6 min Read
May 1, 2009

Reflections for the NTC — NTEN’s nonprofit technology conference

Big Duck

On April 26-28, 2009, Big Duck’s Sarah Durham and Farra Trompeter joined over 1,400 nonprofit professionals and consultants in San Francisco, CA for the 2009 NTC (nonprofit technology conference). We shared lessons we’ve learned on three panels, discussed new approaches, and got to hear first-hand accounts of what’s working in orgs across the country. We even sent a tweet or two.

Here are a few of our takeaways:

Yes, Virginia, integration is the magic word.

You’ve heard it before, but it’s true. Although it may seem neater and easier to separate your direct mail revenue from your email or telemarketing income, department silos don’t motivate your donors to give. Donors support your organization because of its mission — and they want to give when and how it’s convenient for them. Make it easy, ask across channels, and focus on the message — not the budget line. Some of the most successful organizations have combined their offline and online fundraising departments and use a calendar to coordinate communication. They’ve even created integrated campaigns with advocacy, programs, AND fundraising goals. How’s that for breaking down barriers?

The Internet has evolved from a source of information to a place of coordination.

Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, delivered a provocative keynote offering a few sharp insights into organizing without organizations. He reminded us that it is not about the media; it is about the audience. Instead of asking if your organization should set up a Twitter account, ask what’s unique about the information you might “tweet” and if your audience is likely to listen (or in Twitterspeak, “follow”).

23-year-olds in the senior staff meeting? Sure!

People using new media effectively to spark action (um, like our President) know that the Internet is a game-changer. Instead of pursuing the usual outreach and fundraising strategies and trying to figure out how to add Internet to the mix, they’re restructuring from the inside out. The web team participates in senior programs, development, and organizational meetings now, and not just to add that vibrant spark of youth and disheveled hair — they’re looking for ways to integrate new media into accomplishing real objectives.

Worried about losing control? You already have.

Thanks to the Internet, everyone is a publisher. Clay suggested a simple exercise: search your organization’s name in Google, and exclude all pages from your site in the results. Did you know about all these mentions? And what about social networking sites? Just because your organization hasn’t set up a profile on Facebook yet, doesn’t mean you’re not there. An enthusiastic volunteer may be posting links to your site on their wall or even setting up a Causes page for you. When this happens, don’t call your lawyer, contact the person who did it. Befriend them and tap into their passion.

Looking for new donors? Try saying thank you.

More and more organizations are using the thank you page (for email sign-ups, action alerts, publication downloads, etc.) to thank visitors (of course) and invite them to donate to the organization. And while you are at it, when you ask people to do something, explain what happens next. If you ask people to share their story, tell them how you will use it. If you ask them to donate, explain how the funds will be used.

If you want to grow your list, start with people you’ve already got.

Your donors want to do more than write a check; they want to do something. Some of them even want to raise money for you. Social fundraising (think Causes’ Birthday Wishes or Sponsor Me for a Race/Walk/Run pages) are great ways to transform your activists into donors and fundraisers. The keys to this newer form of fundraising involve personal relationships, demonstrating impact, taking collective action, and offering social recognition. While the donors to these campaigns may be easy to get, they are hard to keep. Be sure to start — and follow-through — on a strategy to cultivate and steward these donors.

Beware of the shiny new toy syndrome.

In the flurry of social media hype, don’t forget about your website. Your website is still “home” to many in your community — and to some, your website may be the only way they know you. What does your website say about you? Can program participants find the information they seek? Does the content welcome and inspire donors? Are activists given the tools they need to change policies, behaviors, and attitudes? Should you want to dive into the social media pool, focus on where the people are… and where you can be most effective.

Search engine optimization may not be sexy, but it is still important.

Sure you’ve got loyal visitors who have your site bookmarked or even set as their homepage. But are you doing all that you can to help new audiences find you in search engines? And about those that do come to your site… do you know how they got there? We heard several comments from people who’ve set up tracking tools like Google Analytics but rarely check them or know how to interpret the rich data.

Need to convince your boss? Follow your peers.

Does your executive director want to publish a really long e-newsletter every week? Does she want to make sure five people in your organization have reviewed any posts to the blog before they are posted? The best way to persuade the boss who doesn’t quite get this 2.0 stuff is to show what your peers are doing. Take a look at other orgs who do similar work and presumably attract some of the same supporters and participants. What do they do? Sometimes competition breeds the best creativity.

Of course, just because something works for one organization, doesn’t mean it will work for yours.

In one session we heard two case studies of testing the use of premiums (you know, scarves, tote bags, and other SWAG) to convert e-news readers to donors. For one organization, the results were stellar — but for another, they had a negative impact. If you are thinking of trying something new, start with a small test before you roll it out.

Speaking of testing, the more you test, the more you know.

To get test results that are statistically significant, you’ll need email lists and website visitors in the tens of thousands. Don’t have that? Don’t fret. There’s still much you can learn from testing. Some great advice we heard: Know what you want to learn, how you will use it, and what you will do (or stop doing) afterwards. Start by testing simple things — perhaps it’s the tone of intro copy, the color of the donate button on your site, who signs emails, the length of subject lines, or the images you use in messages.

(Charismatic personality + adoring fans) x public humiliation = fundraising genius.

NTEN’s executive director, Holly Ross, aimed to raise $10,000 to provide scholarships for people to attend the NTC conference. To raise the funds, which would then be matched by Convio, Holly enticed would-be donors with the promise of utter embarrassment. All those who donated would be able to vote on something Holly might do during the conference keynote — playing the trombone, remaking Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” video, or eating large masses of bacon. The funds were raised and the stakes were set. Click here to watch Holly’s version of “Single Ladies”… Even if you don’t know her, we bet you’ll be entertained.

Wishing you were there?

You can view presentations from the “Website as an Experience of Your Brand” session from Big Duck, Cross-Cultural Solutions, Environmental Defense Fund and PETA here.

And… why not join us next year? The 2010 NTC will be in Atlanta on April 8-10. You can keep in touch with the latest in nonprofit technology on their website.