April 30, 2019

Lessons from the 2019 Nonprofit Technology Network Conference

Modern illustration for Non Profit Branding Conference

Over the course of my three day experience at this years’ Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTEN), I was staggered by the amount of valuable information derived from my exchanges with other attendees, keynote speakers and from our daily breakout sessions.

Within the overall buzz of the conference, I found that some topics continued to crop up, again and again. Below, I identify three of the most common items discussed, and the issues and solutions connected to those areas so familiar to today’s nonprofit marketers.

Donor Retention

One essential way that nonprofits fund their programs is through routinely engaging with their network of donors. The immediate impulse is to pursue new donors, and while certainly an important endeavor, ensuring the overall satisfaction of current and past donors should be at the top of the priority list. As illustrated in Classy’s just released State of Philanthropy report, recurring donors are nearly 5 times as valuable as one-time donors, because their emotional investment is more deeply rooted, leading to more frequent engagements.

Donors can be segmented into two distinct groups: year over year (or repeat donors) and new donors. On average, nonprofits are able to retain about 60% of its year over year donor base, however, the likelihood of acquiring a new donor is only about 20%. When donor campaigns are strategized, nonprofits often dedicate attention towards attracting new donors; it’s a natural inclination. What they are inadvertently telling their existing donor base is that they value newer revenue more than donor satisfaction and delivering positive giving experiences. Nonprofits repeatedly fail to demonstrate the impact a donor has had on the organization and its beneficiaries. What might seem easy in theory, saying  “thank you”, can in actuality, be challenging to execute. The primary reason being that it’s difficult to correlate a major gift to a specific “success” within the organization.

One of the best ways to improve retention rates is for an organization to scrutinize its website and overall user experience with an eye toward the needs of its donor audience.  Recurring donors are often interested in resources that demonstrate where their donation was allocated and how that gift helped achieve a specific goal is essential. Info-graphs, statistics, and testimonials are all useful tools in telling a success story. When a donor can see that their financial support has contributed to the larger positive impact, they feel emotionally tied to the cause and are more willing to contribute again

Measuring Success is Hard

While metrics resonate with donors, designating those metrics are not without their challenges. Nonprofits typically set very lofty goals for what they want their organization to accomplish, for good reason too – they are tackling some of the broader and pressing issues in our society, such as closing the achievement gap or lowering the poverty rate or eliminating world hunger. Goals such as these can be affected by many different outside influences that a nonprofit simply can not control.

Defining, quantifying and translating true impact takes a long time. When that information is eventually uncovered, it’s hard to know if it was derived from a particular program and not just statistical noise. This makes determining true success or true failure very difficult.

Nonprofits must establish more specific benchmarks in order to accurately gauge the overall health of the organization and measure its impact within the community. Generating a set of 10-20 key performance indicators (KPI’s) will help to paint a more vivid picture. Here are a few KPI’s nonprofits should consider implementing:

  • social media engagement
  • donation growth
  • donor growth
  • email click-through rates
  • program efficiency

Other KPI’s may be more relevant depending on the nonprofit’s goals, but the ones listed above are almost universally applicable to all nonprofits.

One Message Many Ways

While the majority of nonprofits set out to create real change in society, the reality is that the nonprofit space is one of the most competitive sectors there is. It’s already incredibly crowded with many nonprofits sharing identical objectives. Users, donors and volunteers need to be acutely aware of a nonprofit’s mission if they are to lend their support – and therefore that mission needs to be specific and comprehendible. Just like any other business, being analogous and indistinctive will result in more competition and less visibility. One’s mission must be boiled down to its core components, and effectively communicated across all marketing channels.

Think about the homepage of a website for example – are visitors being reminded enough about the value proposition the nonprofit looks to bring to the community? How about when they click on the ‘About Us’ page? Is it about the individual employees? The founder’s credentials? Or does it reiterate the purpose and goals of the organization? The mission should guide the organization’s culture, which will help it to more authentically emerge in the use of different tactics like video interviews and photography.

In closing, the three points above are just scratching the surface of what was covered over the duration of the conference. Although, it definitely was worth noting that there was a shared challenge in that too often, nonprofits struggle to get out of their own way when it comes to attracting donors and volunteers. They are eternally charged with finding new ways to convey why their cause matters and why supporters need to get involved. If nonprofits satisfy these requirements, donors and volunteers will feel empowered to take action, and ultimately share in the greater good.