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Established strategies for new technologies

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Todd Cohen

Digital technology has given nonprofits new ways to pursue traditional strategies for involving more people more personally in their organizations, a critical step in raising money, says Ted Hart, CEO of global fundraising consulting firm TedHart.com.

“There are infinitely more powerful tools available to use today — for even the smallest charities that don’t have big budgets — to be able to do a better job,” he says. “But the core ways we raise money have not changed. It’s still about people inspiring people.”

Digital priorities

The top tech-fundraising priority for nonprofits should be to build a well-designed, informative website, Hart says.

“That is the front door,” he says. “If you don’t have something that inspires, has a call to action, has good content and is well-designed, it’s absolutely useless to try to do anything online. You’re then sending the wrong signal and are not going to succeed.”

A few of the essential features of a nonprofit’s website that invite visitors to take action, he says, include the ability to make a donation, register for an event and sign up for a newsletter.

Nonprofits also should make it a priority to provide all the information they can about their organizations at www.guidestar.org, he says, a website that features financial and programmatic information about nonprofits and serves as an informal clearinghouse for institutional funders, individual donors and anyone else interested in finding detailed information about nonprofits.

“There’s too much at stake,” he says. “Any grant you write, the foundation or corporation will check you out on GuideStar. If you’ve never filled it out, you’re putting your organization at risk.
A third tech-fundraising priority, Hart says, is to use email for ongoing communication with donors.

“There has to be regular communication to start building that trust that donors will receive those updates and be kept informed,” he says, “all this before fundraising online should be attempted.”

Social media

Only when a nonprofit has acted on those priorities, he says, should it begin to think about social-media tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

And rather than simply jump in and expect those tools to produce immediate results, nonprofits should take time to learn how to use them, and should recognize “it takes time to build the kind of ‘social capital’ that you will need to succeed using social networking,” he says.

“I believe that in four to five years, having a strong social-networking strategy will be as important as having a strong website today,” he says. “Now’s the time to build the strategy, now’s the time to build the community, now’s the time to build that social capital. It’s not going to happen overnight. If you wait three to four years, you’re going to be playing catch-up, and most likely your competition will have eclipsed you.”

What to avoid

Hart says nonprofits cannot afford not to invest in a well-designed website  because it represents “a core asset of a well-run charity, and if it’s not well-designed, it’s going to do more damage than good.”

Nonprofits also should avoid the impulse to “make things more complicated than they are,” he says. “Just because they may not understand the technology does not mean they cannot succeed online. The basics of good fundraising still apply here.”
Tried and true

To understand how to succeed using digital technology, “you only have to understand fundraising at its most basic level,” Hart says. “The right person asking for the right amount at the right time will always raise money, whether online or offline.”

Technology and social media are “simply a set of tools that are available at your disposal,” he says. “Treat donors as a person. Connect them using the tools.”

Nonprofits also should understand that simply building a new tech tool will not in itself generate contributions.

“It is not true that ‘I Facebook, therefore I fundraise,'” he says. “All that is, is an invitation to communicate, which can improve your odds of fundraising success.”

The key is to “be genuine,” he says.

“You’re either genuine to your cause or community because you’ve gotten to know them and taken time to build the social capital, or you haven’t.”

And as with traditional fundraising, raising money using technology is all about relationships.

“Typically, it’s about the marathon and not a short sprint,” he says, “building that relationship and getting to know that person and building opportunities around what inspires them.”

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