I work with small nonprofits to help implement all phases of the classical marketing and sales funnel, which includes: (1) attracting and engaging new donors, (2) creating avenues for donations and developing constituent services (e.g., event registrations, bookings, member libraries, ecommerce stores, etc.), and (3) managing ongoing relationships with a core community of supporters. The three areas of need are:
- Communications and Outreach (Marketing)
- Donations and Services (Sales)
- Donor Management and Engagement (Service)
An endless variety of tech tools are available for managing these needs, but here I address tools that are affordable, versatile, and relatively easy to implement, i.e., those that might be considered by small nonprofits, either just starting out or in the early phases of operation.
I should preface this discussion with the caveat that I work almost exclusively in the WordPress website ecosystem, and so the tools presented below are mainly those which integrate with WordPress. The tech tools include mainly:
- Website plugins and scripts, that provide back end functionality: Contact forms, Calendars, Donations and Payments, Bookings, Online Stores, Archives and AV Libraries, Integrations with third party services
- Third party services for functions such as: Social media, Payment gateways, Newsletters, CRMs (constituent relationship management), Event, Donations, Accounting, Automation, Tracking (search, analytics, search engine optimization), CDNs (content delivery networks), and son on.
I am particularly interested in the efficiency of back end processes, for example cross-platform integrations and automation that streamline and support the administration of the marketing and sales pathways.
I also advise nonprofits on the numerous discounts that are available to nonprofit organizations; see Discounted Pricing for Nonprofits. In particular, eligible nonprofit organizations should sign up early on with Techsoup, which is a clearing house of software and hardware available to nonprofit organizations at greatly reduced prices (most 501c3 nonprofits are eligible). Many platforms validate nonprofit eligibility by confirming a nonprofit’s Techsoup registration.
Finally, I may be able to offer reduced prices on some of the platforms listed below, through developer licensing/pricing options. Please check with me.
So let’s dive in.
COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH (MARKETING)
Get the Word Out: Email Lists and Newsletters. Most organizations create an email list and newsletter early on, to share the mission and activities of the organization, and to solicit support. Mailchimp is often the go-to choice for email communications, because it offers a free plan (currently for up to 1,000 subscribers), an intuitive interface, and it integrates easily with websites and other third party services. There are many other mail platforms to choose from of course, but Mailchimp seems the most commonly used by small organizations.
Know Thy Constituents: Think CRM (Constituent Relationship Management). Early implementation of a system for tracking constituent behavior is generally overlooked by small nonprofits, and I think mostly because organizations are not aware of a powerful and free tool offered by Hubspot, the Hubspot CRM. There is a small learning curve to be sure, but the Hubspot CRM will integrate with many of the tools in your tech toolbelt (especially if chosen for that purpose!). After some initial setup, the Hubspot CRM will automatically create contacts and record donations, purchases, event registrations, memberships, newsletter opens, email conversations, etc. And, members of the organization can easily record notes about conversations, and create tasks, and all of this can be accessed in one convenient dashboard. And it’s free, for unlimited numbers of users and for up to 1 million contacts (!)
Communicate as a Nonprofit: Upgrade to an Organizational Email Account. Many organizational admins continue to use their personal email accounts for organization business, or perhaps a dedicated gmail account (e.g. [email protected]). However, ideally an organization should be using an organizational email account (e.g. [email protected]). Such accounts can be set up and managed in a variety of ways (e.g. see email management on accounts hosted by High Peaks Media). Moreover, a free Google Nonprofit Gsuite account is probably the best option for organizations that qualify (which includes most 501c3s).
Track Aggregated Behavior: Make sure that Google Analytics is installed on your website, and that the website is registered with Google search console.
DONATIONS AND SERVICES (SALES)
Setting up donation and payment gateways is a critical part of my work, as is setting up platforms for services such as memberships, event registrations, bookings, audio-video libraries, etc.
Below is a discussion of some third-party donation platforms as well as some independently hosted platforms on WordPress that I have found useful. Before discussing the tools themselves, it’s important to identify some key elements or ‘deal breakers’ that might guide a decision to adopt:
- Cost: third party vs. self-hosted platform costs; these are generally a percent of donations, or an annual recurring cost. Note that developers may hold developer licenses for some platforms on WordPress (check with me).
- Recurring donations: These are not difficult to set up, but can be difficult to manage. Generally donors are given access to their account online, where they can manage the subscription. An even larger issue is, once recurring donations are accepted on a platform, the organization is wedded to that platform for the duration. Choose wisely!
- End-of-year tax records: One of the features that distinguishes many donation platforms from CRMs is the ability of the latter to send year-end tax receipts to donors. The capacity of various platforms to provide year-end reporting, either in bulk to the organization or individually to donors, is a feature that reduces year-end work load for organizations.
- Offline donations: Most platforms allow for manual entries of donations in the dashboard of the admin account. However basic donation platforms generally use an email address to associate a donation with a donor. In the absence of an email address, one option is to generate a token email address using the organization’s domain; the email does not need to exist, although a catch-all email for the domain can catch those transaction notifications, and possibly modified to pass along to the donor.
- Customization and flexibility: some platforms offer very few options for customization of forms.
- Integrations: note that many integrations are possible because of automated services provided by Zapier (which offers free single-step zaps) and Integromat (which offers a free tier of multi-step sequences, but connects fewer platforms). A work-around for platforms without native integration is to parse and collect relevant data from email notifications (using Zapier or Integromat).
Online Donation & Payment Platforms and Plugins
See this DRAFT Google Sheet for a comparison of the features of different platforms and plugins. It’s a work in progress, so sorry about the mess!
- Paypal or Stripe (credit card) donation buttons installed on a website via an embed code or a simple plugin are sometimes the first step to collecting payments. In any case, most small nonprofits will want to create both Paypal and Stripe accounts, as donors vary in their choice of donation gateways. Note that reduced transaction fees are available to nonprofits.
- Third Party Platforms. A review will be forthcoming, of Give Lively, Donately, and Donor Box (the favorites on our radar!); these platforms provide very good options for accepting and managing donations. See this DRAFT Google Sheet to see features of third party donation platforms and the two WordPress plugins below (currently in progress).
- GiveWP is a WordPress plugin tailored specifically to nonprofit donations. It is versatile and powerful, and includes integrations with Mailchimp, Hubspot CRM, and other platforms via Zapier, as well as auto-generated replies. The form builder itself is less versatile than in Gravity Forms (below). However, users can access their donation history and modify subscriptions (recurring donations) by requesting a token sent to their inbox. GiveWP also provides year-end accounting, accessible directly to donors. Or, admins can download the year-end data and upload and send to donors via a Mailchimp mail merge.
- Gravity Forms is a versatile and adaptable ‘gold-standard’ plugin used to collect information, send automated replies to submissions, and/or process payments. The plugin is not, however, designed specifically for donations, as the plugin does not facilitate management of recurring donations, nor does it provide any kind of year-end reporting. However, it is flexible, and it works! The plugin can be integrated with both Paypal and Stripe payment gateways, including recurring payment and mobile payment options through Stripe (for Google and Apple Pay), as well as customized auto-replies (including PDFs). The plugin provides a good backend database of transactions, which can be downloaded, and also provides integration with Mailchimp signups, the Hubspot CRM, and other platforms (using Zapier) such as Quickbooks Online. See addendum for managing year-end downloads go a Google sheet.
- CRM Forms. Most CRMs (but not the Hubspot CRM free version) include form builders and payment gateways that can be integrated directly into your website, such as forms in Neon CRM and eTapestry. These forms integrate directly with a constituent database, which can store a variety of personal information and provide year-end acknowledgements.
Notes about Payment Flows
- About Recurring Payments. Recurring payments that are setup using simple website buttons Gravity Forms must be managed manually, either by the donor in the case of Paypal, or by the organization in the case of Stripe. Otherwise, for donors to manage recurring payments through your website, you must install some form of membership or recurring payment plugin that registers donors as users on the website (e.g. Memberpress or Woocommerce Subscriptions). GiveWP is an exception to this, in that donors can access their records through a unique token.
- About Mobile Giving and Text to Give: use QR codes or auto-SMS replies to connect donors to mobile payment forms. SMS services are typically costly for a small nonprofit, but you might consider Givelively (organizations must verify their nonprofit status on Guidestar) or Twilio (access to inexpensive 10-digit SMS numbers, but less easy to implement).
- About Off-site Fund Transfers. Checks, bank transfers, and other types of payments (e.g. Zelle Pay) can be manually entered into most of the payment flows above (e.g. Gravity Forms, GiveWP, and CRM forms). Stripe provides an integration for ACH payments.
- About International Payments. Stripe provides integration with a wide variety of payment gateways that are used in other countries, as do other payment platforms (which are too many to explore in this post). For international bank transfers, consider using Transferwise.
Examples of Additional Services
- Online Stores: Woocommerce > connects to Hubspot via Zapier
- Memberships: Memberpress or Woocommerce Subscriptions > connections to Hubspot via Zapier
- Calendar and Event Plugins > my current favorites are Modern Events Calendar and EventOn.
- Event Registrations: Gravity Forms or Eventbrite – connect to Hubspot and Neon via Zapier
- Retreat Registrations: Gravity Forms or Retreat Guru – connect to Hubspot and Neonvia Zapier
- Donation and Crowdsourcing Websites: Facebook, Colorado Gives, GoFundMe
- Nonprofit Accounting: Integrate donations and payments directly into accounting software (e.g into Quickbooks Online, using Zapier)
- etc. etc.
DONOR MANAGEMENT AND ENGAGEMENT (SERVICES)
Donors and constituents are connected to you in various ways, and you want to know what drives their behavior and piques their interest in your organization. Knowing and communicating with your constituents is key to nonprofit success.
Track Communications and Constituent Activity using a CRM
One of my first recommendations to nonprofits (see up top, ‘Know Thy Constituents‘) is to enable a Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) platform, possibly the Hubspot CRM to start, or some other CRM that is tailored to nonprofit needs. I have reviewed numerous CRMs with several nonprofits, but unfortunately cannot go into all of the details here (but I do have a sweet spot for Neon CRM). In any case, the goal of the CRM is to:
- Track and log all communications: Use your CRM to track calls and emails, and to make notes about your constituents. Emails can be sent from the CRM itself, or you can use a BCC or FWD address to log emails into the CRM. Train your staff and board to record all contact points with constituents.
- Track All Activity: Connect as many platforms as possible to your CRM, so that you can track newsletter engagement, donations, memberships, purchases, registrations, etc!
- Tag constituents and send targeted communications: Use Mailchimp or your CRM to segment your constituents and send targeted communications. Personalization is key!
Create a system to acknowledge individual donations, for example with
- Manual replies by email, letter, or phone
- Auto-replies from your donation plugin (e.g. GiveWP or Gravity Forms)
- Auto-replies from your CRM
Send Annual Donation Receipts
Develop a method for sending end-of-year donation reports to donors. This letter is a great time to touch base with donors, and remind them of their importance. Here are some different methods:
- Download raw donation data to a spreadsheet (e.g. from Gravity Forms), manipulate manually to get year-end totals for each donor, and then send a report to donors via mail merge (e.g. in Mailchimp or another platform). It’s a bit tedious, but often a good place to start
- Download annualized data for each donor (e.g. from Give WP or Quickbooks), and send a report to donors via mail merge (as above).
- Email your donors, providing them with access to the donation history in their account, e.g. using the Give WP plugin
- Use a full-fledged nonprofit CRM that aggregates donations and sends year-end data to donors
- Review aggregated reports & metrics (e.g., from Google Analytics)
SUMMING IT UP
By getting acquainted with the tech tools that are available to you and your organization, you will be ahead of the game! I hope this post serves helps you develop a solid approach to nonprofit marketing and sales. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch!
ADDENDUM: Managing downloads of year-end data to a Google sheet
To upload user names and emails to Mailchimp prior to data upload, use the Remove Duplicates tool in Google Sheets under Data > Remove Duplicates
(Select the columns with first name, last name, and email, and remove duplicates based on email column)
To Group and Sort Data in Google Spreadsheet – e.g. Annual Donation Totals for Each Donor
=QUERY(Data!A1:B6;”select A, sum(B), count(B) group by A”)
Featured Image Credit: Unsplash. Photo (image: 5qgekkrqmtq) by Jean Wimmerlin