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8 Digital Trends Affecting Nonprofits Today

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The following blog post is based on a presentation by Paul Nazareth, VP Community Engagement at CanadaHelps.


Technology has changed the landscape of giving. This isn’t something that’s happening; it’s already here. Nonprofits don’t have a choice about keeping up with tech - we either evolve or become irrelevant.

Many nonprofits feel they have caught up with technology because they invested in a new website. Having a donate button on your homepage is a great foundation, but it doesn’t go far enough to engage donors.

Nonprofits need to start figuring out ways they can use technology to better serve their members and donors, and we’re going to help. Here are eight digital trends affecting nonprofits today that we hope sparks some great ideas!

1. Online and Mobile is Unstoppable

Should we even call it a phone anymore? Mobile phones are now portable computers that have become an extension of our bodies and consciousness. We’re so intertwined with the online world that it’s become essential we allow donors to connect with us through that medium.

In fact, Canadians are giving online more than any other nation. And it’s not just young people - everyone is on mobile, including big donors aged 70-80+ who are using tablets. Your website has to be mobile-optimized and responsive, and easily navigable so that we can engage supporters there.

“I often equate a charity’s website with trying on swimsuits in a department store: if you want to get to the beach, you need one, but you’ll always hate it and you’ll never be happy with it.”

Paul Nazareth, V.P. Community Engagement at CanadaHelps

Another important aspect of mobile is the role of social media. Social media is an effective tool to solicit new donors, but only if done right. Ask yourself: “How is social media engaging with what we’re doing?” Of course, it drives dollars and raises awareness around your cause, but what is it actually raising? Are you measuring conversions and understanding the ROI of your social media efforts?

Social media management is no longer a side note relegated to a 20-year-old intern. Rather, it’s now integrated into the overall communications strategy and is a vital part of building and maintaining relationships with users, stakeholders, and donors.

Does your nonprofit follow a documented social media plan? The state of the Canadian Web nation report said that 50% of charities have a social media strategy, and only half of those are using it. Where does your nonprofit land in that spectrum?

2. Dramatic Demographic Shifts Affecting Giving

It’s important to engage millennials. Not only are they the upcoming generation who will soon make up the majority of our economy, they are already generous donors, professionals and active members of our communities (see Millennials are more generous than you think). Remember, the millennial generation starts as early as 1980s; professionals who are now in their mid-thirties, actively playing influencer roles in their line of work.

Millennials tend not to commit to a single charity or cause, but rather move around, flocking towards the causes and organizations solving the problems they care about.

While donors 70-80+ are typically the highest value donors and give to many charities, Millennials have the highest engagement. Not only do they give, they also fundraise, volunteer, and bring in new donors through their efforts and personal networks; this may be more valuable than outright donations.

You should also distinguish between millennials and donors 70-80+ in your tone, method and medium of communication. For example, millennials tend to dislike direct solicitations or the “sales-pitch”, and they are also more likely to contact charities to ask questions.

3. Shifting Funding Forms and Views on Charity Accountability

Technology is changing what accountability means to charities. There’s now an expectation that funders and donors have constant access to our information in order to understand our impact and outcomes.

The problem is cutbacks are happening in all sectors and yet funders are more demanding than ever to see data that shows impact. We need to adapt and start speaking this language to connect with funders and donors. (See trend #7 for more)

Technology is the game-changer here that lets you create data and visualize it easily with tools like Google Analytics, Tableau or Zoho, and then disseminate it cheaply and effectively on the web through blogging and social media.

4. Person-to-Person Influence is a New Currency

While grant funding is still important, peer-to-peer (aka crowdfunding) influence is a new currency that’s challenging not only nonprofits, but big banks too. Right now the peer-to-peer charity market is around $1.35 billion and the transactions are mostly made through private, for-profit sites like KickStarter!

The presence of organizations like GoFundMe and KickStarter are disrupting what people perceive as a gift. People are going to these sites because they’re easy to setup and easy to donate. In other words, these companies have adapted to today’s technology and provided a good user-experience online by reducing barriers and streamlining processes.

Often these peer-to-peer fundraisers act like a ‘charity lottery’ where something bad happens to an individual and their story is shared via social media. If it’s heartbreaking enough and well marketed, it’s often met with an outpouring of support and people give - sometimes to the tune of $100 000.

“Think about your organization, and the impact you have, and what you could do, and how many people you could help with hundreds of thousands of dollars that will often go to that individual in a non-accountable, non-transparent, and private way with a for-profit company making 15-20%”

Paul Nazareth, V.P. Community Engagement at CanadaHelps

Individual stories create a lot of sympathy and support, so how can your organization use this to gain visibility? How can you pull peer-to-peer fundraising into our strategies?

Peer-to-peer is the fastest growing fundraising source, but the more trendy, sexy causes tend to be the ones getting support. Will your nonprofit get better success rates with peer-to-peer over traditional grant writing?

5. The Blurring Lines Between For-Profits and Nonprofits

People are becoming confused about what makes a for-profit and a nonprofit.

They engage in crowdfunding campaigns that support a cause they believe, but are they concerned with whether it’s a nonprofit? Labels aren’t going to deter donors from going where they want to go; the emphasis is now on the impact, not necessarily on the organization that will accomplish it.

Are you helping your community understand the differences between nonprofits and for-profits, particularly in terms of their responsibilities and obligations?

6. Changing Face of Corporate Giving and Engagement

The face of corporate responsibility is changing, where gifts are coming with more strings attached than ever, and requiring more of us.

Corporations want to understand the alignment between your missions; if they want in on your cause, how are you supporting them in the ways that they want?

For example, Coca-Cola has refrigerated trucks delivering goods to third-world countries that nonprofits could use to store medicine (or other goods) between the Coke bottles and deliver it directly to their clients.

However, this process brings a question to light: why does a company like Coke even need a charity or nonprofit? The answer is they need our intellectual capacity, our history and experience, and the connections we have with other agencies.

It’s a partnership. Nonprofits don’t have to do all the work but we have to come to the table as a partner, or else these companies may figure out how to do it without us.

7. Measuring and Reporting on Impact Will Be Essential

Donors want to know the impact you have on your community and the cause you serve. This is especially true for millennials (see trend #2). Impact has become a ‘sexy’ term that validates you and the work you do in the eyes of funders and donors alike.

The questions that drive impact stories are: Who are you? What do you do? How do you do it? What are your outcomes? What’s the impact?

Demonstrating results helps acquire new donors, but we can never forget the importance of focusing on primary donors. Yes, acquisition is important, but are you acquiring the right donors in your efforts? Ideally, your donors are truly invested in your cause and organization, and thus will have a low ‘turnover’ in their donorship.

8. Tech + Data = Internet of Things Shaping Our Lives

Data helps us understand people and inform our strategies. We can figure out how donors move, how they connect to our mission and how long they stay our donors. If we discover common trends that help define how our donors think, then we can come up with strategies to engage them where they are. Think about what data you are collecting, and why? What data points can you highlight to help you measure your impact? 

We hope these 8 digital trends help your nonprofit understand the importance of technology, especially as a way to demonstrate impact and engage donors.

What impact are you having on your community?