During a recent online fundraising seminar, we were on the topic of email addresses. I was advising folks to pay attention to their email "bounces" – when an email address is found to be bad and your email can't be delivered, your bulk email software reports it, like this:
An attendee shared that she had a lot of data issues in her donor
database – duplicates, outdated contact information, etc. That data needed cleaning up before she could tackle the bounces
in her email database. It was overwhelming, so she was not taking any
action. That's when it occurred to me that ignoring that data was like
ignoring debt – it doesn't get better it just gets worse! Data issues, like
debt, continue to pile up unless tackled head on (while we were talking email addresses that day, this of course goes for any data source that is not maintained).
You're busy – and how important is that email bounce data anyway? Well, what if, hidden in that data, is the email address of a major donor – or two? What if that person has not heard from you in weeks or months because they changed their email address and thought they told you? Or better yet, they setup an auto reply in their old email box, but your emails come from a "do not reply" address so that message never came back to you. New or casual email subscribers and online donors can take that as marked disinterest.
I know nonprofit folks have a lot on their plate. But if you are not on top of your data – and because of that are not maintaining good relationships with your online donors – you eventually may not have a plate at all. Online fundraising continues to grow every year and at some point I believe it is destined to overtake giving via direct mail.
Your organization can get on top of tasks like reviewing email address bounces. This can be a good task for a volunteer or intern with a little basic training on running searches in your databases. The data on email bounces is pulled from your email system. In your donor or other databases, you then do a search for folks who bounced. First look for an alternative email address – someone may have gotten the new one and just didn't remove the old one. For those that you don't have alternative email address, consider creating a postcard you can mass mail to say "We are updating our records and would love to stay in touch – return this postcard, go online or call us today!". After a month, for those you don't hear from, you might even call folks whose phone numbers you have. If they say no or don't return the card, that's fine, people's interests change.
An excellent practice is to keep a spreadsheet with the names of folks that bounced and you did not hear from after the postcard and/or phone call. Review the list of major donors every year or 6 months and compare it to that list. If you find a major donor, you might want to dig around in other files or in your network to see if you have a secondary way to contact that person, saying that "I'd like to keep in touch, feel free to email or call me" and leave it at that.
(Flickr photos TheEyeofNewYork; andreasnilsson1976)Read More
At a recent seminar, a member of the audience, a nonprofit staff member, was
visibly angry that "none of the discounted databases on TechSoup come with
free technical support". While I can understand how frustrating it is to
try to learn how to use the mostly non-intuitive database programs out there, I
was struck by the thinking behind that comment. To me, it is like being angry
that a car someone donated to you did not come with free gas and repairs for
Like a car, a database (and most technology for that matter) needs regular
care and maintenance. It requires resources, both human and financial, to
maintain it in good working order. Like a garden, there is planning to ensure
you use your space well and get out of it what you need, weeding to remove
undesirable elements, watering and feeding to provide needed inputs, as well as
appropriate harvesting to glean what you need. All of those tasks require spending
money on human resources to carry them out. It may also require spending
resources on tools, education or consulting. The point is, if you have no
resources to put into managing a database, you will get very little out
of it that is of use.
Many software programmers out there donate hundreds if not thousands of
hours to make free and open source software, like CiviCRM, Drupal and many others.
Those folks could be making lots of money working for commercial operations but
instead make less money and contribute to the nonprofit community in some powerful
ways. Providing technology tools that work for nonprofits is a difficult job
that comes with very little tangible reward. As I've heard many well-respected
nonprofit software experts like Robert Weiner and Allen Gunn say, free software
is free like puppies. The puppy might be free initially, but the vet visits,
shots, medicines, food, time spent training and caring for the puppy are all
not free – just as it is with software.
So, if your organization does not have the resources to both acquire and
maintain your database, the problem is not with the software providers and
their lack of free resources. It is the responsibility of every nonprofit to
raise the proper funding to properly maintain the organization, and to me the
lifeblood of an organization is its data and the systems used to manage that
As I have often said, "after people, data is your most important
resource". You'll get out of it what you put into it. If you don’t' have
the resources needed to do a good job of maintaining it in good order, then the
first order of business is raising more or reallocating funds. The more
realistic organizations are about the costs of technology and software, the
more appropriate they fund those tools, the happier they will be with their
tools and the more benefit they will derive from their use.
(Images Flickr: marsmet481, Deviantart: 280dg)Read More
The report includes wonderfully helpful information for performing arts organizations about engaging audiences via mobile, mobile options, vendors and – best of all – case studies of organizations using mobile.
Analytics and Texting
Two of the points I make in the report are about using analytics and being thoughtful about texting.
A review of your website metrics is helpful when building a mobile-friendly site. The analytics can tell you what pages are most popular among those accessing your website via mobile devices. This helps you make sure those pages are included in your website's mobile version.
Being thoughtful about texting is important because mobile is so personal that unwanted texts can feel like an invasion of privacy. Simple announcements, such as tickets going on sale, the release of a season's schedule or a "Save the Date" announcement for special events like fundraisers are some the more appropriate ways I've seen arts organizations using text.
The report is full of useful advice and examples that every arts organization should see. Thanks to Susan Elliott and Dina Gerdeman for incuding me. The Muscial America Special Reports page also has links to other good reports on fundraising, ticketing and other issues important to arts organizations.Read More
Effective technology trainings need to be much more than listening to an expert speak, especially when the class runs for 6 hours. There is so much valuable knowledge and experience among the participants, it is important to promote ways to get them out of their seats and help them interact.
Recently I presented a Masterclass in Technology Planning for the 2013 Connecting Up conference in Australia. I used several techniques to promote interaction among the participants. The classic is the "share pair" where you have two people pair up to share their thoughts. I like using an active share pair – not just turn to the person next to you and share – but get up, get your feet moving, meet someone new and share with them. I used this several times, once in the beginning when I asked folks to think about 1. What they needed to learn about for their organization and 2. What they personally wanted to learn about. I gave them a few minutes to think and jot down their answers, then had them stand up, find someone at a different table and share. It's wonderful to see the room erupt in conversation when you do this. This also helps folks think about what interests them, rather than just what their job requires, so it adds a nice personal slant to the days learning.
Later in the day, after talking about options for using the Cloud, I had folks share one new way their org might use the cloud. One of participants brought his laptop over to share with two folks how he had moved his infrastructure to the cloud, a wonderfully concrete example from a peer that really opened up their thinking.
My class was happening simultaneously with Beth Kanter's masterclass (she shares her insights in her Trainers Notebook post here). We used two ideas that Beth has been incorporating for some time in her trainings. The first was to give folks nametags and have them write a word or two about what they would be taking away from the class or and "aha" moment they had. Participant Marchelle McMath, shown here, is an example – she learned about the importance of prioritizing her many tech projects. We then had folks find someone from the other class and share what their name tag meant. We had folks do this three times with three different folks.
We then were able to use the tags for a "walking debrief", where folks again found a new partner and we left the hotel, walked along the promenade next to the beach and as they walked they again shared what their takeaways were and heard from the other person what they had learned. It was a great way to cross-pollinate the learnings and for folks to find similarities around areas such as culture change, addressing resistance, and prioritizing. I heard some great conversations happening during the walk – and we had them switch partners half way through to get yet another perspective. Of course we then took a picture of us and our combined classes to share.
So as you plan your next technology training session, think about ways to get participants moving and sharing their knowledge, their questions and even their struggles – it makes for a much richer experience than sitting and listening to a "sage on the stage".
PICNIC error – "Problem In Chair Not In Computer" is defined on Wikipedia as "slang in technical circles… that implies a lack of computer savvy on the part of a user". While critics of the term argue that the issue actually arises from systems not designed intuitively, there is another issue common in nonprofits that contributes to it as well – lack of technology training.
The latest NTEN Nonprofit Technology Staffing and Investments Report includes data on this issue. Of the many interesting findings in the report, one is that responses "indicate
that nonprofits feel relatively
confident that they have the tools to
do their every-day work, but are less
confident about having enough
skilled staff or training to effectively
use their technology for their work."
Adequate training and support are key to getting more "bang" for your technology "buck". Staff wasting effort trying to create reports that could be done easily if they had the training are just one example I have run across many times in my nonprofit technology career.
This issue also relates to examining work processes. Why do 6 of the 8 staff in an organization need to enter data from a donation in 8 different places? Ususally because the organization has not stopped to look at their business processes. How many times have I heard "We've always done it this way" or "That was how the person before me taught me how to do it". Spending some time making sure you have the best process in place can free up time best spent elsewhere. Applying technology to a bad process usually results in a slightly faster bad process, not the significant increase in efficiency that creating intelligent processes can have.
Nonprofits have limited resources to spend on technology. Two of the best ways to improve your return on investment are:
1. Invest in regular technology training that helps you use the tools in efficient and effective ways
2. Examine business processes and do your best to eliminate inefficiencies
There are lots of resources for good training on nonprofit technology. Once you identify what the needs are, search through the offeriengs of NTEN, TechSoup Global, Idealware and the many other online (and local!) resources to help you make better use of your technology dollar. GIYF (Googling is Your Friend)!
So let's not be quick to blame the person in the chair for the error, when some training could go a long way to reducing those errors. Build those skills and everyone benefits.Read More