Blogs

Behind the Research: How Idealware Learned More About The Reality of Nonprofit Program Evaluation

As you might imagine, we at Idealware think there's a lot of value in the data you get from a well-designed, properly executed survey. Over the summer, we worked with one of our very talented interns, Rachel, to help her design a survey that was meant to get at the heart of a question we've been pondering for a while at Idealware: How are nonprofits conducting program evaluation in the real world?

We released the results of the survey that Rachel designed (with assistance from my colleague Kyle and our ED Laura) just a couple of weeks ago, in the form of our report The Reality of Measuring Human Service Programs: Results of a Survey, which you can download for free. While we always publish our methodology to help our readers understand how we've arrived at our conclusions, I thought folks might be interested in a slightly more informal look at how we design surveys over here, since it's a process we take very seriously. 

The germ of the idea came from the very question I posed in that intro paragraph: How are nonprofits conducting program evaluation in the real world? Since we work in the nexus of nonprofits and technology, and most program evaluation efforts need at least some basic technology to work, we were fairly familiar with the academic theories associated with program evaluation, and we'd recently completed a report generously funded by the Hewlett Foundation that aimed to present an overview of the kinds of technology and software nonprofits might use in their evaluation. What we didn't know, however, was how nonprofits were actually conducting program evaluation at their organizations. How often were they doing it? What tools were they using? How did they think it was working? 

Since we can't reasonably talk to all the nonprofits on our list individually (though we'd love to!), we thought a survey would be the best tool to help us answer this question. We also decided to focus on human service nonprofits to allow us more easily draw comparisons between respondants. We're not immune from technology challenges ourselves at Idealware, and one of the issues we faced was the fact that we don't have data about the mission of every nonprofit on our mailing list. Since we couldn't really segment the list to just the people working at human service organizations, we chose to send it to Idealware's entire mailing list in the hopes that human services staff would self-identify and take the survey, and that anyone else on our list would forgive the email that didn't directly relate to their work. We take all-list emails really seriously, and weighed the pros and cons of the decision before deciding that the potential of alienating our list was low. 

Rachel worked closely with Laura and Kyle to define a survey that wasn't overly long and that covered the topics we cared about, like who did the program evaluation work at the respondant's organization, demographic information like mission, size, and budget, and what kind of data the organization generally collected about its programs. We refined the survey drafts to include questions that weren't double-barreled-- ie, asked two or more questions in the guise of asking just one-- or biased. We also provided some free-text questions to collect narrative information, but included them only at the end of the survey, which is best practice. 

We had 120 respondants to the survey, and we analyzed their answers to provide the information presended in our most recent report.  As we noted in the report, "the results from this survey clearly do not statistically represent the whole of the nonprofit sector", but it definitely provides some interesting food for thought. We also included three case studies that we wrote up after site visits to nonprofits in Portland, Maine, where most of the Idealware staff is based. It's our hope that the case studies provide another means of looking at this topic, as well as some  of the challenges and victories that real-life nonprofits experience in this space.

We're really proud of the final result, and are eager to hear what you think. Download The Reality of Measuring Human Service Programs: Results of a Survey, and let us know if what we learned from the survey resonates.

 

Thanking Your Donors: Q&A

With our year-end fundraising behind us, we've thanked our donors and are already moving on to think about next  year's campaign--but we wanted to take a minute to talk about that ever-important thank you. You should be thanking donors for every fundraising campaign. We say it a lot, but it bears repeating—thank your donors.

Q: How frequently should we thank our donors in, say, a year?

In an ideal world I’d like to thank donors once a month. That doesn’t mean I want to send 12 letters or cards. Using technology like email, blogs, videos or social media can make this a manageable goal. Planning out a monthly Facebook post appreciating your donors is not a huge task, but can go a long way to make donors feel appreciated and encourage prospects to pull the trigger and donate for a first time. Creating a short profile of a donor every month (or every other month) for your blog can be a great way to generate content while showing people how much you appreciate their contribution.
 
Q: Most people know that a “personal” letter is just a mail merge. Great time saver, but it’s not very personal. What can make our thank you efforts seem more personal?
I love the idea of mail-merging names into emails. I received an amazing thank you letter from Planned Parenthood a few years ago that said “Thank you Andrea!” in huge letters on the top of the email. Now, I know this was just a mail-merge, like any old thank you letter, but seeing it online somehow felt more personal.
And while I’m a big fan of technology, I really feel like the personal phone call is the way to go. Each year our Board members make personal phone calls to everyone one of our donors. Granted, we only get about 100 for our end of year campaigns, but it is a wonderful touch point. Not only does it make our donors feel appreciated, it provides our Board a perfect opportunity to connect with our constituents directly.
 
Q: Is it possible to thank donors too much? So that they’re asking, “Why is this org spending so much on postage and mailing labels”, other token gifts?
Yes and no, I do think you can send too much mail. Especially to millennial donors (or online donors) who are often very conscious of the paper and money wasted. However, when you think about all of the ways you can augment the paper thank you letter with online tools, I don’t feel like you can really thank people too much. Just make sure you are sincere in your appreciations. Remember, reporting back on your progress is a huge way to thank your donors. And that is something you should try to do every day.
 
 

The Beauty of Tech is More than Skin Deep

In 2013, lots of new high-tech products came out that could revolutionize their respective fields. Logic dictates that we should be standing in awe at these crowning achievements, moving us ever closer to a future out of science fiction, but that’s just not happening. Before we even have a chance to put our hands on a new product, we are rushing to the comment section of our favorite tech blogs to call it out for being “ugly.”

Why are we so quick to despise a new idea or product, and for its looks of all things? Is it jealous budding inventors? Cynics scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to dislike? Website vandals seeing what they can get away with on an anonymous internet? Or is the popularity of internet retailers necessitating snap judgments based on a thumbnail?
 
For example: wearable tech really seems to be what the future looks like. Between Google Glass, GPS jackets, and even neck tattoo microphones, there are a multitude of wild, imaginative ways that tech companies are rethinking the way we live our daily lives. Whether you think their designs are perfect or not, it’s exciting to just think about how far technology has come, and what the future still holds.
 
One of the most talked about tech trends of 2013 was smartwatches, essentially, mini-smartphones that sit on your wrist. I’ve seen my share of sci-fi movies, and the wrist communicator is one of the most memorable tropes that come to mind. But for something that has only existed in our imaginations until earlier this year, there sure seem to be a lot of harsh words being spread about the look of these devices.
 
If you have to wear something, it should probably be marginally fashionable, but does it need to be more stylish than the phone in your pocket, or the computer at your desk? Compared to the first cell phones, or calculator watches from the 80’s, smartwatches from Samsung, Sony, and even the Kickstarter funded Pebble are unquestionably sleek and modern. Plus, they often come in enough colors that most people could find one they wouldn’t mind showing off.
 
Here’s the caveat about smart watches from my perspective: they aren’t yet standalone devices. Current smart watches only sync up with your smartphone. While I still think it’s an amazing idea, and an indicator of what's to come, I am not planning on paying $200-$300 so I don’t have to pull my phone out of my pocket. But if they looked prettier, that wouldn’t change. This is the smartwatch’s first at bat, and I don’t think anyone should expect a home run, but if you never acknowledge its potential it will never get any better.
 
Focusing on the "ugly" tells the manufacturer that you value looks over functionality, so when they release a new version, you run the risk of getting something that’s easier on the eyes, but might not actually work any better without a price premium. If we want smartwatches to become more useful anytime soon, we should be griping about the inside, not the outside.
 
This article looks at a prototype of an upcoming gaming console being developed by Valve called the Steam Machine. Their idea is to create a computer that lives in your living room, with a wireless controller as versatile and accurate as a keyboard and mouse, but suited for the couch. The first reports of the available hardware are impressive, but one of its biggest selling points is the concept that you can buy a cheaper model, and swap in upgraded graphics cards, processors, and RAM later.
 
In my opinion, this concept has the capacity to give a big boost to PC hardware manufacturers, who are seeing increasingly low sales numbers. It could also make a lot more people thoughtful about what actually goes on inside of a computer, what each part does, and how it affects performance. But all that doesn't stop people from obsessing over the exterior.
 
If you can’t tell the difference between the PS4, Xbox One, and the Steam Machine by looking at them, you’re not alone. Gaming consoles have almost always been black/gray rectangles with a few blinking lights to tell you it’s on and it’s working. I don’t see any reason why Valve should be expected to fix what’s not broken. They’re clearly innovative in ways that are more important than aesthetics, but naysayers are still putting these products down based on a minor detail.
 
I am personally not a big fan of Apple products, but I will give them credit where credit is due: everything they make is stunningly beautiful. They are so flawless in design that countless PC makers have ripped off the island keyboards and sleek aluminum design of a Macbook Pro, and I don’t blame them. Beautiful design is Apple’s brand, I get that. What I dislike is that they can release the same phone in new colors and call it a new product (then again, Google is encouraging their fans to play dress up with their smartphones too). It worries me when we’ve reached the point that we’re not focusing on innovation, powerful hardware, and ease of use, but rather, how cool we will look when we pull it out at Starbucks.
 
However, Apple has done some things that have gotten my attention lately. They recently released Mavericks, an operating system update completely free of charge to anyone running a relatively recent version of OS X. Apple’s model for operating systems differs from Microsoft’s in that while Microsoft releases a new operating system every few years, and stops supporting them after more than a decade, Apple releases a new operating system every year, and requires users upgrade every few years. Granted, Apple’s operating systems have traditionally been less expensive, but it evens out when you consider the amount of time some people have been hanging on to their copies of XP, for example.
 
Offering a product that works better, and yes, looks better, for free is totally out of left field for Apple. Perhaps now that they’ve got their visual identity firmly cemented, they’re working on growing their customer base to people who can't always pay that premium for beauty. They’re also rumored to be developing their own wearable tech, but are smartly taking their time. I suspect they’re waiting to see what people want from wearable tech rather than rushing something to market to be on the heels of a trend. It’s also expected that whatever they come out with, it will have at least some power without being tethered to a smartphone sister. Additionally, they’ve been working on more advances that might only appeal to pseudo-techies like me: moving to 64-bit processors, even in their smartphones, and offering unlocked versions of their smartphones for example.
 
What does all this mean for nonprofit technology? I would suggest that if you’re looking for software or hardware for your office, ignore the visual appeal completely (unless it’s the tie breaker between two products). In a perfect world, everyone could outfit their entire office with beautiful, 27” iMacs, but the fact remains that those bulky PC desktops are generally cheaper to buy, fix, upgrade, and use in an everyday office setting. I would even suggest against any laptops unless you travel very frequently (again, they’re more expensive, harder to fix, and have a shorter life expectancy).
 
The same is true of software. While a donor management system, for example, might have pretty colors, well laid out navigation, and more fundraising speedometers than you could ever use, it doesn’t mean it is the right one for you. Sometimes the plainest system will have the set of features you need most, at the right price. If you need a new office suite, and you can get away with using Google Drive or OpenOffice, go for it. They might not look as nice as other options, but they’ll get you where you need to go for free. If you need a mobile website, but can't afford a full on responsive design overhaul, a simple but usable mobile site will be much better than a pretty one that doesn't work.
 
It’s easy to get distracted by fancy features, but if you’ll never use them, they are useless. Nonprofits have minimal technology budgets, and little time to waste, so they must prioritize what really matters. The next time you need to decide on a new purchase for your organization, repeat this mantra: “it doesn’t really matter what it looks like. It just has to work well.” Take those Amazon ratings to heart a little less, and ask for the opinion of people you trust. While I can’t say the internet trolls will ever stop focusing on whatever minor issue is most easily disliked that week, in the long term, tech companies will take notice.

Best of the Web: January 2014

The Idealware “Best of the Web” is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions.

 
To kick off the year, Markets for Good released a free e-book, Selected Readings: Making Sense of Data and Information in the Social Sectorthat provides a curated retrospective on the last 15 months of posts from the organization's blog. Each post is updated for the e-book by its author to reflect discussions or comments generated by the original post, new thinking on the topics, or any changes the posts helped to effect. While the entire e-book is as rich in content as it is in design, we're especially fond of the first section, In Search of Better Data About Nonprofit Programs, written by Idealware founder and Executive Director Laura Quinn.
 
What Nonprofits Can Expect from Facebook in 2014: Pay to Play (Epolitics)
Facebook has become one of the most popular online outlets for nonprofits to connect with their fans. One of its largest attractions is the enormous potential for reach; anyone with a free account can follow your every update. However, with the growing popularity of paid promotion on Facebook, should nonprofits be worried? According to this article, maybe so...
 
These Scientists Studied Why Internet Stories Go Viral. You Won't Believe What They Found (Fast Company)
Believe it or not, no matter what communications channel you use, content is still king. Make your audience feel something with that content, and it will never be forgotten. (Cute animals and kids are optional, but never hurt.)
 
Come Back NOW! (Idealware)
Idealware's Research Director Elizabeth Pope draws a few conclusions from a recent online shopping experience that nonprofits can benefit from in the areas of constituent engagement and privacy. (Don't miss the comments on this one.)
 
Lessons Learned from the HealthCare.gov Rollout (NPEngage)
Starting even a small technology project is not something to be taken lightly. What better place to learn from than one of the biggest technology projects in the last year: the launch of HealthCare.gov? Tips like "leave yourself plenty of time" and "test things before they go live" become even more invaluable when you don't have the budget of a large country behind you. Learn from the government's mistakes.
 
Seven Powerful Facebook Statistics You Should Know for a More-Engaging Facebook Page (The Next Web)
While there are no surefire ways to make your Facebook posts generate thousands of likes and comments, The New Web did some research to determine how you can experiment to improve your engagement.
 
What Nonprofits Can Learn from Public Radio about Storytelling (NTEN)
While you may not have anyone on staff with a silky-smooth radio voice, you can still take the public radio approach to heart when it comes to telling your organization's stories. Using audio as a storytelling tool can sometimes draw people in more than the written word. Will Coley explains how using the right tools, and of course telling a powerful story, will go a long way in creating the intimate feeling of a public radio broadcast.
 
Five Web Design Trends To Watch Right Now (Frogloop)
While making sure your site works on mobile devices is top of mind for most nonprofits, there are still plenty of ways to make your desktop site look modern and refined. Trying new things can breathe new life into a dusty site. In some cases, even small changes can make a big difference, as the very smart people behind the Frogloop blog show here.
 
New and Improved Annual Reports: From Two–Pagers and Postcards to Videos and Infographics (Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog)
If your annual report is a chore (to create or read) you may want to consider changing it up. You could add a modern flare by incorperating infographics to show progress, videos of your organization at work, or just think about how you can condense the information into a few short pages. In this article, nonprofit communications rockstar Kivi Leroux Miller provides some good examples to help inspire you for 2014.
 
Five Reasons Why Your Nonprofit Must Prioritize the Mobile Web in 2014 (Nonprofit Tech for Good)
It's almost guaranteed that in 2014 people will be viewing your website and opening your emails on mobile devices. Poor compatibility might be a negative to that potential donor, volunteer, future staff member, or lifelong fan. This Nonprofit Tech For Good post looks at a few of the facts on how people are interacting with nonprofits in the mobile connected age.

All of the Data Collection, None of the Data Entry

In many of our minds, "data collection" brings up a vision of paper intake forms and never ending data entry.  In fact, in our upcoming survey of what outcomes measurement looks like in the real world, one of the most commonly repeated themes (alarmingly) was that human services organization didn’t have all the data they wanted because they didn’t have enough computers for all their front line staff to enter it.  
 
There are of course many good reasons to have enough computers to allow all your staff to enter their data… but that’s not the only way to do data collection.  More people, I think, should be talking about passive ways to collect data – meaning, no one has to do any data entry, but rather the data – and often, lots of it—comes to you.  
 
What would this mean?  There’s a whole marketplace of passive data collection devices like:
  • Swipe cards. With inexpensive machines, you can code a card with a magnetic strip (like a hotel room key), and then automatically record wherever it’s swiped.  So your clients could swipe to get their free lunch, or to enter the library.  
  • Bar codes.  Even more straightforwardly, you could print bar codes onto a label, stick the label on things, and then read them with a hand reader. Most people think of package tracking when they think of this, but there’s no reason you couldn’t use it to track any kind of inventory or item.  For instance, you could scan the bar code on an item in museum storage to get information on it, or scan a patient bracelet to get a full case history.
  • GPS location sensors.  GPS sensors can report location information back to a central location. For instance, you could have a delivery vehicle automatically record where it is every ten minutes, and later dump all that data to look at the most efficient routes.  Or you could count the number of site visits a case worker does based on the number of stops her car takes.
  • Personal sensors.  For those clients who are willing to wear something a bit more intrusive, you can get all sorts of data – heart rate, mood, and more.  It’s very common for those with heart problems to wear a heart monitor around.  With enough buy-in from your clients, you could imagine a fascinating set of data that would report on when your anger management clients are most likely to get angry. 
  • Electronic gauges.  Many things can be easily gauged with a small device – for instance, rain amounts, energy usage, water flow.  For instance, a gauge on an office bathroom sink could tell you how often people are washing their hands.  
With these types of devices, the data is collected automatically—which means that reliability of the data is generally higher.  The GPS doesn’t forget to check in when scheduled, and the water faucet isn’t going to pretend that you’re washing your hands more than you do.  Instead of a huge pile of paper forms to be entered, you have a huge pile of data waiting to be analyzed.  Which of course isn’t the same as all the answers to your questions… but that’s another post.

Come Rain, Sleet, or Snow: How Does Your Nonprofit Work When Mother Nature Acts Up?

With much of the Northeast (Idealware Global Headquarters included) battered by a blizzard this week, I feel that this is as good a reminder as any to think about how nonprofit organizations can prepare and plan for how weather can interrupt their regular work days. With the predictably bad Maine winter weather, and all our traveling, Idealware is no stranger to snow days and cancelled flights.

When bad weather hits, and travel to and from the office gets hazardous, are your staff members able to work from home effectively? While some of Idealware's staff have laptops that can easily be taken home when a storm hits, many of us (myself included) can't say we'd want to do the same with our desktop computers, and that can complicate matters. How do you make sure your staff members have the equipment and software to get work done while bundled up at home?
 
This is also a time to think about how your data is stored -- can staff members access the files they need when they're at home? While temporary storage devices like flash drives and the tried and true method of email attachments can tide an employee over for a day or two of snow, they might not be able to cut it for longer storms. Last year, when Hurricane Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic, parts of New York and New Jersey were without power for days, many offices were inaccessible due to flooding, and even offices that stayed dry may have been inaccessible to staff members who depend on the (flooded) subway lines.
 
Clearly, it's difficult to expect your staff members to get work done when they lack power or internet access, but good planning and preparation can ensure that work can still happen when the roads are too bad to travel, or planes are grounded.
 
How does your organization handle bad weather? Share your preparations (or tribulations) in the comments.

 

Come back NOW!

In an effort to avoid those sanity-draining trips to the mall, I've been doing a lot more shopping online. Sometimes I miss the experience of just browsing in a shop, and will check out the website of a retailer to see what they have to offer without necessarily intending to buy anything. But a recent trip to the website of a major home goods chain (I won't call them out here, but their name incorporates both crockery and farm architecture) made me wonder if "just browsing" is even a thing that can exist online anymore--and what the implications are for nonprofit list-building.

When I got to the landing page of the store's website, I was confronted with a popup that offered $10 off my order in exchange for my email address. OK, so I wasn't looking to buy anything that day, but not wanting to pass up a good deal, I entered my email address. I poked around the curtains section for a little while and then left without making a purchase or putting anything in my cart. When I checked my email later that day, I had gotten a welcome message, which I quickly flagged into Unroll.me, my preferred means of managing mass emails. 

The next day, I got a weird email. "Too good to pass up..." it read, and the body had a picture of one of the drapes I had apparently clicked on next to a message exhorting me to buy now. The day after, I got another. "Come back NOW!" was the subject line, with a similar message and picture of the drapes.

"That subject line has to dock them a few spam points," said my husband, who works in online communications at a nonprofit.

Still another arrived the day after that: "Come back and see our great products! Let us know if we can help!" the email pled. I was so creeped out by the amount of tracking I received from a five minute visit in which I bought nothing that I immediately navigated the passive-aggressive unsubscribe process ("Please unsubscribe me. I no longer wish to receive exclusive emails specific to my interests").

If a for-profit business with lots of funds to devote to marketing research can get it so wrong, it's no wonder that nonprofits struggle with the right balance between welcoming constituents online and driving them away with too much attention. There's undoubtedly a slow erosion of our privacy that's been going on for years online, and we're becoming grimly accustomed to the fact that our every click can be tracked. But even though I'm aware that nonprofits can and do profile me, if one sent me emails that clearly indicated that they keep track of where I go on their website, I wouldn't be happy, and I might even be driven away as a supporter.

I'm not the communications expert here at Idealware, but I'm interested to hear how nonprofits are balancing the increased tracking power that communications and marketing software can provide with their constituents' desire for privacy. How are you navigating these issues?

 

Best of the Web: December 2013

The Idealware “Best of the Web” is a monthly roundup of the top nonprofit resources from the Idealware blog, our Facebook page, and our Twitter feed to help you make the right technology decisions.

If you appreciate the resources we share each month, please consider donating to our annual campaign, which we kicked off last week. Any size gift will grow our capacity to provide free resources to thousands of nonprofits, including yours. You can donate here before December 31. 
 
When we talk about driving donors to donate, we often talk about clicks and redirects. However, there is always more to consider. What happens when the donor gets to that page? If you're not keeping that donor reminded of why that gift is so important, they could back out at the last minute. These tips will help make sure your donors feel connected and confident at every step. 
 
*Facebook has moved beyond photos of pets and updates on breakfast to be a source of news for many people. According to the survey by the Pew Research Center, half of adult Facebook users "ever" get their news there. This could mean big things for how news organizations think about social media and how all organizations should be thinking about curating newsworthy content online.
 
*Measuring your fundraising performance is an important factor in setting accurate goals for future fundraising, and making the most of what you have. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to get started. You've got a lot of data that lives in a lot of different places, and it isn't always clear how you should best analyze and interpret it. This article looks at a few simple fundraising metrics to add a little mathematical magic to your next campaign. 
 
Clearly, confusing your prospective subscribers and donors is never good, but little decisions in form design can make a big difference. For example, should you have an opt-in or an opt-out form for newsletter signup? There are arguments for both sides, but the right choice for you comes down to your goals, audience, and having good content either way. 
 
Live-Tweeting: Just because it's there (and popular) doesn't mean you should always use it. It takes the right event, the right attendees, and the right followers to reach that very special Twitter sweet spot. Before you start #hashtaggingeverything, check out this article for a few tips. 
 
Data is a big word. When it comes to understanding organizational success, it often requires more than a cursory examination to get any accuracy. Sometimes, unique sources of data can be more telling than anything else. That could include everything from Twitter feeds to news stories to demographic information. 
 
While nonprofit organizations are overwhelmingly represented on social media, the same cannot be said for foundations. Despite this, the foundations that are using social media find it useful. If you are part of a foundation, creating a fully developed social media strategy could be an interesting way to stand out from the crowd. 
 
We say it a lot, but thanking your donors can create a stronger relationship with them. A timely, personal thank you has the potential to both make a donor return, and increase their gift. Our own Andrea Berry breaks down why this small action is so important, speaking from her experience on both sides of the fundraising process. 
 
Nonprofits are finding that Google Drive can be an extremely helpful tool when budgets don't allow for more sophisticated software suites. If your organization is starting to hit the edges of Drive's capabilities, check out this article in order to get a little more bang for your buck. 
 
14 Questions to Ask When Developing Your Nonprofit’s Social Media Policy (HubSpot)
A social media policy is an important document to create if you're looking to bring your online presence to the next level. Where to start is a frequent question. Before you dive in to the really tough questions, taking some time to go through these overviews will help make things easier down the road. 
 
Infographics: They look cool, they're educational, and were it not for the difficulty involved in making them, we'd see a lot more. These tools make it easy to create simple infographics, and get your feet wet experimenting with them for your own organization's communications strategy. 

 

Trends for 2014: Changes in Media Consumption

Vine and the Six-Second Attention Span

In the past year, we’ve seen the appearance of new services like Vine, from Twitter, and Instagram video, from Facebook by way of Instagram, that let people create and share really, really short videos—seven seconds and 15 seconds, respectively. While most of the earliest Vines were just six seconds of someone’s desk, the format seems to be growing in both audience and capability. Vine recently added the ability to edit footage, while Instagram provides the ability to add filters and effects to your brief videos.
 
Both of these services are also much more smartphone-oriented than prior methods for sharing video online. The idea behind these services seems to be that not only are users making their Vines on their phones, but viewing other peoples’ as well, which seems to benefit from the fleetingly short time limit on video length.
How will this affect how our audiences consume videos we put out? Will their attention spans shrink to the point where anything longer than a few seconds will seem too long? How can we, as nonprofits, get our messages across concisely to people who are accustomed to watching Vines?
 
In general, these questions aren’t really new—each generation is said to have shorter attention spans than the previous one, or at least that’s what my grandfather always complained about. While it’s not expected for every nonprofit to take to Vine to make six second fundraising appeals, it’s still important, when creating a video, to cut to the chase as soon as possible. You want to drop your audience into the “action,” so to speak, quickly; if they know what you’re asking early on, they’ll stay to watch the rest (or not) because they now have an investment or stake in your message.
 
Another good way to combat short attention spans is to give them something to care about—tell a compelling or personal story that will let them connect to your cause. If they care about what you’re saying because it’s heartwarming/heartbreaking/exciting/etc., they’ll keep watching to hear more.
 

Wearable Technology

If you believe the hype from the tech bloggers and trend-setters, wearable gadgets like Google Glass or smart watches are The Future, and companies like Google,
Sony, and Apple are betting on it—but we’ve been hearing this for decades. We may love to have a heads-up display to turn our daily routines into a video game, or a communicator on our lapel like Captain Picard, but are they going to gain widespread adoption?
 
Already, businesses like restaurants and nightclubs are preemptively banning patrons form using Google Glass in their establishments, and police officers are ticketing people for driving under the influence of Glass. The idea of people walking around with computers and cameras strapped to their heads in public raises privacy concerns—how do we know if someone is secretly recording us? And, honestly, it looks kind of weird. 
 
Even if wearable technology does gain mainstream acceptance and adoption, it’s hard to picture nonprofits going out and getting a pair of Glass, or equipping staff members with smart watches. However, it’s important to think about how we can reach an audience who has replaced their smartphones and tablets with Google Glass. Will they still read our fundraising emails—will it even be feasible for them to read emails at all? A smart watch may show a notification that you’ve received an email, and maybe the subject, but that might be it. As before, it’s likely that brevity will be increasingly essential to reach this sort of audience, getting your message across quickly and concisely.
 
Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if this is even worth worrying about.

Top Six Do’s and Don’ts for Thanking Your Supporters

As we gear up for year-end fundraising, it’s important to remember to thank your donors for every fundraising campaign. I know it seems like we say it a lot, but it bears repeating—thank your donors. While this should be a common sense point to make, many organizations may stall on the thank you process because they aren’t sure of what their donors would want to hear, or what donors should be thanked.

Here are six tips for thanking your donors effectively, without it feeling like an afterthought.
 
1.       Thank everyone! I know it is easier to thank only people who donate $250 or more, but you lose so much when you don’t offer at least a simple thank you to everyone. I’ve seen $10 a year donors turn around and leave an organization a huge bequest! To manage the workload, consider creating a strategy that thanks supporters by tiers—like “Gave $250 or more,” “$100 to $250,” “less than $100,” etc.
2.       Get creative. Mailed thank you letters are always nice—especially with an actual signature—but when your thank you stands out it makes for a much stronger impression. My recent donation to a preschool was thanked by a student, and we keep the card on our fridge.
3.       Make it at least a little personal. The extra time it takes to put pen to paper and sign a mail-merged thank you letter does go a long way. You don’t want your donors to feel like one of many—you want to make them feel special. A simple signature can help, a personal note is better, and a phone call is best.
4.       The extra effort is worth it. When donors feel appreciated, they come back. Last year I donated to a local organization where I know both the Board President and Board Secretary personally. When we received our thank you letter it was signed by a person we didn’t know, without even a personal note from either acquaintance. It has caused us to reduce our gift this year because we feel they are not taking the time to strategically fundraise, and so we feel our gift would be better invested elsewhere.
5.       Be timely. I know that it is a huge crunch at the end of the year to process donations and create your thank you letters. But don’t let the time get away from you. Thanking donors is important; thanking them in a timely manner gives a positive impression. Perhaps consider an online thank you in the short term, and sending the offline thank you’s on a more manageable timeframe.
6.       Report on your progress. Showing donors the impact of their gift is the best way to say thank you. Try and report on your progress in a variety of ways— more than just the annual report of your standard stuff. Use technology, newsletters, phone calls, thank you letters, and TV ads (among other things) to show all of the amazing work you were able to accomplish because of your donors.
 
Repeat donors is the name of the game in fundraising. And that is where thank you letters come in. Not making it clear to your donors that you appreciate them and their financial contribution is the best way to lose a donor. No matter the size of the gift, someone has made a choice to donate to your organization instead of doing something elsedonating to a different organization, buying a cup of coffee or a brand new carand it is your job to help them feel like they made the right choice.  Saying thank you is the minimum you should be doing to show your appreciation.

 

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