Beyond Tactics, There’s Tech

August 26, 2015       The NonProfit Times      

Mission-related zeal will take an organization only so far. Most nonprofits find success starts with the click of a mouse button. Advocacy is important, but fundraising is most nonprofits’ lifeblood. Organizations should use one-click donation buttons on their appeal pages.

During a session at the annual Fundraising Day in New York conference, David Acup, managing director, interactive marketing and management at Washington-based Environmental Defense Fund, and Luke Franklin, vice president, member communications for the New York-based ASPCA, offered their thoughts regarding nonprofits’ digital activities.

PayPal has been embraced by older web surfers, who are also heavily represented in many donor bases, according to Acup. Older donors present other challenges to nonprofits. They might have interacted with an organization before email addresses were ubiquitous. Fundraisers can use Facebook to access them online. The Environmental Defense Fund found 390,000 such people in its file, and sent their names to Lake Group Media for matching services.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based data services firm found Facebook profiles for 120,000 of them, and the Environmental Defense Fund targeted them with re-engagement messages. This initiative’s success is still being evaluated, as re-engagement can range from a donation to activist activity. But Acup noted that the cost per thousand of re-engaging these individuals was far below prospecting costs.

Social media has enhanced the web’s role as a dialog-based medium. Ideally, conversations should be between both organizations and their advocates, as well as advocates and other potential activists. Franklin recommended going beyond soliciting donations: Urging community members to contribute media, such as relevant photos or stories or questions, builds engagement, and engaged individuals make donations, he said.

When individuals initially appear on organizations’ radar through social efforts, that fact should be noted on their file, along with any contributions they might make. Doing so helps quantify the value of social efforts.

Acup noted that the timing of a social media post’s effectiveness varies based on its content. Organizations might find their members are more likely to retweet or click through messages during specific times. For messages aimed at the media, prime time is between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. “After nine, Twitter becomes a lot of editorial,” he said.

Social content is more powerful if it comes from advocates. Franklin recommended identifying followers who have strong online profiles and turning them into evangelists, either by giving them swag or offering them public recognition. How can a fundraiser identify these individuals? Social profile strength is based on follower totals, message rebroadcasts and Klout Scores (an independent evaluation of an individual’s online influence), among other measures.

Granted, there’s more to online activity than social media. “You need to have a search engine marketing strategy, no matter the budget size,” said Franklin. He suggested searching keywords relevant to an organization’s mission and seeing which competitors’ messages pop up as top bidders. “If you don’t have a budget to do paid search, that’s understandable, but at least understand what the landscape looks like,” he added.

Beyond tactics, there’s tech. Organizations shouldn’t be shy about internally touting the value of the technology they’ve invested in when campaigns go well, nor should they be silent about discussing missed opportunities resulting from lesser systems. Doing so will strengthen requests for upgrades, Franklin said.

Regarding upgrades, Franklin recommended coupling systems that offer best-of-breed functionality – the most powerful analytics engine with the most reliable email service with the most versatile campaign management system, for instance. Organizations shouldn’t shy from custom development, either, Acup added.

Individuals within organizations who don’t consider themselves techies should at least explore the landscape. Acup keeps himself informed through white papers and newsletters — even those geared toward other industries — and uses the information he gleans to challenge both his IT department and vendors.

Franklin’s final tip seems obvious, but it may require organizations with legacy websites to revamp their pages: As much of their websites as possible should be optimized for mobile devices. As Franklin noted, half of the ASPCA’s current online traffic comes from tablet or mobile sources.

Acup recommended that web pages be created using responsive design – a system that recognizes the device (whether computer, tablet, or mobile) being used to access the content, and adjusts the format accordingly. At a minimum, he said, donation-solicitation pages should be responsive.

But organizations should go beyond the minimum, if possible: According to Acup, Google’s current algorithm ranks pages which are not mobile optimized lower in search results.


Richard H. Levey is a New York City-based business writer and frequent contributor to The NonProfit Times.