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Technology is transforming how development professionals engage with donors across mobile and online platforms. While offline fundraising still accounts for a significant amount of charitable giving, honing your digital skills and acquiring knowledge of new tools, applications, and platforms will enable you to engage donors wherever they choose to live — and help you stand out in the eyes of potential employers.
How technology is shaping fundraising
According to Blackbaud's 2015 Charitable Giving Report, released earlier this month, online giving in 2015 grew 9.2 percent on a year-over-year basis. Blackbaud also reported that "small organizations continue to lead the way with 8.1 percent, followed by large nonprofits with 7.7 percent, and medium-sized organizations with 5.8 percent of total fundraising coming from online giving."
Other studies also show online giving becoming more popular. The M+R 2015 Benchmark Study, for one, tracked a 13 percent year-over-year increase in online revenue.
While in the past nonprofit organizations tended to focus on the fundamentals of information technology management, the current environment is more complex. Today, nonprofit leaders need to know how best to incorporate technology into their communications, marketing, and fundraising plans. And development staff need to be part of that conversation.
It isn't just about getting a website up that informs potential donors about your organization's work or using a wealth-screening product to identify potential donors. Technology and its applications (including everyone's favorite catchphrase, "big data") are now part and parcel of how nonprofit organizations operate.
Diversifying your digital skills
As technology-driven innovation and disruption accelerates, fundraising professionals need to focus on identifying ever-more innovative methods to raise money for their organizations. Are you investing all your time and energy in offline fundraising? Knowing how to turn smaller online donations into mid-level or even major gifts is an increasingly valuable skill.
Do you know how to deploy multimedia content to enhance your fundraising strategies? Being able to discuss how and when to use video, audio, and social media is critical.
Can you articulate why you prefer a particular Web-based donor-management system over another? And how exactly does your organization manage the information it puts into that system? You may be surprised how the answers to those questions can help you improve your existing platform or develop a new platform that makes it easier to connect with and cultivate donors.
Similarly, it's not enough for your organization to have profiles on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram. If you're not using these platforms to help drive your marketing and communications strategy — and energize your online giving campaigns — you're missing the boat. And don't forget, it's fine to tout the number of social media followers your organization has, but it's much better to be able to say what those followers are getting by being a part of your network. Are you engaging with them on their favorite platforms? To what extent are you using their feedback to advance your mission and up your digital fundraising game?
"Data" encompasses all the structured and unstructured digital information — as well as the way it is captured, shared, stored, assessed, and protected — that our organizations generate on a daily basis. It is not your enemy. Program evaluation doesn't mean program elimination; it means better programs. If you're able to use data to identify areas for improvement, you're likely to see greater donor engagement.
In 2016, having skills and knowledge in the digital fundraising area means much more than knowing HTML. It means being able to speak intelligently about the need to integrate technology and data analysis into a strategic fundraising plan — and being familiar with the tools and platforms that should be part of that integration. Being able to do that not only will help you in your current role, it will give you an added dimension and make you much more attractive to all sorts of employers as you seek to advance your career.
Carmel Napolitano, a senior consultant at DRG, a national leader in nonprofit executive search, has more than ten years of experience in retained executive search in the nonprofit sector. Prior to her work in executive search, Napolitano spent more than fifteen years in higher education fundraising.