Over the past few years I have had the opportunity to visit many of the world’s largest nonprofits. I tell myself it’s probably because of my award-winning e-book on Direct Mail & Omni Channel Marketing, but the reality is probably just because nonprofits are all looking to modernize their fundraising technology. During those visits, I hear lots of questions from marketing and tech executives about what I am seeing in the industry with respect to multi-channel fundraising.
These questions usually come from forward-thinking leaders who want to make sure they are not just listening to their staff, or falling behind from a tech standpoint. They want to know what nonprofits are doing today in multi-channel marketing: across direct mail, email, social and online ads.
Here’s what I’m seeing as the current state of nonprofit marketing, as well as the near and longer-term future.
1) The Current State of Multi-Channel Marketing for Nonprofits
First off, you are not alone. The majority of customers I speak with have a bunch of disconnected fundraising tools. Most customers have a CRM to track donors, an email marketing engine, peer-to-peer fundraising tools, and a myriad of reporting solutions. That does not even account for the multiple program management tools they may use. Oh, don’t forget the ever-present spreadsheets and personal productivity apps for notes or emails that don’t connect. If we are lucky, these systems will somewhat talk together via an API or the nonprofit will have a data warehouse. If you thought that was an actual warehouse for data, don’t worry, I did too at one point.
The most common complaint I’m hearing from nonprofit leaders is that they have a ton of data but no clue what to do with it. That’s mainly because of data silos and old antiquated systems that do not have flexible and open integration points. This is a problem that needs to be fixed to really make an impact. The hardest part is knowing where to start. And if they know where to start, the next question is: where to go first on the digital fundraising journey?
2) Near Term Nonprofit Marketing Trends: The platform vs point solution question
When I say near-term, future I’m thinking 6 to 18 months out. I give that time frame because the implementation of these changes usually takes about that much time from start to end. But don’t worry, the journey is worth it, and you’ll see value along the way.
So what exactly am I seeing in the near term?
Platform. Platform. Platform.
The most innovative nonprofits are seeing the writing on the wall and realizing the limitations of maintaining and supporting a million different siloed point solutions. Not only do those point solutions require users to know a myriad of different business processes and workflows, but you can’t easily access data across tools.
We all know that nonprofits are limited on resources. Because of this, the IT support on these siloed tools is guaranteed to be limited with a few patches and updates throughout the year. I hear this complaint every single day from nonprofits. I hear things like “Why isn’t this accessible on my device? When can I get that report from Rob in IT?” Many times, they don’t even know who Rob in IT is. That’s where a platform comes into play. What is a platform you ask? It’s simply a tool that provides a tech building framework for your business process.
If this term is new to you, it was also new to me, and I’ve been in the nonprofit industry for almost 15 years. When I was a kid I loved LEGOs, so let’s use that analogy. Every year on Christmas or my birthday, I would always ask for a new LEGO set. One year I’d ask for a fire station set. The next I’d ask for the space shuttle set. Little did I know that I was building with a platform the whole time. The LEGO kits all connected together seamlessly and allowed me to build an entire world on the floor of my parents living room. I could even go rogue and make my own buildings outside of the kit if I wanted!
This is exactly what nonprofits are asking for, however, many haven’t realized all the benefits of using a platform for digital fundraising and marketing. Leading nonprofits want a tool that comes out-of-the-box with some strong features, but gives them the flexibility to make it their own. After all, every nonprofit is unique. This tool also needs to be simple to learn and universal across industries so they can easily find administrators and support when they need it.
So how does this platform approach work in the near-term? The first step is to move off of legacy point solutions and onto to a fundraising platform (shameless plug: the Nonprofit Success Pack is one). When making a platform move, leading nonprofits look to ensure that the solutions will allow them to perform their current fundraising business processes (gift processing, acknowledgments, emails, etc.) while also allowing them to have a consistent experience across channels for donors.
My advice: during the process of moving from various point solutions to a platform, look at your current business processes and improve them first, then implement them in your technology. The ultimate goal is innovating quickly and easily as the nonprofit and the industry changes. For example, is your nonprofit able to both easily report on and increase fundraising from private donors if government agency funding decreases due to political changes? Note that rolling out a platform can be done in phases as well.
In practice, a 6-18 month technology rollout starts with realizing that change is needed. For example, an executive or board member from a nonprofit will make a decision to support (and fund!) innovation and change the old ways of siloed supporter engagement. This is usually driven by new strategic goals, declining revenue, or just the organization’s culture of innovation. Next, a committee or leader is tasked with researching tools. At that point, I encourage my clients to consider the pros and cons of going with a point solution compared to a platform.
3) Long Term Trends in Nonprofit Marketing Platforms
Once a nonprofit is up and running on a new platform, that is where the really cool stuff begins. We are seeing trends in both nonprofit and for profit industries around marketing automation, artificial intelligence, and constituent self service. Check out the Fundraising Productivity Report for more information on how nonprofits are using CRM to drive productivity.
The boom of marketing automation is being fueled by platforms. As the Fundraising Productivity Report mentions, only 47% of marketers are communicating from a marketing automation system that is connected to their CRM. Having your data connected via a platform allows you to layer on industry-leading marketing automation tools like Marketing Cloud. These tools can automate emails, text messages, or even social ads so that your nonprofit shares your message consistently across channels. That’s what multi-channel marketing is about! I am also seeing nonprofits incorporating all of this data into their direct marketing segmentation and strategy to make sure that you are only mailing folks who have a high propensity to donate. No more wasted stamps!
Since data is the foundation of artificial intelligence algorithms, having all of your data integrated allows you to set yourself up for success with AI. In the nonprofit space, this is commonly done using giving prediction scoring and next best action steps. These predictions could be: likelihood to make a donation, identifying good volunteer prospects, or evening spotting trends about program performance.
On the customer service front, nonprofits are beginning to allow their constituents to have a tailored self service experience. This allows constituents to search for answers to their questions online without having to engage with the nonprofit directly. A specific example that we see all the time is the end of year gift receipt needed for tax purposes. Instead of the constituent having to call or email the nonprofit, they can access the receipt directly via a chat bot. Or even better, they can log onto a customer service portal and access their giving history in real time. That is because that portal is seamlessly integrated with the fundraising platform.
How to Put Your Constituents First
It is so exciting to see more and more nonprofits create a unified vision that puts their supporters (and staff) at the center. This is not the stuff of the future; this is happening now. Look no further than Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, ADL, and the American Cancer Society for stories of true digital transformation on a platform.
Full disclosure: these projects are often large system overhauls. I’m saying that because it is important to know that they require commitment from executives across the business, not just IT. However, if no change is made, then your organization will still be in the same place it was two or five years ago and your peers will be out ahead of you. The last thing your organization wants to be is Blockbuster when everyone is now streaming on Netflix, especially when you’re working to fulfill the important missions that nonprofits have and the environment is constantly changing about what constituents need, what donors want (hint: transparency!) and how funders operate.
If you are interested in learning more about how Salesforce is working with other customers to build out platform success, feel free to fill out the form below or contact me directly.
See how technology can help you do more of what you love by helping your work be more efficient. To learn more about our integrated nonprofit CRM and more solutions for nonprofits, learn more here or download our Marketing Engagement Report.
About the Author
Dustin Pitts is a manager on the Solution Engineering team at Salesforce.org. His team specializes in nonprofit fundraising and foundation solutions offered within Nonprofit Cloud. Dustin has over 14 years of technology experience working with some of the world’s largest nonprofit organizations. He is based in Charleston, South Carolina. Follow him on Twitter: @DustinKPitts