Experiment with Tech… But Not Too Much

 There’s a lot of talk these days about how nonprofits should do more experimenting – take more risks, and be more open to failure.   Nonprofits are often too conservative, according to this line of thinking, and should be trying new things, seeing if they work, and not be afraid to fail.

I don’t disagree with this concept, but like many concepts, it becomes hard to apply in the world of cash-strapped smaller organizations.  To what extent should a small organization try something new that might fail, when there’s a bunch of proven things that they know are likely to work …and they don't even have time to do all of those things?

We’re thinking this through for ourselves, to figure out what makes sense in terms of experimenting with new ways to deliver content or information.  By definition, it’s hard to quantify the value of experimenting with any one thing, because it’s impossible to know if it will work.  But there’s presumably some also difficult to quantify upside if we hit on something that works really well.

We internally like the idea of putting aside a “experimentation budget” – a small amount of staff time and money, perhaps defined by month, which is supposed to go to something that’s experimental.  The budget allows you to say that its worth, say, 16 hours a month to the organization to try things that might fail….but could succeed in an exciting way.  But it also puts a cap on the amount of time you can waste if you fail… as you’re only putting in a small amount of time to begin with.

What do you think?  Do you have other ways to balance the desire to experiment with the desire to make sure that your time is used towards your already crowded list of critical to-dos?

Deciding the Fate of Outdated Content: To Update, Redirect or Rewrite?

For better or worse, we are witnessing a race to fill the Internet with information. Millions of pages are added each day at a rate far greater than they are removed, leaving lots of outdated content for people and bots to crawl through. Old info provides an unfavorable user experience, but is simply removing it from the website or search engines the best alternative? Find out in this guest post by Andrew Garberson, a non-profit SEO consultant at LunaMetrics.

The answer is no. And if the old page in question has inbound links, social shares or other SEO value, the answer is NO! For starters, deleting a page with oh-so-valuable links turns them into orphans because they point to a nonexistent address. Any SEO benefit derived from them is gone, leaving them to wander the world alone (and unlike Annie, they’ll never find their Daddy Warbucks).    

Take a look at a client of mine, who we’ll lovingly refer to as It is a midsized advocacy organization that frequently adds content to stay current. Their longstanding practice was to delete old pages from their site, making way for the new and newsworthy. Then they met me. A quick glance at Google Webmaster Tools showed that they had about 100 broken URLs that resulted in 404 errors.


To make matters worse, those 104 pages had attracted several hundred inbound links that suddenly never made it home. All of that SEO credit was tossed to the curb.

Sometimes webmasters prefer to de-index old pages so search engines do not display them in the search results. That doesn’t exactly get me giddy, either. De-indexing old pages keeps them away from potential visitors, but it also keeps them away from potential visitors! See the problem? Cutting away at organic search traffic is never good for business.

So, if deleting content is not an option, and neither is removing it from the index, what’s a SEO-savvy webmaster to do? Well, you have come to the right place. Here are three healthy alternatives to consider.

  • Update the information. Perhaps a page has been live for several years and it is starting to show its age. The dates have long since come and gone and procedures and price points reflect different times. After all, a lot has changed in the business world since 2008. Simply revise the content to reflect current happenings. Small corrections do not impact on-page metrics so no need to fear a fall in ranking. Search engines will barely notice. Unless, of course, those little corrections are, say, in the title and headers. If that’s the case, it is probably best to consider a 301.
  • Apply a 301 redirect instead of making big changes to title tags or large portions of content. 301 permanent URL redirections automatically shuffle visitors to a more applicable page and send with them most of its predecessor’s page authority. A redirect is perfect for a retired executive’s profile. It likely accrued lots of links over the years and it would be a shame to let them go to waste. A 301 permanent redirect to the directory of managers or the executive’s replacement would serve the website (and all of its visitors) very well. For more general pages, however, a redirect might not seem appropriate. It would make more sense to simply create all new content under the existing URL. 
  • Write new content. Widgets were not selling well so the company decides to go in a different direction. These big changes can’t be made by updating tidbits, but the URLs and brand can be left as-is. It’s time to rewrite. Wipe everything clean but the URL, leaving the inbound links intact, and start from scratch: newly optimized title tag, appropriate Meta description and fresh content. It might not be the best option because search engine results and ranks will change, but all of those authority-building inbound links are spared from the orphanage, which is better than what would happen if you delete entire pages.

Moral of the story: don’t abandon accrued SEO credit. Never ever. Condemning links to a life of solitude on the street is neither good for you nor society. So, do your part and keep this world a better place.

For more insight from Andrew, read his article about SEO tips for non-profit blogs.

Blurry Face: Coming to a Video Near You

Earlier this year YouTube unveiled a new feature: the ability to blur out faces in videos. In the wake of the Arab Spring protests, and the ongoing violence in Syria, lots of news outlets and blogs have focused on how this feature benefits political activists, who often rely on YouTube more than other social media in order to organize, educate, and promote their struggle (NPR had a good little write up here).

The ability to blur faces and anonymize people in videos isn't only helpful for political dissidents, however. For many organizations, privacy and confidentiality limit their ability to use video to tell their story, or the stories of the people they work with. A nonprofit that works with children, for instance, could now post videos containing faces of children whose parents had not given permission to be shown. This is a common issue in videos of crowds or outdoor events, where the person on camera may have consented to be included, but people in the background or random passers-by might not have. 

Does this mean we can ignore permission? Of course not. But sometimes you only have one chance to get a shot, or don't have the ability to seek permission from every single person in the background. YouTube now makes it easier for us to catch those little mistakes, and save a great video from going in the trash.

Remixing the Clark

As a recent transplant to New England, I took the requisite leaf-peeping road trip last weekend through Western Massachusetts and Vermont. Along the way, I stopped at a museum, and was blown away by what they’re doing with technology.

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. is undergoing a major renovation that won’t be completed until 2014, and much of their permanent collection is in storage. To make the most of this period, the Clark has been experimenting with crowd-sourcing one of its exhibitions, called Remix. Visitors can virtually curate, or “remix”,  selected artworks using a homegrown app called uCurate. A sister app, uExplore, comes preloaded on tablets that are handed out to visitors upon arrival in the gallery; essentially, it’s like you have a portable curator that tells you neat things about the art you’re viewing.  Certain visitors will even get to have their selections displayed in the galleries.
The New York Times covered the Clark’s work in detail back in March—check it out. And even if you’re not going to be in Western Mass for leaf season, you can curate your own virtual exhibit on the Clark’s Remix site and see what other folks have done:

A Few Good Statistical Analysis Tools

Whether your organization needs to measure its programmatic success or expand its donor base, statistical analysis software can help nonprofits become more data-driven and accountable.

If this sounds appealing, you’re in luck: powerful tools that only five or ten years ago required dedicated servers to run can now be installed on a desktop. But these packages can require a considerable investment in up-front and ongoing costs, staff time, and training. Overwhelmed by the choices and not sure if you have the necessary statistical chops? We talked to a statistician to get the latest on some of the options available.

Low-Cost Options and Open-Source Tools

If your software budget is tight and your statistical analysis needs are basic, consider Excel. You probably have it and understand the platform.  Drawbacks: Excel can’t automatically handle missing cell values, and its statistical output can appear clunky and scattered. Windows users can install the built-in Analysis Toolpak, but Excel for the Mac OS now requires a free downloadable add-on, like Statplus: Mac LE. These tools amp up your spreadsheet software with features like regression analysis, analysis of variance, and sampling. Excel costs about $120 per license as a stand-alone product, with volume discounts available.
The most popular open-source statistical software, R requires some programming knowledge to navigate its command-line interface. Users enter lines of code to execute R’s functions, but even those lacking a sophisticated computer science background can learn it quickly. R runs on a variety of operating systems, and its thriving user community will help if you get stuck. Nonprofit staffers familiar with programming basics and with a firm grasp of statistical concepts may find R a good choice.

For More Advanced Needs

For users with moderate-sized data sets, Stata is an affordable option, starting at $1,195 ($600 for academic users) for STATA/IC, the standard version. The software lacks the power of some other options on the market, and can only open one data set at a time. Unlike other proprietary software, though, Stata is easily customized, and can handle downloadable user-written commands that significantly expand its capabilities. Stata also draws praise for its tech support, helpful user community, and relative ease of use. Stata has both a graphic, menu-based interface and a command-line interface for those with more programming know-how.
IBM's answer to statistical analysis receives high marks for its user-friendliness. In addition to a syntax editor, SPSS Statistics has a point-and-click graphical interface that doesn't require substantial programming knowledge. This ease of use comes at the expense of some control over statistical output. Nonprofits in need of basic statistical analysis won't find this an issue, but if you seek to do more sophisticated data manipulation, SPSS might prove frustrating. The standard desktop package starts at $5,120 for a user license and a year of support, with higher pricing for concurrent use.

The Top of the Line

With more than one-third of the market share, the SAS Institute is the giant of the statistical analysis software scene. Strengths include power and efficiency in linking large data sets, and a comprehensive built-in set of statistical analysis features.  SAS Analytics Pro, the entry-level desktop version of the software, costs $8,500 per user for first-year license fees alone and about $2,000 per year for ongoing use. This software is not for novices, and requires a high degree of statistical and technological expertise to run it. However, SAS offers excellent tech support, and its prevalence means finding others in your network who use the software will be a snap.

A Note of Caution

If your statistical background consists solely of hazy memories of Stats 101, a refresher might be in order. Misrepresenting data, even if done unintentionally, will get a nonprofit into trouble with its donors, board, and other stakeholders. In this case, a little information can be a bad thing.
Thanks to Henry Quinn for his recommendations and advice.


Project Management Tools That Nonprofits Should Know About

This is a guest post written by Ryan Sauer, a writer and editor for Bisk Education in association with University Alliance. He actively writes about project management and leadership in different industries and strives to help professionals succeed in getting their PMP certification online.

Most nonprofits face a challenge many large corporations don’t—a lack of “manpower.” While large corporations or businesses are able to designate specific roles to individual people, it’s common for nonprofits to designate multiple responsibilities to each team member. As a result, adept project management becomes crucial to reach the organization’s goals efficiently and effectively. 

There are a number of applications that can help with project-related tasks, including the following (note that they’re all Cloud-based, which means you don’t need to install them, but you do need an internet connection): 

Project Scheduling


Gantter Project – For a simple-to-learn solution that fits into your budget, consider this a clean and simple project management scheduling tool that allows users to share project schedules and invite others to view or edit project schedules together. (Cost: Free) 


Communication and Collaboration

Glasscubes – If you need more than basic project scheduling, this app lets you collaborate within created workspaces called Glasscubes, communicate seamlessly, and share documents effortlessly with cloud server support. Other features include built-in conference calling, email and lead tracking, and customized reports. (Cost: Free for basic plan, upgraded monthly plans are available)
Time Tracking
gTrax – If you are required to manage and record the time spent on specific projects, this service lets you input time and resources spent on project tasks. gTrax is designed to enhance project management processes by creating an integrated system for time recording and reporting. (Cost: Free up to three users, then a monthly fee per user)

Brainstorming and Mind Mapping

WiseMapping – Optimize and keep track of brainstorming ideas with WiseMapping. This web-based mind mapping tool leverages a combination of Web 2.0 and customization features that can provide seamless visual collaboration among members of your team. (Cost: Free!)

Diagrams and Flowcharts

Gliffy – This web-based app allows users to create diagrams and flowcharts from scratch or templates., and lets them collaborate, share and track changes with anyone. (Cost: Free for a single user, standard and pro plans available).

Wrapping it Up

One of the most important rules of project management is to establish and maintain a high level of communication between team members, including all stakeholders. Tools like these can help improve communication and prevent things like scheduling from becoming more confusing than they need to be.
Simplified communication can bring everything into focus for the entire team and help make your project a success, moving you closer to your organization’s goals.


Marketing is Dead; Long Live Marketing

I’m really sick of people saying that marketing is dead.  Harvard Business Review, you really should know better. 

When someone says marketing is dead, it makes me immediately think that they don’t know anything about marketing. I think when they say this, they tend to mean that large scale advertising isn’t as effective as it used to be in an age of social media. Fine. I don’t know enough about that realm to argue its degree of health, but that’s only one small piece of marketing.

It is, quite literally, Marketing 101. Anyone remember back to college? The four Ps? Marketing is made up of four components: Product, Price, Placement, Promotion. So from a nonprofit perspective, marketing includes:

  • Defining the unique value proposition, or brand, of your organization.
  • Knowing what your clients, customers and donors want.
  • Offering the right thing for your mission and client needs.
  • Helping people understand what you offer.
  • Reaching out to people where they are instead of expecting them to just show up.
  • Convincing them that what you offer is worth having/ donating to.
  • Making sure that the effort or money they put in is appropriate to the value clients and customers perceive in them.

Which of these aspects of marketing has social media killed? None of them. Come on. It’s plausible that social media could change some aspects, but it doesn’t mean that somehow marketing is no longer meaningful.  Long live direct mail, earned media, branding, taglines, conference presentations, white papers, personal outreach, etc, etc, etc.  

Long live marketing.

Moving (systems) sucks!

moving boxI've just recently completed a move to a new house with my wife, and we've *finally* reached the stage of knowing where everything is, and things are more or less how they're going to be for a while. It was an exhausting, stressful process, but at the end, we're very glad we've moved and can see ourselves here for at least a few years, at least until having the mortgage becomes financially worthwhile! During the move process, it occurred to me that moving to a new house has a lot of similarities with moving to a new technology system.

  • Long before you actually decide to move to a new place, you (hopefully) have planned out the process, with the key dates and tasks assigned to appropriate people or vendors (the cable company, utility company, etc). You should be doing the same thing with your technology system move. It's a big project, so make sure you've got ballpark timelines, responsible people, key dates all mapped out and clearly communicated. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the "good enough" here - it's better to put a few guesses rather than leave off a major chunk of work.
  • When you make the decision to move, you probably have a list of criteria that you're using to decide where to move, such as what part of town you'd like to be in, what kind of house or apartment you're looking for, what amenities you'd like to be close to, how many bedrooms you'd like, what schools are nearby, and more. When choosing to move to a new technology system, you should be doing the same things: making a list of criteria that are important to you and seeing which "houses" match your requirements. For example, when moving to a new donor management system, it may be very important to you that the system generate mailing labels, but it may not be as important to you to have integrated on-line donations. It's also extremely helpful to write these things down, especially if it's not just you making all the decisions (which it rarely is, even if you think it is)!
  • You might choose to use a vendor to help you with the process (a moving company), which is what my wife and I chose to do (hey, we're grown-ups, sadly, the days of pizza and beer with friends and boxes are over, we have too much stuff!). We looked at lots of reviews on Yelp and Angie's List, and asked our friends who they used to help us make an informed decision. You should be doing the same things if you choose to work with a vendor: ask around (perhaps on the NTEN Discuss mailing list) for other organizations who've worked with them, look at online reviews if they have some, and ask the vendor themselves if they've worked with an organization like yours. Ultimately you want to know that you've chosen based on something more than the salesperson was really nice.
  • Once the actual move is complete, there's still a lot more work to do! Right after we moved, we still had to clean up the house, fix a few small things that needed repair, and, of course, unpack! It's been about a little over a month, and we're only just now starting to feel settled in. This is the first week I stopped looking for the silverware in the wrong drawer! Moving technology systems is the same: even after you've made the big switch, there's probably data to be cleaned up, some tweaks to be made to the system, and ultimately some time for people to feel comfortable in the new system. It's not always obvious where everything is, and people may be "looking in the wrong drawer" for a while after the move.
  • Finally, even before we felt settled in, we sent out an invitation to a housewarming party. We knew that if we had this deadline to motivate us, it would inspire us to take care of things. Were there last minute trips to Target and Goodwill? You bet there were!  But was the place ready for guests when party-time arrived? Yes, it was. You should schedule a time to celebrate your move to the new system you've chosen! Sometimes it can be fun to hold a celebratory "funeral" for the old system, and a welcome to the new system. This can get people excited about the completion of the move process, and inspire things to get done by the party deadline.

Hopefully once you've made the big move, you'll be glad you did, and remember, moving sucks for everyone, so even if it's painful, don't forget that we've all been there!

Blackbaud Weighs In on Common Ground

In light of the recent announcement that Blackbaud would be retiring its Common Ground product, and the conversation that generated in the nonprofit community, we thought it would be a good idea to provide a few answers to some of the questions we’ve been hearing. Jana Eggers, Blackbaud’s Senior Vice President of Products and Marketing, was kind enough to weigh in.

First Jana wanted to clarify that the announcement only affects organizations using the Common Ground product, not Blackbaud’s Common Ground Enterprise or Luminate products. You can determine the product version of your Common Ground application by looking under the Quick Help section in the left sidebar within the application itself. Affected Common Ground clients are on versions 4.0 and above.

We asked six questions. The following responses are unedited, though we did ask Jana to clarify twice when we thought her answers were vague. We appreciate her taking the time. Note that Idealware is not endorsing any of Blackbaud’s statements reflected in this post—we’re simply sharing them with our readers.

1.      Common Ground seemed to hold a specific, useful niche in the CRM space, and at Idealware, we’re disappointed to see it go. In light of its viability in this market, why did you choose to retire this particular product?
After the acquisition of Convio, the combined team evaluated our full product portfolio. For fundraising and CRM products serving small- to mid-sized nonprofits, this meant looking at Common Ground, eTapestry, and The Raiser's Edge. In three months, we reviewed the solutions, evaluated current customer usage, looked at industry reports, and talked to customers about their future needs – all efforts focused on determining which solutions would most drive success and satisfaction for nonprofits.
It was a difficult decision, as all of the solutions have strong presence and benefits. And, the platform was one clear benefit of Common Ground.  In the end, the decision netted down to:
·         Decreasing the number overlapping products. We could not define a clear market for Common Ground that did not almost fully overlap with eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge.
·         The amount of investment needed to bring Common Ground to the state customers expect from a full-featured fundraising and CRM solution. It is at an earlier stage than our other two products.
·         Number of customers impacted. eTapestry has over 10,000 nonprofits using the product. Common Ground has about 400.
And we also had:
·         eTapestry with a proven track record of providing a simple, easy to use, and affordable solution for over 10,000 nonprofits. 
·         The Raiser’s Edge as the market leader for nonprofits and provides the most complete solution for a nonprofit's fundraising and CRM needs, being used by over 13,000 nonprofits.
·         eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge with integrated Internet capabilities and add-on solutions, and a robust partner and cohort network to lower the cost of deployment and use.
Minimizing the number of customers impacted by any decision and maximizing our customers’ ability to be successful was the key part of our decision.
We are working with all Common Ground clients to discuss their specific options moving forward.
2.      If Blackbaud felt Common Ground was extraneous, it stands to reason that other products in your line are similarly extraneous—what does the future hold for Luminate CRM, Sphere CRM or other related products in the Blackbaud line?
Extraneous is not how we felt about the product. This was a difficult decision and we did not take lightly the impact we would have on customers or partners. The decision came down to us being able to better serve the nonprofit industry by focusing on eTapestry and The Raiser’s Edge in this area.
This is not new for us, though some have argued we haven’t done it enough. Sphere CRM is one example of how Blackbaud has refocused a product. After our acquisition of Kintera in 2008, we went through a similar review process and decided to focus that product on the peer-to-peer fundraising space and to stop offering it as a CRM product. Since then, the vast majority of customers who were using the Sphere CRM functionality have moved to other Blackbaud products and are much happier than before.
Regarding Sphere, again, we looked at customer impact and market served in this review. Sphere supports over 3500 customers, and specifically serves small to mid-sized nonprofits well. Team Raiser supports larger nonprofits well for their peer-to-peer fundraising needs. The markets are distinct.
Regarding Luminate CRM, we are committed to the platform. We see a group of organizations adopting the platform – a psychographic more than a demographic, in this case. We believe that for those organizations, the platform is the right solution and we want to support them with the best nonprofit-specific solution on that platform. We have a roadmap for Luminate CRM’s continued development and are integrating it with other Blackbaud offerings, like Blackbaud Direct Marketing and Blackbaud Merchant Solutions. We believe the platform will continue to play an important role in the nonprofit industry and we will continue to develop on it and integrate our products with it.
3.      The result of this action is that Blackbaud is consolidating product. In the Content Management Space, you currently have three tools: NetCommunity, Luminate CMS and Sphere CMS. Do you plan to retire some of these products to consolidate that line, as well?
Blackbaud has solutions in the online fundraising and engagement space which requires a certain amount of content management functionality to support those needs. Most of our clients use these products in conjunction with another CMS.
Let me explain the different markets the products you mention serve:
·         Blackbaud NetCommunity only works with The Raiser's Edge and Education Edge. It is optimized to work with these Blackbaud solutions, but it is not a standalone internet marketing and fundraising solution.
·         Luminate Online, while integrated with Luminate CRM and soon to be integrated with The Raisers’s Edge, is a standalone solution. This serves the needs of nonprofits that want to start with internet marketing and fundraising independently of their CRM solution.
·         Sphere (as covered above in #2) serves the peer-to-peer fundraising needs of small and mid-sized nonprofits.
4.      What is Blackbaud’s vision for Common Ground users in April 2014 when the product is discontinued? Will the system be turned off? Should users be looking to migrate to a new system now?
First, there is no immediate disruption to Common Ground customers. They do not need to migrate now. We are working with each customer to build individual plans to migrate them efficiently. These plans will include incentives such as implementation, conversion, and comparable pricing.
Although we hope that all of our Common Ground customers will move to another Blackbaud solution, we recognize that some may want to pursue other options. We are committed to treating every Common Ground customer, regardless of their choice, with the sincere and thoughtful care they deserve.
As a summary:
·         Before March 31, 2014, we will work with each Common Ground customer to support their migration to another solution.
·         We will not extend current contacts ending before March 31, 2014 past March 31, 2014.
·         We will continue to fulfill our contractual obligations to clients with valid contracts past March 2014 through the end of their contract.
·         After March 31, 2014 or the end of the contract with a specific customer, whichever is later, that customer’s users will not be able to access the Common Ground package, the support portal, or external applications that run Common Ground Fundraising, like online forms.
We will be addressing questions collected from the Common Ground community during our upcoming Common Ground Town Hall meeting and encourage people to attend for the latest updates.
5.      Is Blackbaud considering making Common Ground available to users beyond the sunset, or retirement, date by either extending the managed package licenses indefinitely, making Common Ground available as a no-cost, unmanaged package through the App Exchange or another platform, and/or releasing the Common Ground code under an open source license?
We will not be offering options like these because we don’t believe they are ultimately in the best interest for our customers.
6.      As you think about the Blackbaud roadmap and continuing to innovate your products, how will you decide what innovations to take on?  As you have a number of different products on different platforms, does your roadmap involve concentrating on specific products, integrating product together, or somehow trying to build features that enhance a number of your products at once?
To drive product decisions, we consider many aspects: customer needs, opportunity fit, market and product status, and a business analysis. Consideration of platform is part of this analysis, but not an overriding factor.
To drive innovation, we use a Discovery process to go deeper into the customer needs and drive to an understanding of how we can solve those needs well. Product experts across engineering, product management and user experience work together to accomplish this. As an example, it is not uncommon in this process to talk to 30 clients and iterate on 25 prototypes before writing a single line of code. If you want to read more about the general methodology we follow, check out Inspired: How to Create Products that Customers Love.
And we are absolutely interested in making sure products that should integrate together do -- like we have with The Raiser's Edge and Blackbaud Net Community, Blackbaud CRM and Blackbaud Internet Solutions, and in the future both The Raiser's Edge and Blackbaud CRM will integrate with Luminate Online.
Our guiding principle for our products is for nonprofits to say: ”Because of Blackbaud I spend more time on my mission.”

Jana also agreed to field a limited number of follow-up questions from the comments, so if you’ve got one to ask, fire away. Idealware will choose two or three to pass along.

Choosing Giving Levels for Online Donations

When thinking about your online donation landing page it is essential to consider the giving levels that you suggest to your potential donors. These little numbers end up conveying a lot about your organization and your fundraising priorities and can directly influence the giving amount that a donor chooses. Ask too little and you will likely receive less than a donor had planned to give, ask too much and you may deter lower level donors from giving at all. 

There are a number of different approaches you can take to crafting your online giving levels. Take a look at the ASPCA, Nature Conservancy and American Red Cross as examples.  The ASPCA lists dollar amounts from $20 to $100 working to elicit lower level gifts while the Nature Conservancy lists amounts from $50 to $10,000 implying an expected donation of much larger sums. The ASPCA is clearly speaking to first time or lower level donors while the Nature Conservancy has made a choice to address higher level donors with less attention to small gifts. Interestingly, and worth considering, the Red Cross chooses not to list suggested giving amounts at all. 

Okay, so assuming you do want to suggest levels, how do you choose what the right giving levels are for your organization? (For the purpose of this post let’s narrow the field to one-time donations as opposed to monthly gifts.  I’ll address that thought process at a later time.) For one-time donations, most often I see levels at $25, $50, $100, $250 and $500.  These numbers reflect a generic progression of gift size for small- or medium-sized organizations.  Let’s start here and ask some questions to see if we can make an argument to change any numbers in the progression.

First, take a look at your donation history overall. What is your lowest gift? If you get a substantial number of gifts smaller than $25, consider lowering the low point to $15 or $20 to include those donors in the online process. Plan on using the low number to try and push those low-level donations higher, so if you see a large number of $10 donations, consider making the lowest level donation $15 to encourage a slightly larger gift. (It is true that typing a 3 instead of a 2 is a lot easier than writing thirty instead of twenty on a check! So if you are seeing $15 via check, assume you can push at least a little online.) On the flip side, if you only get a few gifts lower than, say $35, consider that as your low level gift and work up from there. Don’t give your donors an easy option to give lower than their standard, make them type in $25 instead of $35 rather than providing a simple radio button for a lower gift. 

Next, consider your highest gift amount listed. What is a realistically high gift amount for your organization?  If you rarely see gifts larger than $1000 then don’t list $5000 as a top number! As with the lower level, you want to try and use these suggested amounts as ways to push your donors to stretch their gift.  So if most larger gifts register at $250, consider a high level of $300 or $350 to push that gift higher but not alienate your donors. 

At the high level, you also need to consider how much you are willing to give up in donation administration fees.  If you are working with a 4% fee for credit card processing, at $25 you pay a $1 fee- not much to think about, but at $1000 that fee is $40, which is a substantial amount to loose from the donation.  Make sure to calculate in your admin fees in the determination of the high value you want to encourage via online donation tools. 

And once you have you high and low value, use your common sense to determine price points in between.  Try to list somewhere between four and six values in total, with the increments being closer together at the low end and then farther apart as the amounts get higher. Always make sure to add an “Other” option, and do list that after the high end donation level to imply that this is for gifts larger than the top amount listed.

As a best practice, consider annotating (if your online donation too will allow) what each donation amount will “buy”.  Take a look at the ASPCA’s donation page for a fantastic example of this concept.  

Remember, the numbers you choose to suggest to your potential donors are pushing them to give at certain dollar amounts. Try to push your donors to give a little more, but make sure to provide them with options that meet their giving level. If you can’t find a reason to change the $25, $50, $100, $250 and $500 progression then go with it.  No matter what you choose, run the giving levels for a test period, then stop and evaluate the response and adjust accordingly. 

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