In this webinar, Danielle Johnson Vermenton, CFRE will provide practical advice and leave you with a list of action steps that you can implement to prepare your organization for a successful digital fundraising program.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Danielle. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Danielle: Yes.

Steven: All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon everyone. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast I should say. If you’re on the West Coast, good morning. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Getting Ready for Digital Fundraising: Building a Foundation for Success.” You always want to build that foundation first. That’s why we’re here. So welcome. My name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be monitoring today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items real quick. I just want to let you know that we are recording this session. So if you have to leave early or maybe you just want to review the content later on, and I have a feeling you’re going to want to do that, don’t worry. I will get that recording to you. I’ll get you the slides as well in case we missed those getting to you already. So have no fear. We’ll get all those goodies in your hands.

Most importantly, we love for these sessions to be interactive. So please do not sit on your hands. Please send in your questions and comments throughout the hour or so that we’ll be here. I’ll be keeping an eye on those. Our guest will and we’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. You can send questions over on Twitter, as well. I’ll keep an eye on things there.

And if you have any audio problems through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a lot more solid since it doesn’t rely on, you know, internet connections or browsers or operating systems, any of that junk. So if you have any trouble and if you don’t mind dialing in by phone, if that would be comfortable for you, there is a phone number you can use in the email that went out about a half hour or so from ReadyTalk. There’s a phone number in that email for you.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar with us, I just want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars every single week, almost every single week. We miss a couple weeks out of the year mostly to give me a break sometimes for holidays but we love it and it’s one of our favorite things we do at Bloomerang. It’s not the only thing we do though. If you’ve never heard of Bloomerang besides these webinars, we are a provider of donor management software. And you can check that out later on. Don’t do that now because we’ve got a great presentation coming up.

But if you’re curious about us, check out our website. You can even watch a quick video demo of the software in action if you kind of want to see what we’re all about. So bookmark that one for later for sure because you are all in for a treat here, maybe even a Tweet too. I am really excited. We’ve got a first-timer joining us. I feel bad that she hasn’t done a webinar for us before. Someone I’ve become kind of fast friends with, especially on Twitter. We’ve gotten Danielle Johnson Vermenton joining us. Danielle, how is it going? How are things in Atlanta today? I assume that’s where you’re still at.

Danielle: I am here. It’s okay. You know, it’s breezy.

Steven: Just okay?

Danielle: And cloudy but it’s . . . Yeah but it’s 70. So I’m not going to complain. Yes, it’s unusually warm. It shouldn’t be this warm but I will take it.

Steven: Well, you’re going to bring the sunshine. I know you will because you are awesome.

Danielle: Sorry everyone.

Steven: We’ve been . . . No, it’s true. I know bring out the [inaudible 00:03:07] in these intros.

Danielle: I have never been told I bring the sunshine, Steven.

Steven: Oh, you’re going to. You’re about to. I know you will because you all . . . if you guys don’t know Danielle, some of you might recognize her, she’s actually been in my shoes. She moderated the Blackbaud webinar series and their podcasts for many years but she has a ton of street cred, as she puts it. She’s been in your shoes also, which is probably more important, the most important thing, something I look for in our webinar guests. She has worked in your shoes over 13 years working at nonprofits. She raised a ton of money over $50 million. That’s pretty good. Has also worked at support firms like tech firms helping you out on the technology side.

So she knows a lot about digital, and I know this session is a labor of love because we’ve been talking about it for a couple months now. We both kind of have the same philosophy on digital fundraising. So I’m just so excited for the advice that you’re about to get. And I’ve already taken away way too much of Danielle’s time. So she’s going to do a little screen share. So you’re going to see some windows change here in a second but Danielle, the floor is yours, my friend. Take it away. Build that foundation for us.

Danielle: You’re so funny. All right. Let’s see. Let’s make sure this works because one never knows.

Steven: Oh, that’s a positive sign. It looks like it’s thinking. Here we go. I see your slides.

Danielle: Are seeing the right slides?

Steven: I am, yes.

Danielle: I don’t want you all to see the slide with no . . . you’ll know my dirty secret that most of this is off the top of my head, which is frightening. So, thank you everyone. I know Steven already talked about, you know, getting social but I really want to encourage that. I like to have ongoing conversations. I like to share my opinion. Sometimes I share it too much but if you like brutal honesty, sometimes I’m a little on the cynical side as well. Certainly, please, and if we run out of time, I’m DJVermenton on Twitter as well as Nonprofit Know It All on Facebook. Send me your questions. Send me your thoughts. But I do want to thank you for your time.

Like he said, I was in fundraising and marketing for 13 years working at organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs, the American Red Cross, some really small nonprofits in South Florida, you know, the kind that don’t fundraise much further out than maybe a couple hundred miles if that is your area. So I know what it is to give an hour of your time away or even just to come for a little bit and then go back and listen later on and I appreciate that because you’re doing too much and you’re not getting probably recognized and paid for all the things that you’re doing. So, you know, follow us on social and let me know what you think and if you have any questions and I thank you.

So he already told you a little bit about me. I opened Nonprofit Know It All last year. It’s a new thing for me. Before that, I was in the sector for 21 years—I’m aging myself—because I love nonprofits. I love what we do. I also love the ability for us to get really creative, you know. You all this, right? If you have an idea, someone’s going to tell you to go do it even if you don’t have the time or the budget to do it.

But for the last eight years, I’ve been on the technology side. Some of you might be familiar with Convio. It is no longer around but I left nonprofits after getting frankly burnt out. I was really tired and wanted a switch but wanted to stay in the sector. That’s what I did. I went to consulting and spent over seven years in technology mainly focused on strategy and adoption, like, so helping organizations get up and running and learn technology but then why? Right?

And I always used to say to my clients, “I don’t care if I teach you how to press the button that sends the emails but if the content you send is the pits, it doesn’t matter how well you know how to send the email or run a report. We’ve got to talk about the strategy, right, and we’ve got to talk about the content and the storytelling.” So that’s what I do now is I want to work with organizations that are really focused on digital, although I can do other areas, but, you know, digital’s where my heart is. But I also like to help businesses that sell to nonprofits. I think companies need to understand the culture, need to understand the people, need to understand what’s the difference between the person that’s handling marketing versus the person that’s running fundraising versus the executive director.

And so I try to help sales and marketing teams better understand the culture and the chemistry of what it is to be a nonprofit organization so that when they sell to you it’s a better relationship for you and them. So that is me and that is . . . I said . . . I am curious. I can’t see the chat box but if you know what the sword is that I’m holding, I’ll be really impressed . . . Steven, you can’t answer. I’ll be really impressed on who might know where that sword comes from because some people don’t have any idea.

That is me and that is me as Abby from “Ghostbusters.” So if you’re not familiar with cosplay, that’s what I do is I dress up in different really well-known characters. Right now it’s limited to Abby from “Ghostbusters,” the “Jurassic Park” vet, and a witch from “Hocus Pocus.” And that’s my husband and my daughter. He is Cobra Bubbles and she is Lilo. So that’s my little family. We’re nerds.

So why are you here? So it could be a combination of reasons but this topic is near and dear to my heart because recently I started having this conversation about what’s really needed to launch a successful online fundraising and marketing program? What if an organization has been dabbling in online fundraising but they really want to get going in, like, maybe monthly giving and sustained giving? And, like, I talk to a lot of organizations that are small, like, maybe new or maybe just really, really small. And up until now, they have, like, the basic donation form. Maybe they have the free donation form, right, and a couple of social media sites. Maybe they’re on Instagram and Facebook or Twitter and Pinterest, whatever works, and maybe an email or two, right?

But that’s kind of about the most but they know they want to do more. And they see other organizations doing more. They hear about it. Their board bugs them about it. But it seems like a lot of content out there it kind of starts from, “Well, you’ve already got everything you need to do it. So let’s start talking about the plan or let’s talk about building an end-of-the-year campaign or let’s talk about how you do peer-to-peer or how do you launch a successful . . . ” I just did this topic a few months ago, subscriber monthly giving program. And I took a step back and said, “Well, if you’re not even there yet? What if you’re an organization that’s, like, what do I even need to do to get to that point?” And I don’t see that out there.

So that’s what I’m hoping to answer today is that you’re here because you want to take the dabbling of online fundraising and marketing and you want to just kind of go all in. Well, before you can go all in, before you can think about which fundraising campaigns and do you want to do peer-to-peer and do you want to have honorary giving on your donation form and how would you do monthly giving and, Danielle, how do I build this, before we get there, there’s actually something that needs to happen before you get to that place. And so that’s what I hope to tackle today.

By the end, I really want you to be able to identify and explain what components are needed to prepare for digital fundraising and marketing communications programs, not to have, but before you can even get to the point of launching your first, like, multi-message campaign, there’s a lot of stuff that has to happen first, right? And I want you to be able to identify and explain what those things are.

Evaluate your own organization’s readiness for launching a digital program. I think a lot of organizations fail or don’t grow as much as they possibly could because they didn’t know they needed to be ready to do online fundraising. They kind of just jumped in, right? And I know some might say, “Well, you know, just jump in just to try it out.” No, there’s a science to fundraising and I think you need to be ready to do it. And then I want by the end that you can formulate the plans that will build your organization’s capacity to successfully launch that program. And I’ll talk at the end of this. Okay, you’ve got all this knowledge, now what?

And my goal is not just this, I don’t want to paint these real big fancy visionary pictures. Steven and I were talking about it. I can’t stand going to conferences or attending webinars where it’s all these great stats and all these great, “You should be doing this, not be doing this and here’s what you could do. Look what this organization did.” If at the end you don’t have action items for what you can do in the next couple of months, I have failed. So I promise by the end of this, you’re going to have a page at least of notes, of ideas, of questions you need to answer, of things you could be doing or maybe even, “Oh, yeah. We have this.” Maybe even already start your own audit. By the end, I want you to have something you can walk away with that’s useful. Otherwise, this 60 minutes has been a waste of your time and my time. So I want you to visualize what that looks like because there is a way to get ready to successfully launch an online fundraising program. And I think by the end of today, you will have that.

So the trends and the opportunities. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this because I know the feedback I see in all the different groups I’m part of, especially a lot of nonprofit groups on Facebook . . . Some of you probably know what group I’m talking about. One of the things I see is people are like, “Why were the first 30 minutes all about not the content, right? Why did the speaker spend 30 minutes not getting into the meat and guts?” Well, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the stats, right? You can go get them somewhere else. You can go dig them up. I’ll tell you where to get that but I’m just going to cover the highlights here because I do want to get into the guts of this, the strategy here, and what you need to do.

Since 2016, online fundraising has grown 17% in the U.S. So think about that. And Canada has also been growing but for the U.S. specifically, 17%. And we could go back even further. It’s been growing. Some years are a little slower but overall year over year we’re still seeing anywhere from 8% to 11%. It’s consistent growth. It never drops. The floor has never dropped out of online fundraising and giving. And I don’t think all organizations can say that about their own fundraising revenue when you look at all the different ways you bring in money. Whether it’s board giving or major gifts or special events, peer-to-peer fundraising, it’s consistently had year-over-year growth. That 8%, 9%, 10%, 12% is not easy to find in all the different avenues.

Online sustained giving grew double digits, again, year over year. And it’s been doing that, oh my gosh, as long as I can remember, at least three or four years. Monthly giving, sustained giving, whatever you’d like to call it, subscribed in giving, it’s been growing double digits year over year. It just keeps growing for organizations that are doing online sustained giving.

The new “Digital Outlook Report,” which is I think this is the fifth year they’ve done this report. It’s one of my favorite reports. It really focuses just on digital. What are organizations doing? What are they stopping doing? Where are they putting more money? Where are they putting more staff? What’s concerning them? It is, for me, one of the best reports when it comes to digital, and not just fundraising, digital communications, digital marketing, digital advocacy. Fifty-five percent of organizations have staff dedicated to a digital strategy.

So think about that. It’s 2019 and only 55% of organizations are saying they have staff dedicated to digital. That’s not enough, right? Email. People use email. People are on the internet. People aren’t going to stop doing that. People aren’t going to stop and put the phone down and pick up their checkbook and start making donations that way.

The generational shift is going to continue to happen. Behaviors are going to continue to move to digital properties. Maybe not a desktop. Maybe a phone, but different ways to give. So it surprises me that only 55% of organizations have staff dedicated, that’s key, right, to digital strategy. I’m sure there are other organizations that have staff that do something online but to have someone dedicated, right, that’s different.

Online giving is on pace with consumer behavior. I’ve heard in the last couple of months . . . I see this on Twitter. I should stay off of Twitter. I know. But I’ll see other thought leaders, if you will, other consultants say, “You know, don’t just jump on online fundraising. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. It’s not for everyone.” I would disagree and I would get up on stage and say, “I disagree,” because here’s the thing. Here’s the common sense side of this, right?

People aren’t going to just all of a sudden shift to direct mail, and they’re not just going to shift all their fundraising to special events. When you look at especially Gen X where I fall or millennials or even younger, those behaviors were digital, were multi-channel, but were also digital and that’s not going to change. That’s going to continue to grow.

And as the technology advances, think about it, in the last 20 years we’ve gone from AOL dialup to now Facebook and Netflix and e-subscription gift boxes that arrive at my front door completely fully customized to ads following me around the internet when I look at the Captain Marvel doll this weekend for my kiddo and now I see those ads everywhere. It just keeps advancing. The data is there. And when people push back and think, “Well, maybe digital, maybe online’s not for us,” I will firmly and vehemently and passionately disagree.

Online giving’s on pace with consumer behavior. The U.S. Department of Commerce estimates that e-commerce sales in the third quarter of 2018 accounted for almost 10% of total sales. Online giving is 8 1/2% of total fundraising revenue. So that’s a big deal, right? I know that doesn’t seem like it’s huge but if you ignore the change in demographics of donors and prospects, the changes in consumer behavior to do more things online, on digital, and the growth, you’re going to fall behind. Maybe your base today isn’t on social media, right? You might be looking and going, “But Danielle, you know, my current base, my best prospective audience, they’re dabbling a little bit in social media but they’re still mostly, like, events and direct mail driven.” That’s fine. Follow the data.

However, if you wait until those people are gone, it’s going to be really hard and take a lot more money to catch up. So you still have to prepare now for how the next generation and generation after that are going to want to engage and support you. And the generations now that are giving, the research shows the matures are slowing their giving, right, because they’re getting to the point where they’re in their 90s, they’re in their late 80s, and they’re looking at holding onto more money. So the planned gifts are done. The estates are set up and buttoned up.

What you need to look at is that boomers, Gen X, and millennials are multi-channel. And so you can’t ignore the trends and you can’t ignore the opportunities to make digital part of your mix so you have a sustainable pipeline of support. It’s not just part of your development program. This should be a focus of the organization’s strategic plan, as well. So when we think about our board, hopefully, the boards are making digital a priority. And I don’t mean just fundraising. I mean digital, right? You have to adopt being a digitally-focused organization.

So remember I said I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about the staff and the vision and painting pretty pictures. I’m not. You know the pain points. You came here because you have either challenges that you need to overcome that are keeping you up at night or you have things that you are trying to achieve and you’ll be measured on this year and you’re hoping there’s content in this presentation. So I hope you get it.

So what’s the plan before the launch? I think right now you know that there’s a lot of good reports out there. So if you want more stats, there’s plenty of places you can dig them up. I’m sure Steven can tell you about some of them in the chat box. Some of my favorites are the “Digital Outlook Report” by NTEN, “The Next Generation of American Giving,” and “The Next Generation of Canadian Giving,” “Giving USA.”

I always love “Giving USA.” Whenever my board would push back about, “Well, we need to go out for more corporate gifts,” well, let me show you how big of a piece of pie that is because it’s not. It’s not even a big enough piece of pie for two people. It’s really small. I like “Giving USA” for really saying, “Here’s why we need to focus on individuals and all the different ways individuals engage and give.” There is another report by “Personify” that came out about young members, the millennials, and the Social Donor Study is also an interesting one I’ve looked at. So those are some you can dig up and look, if you need to build a pitch to start investing in digital.

So first and foremost, if you’re thinking, “What do I need to really go all in on building a digital fundraising and marketing communications program and strategy,” or if you’re thinking, “What do I need to really have to expand my footprint in digital marketing communications and fundraising? How do I get better at this? How do I advance?” First and foremost, you need to have the staff resources, the knowledge, and the coordination. Dedicated staff, not volunteers. We all know volunteers can be great but we also know the curse of, “Let’s just have a volunteer build our website. Let’s just have a volunteer run that event. Oh, a committee can do it.” Nope. Nope. Staff do it. The staff are the ones that do this because at the end of the day if the goal was not met, if the event, something falls through, it’s on staff.

So the number one thing you need to have to really have a successful online fundraising and marketing program is dedicated staff. You need to have someone to be able to do this. I’m not saying 40 hours a week, right? You scale your effort to what you can handle, right, to plan and implement the digital program. You can certainly have volunteers help with some of it. You could hire a consultant, right? You can even work with whoever is the company that does that . . . you know, marketing companies, providers like Bloomerang. There are different ways to get strategists, to get consultants, to get help but at the end of the day, you still need someone on staff paying attention to concerns about knowledgeable, about online fundraising and marketing.

You will need the external knowledge of best practices and the latest trends and what are the resources. So when I say the latest trends, you know, when we talked about those stats. How are organizations performing? Where are the latest opportunities? What’s happening with people’s giving behavior? Where are people not giving anymore? What’s falling out of fashion? Let’s look at the latest studies and case studies. You need to know the trends but you also need to know the best practices. And Steve MacLaughlin, who is a great author for nonprofits, talked about this recently in a blog where we have proven best practices in online marketing and fundraising. They are proven. There are studies after studies after studies and examples of why you set up donation forms a certain way, of why you send emails, of the best way to build these strategies, where to put things on your website, how to tell the stories.

People aren’t making these things up. They are established best practices. There is a science behind it because there’s data. So you need to have staff. Someone or some one needs to have that internal knowledge of what are the best practices, what are the latest trends, what’s happening in the industry, and where are the resources? And by resources I mean, you know, who’s talking about these things that’s knowledgeable? Where can you get help? Are there classes you can take? Are there lots of free webinars? There are. You know, are there books that you should be reading? So that’s important, right?

And then cross-team collaboration and coordination. You might be thinking, “Danielle, team? There’s, like, me and half a person. That’s my organization.” You still need to talk, right? Sometimes the smallest organizations can be almost the most siloed because you’re so busy that you are heads down 99% of the time. And I like this statement from the “Digital Outlook Report.” “There’s no point investing in digital if you don’t have the staff available to invest the time, the knowledge to plan, build and execute the strategy, and well-coordinating teams who are not only fluent in the technology they use but also cooperative with each other.”

And I know some of you probably are aware of the silos that exist between marketing and the development team, right? They’ve got to go hand in hand. At the end of the day, marketing is not just producing an annual report and putting it on the newsletter, right? Marketing can create the demand for fundraising to raise the money, right? If marketing is telling great stories but they’re getting the information to tell those great stories, they’re getting access to the people to tell those stories, if they’re coordinating what the development team is doing, then marketing can drive the desire to want to give. So these two really should go hand in hand and I would encourage you if you haven’t fallen into that bad habit of keeping these two functions and teams apart, try to never let that happen.

And then one of the really scary facts in the “Digital Outlook Report” is that over 30% of respondents describe their org structure, organizational structure, meaning the decision-making, the processes, the reporting collaboration, as poor or under average. So think about that. Thirty percent of organizations that participated in the “Digital Outlook Report” said that more than 30% of their structures, their operating structures, there’s not good communication. There’s not coordinating reporting. So this is first and foremost, staff, resources, knowledge, and coordination. And why is this important? Because it takes someone’s time and commitment and the knowledge to plan and launch this type of effort, right? It doesn’t happen overnight. So before you can truly go all in on digital or exponentially expand in what you’re doing, you have to make sure you have the people and the knowledge to do this work.

So number two, a solid and dependable CRM. Well, wait a minute. We’re talking about online fundraising and marketing. Yes, we are, but an organization needs a database to track your volunteers, your donors, your little donors, your big donors, you know, corporations, your foundation, your prospective donors, maybe just the friends and young professionals. You need a CRM to do that, that’s meeting your needs of tracking, segmenting, and reporting on that information.

And this is important because what do you want to do? If you are going to start sending e-newsletters and running campaigns on social media and asking people for support and you want to engage people in the mission and build your brand awareness up, you need to communicate with your volunteers, if you have them, advocates, prospective donors, current donors. You want to run a vibrant marketing program that builds a pipeline of sustainable support with really amazing content and different types of content.

And to solicit these different audiences at the right time while also monitoring the behaviors and the reactions, you’ve got to capture the actions and to personalize the asks. To do that you need a CRM, right? You’re not just tracking first name and last name, address. When did they first give? What types of gifts are they giving? What campaigns did they respond to? Where do their kids go to school? Do they have kids? Are this man and woman married? Then you got to [let them 00:27:16] have a relationship, right? Well, where does this person work? Okay. Let’s track where they work. Wait. They go to this church. No. They went to this college. Their hobbies are this.

All of this information starts to build a profile of all of these people that could in some way support your organization. You need that solid and dependable CRM that’s meeting your needs because you’ve got to have the data. You’ve got to track it appropriately and you’ve got to report on it. The impact of not having a good CRM means the data you put into your new digital fundraising strategy and communications program won’t be the right data. It won’t be good data. Bad data in, bad data comes out. And ultimately, that impacts your overall strategy and the growth.

And the third component I think you need to have in place before you can launch a comprehensive fundraising and marketing program online is standard operating procedures. You need SOPs. And there is probably five more we could list on here, right, but I can’t be here all day. So for me, I prioritized two that I think are vitally important is standard operating procedure for how you process and acknowledge different kinds of contributions. This does a couple of things. If you want to fundraise, you have to thank people and you have to thank them quickly and you have to thank them efficiently. But you will also have to steward them so you retain them. Having an SOP for processing and acknowledging the different kinds of contributions is, like, step one, right? That is the basics.

You need to have a process for when gifts come in, in different ways, that they get entered into the system and that they’re thanked quickly, that it’s a great thank you letter that is meaningful, that it’s not just a, “Thank you for your gift of $50 on March 14th to this event. Tax receipt at the bottom.” No, that was okay 15 years ago but this also provides staff guidance on how to properly code and attribute donations, right? One of the biggest issues I always saw when I was in fundraising is who gets to count the gift. We won’t go there because that’s a podcast topic about how I don’t believe anyone gets to own them but having this in place if you’re going to start doing more online, more money is going to eventually come in. Those people, you need to have a process for taking care of this.

The other standard operating procedure that I think is basic and needs to be in place before you can really start fundraising with gusto online is how are you entering and tracking the data for the prospective donors. We just talked about having a good CRM but for it to be good the data has to be entered in such a way that it’s consistent, right? Is there a period after Mr. or Miss? Do you spell out street or do you St.? Do you spell out Drive or do you do Dr.? I know this seems basic but if any of you work on the database, you know what I’m talking about. If your data starts to get dirty, it can be a one to two-year project just to get it right. So have standard operating procedures for how you enter and track data because here’s what’s going to happen. Sometimes people online don’t want to give you any other piece of information but their email and that’s okay. That is perfectly okay.

You cannot require someone to give you all of their information if they just want to sign up and dip their toe in the water of understanding and learn about your mission. So you need to figure out as an organization. When I was with Boys & Girls Club that was a big to-do. The database person was like, “No. If they are going to sign up for our e-newsletter, you need to get their first and last name, their zip code, their address.” And I said, “Nope. The only thing I’m going to ask for is their email because I need the lowest barrier to joining in to learn about me. I need as little friction as possible. So no, I’m not going to require people to give me all that information.”

The way we handled that was making sure we had policies and procedures for how to enter data. What was required for off and online? And to be able to send the right messages at the right time to the right person, whether it’s a marketing piece or a fundraising piece, you’ve got to have the data to do that.

And this is important because of everything I just talked about. You won’t see the results you want if people don’t feel recognized and engaged. You won’t see the retention. You won’t see the growth. And as we saw recently in a online fundraising and marketing report, organizations saw strong growth and retention with repeat online revenue. Think about that. It’s like the unicorn. Repeat online revenue retention. They saw it increase by 13.8% but the only way it happened was because the organization invested in making sure they had processes and procedures and strategies for retention.

The fourth component that’s really important is an email solution with the right functionality. You’ve got to be able to send emails out, right, but that’s not enough. If that were enough, then you could just use a Gmail account. You need an email solution that’s going to allow your staff, maybe a consultant too, to send great communications but to also understand what’s resonating, what communications are being opened, what’s being clicked on. In your newsletter, it had three articles in it and maybe two little side-bar articles or pictures. You want to be able to for six months in a row when that goes out every month to try to figure out what’s getting the most clicks. Is it the article about events? Is it the articles about the parks that you’ve been cleaning up? Is it the articles about the cancer research? You have to figure it out, right?

So some basic features, like, these are just expected. This is not, like, the advanced email solution. These are the basic features of functionality. Automation. Allowing a system that allows you to set up a series of emails to just keep . . . Rinse, wash, and repeat. It just keeps going, right? A welcome series.

Tracking for actions. You should be able to easily see things like open rates, click-through rates, unsubscribe. You should have the ability to build emails to your recent campaigns. There are some solutions, unfortunately, that are so basic that you can only send. If you want to do end of the year and let’s say you want to do an end-of-the-year campaign that has six different emails because there’s variations of the messages, different audiences, there are solutions, there are platforms that will go, “Well, each of those has to be its own campaign. We don’t allow you to actually build that out as, like, a multiple message.” No, that’s a negative. Not good. So you want the ability to build an email series to have campaigns.

You want responsive email templates. If someone gets an email on their phone that is not responsive or not built for mobile, they’re not going to fight to read it. They’re not going to fight to read it.

Comprehensive reporting. Look and see what kind of reporting because reporting is the way you know if things are working. It’s how you’re going to track what’s not working. It’s how you’re going to track results and make adjustments.

Social media integration is a must, not a nice to have. These are all must-haves. Responsive text support. Do your research. There are great sites like That is a site where people can go on and rate platforms. So when, you know, a cable company needs to buy software to manage their human resources, they can go to TrustRadius. If you want to buy a new donor database software if people are rating some of the software solutions you’re looking at, you can go see what users are saying. It’s actually users, admins, rating their system.

So how is tech support? What about training? Is there free training? How much does it cost to buy training? Those are all the must-haves and there’s more, right, but I want to just touch on that.

But here is the twist. When you were looking and vetting, whether it’s a CRM or it’s an online email solution . . . Sorry. Online, that’s redundant, or maybe it’s a donation platform. Don’t look at things in . . . Don’t talk to the sales reps or account manager and be like, “What are the features? What are the buttons? What are the things I get to touch and turn on and click?” That doesn’t matter. You want to think it from the perspective of what does it allow you to do for your strategy, right? So it’s not that it allows automation but you can build welcome series. You can build new donor welcome series. You can build a re-engagement campaign. To do those things, the system would have to have automation.

So you don’t want to necessarily think in terms of what buttons. You want to think in, “What does that let us do? What can we build with this solution? Can we run a multi-message fundraising campaign,” because you know sending one or two emails for a spring campaign or end-of-the-year campaign or a back to school campaign, it’s not going to cut it. It needs to be multiple messages.

Can you capture information, right? So let’s say people can sign up with just their email on your website but you want to send a follow-up email that confirms they signed up with a link to get you their first name and their last name and maybe where they live and maybe where they heard about you. Does the system allow you to capture that information and can you quickly query on it and use it?

So think about the features and the functionality you want in this email solution but then also tie it back to what does that mean for your strategy? What does that mean how you can implement it? Tie those pieces together. That’s really important because just having automation doesn’t mean anything. What does it allow you to do? What can you achieve by having that?

And this is important because like I said earlier, boomers, Gen X, and millennials are all multi-channeled to different degrees. We want a multi-channel relationship with the organizations that we’re involved. We expect and want personalized digital communications and appeal. We want to hear good stories. We want to focus on ways that we can get involved.

Well, to do that, to be responsive, to do it quickly, you’re going to need an email solution that allows you to do those things, to be able to send information and a call to action that resonates and so you can test those things, right? You always want to test. Always be testing.

The fifth component, a donation platform, also known as an online fundraising solution, also known as donation forms. It’s all the same thing, right? And I am . . . Let’s see. I started building an online fundraising program for an organization, Boys & Girls Clubs, back in 2008. I am getting old. Let’s just say I’m getting wise. I’m not getting old. I’m getting wise and experienced. Back then, you know, you didn’t have a lot about . . . You know, there wasn’t a whole lot you could do, right? Solutions were really starting to get better, but they weren’t fantastic. And you didn’t have tons of choices. There are so many choices nowadays for online donation platforms. You can do text messaging. You can do different types of campaigns. You can do peer-to-peer. You can do honorary giving, tribute giving. It’s fantastic and it’s a wonderful thing because you have so many choices.

And like I said, you have to scale, right? Just because you want to do online fundraising and marketing doesn’t mean you can run a program as if you had a $15 million budget, right? You’re going to have to run the program that makes sense for your resources. So the beauty is that there are solutions to meet your needs. You don’t have to get the platform that a $200,000 organization or a huge organization for it. You can get one that works for you, right?

If you already have a solution, if you’ve already got donation forms, then you need to audit the features to make sure it meets your needs today and tomorrow. One of the things I did when I went to Boys & Girls Clubs is I said, “That’s great that there’s a free solution here that does donation processing and email but free is not going to cut it. We need a system that does X, Y, and Z because I want to do this. I want to run these types of campaigns and I want to do this type of fundraising, this type of marketing. To do that, I need more.”

So if you already have a solution and you’re thinking, “Well, we already have donation forms,” do you? Do you really? Let’s be honest. Audit it and here’s the thing. Remember, I told you I’m a little too honest? If you are not the person responsible for online fundraising, if you are an executive director, if you’re a CEO or if you’re the Chief Development Officer and you really don’t get involved, you can’t make the decision on whether or not it’s working. The people that use it are the ones that have to be part of that process. It is not enough for leadership to say, “Yes, it’s working. I think it does well enough.” It’s the users. It’s the admins of the donor database. It’s the admins of the donation platforms. It’s the admins using the email solution.

Those are the people that can say, “Yes, it’s working,” or, “No. Oh my God, it takes me a day to build one email. It’s not working,” right? So that’s harsh but it’s the reality. Whoever’s actually using the different solutions needs to be involved in auditing and helping and making a decision on yes, it’s working, but we need to learn this or no, it’s a disaster. It’s sucking up all my time, right? So if you’re not part of the group or the team or the person that is actively using the donation platform, get the person who is so that they can be involved in giving you that input and making that decision, okay?

All right. So then do you know how to use the solution you already have because I don’t know an organization . . . Well, no, I do. I know one organization that actually doesn’t even have a donation form. It hurts. It hurts really deep down inside that they don’t. Whatever solution you have, can you create different donation forms for different kinds of giving, right? Do you know how to set it up for one-time gifts? Do you know how to set it up so maybe it’s just memorial giving for a specific campaign?

Do you know how to set up a donation form so it’s just dedicated monthly giving? Does the system allow you to set up multiple donation forms because one and done isn’t going to cut it? Do you know how to create those forms and then link them on the websites? If you don’t know how to do that, that’s a big deal, right? Do you know how to manage when the gifts are coming in? Do you know how to cancel a gift? Do you know how to, you know, maybe skip a monthly gift?

So look at donation platforms. If you already have one, is it doing what you need and is it going to allow you to grow in the future? If it’s really basic because it’s free, it’s time to think about what you need because you do. You need a platform, a solution, that’s going to allow you to do different types of online giving. And that includes peer-to-peer and I don’t mean you’re going to start planning runs and walks. I mean people want to do their own fundraising. So having a platform that allows them to create a page.

And yes, some email solutions are coupled with this, right? I worked for a business that shall not be named but it is probably the biggest tech provider for nonprofits. And a lot of their solutions were the email solution coupled with donation processing and forms. Sometimes it’s all together but there are also solutions out there where you’re having to pull the best ones together, right? What’s going to do your email platform? What’s going to be your donation platform? What’s going to be your CRM? And then you integrate them all. So it just depends. Why is this important? Because you need a variety of ways to give people when they want to make a donation. Simply put, people like to give in different ways. You need a platform that’s going to allow you to do that but that allows you to manage that giving.

How am I doing on time? 1:43. All right. The sixth component, a marketing communication programs. Well, Danielle, that’s what we want to do. Hear me out. Marketing communications. Currently, you probably have some type of support coming from corporations, small businesses, individuals, the board, maybe grants.

So you should already have some type of online marketing communications program. You should be educating your audiences about the problem, the reason for the mission, why you exist, right. Highlighting the work and the impact that’s being made through the organization through support.

Sharing. You want to share and tell mission moments. You should be doing that. You want to build the desire to give. You want people to be inspired to make a donation, to make a second, to make a third. You want to encourage people to volunteer. That is a function of the type of content marketing puts out.

And you want to steward and retain donors. Having those mission moments, inviting them to great events, telling them how the gift they’re making an impact, tying the support to the mission. If you are doing this offline already, it’s going to be easier and quicker to build it on the digital side.

One word of caution. And I know many of you are going to know this. Maybe all of you know this. Hopefully, one day I’m going to get to the point where people are going to say, “Danielle, you’re completely outdated. We all know what you’re saying already.” Not there yet. Never take what you’re doing offline and just think you can reproduce it online, right? Your printed newsletter should never be what you send via email, ever, ever, ever, ever. Five more evers.

When you write online, you have to think of writing in micro-content, right, in bite-size pieces because a lot of people are scrolling on their phone. They’re getting the email on their phone. It needs to be quick. It needs to be easy. So you might be doing really great things in marketing communications offline. Just make sure that when you get to the point that you’re ready to launch that in a digital way, that you’re doing it for digital, right?

Why does this matter? Why does being able to have marketing communications offline matter? Why should you have that before you launch doing something online? Well, like I said, it’s just going to be easier and quicker. It means you already know to tell your story. It means you already have a process for telling those stories, for reporting on gifts, for encouraging and inspiring people to give.

And reporting has been showing that while email open rate . . . So think about this. The reporting that just came out this year is showing that fundraising email open rates are declining. What? Click rates are increasing. And conversion is staying steady. Just think about that. You would assume, “Oh, people aren’t opening as many fundraising emails,” but what’s happening is that they’re not but what they are doing is the organizations are sending better content. So people are clicking through. People are reading. People are converting and giving. So people are more likely to engage.

And this only happens when an organization has a really good multi-channel strategy, great ongoing communication, and great marketing. So it has to go hand in hand, right? If you really want to launch . . . I hate to use it, robust. I wish someone would give me a different word for robust but robust effort digitally. You’ve got to have the marketing and the communications to go with it. And if you can already have that in place, it’s just going to save you time.

And my final thing, the one I’m probably the most passionate about, number seven, commitment to the plan. Leadership and the people responsible for fundraising and marketing need to commit to running a fundraising and marketing program for at least two years. Hear me. It takes time to get this right. It takes testing. It takes failure to get this right. And you never completely get it right.

I launched a new website last year and for all intents and purposes, it’s never going to be done, right? If you were going to do this, leadership has to commit to doing this for at least two years. You have got to see how it’s going to work. You’re going to have to try different things. You’re going to learn about your audience. It takes 12 months to collect the data. What are people clicking on? What are they opening or how are our unsubscribes? You’ve got to have data to compare it to.

So if you’re going to do this, you’ve got to have commitment to the plan. The initial strategy should incorporate a lot of the proven best practices. Simply put, build the program on the science. We already know what works for donation forms. Yes, maybe your audience wants it different. Don’t go with your gut the first time around. Base it on the science. Get the data. And then you can make changes.

Don’t add questions on the donation form that are unnecessary, questions that we know with enough studies that those questions, you know, are just going to kill the conversion rate. So your initial strategy for really going and building a bigger online fundraising and marketing program really needs to be built on the science. Then you can start to make adjustments but get some data to back up what you’re doing, right?

Get training. Get consulting help. Get both, if you can. If you’re not in a leadership position, right, but you’re the person that’s look at this going, “I’m doing this,” try to get an executive sponsor. In the corporate world, you get an executive sponsor, someone that believes in the project you want to do, champions it, and will stand up to you, right?

In a perfect world, this would be a board member or two because we all know what’s going to happen. Someone’s going to try to divert your energy, divert your resources, divert your time away from certain projects because they have a bright new shiny object and they want us to do that bright new shiny object. By having an executive sponsor or two, having people in a leadership position, if needed . . . Maybe you are the leader, so you don’t need that. But having someone to champion you is going to help, right?

Keep people informed along the way. Keep people enthusiastic. And even if you’re failing because you’re going to make mistakes. Things aren’t going to work. I’ve done it. I launched an acquisition campaign one year. It did amazing. The next year I went in a completely different direction and it tanked but I learned. So keep people informed, right? Whoever the . . . I don’t want to say . . . We’re not supposed to say stakeholders anymore. Whoever the people are that are concerned and paying attention to fundraising and marketing, keep them informed. And if something doesn’t work, don’t just say, “Oh, we tried this and it didn’t work.” What did you learn? Failure is always important, right, but what did you learn from it and what are you going to do next?

Those are the important things to keep in mind when you’re doing this. And the why for why is this part of what you need before you launch is because honestly, this is self-explanatory and it’s common sense. Too often, inexperienced people believe that if you can just run one campaign, if it doesn’t work, then it’s not worth your time. Nope. You have to have a commitment to see this through. Take the time to let this grow. Take the time to get the data. Don’t just think one campaign makes the decision. You have to stick to it.

So online fundraising is growing. And it grew again in 2018 from 2017 9.1%. How is your organization doing, right? How is it doing in all facets and all revenue streams? Is it growing 9%, 10%, 11%? While digital might not be 40% or 50% of your goal every year, it’s going to keep growing, right? It’s not going away. People are not going to suddenly stop using the internet or go in on social media. The checkbook is not going to make a comeback, right? Magazines are not going to make a comeback. So if you want to stay competitive and build a multi-channel program that produces results and that’s sustainable, you really are going to at some point need to really invest in a smart digital fundraising and marketing program.

So I know we’re running out of time. So I’ll whip through this really quick but I’ve got two slides here on what to do next. We just talked about all the components you need. So these two slides are how to build your plan. What do you need to audit the program and what you’ve got? You need to create the plan. Once you do the audit, you need to create the plan to build your capacity. Then you need to execute and adjust as necessary, basically pivot, right? So I’ve got all the details in here. You can read them. So with that, Steven, are you there? Did I put everyone asleep?

Steven: No. I’m still here, and I don’t think people are asleep. We’re getting lots of good feedback in the comments section. Even somebody said the best presentation they’ve ever heard on this subject. So good job.

Danielle: No.

Steven: I’m not surprised by that. But I thought you’d want to hear that. Oh yeah, they love it. I am not surprised at all. That was awesome. I was running out things that I agreed with that I was just kind of jotting down with you, which I also did not expect anything to be different about but man, that was awesome. So I took away multi-channel, having a good foundation of software and technology tools, which I really appreciate you saying, and just getting ready, right? It’s not that you’re just going to jump in and abandon all the analog channels but, you know, you’re not ignoring the digital ones either. So man, this is awesome. You want to do some questions? Are you up for it?

Danielle: Yes. I was reading through some of these.

Steven: Let’s do it.

Danielle: You all are just so sweet. Yes.

Steven: Oh, it’s a good crowd on the Bloomerang series. It looks like a couple people, Danielle, asked about having that dedicated person. My buddy, Dennis, here, maybe put it the best. How do you get over that vicious cycle of, “Well, we don’t have the money to hire the staff and we need the staff to raise the money,” you know, that kind of Catch-22 thing, I, mean, because you worked at nonprofits. I mean, you probably experienced that yourself. What do you say to that objection?

Danielle: So for me, it’s all about the numbers, right?

Steven: Yes.

Danielle: So I would sit down and build a report and say, “Okay. Here’s what the last three to four years have looked like. Here’s where we’ve grown.” And if you can show, “Here’s what the industry’s doing, right? Here’s the growth,” not just in digital, right, but just growth in general and then compare it and say, “Year over year, here’s how we’re growing in corporate giving. Here’s what we’re doing in grants. Here’s what we’re doing in major gifts. Here’s what we’re doing in events,” if it’s low and retention, right? I think retention is really important. I think if an organization is in that vicious cycle of, “We’re not going to find the money. We’re not going to spend the money. We don’t have the money,” well, you know what? If you don’t invest, then you will never grow and you’ll never have more money.

So for me, it’s all about the numbers because boards tend to be driven from a business perspective, right? So I would show them the numbers. Dennis, I know you and I’m looking at you and I’m giving you side eye for asking the hard questions but that’s because I know Dennis. And that’s what I would do is I would build out a report and look at what is our performance for the last three to four years, year-over-year growth? What’s happening in the different areas? What are we doing? And then put that side by side with, okay, what are we seeing in the industry? What’s happening, right? And it’s hard to argue. If you’re not seeing 8%, 9%, 10%, 11% growth in some of these different areas, then that’s not good, right? So I would start with the numbers to back up with, “We need to make changes.”

Steven: It makes sense to me. I love it.

Danielle: Yes.

Steven: Small shops. So we got one from Kevin. What’s the best way that maybe a one-person organization can start doing these things because there are a lot of these folks that are listening on these webinars, at least for us every week, we tend to have a small community. For the one-person organization, where do you think they should start today?

Danielle: Sure. So in my opinion, it starts with having the donation forms. So if you’re a really small organization, I would start with auditing how people can give on your website. So first and foremost, when people, if they go to your homepage, it shouldn’t take more than one click to get to the donation form. When someone clicks on, “Give now. Donate now,” and it’s obviously a button, it should not go to a, “Ways to Give.” It should go directly to a donation form. So I think the small organization needs to start with that backbone.

Your website is your storefront now. It is your digital storefront. People are not walking up to your organization on the street. They are walking up to your website. So I think a small shop starts with how easy is it to give them our website? Does our website inspire people to give? Can people even find and use the donation form on their phone or tablet?

So I think for me, it starts there. And then the next step is what are you sending out via email? And if you could just starts slowly sending out communications. And when I say a newsletter, I’ve worked with organizations where one month their newsletter might be three articles and the next month it’s one article because they only send it when they’ve got something to say, something that’s important, something that’s relevant, something that people want to read. So you don’t have to go into this, “I’ve got to send three articles this month. I’ve got to send a newsletter.” No. Maybe one month it’s more, like, a postcard email, right? So you build it to scale, right? You build what will work for your resources.

And so that’s where I would start is make sure you’ve got the foundation. Make sure you’ve got a website that will work on a phone and a tablet and it tells a great story. And make sure the donation form is easy to make a gift. Go test it yourself. Go try to make a $10 donation and see what it’s like on a phone. See what it’s like on a tablet. And then look at starting with some really great emails and just work . . . Develop a plan, right? Maybe it’s going to be this year we’re going to have a great website and an easy-to-use donation form and we’re going to just start to announce in good emails, right? And then year two, it could be, “Let’s look at that’s the year maybe we get into, you know, more sophisticated fundraising.”

Steven: I love it. Well, we’ve got a minute left. Danielle, what do you . . . How can people get ahold of you, talk to you, you know, meet you? What’s the best way for people to get in touch and keep the conversation going?

Danielle: Yes. I see a lot of questions. Joseph, I see your question. I would love to talk to you more about that. Here is my information and I don’t mean because I want to get your business. That’s not why I’m here. I mean, it’s great but I honestly just like to help the sector because that’s what I do. So I’m on Twitter and I’m on Facebook. On Facebook, it’s probably better to have the conversation there. It’s Nonprofit Know It All. It’s my business page but I’m also in Twitter at DJVermenton. And you can also send me an email. You know, I would love to help small organizations figure out how to do this. And the way my business is, is that for the big companies, right, that need to learn how to sell to organizations, that’s where I’m going to help. That’s where I charge more, just to put it frankly, right?

So if you’re a small organization and you’re interested in maybe just doing this in bite-size pieces, go to my website. Send me an email. And if you just want to have a conversation, like, what fundraising campaigns look like, would I mean about welcome series, I lived and breathed that for seven years. Just Tweet me or send me a message on Facebook. And Steven, thank you. I appreciate you endorsing my way of doing presentations because it’s not your usual presenter way.

Steven: Oh, that’s okay.

Danielle: I like to be brutally honest when I come on these and give people something to walk away with. So I appreciate it.

Steven: I like it. I like real talk. I like it a little out there. So that’s kind of in my wheelhouse too. So no worries. This was awesome. This was really fun. And I’m glad we made it happen. I’m glad we got you on board here and we’re friends now. So I know we didn’t get to all the questions but please reach out to her. Follow her on Twitter. I mean, that alone will entertain you, if nothing else. And we’re going to keeping the NTT Tweets also, since we had this little gathering of people who didn’t make it to Portland but man, this was fun. This is great. Thanks to all of you for hanging out. A lot of fun, as always. I know it was kind of a . . . we usually do these Thursdays. Hopefully, Wednesday worked out okay for you.

We’ve got a Tuesday session next week. That really changing things up. We’ve got Sarah Durham from beautiful Brooklyn, New York from Big Duck. If you’ve never heard of Sarah, she is awesome. She just had a rebranding. If maybe you are going through a rebrand right now or thinking about doing one, even if you just want to change your logo there. That’s not all a rebrand is, but if you are going to be dealing with that sometime in the near future, which is probably all of you, you know, it’s something maybe all organizations go through at least some time, check it out. It’s going to be a really good session, lots of case studies, because she’s done this a lot for nonprofits.

She’s probably, at least in my mind, the biggest expert on nonprofit branding. So join us. 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Since we’ve got some holidays happening on Wednesday and Thursday, I wanted to make this accessible for everyone. So check that out if you’re free. We’ll definitely record it if you can’t make it. So no worries there. And we’ve got lots of other sessions out on our webinar page on into the summer, lots of different topics, lots of things I’m excited about. So we will call it a day there. Follow Danielle. Look for an email from me with all the goodies, slides and recording. We’ll get that to you. And hopefully we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your week. Stay warm out there. And we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Danielle: Bye everyone.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.