to even a casual user. 
But branding is only part of what matters. Your site’s design also has very real consequences when it comes to search optimization. In mobile searches, Google now prioritizes websites that are mobile optimized. Why is that important? Last year Google reported more searches take place on mobile devices than on computers. Your 2005 site may be getting buried in the search results and mobile users might not even know you exist.
And what if you’re still on the “Text is King” model? Well, good news and bad news. The bad news is that you really need to invest in a new website ASAP. The good news is that you can leap over the whole sidebar thing and go straight to a “Mobile First” site.
Learn More
We have a couple of webinars coming up that can help you build a better website. 
One important consideration is your website’s accessibility. Can people with disabilities access all of your information and resources? If the answer is “no” or “not sure,” then check out our free webinar on April 14—Website Accessibility: Building an Online Space for Everyone.
And if mobile search is a concern, register for our course How to Drive More Visitors to Your Website. It goes beyond SEO to also show you strategies and tactics for promoting your site and using analytics to test and make adjustments. The first session is on April 21.

 

How Does Your Fundraising Stack Up?

Editor's note: The Individual Donor Benchmark Project is a fascinating glimpse into the fundraising success of small nonprofits. We reached out to Heather Yandow of Third Space Studio to tell us a little more about the project and she graciously answered our questions. Enjoy! And don't forget to check out the survey and last year's results.

What is the Individual Donor Benchmark Report? 
 
The Individual Donor Benchmark Report (http://www.thirdspacestudio.com/idb2014/) looks at the fundraising data of small and mighty nonprofits—those with budgets under $2 million.  
 
There is no other benchmarking resource for smaller organizations with individual donor fundraising programs. The Report helps nonprofits understand where their fundraising is doing well, or where they might need to focus their attention for improvement.  
 
What are some of the most interesting findings in last year’s report? 
 
Last year we collected a lot of really interesting data. Here are some of my favorites:
 
  • The average small nonprofit raises 36 percent of its revenue from individual donors.
  • About 16 percent of individual donor revenue is generated online.
  • About half of individual donor revenue comes from donors giving less than $1,000.
  • On average, small organizations have 436 donors. The average gift size is $435.
Were there any surprising takeaways from last year’s report?
 
Absolutely! We found that having a fundraising plan is the single best predictor of fundraising success. If you have a plan, other investments in your fundraising program—more staff, higher paid staff, and more donor meetings—lead to bigger impact. If you don’t have a fundraising plan, those additional investments don’t matter—the data shows no relationship between investing more in individual donor fundraising and seeing greater results. For example, if you have a fundraising plan, every $1 more you pay your primary individual donor fundraiser, you are able to raise another $4.25.
 
What does the Individual Donor Benchmark Report have to say about technology?
 
The Benchmark Report focuses on the fundraising technology used by small and mighty nonprofits, particularly online fundraising platforms and databases. We found that the most popular online fundraising platforms were Network for Good, Razoo, NeonCRM, and Crowdrise. We also found that those organizations using an online fundraising platform raised more of their budget from individuals (39% compared to 31%) and saw greater growth year over year in individual donor giving (86% compared to 39%).
 
In addition to asking about the databases participants used, we also ask organizations how much they loved their database, how easy it was to get data out of it, and how long it took them to gather the data for the survey. After weighing all of the factors, our three database All Starts were Little Green Light, DonorPerfect, and NationBuilder. 
 
If a nonprofit wants to be part of this year’s survey (running now through April 8th) how can it participate? 
 
It’s easy to be part of the survey! Just visit http://www.thirdspacestudio.com/idbproject/ to learn more and start the survey.
 
As a thank you for being part of the survey, organizations will receive:
 
  • A report of your results as well as the complete survey results to share with your colleagues and board.
  • An invitation to a special webinar just for survey participants to dig into the results.
  • The official Individual Donor Benchmark Report and infographic.
  • A chance to win one of 50 coveted consultations with Ravela Insights—experts in donor data analytics, database strategy, and prospect identification.
  • A chance to win one of five Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training prize packs with a subscription to the Grassroots Fundraising Journal as well as a book from the Kim Klein Fundraising Series.
 

 

 

 

5 Essential Tech Tools for Virtual Teams

 
There are a lot of benefits to virtual teams—you’re not constrained by geography and staff members have a lot more flexibility. However, there are also challenges. It can be difficult to collaborate, interpret communication, build trust among team members, and more. To some degree, technology can compensate for the shortcomings of a virtual environment. Here are five kinds of tools that help.
 
Document Collaboration
You need a way to share documents that everyone can edit, preferably without having to upload and download. Ideally you want collaborative editing that lets you see the edits as they are happening. We have used Google Docs for brainstorming—the way you might use a flip chart or whiteboard in person—and the experience has been interesting. Our team tends toward the introverted end of the spectrum, so we get more participation this way. When they don't have to wait their turn to speak up, but instead can just type into a document, they seem more eager to jump into the fray.
 
Virtual Phone System
There needs to be an easy way to transfer calls between people and also a main number with a directory. At Idealware, we use RingCentral. There are a lot of good options, but we liked this one because it gives people a lot of flexibility on which device they use to place and receive calls. I use my laptop with a headset, Chris uses his cell phone, and Dan uses a landline. Any of us can set RingCentral to ring to one of more of these. We can also place outgoing calls from any of these devices.
 
Video Conferencing
If you're interacting only by voice, then you are missing a whole layer of communication that comes through facial expressions and body language. Video is the norm for us, and most of the time if I want to talk to a coworker, I use that rather than calling them on the phone. We had sort of a bake-off between four different platforms and ended up with Skype for a while since it seemed to give us the best video and audio quality on low bandwidth. However, when we got everyone on faster connections, we started going back to Google Hangouts since it is so well integrated into the rest of the Google Apps platform—that's a big convenience.
 
Chat
We had to find a back channel for the breakroom/water cooler conversations and we also had to find a way to virtualize the courtesy of knocking on someone's door to see if they're available for a conversation. Here again there are plenty of good options, but we chose Google Hangouts (just the chat functionality) because it fit pretty seamlessly with our other tools. We set up a Virtual Breakroom channel where we post announcements, jokes, vacation pictures, questions we want to toss out to the whole group, and so forth. When I want to start an unscheduled video conference with a coworker, I often "knock" first via chat, because I don't have many other signals to indicate whether they are immersed in a heads down project, on the phone, or in some other form of do-not-disturb mode.
 
Airplane
Technology can do a lot but there's no substitute for getting together in person. When we meet up, we try to focus on activities that are difficult to do virtually, such as getting to know each other on a more personal level and building trust and rapport among team members. That means we don't necessarily get a lot of work done, and it feels weird to compress half a year's worth of hanging out into a few days of intense togetherness, but I think we all appreciate its importance. For me, I always come out of those get-togethers feeling fortunate to work with such smart and interesting colleagues.
 
Virtual teams have many advantages, but there are also some limitations. Fortunately, with just a few simple tools—some of which you are likely using already—even a nonprofit with a tiny budget can overcome those limitations and find ways to be productive and coordinated. And by using the tools in ways that simulate some of the social atmosphere of an office, you can also hang on to a sense of community.

 

Learn More at NTC!

Come see Heather Martin and me present Virtual Organizations: Managing Remote Employees at NTC! Bring your questions and experiences—I'd love to hear what's working for you and what challenges you're still figuring out. 

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