SmartEngagement: Technology for Today's Nonprofits

Wendy Levine
June 15, 2020


Today's supporters are bombarded by requests to buy, donate, support, volunteer, and interact.  It is no longer enough to design compelling messages that  "rise above the noise."  Modern nonprofits are employing "Smart Engagement" to get their message through. 

Smart Engagement involves using technology and automated processes to focus on the most important tasks and to make the best decisions possible.  It's about giving your staff the tools and the information they need to make smart decisions every day.

Smart Engagement consists of:

1) Building best practices and automations

2) Providing your team with the data they need to make smart decisions

3) Putting in place the right technology 


Best (Smart) Practices

Nonprofits practicing smart engagement put in place best practices throughout their organization - and automated those processes when possible.  For example, best communication practices focus on:

  • When to communicate: Knowing when and how often to communicate is key to optimizing your engagement rates and ultimately meeting your fundraising goals.  Running A/B tests to find the best times to send email and post social messages are critical in optimizing engagement.  And because this data will change - running these tests frequently, and for every group of supporters, is necessary to provide the most useful data to your organization.
  • How to communicate:  What channels are best for each type of message?  You need to know everything from whether existing volunteers engage more with your Tweets or your emails -  to whether first-time engagements come more often through Facebook ads or your monthly open house.  Again, it all comes down to data:
    1. Decide what goals you want to track - these may include dollars donated, number of new supporters, volunteer sign-ups, etc.
    2. Come up with metrics that you can easily track on a regular basis to assist in making decisions about which information to share via which channels.
    Where possible, track different data sets for different types of supporters (based on interest, engagement, age, etc.)
  • What to communicate: This is all about targeting the right message to the right group of supporters.  Consider personalizing your communications with supporters as much as possible by:
    1. Customizing donation requests.  Base each supporters' next suggested gift amount on previous giving history, wealth data, and other important data points you may have.  Use the individual suggested gift amounts in donation requests and as a basis for donation ask strings on online donation forms and donation requests.
    2. Use personalized data in communications.  Go beyond personalizing emails with the first name of the recipient.  Collect the data that allows you to include details of previous gifts or actions, recognize birthdays, and include any personal touches that make sense.  Animal shelters that reference pet names in their communications is my favorite example of this.


Smart Team

Educate your team - full-timers and volunteers alike - about the value of using hard data to make decisions.

  • Correct Assumptions: It is extremely easy to make assumptions based on what has worked in the past.  We all make these types of assumptions, such as older people don't use social media (they do) and the best time to send an email is between 10am-2pm in the middle of the work week (it is - sometimes).   You know your organization and your supporters, so many of your assumptions are likely correct.  However, adjusting those that are not can have a big impact on your communications engagement and fundraising success.   And you may be surprised which assumptions are the ones that need to be corrected.
  • Personalize Notifications: Help your team react quickly to the tasks that are most important by using smart notifications.  Find a way to notify the right staff members when a major donor takes an action, someone asks for volunteer information, or a fundraiser on your current Peer-to-Peer campaign reaches a milestone.  By setting up these types of notifications, your staff can spend the majority of their time on the activities that will have the most impact for your organization.


Smart Tools

Today's nonprofits need smart tools to provide them with the data necessary to make smart decisions.  When evaluating your current tools or looking at new ones - think about 2 types of data:

  • Big-Picture Data (Organization-level data): Big-picture data helps you find trends, adjust long-term strategies, and make better decisions about future campaigns. This can include everything from the best times to send a supporter email (based on open and click-through rates) to engagement levels for different categories of campaigns. This type of data takes time to collect and evaluate, but is invaluable in ensuring that you are making the best decisions for your organization.
  • Activity-based Data (Campaign-level data): Activity-based data allows you to pivot quickly during a campaign. For example, if your first email about an upcoming event has a particularly low engagement rate - you need to look more closely at the data before you send the next email to determine if it was the timing of the email, the tone of the message, or something else. Following the groups that are most engaged during a fundraising campaign, the fundraisers that are doing well (and not doing well) during a P2P campaign, or other campaign-specific valuations will allow you to react quickly and make adjustments necessary to optimize your goals.

Some specific features your marketing automation and fundraising tools may have to help your organization implement Smart Engagement:

  1. A/B Testing Tools. Testing email subjects and send times can be done manually, but is extremely time consuming.  Most email platforms have built-in A/B testing tools that handle the work of setting up and evaluating your tests.  If your organization runs paid advertising campaigns, A/B testing (also known as split testing) tools are available on Google, Facebook, and most other platforms.
  2. Automated Notifications. Use automated internal notifications to alert your team to important activities (large donor, new donor, etc.).  Many systems allow you to customize these notifications for each online form or activity.
  3. Supporter Grouping. Grouping supporters into different categories for the purpose of creating targeted messages can often be managed through system tools that allow you to create lists based on data stored in supporter records.
  4. Advanced Reporting. Viewing organization and campaign data in easy to read reports and charts - and ensuring that everyone is looking at the same data - will improve decision making.
  5. Integration with outside data. Using outside data to augment your processes can often make a big difference.  Two common examples:
    • Wealth screening data can be used to identify potential major donors, regardless of the action they have taken with your organization. High wealth individuals can be automatically placed in a different supporter category so that they receive different messaging, see higher ask amounts on donation pages, and more.
    • Identifying potential employer match programs through tools like Double the Donation, allow donors to be informed of existing match programs automatically.

Today's nonprofit organizations are facing an increasingly competitive fundraising environment.  Implementing smart engagement best practices will help optimize fundraising and engagement efforts!

Topics: Fundraising Top Posts Nonprofit Marketing
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