Nonprofits are facing some challenges as their supporters, members and donors start to isolate themselves. Face-to-face events are off the table, and a not-insignificant part of the population isn’t willing to touch that direct mail piece until it’s been dunked in bleach and autoclaved.
One great way we could have helped each other to surmount that challenge is the annual Nonprofit Technology Conference, which was slated for this week. But the threat of COVID-19 forced the organizers at the Nonprofit Technology Network, NTEN, to cancel — at a tremendous cost to the organization, which we’ll get into in a sec.
And I drew this cartoon for them because they were the first to take me up on an offer to draw a cartoon for ten people who have donated their NTC registration fees back to NTEN. See, NTC is the major source of NTEN’s revenue, and they still have to pay an awful lot of sunk costs for the conference.
So let me restate that offer! There’s still nine free cartoons up for grabs for registered would-be NTC attendees who donated back their registrations. Just hit me up with your donation confirmation, and let me know a topic or two you’d like me to cartoon on. Email me at rob at robcottingham dot ca.
Beth Kanter gave me a kind nudge on Facebook to draw something about the Ice Bucket Challenge to support ALS research. Here it is!
Now, if you’re looking for something beyond graphic smartassery — like, say, real insight into the success of the challenge and what it means for the non-profit sector — check out Beth’s blog posts on the subject:
Chapter 7 is titled “How to Turn Your Stakeholders into Fundraisers: Social Fundraising and How Measurement Can Make It More Effective”. (After seeing an early outline, I wanted to call it “Turning Philanthropy into Philanthro-we“. How history might have changed if I’d ever hit “send” on that email.)
Beth and Katie suggest defining social fundraising as “people asking personal networks to give support.” If you’ve ever had a Facebook notification that a friend suggested you donate to a particular organization on Causes, or seen any of the endlessly inventive campaigns run by supporters of charity: water, you’ve seen social fundraising.
And it can work well. But taking it beyond just “let’s ask our supporters to put a widget on their blogs” requires fundraising expertise, social savvy, some decent technical chops… and smart measurement. If the Obama campaign’s message and tactics seemed to be constantly evolving, it’s because they were – in response to the data they’d analyze obsessively over what kind of appeals worked on whom, when, and under what conditions. (To put it in terms that I can relate to, “The Borg have adapted to our multi-phasic shielding, Captain – their last three appeals got through untouched and caused major donations on Decks 12 through 15.”)
Segmenting your audience is key, too. Katie and Beth look at how Blue State Digital’s segmentation strategy dramatically boosted the chances that an email appeal from Autism Speaks would get opened by its recipient. (I love segmentation purely on the strength of the names marketers like to give their segments: “Furious Experimenters,” “Jazz-Inflected Repeat Adolescents” and “Regret-Tinged Revenge-Seekers”. Half of them sound like they were lifted from the pages of an Audubon field guide; come to think of it, the notes that accompany segmentation reports often have that observed-from-inside-a-bird-blind feel to them.)
And as the authors point out, the return you get won’t just be in the form of credit card authorizations. You’ll have a larger, more engaged network of supporters, ready to take actions ranging from advocacy to, potentially, organizational leadership.
(An aside: Turning stakeholders into fundraisers was thought for a long time to be fraught with danger. Sure, you’d probably get some lovely networked fundraising… but what if it went wrong? What if you ended up with fund-holders and stake-raisers? Almost inevitably, pundits warned, you’d have an angry stake-wielding crowd chasing people holding fistfuls of cash. But then it actually happened, and was called Occupy Wall Street. It turns out that crowd just uses their stakes to hold up hand-lettered banners and enormous effigies representing leading economists from the Austrian School, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, slavish adherence to the ideas of Eugen Böhm von Bawerk has got to go!”)
Chapter 4, “Measurement is Power,” is not the punchline to an elaborate pun on the meaning of “ruler”. (As awesome as that would be.) Instead, it looks at how you can take the insights you glean from data, and turn them into actions with bottom-line impact. Notice that engagement grows when you add a little personality to your Facebook posts (as Kearny Street Workshop‘s Lisa Leong did), and you can direct more attention to a personal voice… and ultimately bring more visitors through your doors.
As you begin reading this chapter, you will encounter the idea of KPIs: Key Performance Indicators. A chill may have gone up your back just now, and I understand why, but be advised that learning about KPIs does not turn you into a soulless automaton, eyes fixed on a limited set of metrics and dead to the richness of the world around you. Provided, of course, that you pace yourself, and follow these simple tips:
Do not learn about KPIs while having Excel and PowerPoint open at the same time.
Pause periodically – every 20 seconds or so should be about right — and meditate for a half-hour or so.
In The Networked Nonprofit, the book she and Allison fine wrote about effective nonprofits in the era of the social web, we hear about “fortress organizations”: nonprofits that work assiduously to keep their supporters and members at a distance. Volunteer activity, if it’s tolerated at all, is directed into narrow, well-policed channels.
“Free agents” are people who work outside an organization to communicate, raise funds and mobilize support for it. Their relationship isn’t the traditional get-a-zillion-fundraising-appeals-and-a-nice-annual-calendar relationship that fortresses prefer; free agents are more like peers of the non-profit they support.
Of course, some of their activities may not be the kind of things organizations are used to seeing done on their behalf. (Which gave rise to the suggestion I wound up making: manage your doubts, not your free agents. Maybe this mantra can help: “It’s not like they’re robbing banks.” Unless they are, in which case a word or two with them is probably in order.)
It was a fascinating workshop, and there were several great reports on it:
In times of horrific disaster, we want to reach out and help. That’s especially true if we’ve actually seen events unfold in front of us as they happened, whether it’s on live TV or Twitter.
For the organizations and agencies that raise money to provide relief, this is a critical time. Potential donors are seized with the urgency of the situation – and are flocking to their websites.
Which means usability suddenly takes on even greater importance. Add one form field too many, program in an unnecessary intermediate step, put a button here instead of there, and you can lose those donors… and the money they might have given.
That might sound silly and irrational, and it is. Nobody deliberately makes the calculated decision that their compassion for another human being is outweighed by the inconvenience of a poorly-coded pull-down menu.
But unconsciously, that’s exactly what happens: some part of our brain figures we’ve clicked one too many times, and bails on a cause we care about. Maybe that doesn’t speak well of us as a species, but it speaks volumes about the importance of usability testing.
On the other hand, our less rational sides can sometimes make us donate when we perhaps should be taking a step back and looking critically at the recipient. The folks at Charity Navigator have a series of suggestions for you to consider before you make your contribution to help folks in Japan, and it’s well worth reading.
How usability affects online fundraising is just one of the things I’ll be looking to learn more about next week at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in Washington, DC. I’ll be cartoon-blogging the event; if you’re coming too, be sure to say hi.
You might think I’m mocking gamers here. I’m not, actually – I just got seized by the idea. I’d love – love – to see a charity set up something to let you contribute World of Warcraft gold to them. (There’s a market for WoW gold, so in theory this should actually be possible.) It’s not unprecedented – the American Cancer Society raised a little over $274,000 last year with their Relay for Life in Second Life (I just dropped by ACS in Second Life, and confirmed that it’s on for this year, too – July 17-18.)