FYI Blog

NTEN Conference Wrap-up 2013

I had the opportunity to attend this year’s NTEN (Nonprofit Technology Network) Conference recently, along with my colleagues Barb Perell and Jamie Natelson. As usual, the Conference was a stimulating mix of best practices discussions, new ideas, and strategies for how nonprofits can take advantage of technology. Some highlights:

Dan Pallotta’s open plenary was one of the most debated topics of conversation — both at the conference and in the Twittersphere. Whether you agree with him or not, Pallotta made an interesting case for why we need to change the way we think about how charities are run. He talked about the discrimination that charities (and their staff) experience versus for-profit entities, including salaries, marketing and advertising, time they are allowed to test concepts, and risk taking. We’re taught that deprivation – lean operations with low overhead and meager investment – is the way to achieve global change. But Pallotta argued that charities can adopt some of the for-profit models to change how money is raised and needs are addressed. One rebuttal to this idea: He also discussed the Charity Defense Council – a national leadership organization (501(c)(3)) that is tasked with fundamentally changing the way people think about these issues. Check out its website to get a sense of the changes in store if this push is successful.


Some interesting points from the Blackbaud benchmarking update by Convio:


  • Despite double-digit declines in website traffic and minimal change in website conversion rates, email files grew 12.45% last year.
  • Fundraising continued its double-digit growth, as sustainers and repeat donors grew 27% and 20%, respectively.
  • Email open rates saw minimal change last year, but there was a double-digit decline in click-through rates, and appeal response rates were down 18.7%!
  • Did the election have an impact on online fundraising? Not really. If anything, the good news is that people can tell the difference between charities and candidates, and in spite of the election, kept giving to charities. The environmental/wildlife sector experienced a bigger jump than other verticals, but not necessarily due to the election.


The Five biggest trends in online fundraising, as presented by Steve McLaughlin:


  1. Online giving returned to more normal, double-digit growth in 2012, after a flat 2011 and a blockbuster 2010. Four sectors (arts, environmental/animals, education, and faith-based) had positive growth in terms of overall fundraising, with educational organizations leading the pack. Environmental organizations grew the most, although every sector was up last year. And as we know, multi-channel donors have the best retention rates – although online donors aren’t as loyal as offline.
  2. Online giving is predictable, with most – 22% – happening in December, and only 5% in January. It’s a Catch-22 – you want to be out there at the end of the year soliciting those year-end gifts, but that time of year is a very crowded one for nonprofits and retail, so it’s easy to get crowded out. Calculating online average gifts is getting more predictable, as we see seasonal bumps – educational charities tend to spike in June (possibly because it’s the end of the fiscal year?) and the environmental/animal sector spikes in May and September. But in general, because more organizations are recruiting sustainers there is not as much month-to-month fluctuation anymore.
  3. Online giving – which is still only about 7% of charitable giving – is starting to ramp up as non-profits jump on the bandwagon and try to figure out how to make it work. Everyone seems to be testing things like goal tracking with a giving thermometer, ask string strategies, buttons to click on for mobile devices, etc.
  4. Peer-to-peer fundraising is growing, with athletic and community participation models working well as people recruit sponsors by emailing their friends and family. The more emails they send, the more money they raise. It’s that simple, and it’s working.
  5. Everything is going mobile. And we’ve reached a tipping point. Ninety percent of smartphone owners access the same email account on their mobile and desktop. In fact, 38% of all email is now opened on mobile devices. So if you haven’t already, it’s time to develop strategies so your organization is more mobile responsive. And consider adding a pledge function to mobile giving asks – so your contact can come back to it later if he/she is on the run.
  • Emphasized items that we already know? Telemarketing is still the king for recruiting sustainers, and multi-channel marketing is always the way to go, to improve results across the board, across all channels.


For more on the 2013 NTEN Conference and to access to notes and slide decks from this year’s sessions and workshops, visit NTEN’s website.