Seven ways nonprofits can put technology to work
Nonprofit organizations, often faced with limited budgets and staff resources, are always looking for ways to streamline their operations and reach new potential supporters. Thankfully, digital technology can help nonprofits do both - in ways that are easier and faster than ever before - so that employees can focus their time on achieving the non-profit's mission.
Whether your organization employs two or 200 people, technology can help you communicate with volunteers, attract new supporters and collect donations.
In my role with Comcast, I'm fortunate to work every day with local nonprofit organizations. And while some are using technology to its maximum advantage, most of the groups I interact with are looking to learn how to better use digital tools to make their organization more effective, without incurring significant costs.
Here are some of the tips I offer:
Put your website to work
If your organization doesn't already have a strong and compelling website, then your first task is clear. But simply having a website doesn't put you ahead of the curve: it needs to be done right if you truly want to educate and inspire visitors.
Organization is important. In today's challenging economy , there are many nonprofits competing for limited dollars - and if your site is disorganized or outdated, that is how your organization could be perceived.
A well-organized and appealing website was crucial for Debbie Pierce, the Vice President of communications for the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, a local nonprofit that develops financial literacy in young people through real-life experiences and hands-on programs.
"At the Young Americans Center for Financial Education, we find ourselves communicating with many different parties, including educators, students, parents, funders, and the media, so it's important that our site allows visitors to find what they're looking for quickly and easily," says Pierce.
Remember that your website is a reflection of who you are as an organization and your commitment to your cause. It should clearly state your mission, contain links to your social media pages and have clear, easy-to-find contact information section that inclues relevant email addresses, your street address and phone number.
Make your site donor-friendly
While your website is great for spreading the word about your mission, it's also an extremely effective way to fundraise. Online donations in recent years have skyrocketed. According to The Blackbaud Index of Online Giving, online gifts to nonprofits jumped 23 percent from March through May compared with the same period in 2009.
To increase your online donations, make sure the donation button is prominently featured throughout your website, and that the process is credible and doesn't require any more information other than the necessary identification and credit card information. The easier and more credible the process, the more donations you'll receive.
Also, with first-time donors, be sure to capture their contact information and add to a permission-based supporter database for future communication so you can easily encourage them to give again.
Use your website to enlist event and volunteer registrations
It's true: direct mail invitations and communications are costly and time consuming. Online registrations on your website are free and efficient, and also allow you to track responses and RSVPs in real time. As an added bonus, links to events and volunteer opportunities can be easily passed around via email by recipients.
"We use our website to store important forms and allow students to register for our various programs," says Peirce. "With multiple ongoing programs for young people at any given time, the online registration streamlines the process and ensures forms and documents aren't lost in the mail or misplaced in the office."
Streamline back-office processes
The less time your staff spends with office processes, the more time they have to devote to enlisting supporters and serving your cause.
By investing in office communication tools, your staff can save time and energy with the ability to share and view email, calendars, and contacts, synchronize email, calendar items, tasks, avoid and eradicate junk email, and share documents with employees
Another bonus: Office communications tools better enable you to support remote volunteers and employees who work from home or in other cities and states.
Remember that email isn't the only way to communicate.
Often times, more information can be exchanged in a one-minute phone call than in the five minutes it takes to write and proofread an email. Reaching out to your supports via the telephone is still a great way to solicit donations and connect volunteers from across the county.
"Email is a great means for communication," says Pierce "but connecting with people verbally and visually will always be crucial in developing and maintaining relationships."
Consider implementing a mobile giving campaign
In the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, "Text Haiti to 90999" became a simple call to action that made a world of difference. In fact, the American Red Cross raised more than $32-million for earthquake relief in January alone.
The concept of mobile giving is simple: organizations such as the Mobile Giving Foundation (www.mobilegiving.org) or the mGive Foundation (www.mgive.org) act as "brokers" with cell phone companies. Nonprofits are given a code that donors can text to a set number, adding the donation to the donor's cell phone bill. The cell phone company then collects that money and gives it back to the nonprofit.
While mobile giving campaigns are seeing an increase in popularity, they can be costly (mGive's fees range between $400 and $1,500 a month) so be sure to do your research to understand if you'll receive a substantial enough return on investment.
Prevent data loss
With all of the work that goes into to cultivating volunteers and donors, nothing can be more catastrophic than lost data. According to a study by Mozy, one of the industry-leading online backup service providers, an average of 140,000 hard drives crash in the United States every week. In addition to hard drive crashes, files that are saved digitally can be lost due to viruses, human error or they could be stolen or reside on misplaced computers.
To prevent this loss, nonprofits should always use an automatic online backup system to protect files, guard against hackers and keep track of important files. Worried about the cost? New, online backup systems are not only more efficient than the systems of yesterday -DVDs and external hard drives and it's possible that your internet service provider (ISP) offers such services free of charge. If backup isn't bundled by your ISP, shop around to find a service that fits your price range and needs. Many providers will often offer a free trial period-don't be afraid to take advantage of it!
About Jay Dirkmaat
Jay Dirkmaat is Vice President of Comcast business services in Colorado and New Mexico. In addition to his work with businesses ranging from start-ups to large corporations, Dirkmaat manages the Comcast Community Partners program, a resource that provides nonprofit organizations with deeply discounted services and technology solutions that save time, increase productivity and offer more value. Active in the community, Dirkmaat volunteers for Operation Christmas, Habitat for Humanity and the MDA telethon.