FYI Blog

NTC 2019 Takeaways

As portrayed on cult TV show Portlandia, Portland, OR has a reputation of being a little weird in its laid-back sensibility. But Portland also points out its endless possibilities, as its slogan promises: You Can, in Portland.

This was the backdrop for this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). Four Avalonians attended NTC in Portland, and brought back—appropriately—an eclectic set of takeaways:

The big picture

There were lots of the usual, tried-and-true sessions around sustainer giving, storytelling, etc., but interspersed between were quite a few sessions on emerging technologies (like Chatbots). In one of these talks, I was glad to hear two of the three presenters recommend that we shouldn’t chase trends if they’re not applicable to our donor base—it’s fine not to be on the cutting edge. A sentiment some nonprofit boards might need to hear. I appreciated these words, especially from a new, up-and-coming nonprofit, and a representative from a fundraising platform company.

One thing I didn’t appreciate hearing—that some nonprofits and agencies are testing for the sake of testing; not reaching statistical significance, but testing anyways. I heard some describe this kind of testing as seeking “directional” information or “identifying themes.” Not a good use of time and money, in my opinion.

 Finders, keepers—the art of donor retention

Donors are really worried about what’s going on in their own states and communities—giving more at the local level. And we know that overall giving is down, so we must laser focus on retaining the donors we have.

  • Speakers recommended investing in technology—we can’t afford to skimp here anymore. The wrong platform gets in the way of good donor retention, makes everything harder to manage, and opens up the potential to lose a donor forever.
  • So focus on how you’re engaging with your donors throughout a fundraising campaign’s cycle:
  • Engage your donors on your mission with cultivation techniques like microsites, landing pages, infographics, quizzes;
  • Reconsider your ask strategy, and how ask testing could ramp up your response;
  • When you thank your donors, report back on campaign success by telling them what they accomplished;
  • See what happens if you rest the file—giving donors a little quiet time before the next campaign begins.
  • And finally, some other ways of automating beyond your emailed welcome series:
    • Send a re-engagement series when donors become inactive.
    • Celebrate/acknowledge donor anniversaries.
    • Solicit donors by email when they haven’t given a second gift within a certain time period.
 Using emerging tech to drive engagement

Chatbots are one-on-one conversational software programs, based on AI and driven by algorithmic scripts. Chatbots can recognize responses and respond to them—yes, automated, but in a very conversational tone….

  • As an example, in Australia and Canada, there’s a kids’ help line answered by Chatbox (a Chatbot designer), that evaluates the potential emotional state of a child who calls in, and directs him or her to an actual person who can help.
  • Some nonprofits are giving Chatbots a try—Sierra Club has three staffers working solely on Facebook Messenger—but are they for everyone? A checklist to think through before you jump in:
  • Do we already have relatively optimized email, social, and digital ad channels?
  • Do we have content that can be re-purposed to populate a conversation flow?
  • Do we have a digital team that’s not entirely maxed out?
  • Are we looking for ways to boost or make up for softening email or web returns?
  • Are we trying to change brand perceptions?
Just text me

One session was all about using texting to lift response on other platforms. A bonus: the text message itself tends to generate a modest amount of revenue, beyond the lift it can provide to other channels. Some nonprofits’ experiences:

  • American Diabetes Association found that email response increased within the test group that received a text during the final hours of #GivingTuesday.
  • Planned Parenthood saw a lift in response within the test group that received an image of a direct package with a friendly reminder to read it.
  • EMILY’s List saw a lift within the test group that received a text reminder corresponding to their direct mail renewals.
Lessons from e-commerce
  • Here’s an issue many fundraisers haven’t thought about—but e-commerce has. How complicated is your multi-step donation form? We were heartily encouraged to take a look and significantly reduce the number of fields required to make a donation. One presenter went as far as to urge nonprofits to remove the address field completely; instead, suggesting investing in appending the mailing addresses after the fact—not something we would recommend for our clients, but might be valuable if donors are responding to an emergency or natural disaster and timing is critical.
  • There was also a discussion about standardizing and simplifying mobile wallets, especially since more and more donors are giving through their phones.
  • We can also borrow best practices from e-commerce on the issue of cart abandonment. We’ve been testing these techniques  for our clients—looking for new ways to get donors to finish up the online gift-giving process and complete their transaction.
    • Some nonprofits are going ahead and following retail’s lead on when to remind donors of their pending donations (instead of testing the most opportune time)—and sending out an email within one to three hours.
    • Wildlife Conservation Society sends three cart abandonment emails, including a tote bag offer in email #3. WCS has an 84% conversion at email #2 so while the tote bag serves as a last ditch effort, the organization does not actually send many of them.
    • WCS also considered creating a more personalized abandoned cart email, but scaled back—not wanting to be too creepy and intrusive.
“I’ll take Potpourri for $1,000, Alex.”

Some final, miscellaneous points:

  • As we trend toward GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation, like in the EU)—the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years, some experts think we should stop buying lists. This mirrors Avalon’s viewpoint on list purchasing.

Back to testing for a moment: Find a way to conduct statistically significant tests because, as one speaker put it, your donors are liars [watch what they do; not what they say they’ll do] and your board chair’s instincts are wrong. A somewhat harsh reminder that the only way to find the truth is to test.

  • Here’s a new thing: changing “Donate now” buttons to say “Invest now.”
  • And finally, when thinking about sustainer strategies, consider the Human Rights Campaign. HRC says that 37% of its donors give monthly—canvassing is their biggest recruitment method, followed by annual auto renewal.

The slogan may be “You can, in Portland,” but you can implement some of these takeaways wherever you are. Besides, these tactics aren’t weird if they work for your organization.

What will you try?