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VOLUNTEER CONTRIBUTOR STORY: TECHNOLOGY
COUNTLESS ARTICLES EXIST THAT ADVISE NONPROFIT ORGANIZATIONS ON THE EFFECTIVE USE OF TECHNOLOGY.
The one thing to keep in mind if you are a decision-maker within a non-profit organization is that your technology strategy should be no different than that of a for-profit organization. In many cases, even your budget constraints may be no different. After all, for-profit organizations do not have limitless resources either. In fact, 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit organizations have several advantages in regards to receiving donated goods, donated services, and tax exemptions.
The following examples are intended to illustrate that following traditional business advice is also the right course of action for non-profit organizations.
ONLINE FUNDRAISING. This is simply "e-Commerce" for non-profit organizations. The hard part should be finding something to sell, but even then there are various fundraising organizations that offer no-to-low risk options. Another consideration would be to sell products that have been donated to you. Once you have products to sell, there are several options ranging from Ebay auctions and other auction sites, to online stores and malls, to your own site using services such as PayPal. Other options do not require you to maintain an inventory; you simply direct traffic to other websites and you earn a commission. Keep in mind that you are only likely to succeed if you are selling something that people need, and if you are selling something that there is not too much competition for. Most businesses fail within their first five years for this very reason, so maintain realistic expectations. Also consider that most "affiliate" programs do not generate revenue; either you are trying to direct traffic to a well-known site, in which case people go there directly, or you are trying to direct traffic to an unknown site, in which case people do not trust the site enough to make a purchase, and all you end up doing is cluttering up your website with ineffective advertisements.
EFFECTIVE WEBSITE. Every website should have stated, measurable goals. Whether you want to attract new clients for a business or volunteers for a fundraiser, your website should produce results or you need to do two things: improve your content and increase your traffic. In fact, you should always be working to improve content and increase traffic. If you are not generating the numbers of volunteers or donations or whatever else it is you are looking for, first establish a baseline performance of how much traffic you are getting and what results that level of traffic is producing. Then work with a marketing professional, if possible, to improve the site's content. If that is not possible, simply ask people for their feedback, for example: "would this encourage you to volunteer or to donate?" Take their suggestions, make appropriate adjustments, and then solicit feedback again. Most importantly, solicit feedback from your target audience: ask for feedback on volunteerism from people who are more likely to volunteer their time than to donate, and ask for feedback on donations from people who are more likely to donate than to volunteer.
DRIVING TRAFFIC. Start with the obvious: put your website address on all letterhead, business cards, flyers, advertisements, and so forth, and include it on every news release. Unless you have a massive advertising budget search engine optimization is critical, but beware the scams. For example, there are companies that specialize in developing websites for one specific industry, and they offer to get their clients on the all-important first page of search results. But think about it: what happens to the 11th client when only 10 can be listed on the first page? Be wary of such "guarantees." Also, many people spend too much time trying to exchange links with every other website they possible can; focus instead on exchanging links only with other RELEVANT websites. Defining "relevance" could consume an entire article by itself, but simply put focus on other websites with content that is at least somewhat related to the content on your website. Furthermore, keep in mind that most "web developers" are graphic designers; they make pretty websites. Most will use software programs to actually develop the sites for them, which do not produce optimized sites at all. This is easier said than done, but talk to your "developer" and try to surmise if he or she even considers optimization when developing the site, and if so does he or she seem confident in explaining how optimization works. Again, be wary of "guarantees."
ONLINE DONATIONS. Much like a business' website needs to clearly articulate why you should do business with it, your website should clearly articulate why someone should donate to it. If you do not do that, the technological "how-to" of a donation is irrelevant. But, assuming that you state your case effectively, there are well-known services such as PayPal that enable you to add, relatively easily, a donation button to your website. This gives you the ability to securely accept credit cards and other types of payments, and the fees are reasonable. And much like how businesses accept multiple payment methods to make it as easy as possible to take your money, you should give multiple options for making contributions. For example, provide an address for mailing a check. Also, let visitors know how to make in-kind donations of goods and services.
EMAIL STRATEGY. Have you ever dropped a business card into a box at a restaurant for a chance to win lunch for two? The restaurant really just wants your contact information so that they can contact you in the future and encourage you to patronize the establishment again. Whether via a form on your website or a paper form at events, ask for people's email addresses so that you can contact them in the future and encourage them to volunteer, donate, attend events, and so forth. Offer a chance to win tickets to a future event, or some other prize OF VALUE. The key words are "of value," otherwise the results are likely to be discouraging. Once you have an email list, there are various tools and services available that enable you to send messages in bulk. Be sure to guard your list well, do not overutilize it, do not send out irrelevant information, and always provide an opt-out mechanism. Furthermore, encourage recipients to share the message with others, and provide instructions on how others may opt-in.
Brian Siegelwax of Chepi, Chepi, Inc has provided technology and marketing solutions since the early 1990's. Clients ranged in size from Fortune 100 companies, to small businesses, and non-profit organizations. Chepi Chepi, Inc. is a full-service technology and marketing solutions company.
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