Topics: The Modern Nonprofit
The first time I worked on a website redesign, it was not pretty. Not the design of the site but the process. I had copy and pictures and figured we’d need to review layouts. So the button that leads to the donation page should be — wait. Who is making sure the donation page will work and be connected to all the right accounts after we change web hosts? Does the vendor do this? Will the project still be on time? What on earth is a merchant account or payment processor and why do we need two?!
To this day, I remember is what it felt like to ask a question, anticipate getting some super expensive or horribly complicated answer, and get laughed at by the web developer (good times).
Thankfully, I’ve worked with many more freelance developers (graphic designers, printers, consultants) who listened to my fumbling questions and said, “I hear that you’re concerned about or interested in X, and I can answer that, but I think the question you really want to be asking is Z.”
These were professionals who asked me questions to understand the context within which my organization was working, dug deeper into what success looked like, and held up a mirror to help us see our blind spots — rather than trying to skate by in them.
Tip #1 Own what you know. Also, own what you don’t know.
You don’t need to know anything to ask someone, “What else should I be thinking about? What have I missed? What questions would you have that I have not asked?”
Ever played that team building game, “All Aboard”? You’re in a group and you are given say, a hand towel or a telephone book (showing my age here, I know), and the goal is to get everybody on board without anyone having a foot touching the ground. Depending on the variation or the prop used, the boat may get smaller (e.g. towel is folded in half) or your group may get bigger — and still you need to get everyone on board without any feet touching the ground.
Often, working at a nonprofit organization can feel that way. You’re trying to serve the same number of people with fewer resources, or serve more people with the same amount of resources. This metaphor is not only apropos to programming, but to fundraising as well. You’re trying to raise funds from more supporters (get more people on board) with the same number of staff or resources. And yet, the more you raise, the more people (donors and clients) you can get on board.
It does not need to be an endless game of chicken, egg, chicken, egg.
That’s why you focus on major gifts and/or grants, right? We know it’s important to respect donors at all levels, but in terms of where we spend our fundraising resources (time, budget, attention), it is clear that we prioritize funders who can give large gifts. But it’s easy to take those smaller dollar annual gifts for granted — just send or share it out to enough people and build our lists and followers because it is a small percentage of volume, volume, volume.
Or is it?
Trying to figure out why people do something is typically easier than figuring out why they’re not doing something. Still, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done – it will simply require a bit more work.
Let’s start with the basics.
Note that these are not all the basics if you are, overall, trying to figure out how your nonprofit organization’s website is performing or whether you need to adjust your digital strategy. But these are where I’d start if you’re trying to figure out why visitors aren’t clicking through on one particular call to action.
- Referrals – This tells you how visitors got to your page, such as via social media or through clicking a direct link or through search (including which keywords they searched for).
- Landing pages – This tells you which pages visitors started on. In many web analytics systems, you’ll see the percentage of visitors who entered your site from each page.
- Unique page views – This tells you the number of unique visitors who viewed that page. So as to exclude, you know, the multiple times you refreshed it trying to get your edits to show up the way you wanted.
- Bounce rates – This tells you the percentage of people who left your website from the page they landed on.
- Exit rates – This tells you the percentage of people who left your website from that page, regardless of whether they started on this or another page.
- Conversion – Some systems will let you set up a specific way to track this, but basically you’re looking for the percentage who completed a goal (making a donation, signing a petition, etc.) out of the people who went to that page or form.
Not sure if you have web analytics or how to configure them to track what you want? Consider bringing in a freelance digital marketing team to help you get off to a solid start.
Picture: Looking over the shoulder of a woman holding a white tablet, looking at some charts of metrics.
Let’s dig in deeper.
Will each of those metrics tell you something individually? Sure. But what we’re really after is the story of what those tell you when we combine them. Many web analytics tools will show you the pathway of visitors, from where they landed, through where they clicked through next, to where they left your site
When you don’t have the resources of a large organization behind you, being creative and adapting quickly is even more critical to making the most of what you have.
Good news is that technology keeps making it easier to fail fast and pivot quickly without risking huge investments of time or money. Regardless of where your organization is in terms of technological maturity (or how aligned your use of technology is with your mission), there are strategies you can implement at any stage.
1. Choose platforms that provide a solid start
If you want to leverage technology creatively, choose an online fundraising platform that provides a solid default along with the ability to customize the look and feel on your own. What does this look like for online fundraising? It means the product is designed with thoughtful consideration for the defaults—both how they support your mission-driven organization and a delightful donor experience.
Most of the time, we don’t give a ton of consideration to our defaults. Like when we reach out to our social networks (and only our social networks) when we need to staff up for a project and miss out on great talent who never knew there was an opportunity.
So take time when choosing a platform because that will be your launch pad.
As a nonprofit organization, particularly if you’re a small to mid-sized organization, it is probably important that…
- your systems can talk to each other so you can work efficiently,
- you have control over a donor’s giving experience and your branding,
- you can customize, manage and maintain this without having a full IT team in-house,
- you can test and evaluate your efforts,
- and, if you don’t have the time to, you know the system was designed based on rigorous testing of what is most effective.
Even if you are not looking for a new system right now, it doesn’t mean that you can’t look for new opportunities to optimize your current platforms or try new approaches.
Companies release updates and enhance functionality all the time. Even if you unsubscribed from the product updates, your vendor probably has a blog where you can check out any helpful new features you might have missed and get ideas for using them. Maybe you can even reach out to the vendor’s team and discuss what current features could help you accomplish X better! Or, if you’re looking to strategize across multiple channels (and potentially multiple platforms or systems), consider if it’s worth brainstorming with an outside team of strategy and design experts to figure out how to leverage them together to advance your mission.
Whether you are a fundraiser, social media manager, or freelance writer or graphic designer on a communications team, if you're sharing or creating content for nonprofit communications, you're always looking for the next great story to share. Yet it often seems to be a struggle in many organizations to get great stories (and images!) to share with your supporters.
People forgot to take photos. They ran out of time because they are doing the job of three people. Someone took videos, but they're poor quality. You know there must be lots of wonderful anecdotes, but your coworkers can't remember the details of what happened six months ago. The summer intern collected testimonials from program participants but now it's February and nobody has any idea where the files are.
Any of these situations sound familiar?
Most of these situations boil down to: