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Why dated technology is holding back fundraisers (& what to do about it)


For non-profits, commissioning or building new technology is a big hairy problem. Whilst it can be fairly easy to identify that a particular solution isn’t working well, or identify an opportunity to invest in new systems, designing and building technology is just plain hard. And actually rolling it out within an institution can be even harder.

I’m a technologist with around 15 years experience building and advising on technology for both commercial and non-profit clients. In this post, I’ve tried to highlight a few areas, with a fundraising focus, that will help guide anything you do in new technology commissioning.

This post explains:

  • Goals: how to define goals for what success is when implementing new technology
  • Metrics: how to set up tests to measure & prove whether a digital change makes a significant difference
  • Team buyin: how to get team members on board if you want to make a major technology change
  • Dated technology: the dangers of ‘one off’ tech solutions & why they can quickly become dated
  • Real-time technology: how Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions offer non-profits & universities technology that adapts in real-time with current trends
  • Technology training: how to train your team for technology changes

Define success (and failure) – measure, measure, measure

The first thing you need to do is to define the problem you’re trying to solve, and define what it would mean to succeed or fail. Try to come up with real metrics, not just a gut feeling of “it’s better”.

For example, let’s say that you have an ugly giving page on your website, and you want a new one.


Example of a template giving form

Is getting a new one “success”? No, not really. It’ll probably be better, but by how much, and why, and what is the donor experience of the new one? Is the problem that it doesn’t work well, or just that you don’t like the look of it?

Is making it mobile responsive and refreshing the design “success”? Again, no. Not really. Underneath this you’ve identified that there’s a need to make it mobile responsive. But you haven’t got as far as the why yet, and this means you won’t really know if it’s worked.

Try instead to get to the root reason why you want to make a change, and then come up with ways to measure the performance before and after.

In the case above, it’s quite simple: you believe you could improve the conversion of donors by improving the form. This means that success can be defined by an improvement in the percentage of visitors that complete the form after the redesign versus the ugly form. How can you track this?

One way is to set up Goal Completions which will show you the number of people that complete an action on your website (e.g 2% of visitors to your giving form complete the form)

goal completitions

Example of a Goal Completition report in Google Analytics

This can easily be setup within Google Analytics (this link shows the step by step process) or if you ask a member of your tech team. Goal Completions allow you to track the difference in conversions from before and after a digital change takes place.

It’s important to separate this metric from – for example – donor numbers, as the donor numbers are a function both of the form and the amount of effort you put into promoting it, which is likely to increase when you’re more proud of your form.

In short, by asking a few questions you can boil most processes down to simple, clean and measurable success criteria.

Monitor, report and iterate

Just as important as picking your success metric is remembering to evaluate it. This is useful both for knowing whether something is working, but also because by measuring and demonstrating success you will build trust within your organisation for the next time you want to invest in technology.

Coming back to the giving form example, if you had predicted an improvement in conversion rate, put a solution in place, measured it, and demonstrated an improvement, you would have been in a great place to ask for more investment in future. Even if the improvement hadn’t materialised, the fact that you measured it and could report it would mean that people would trust you to follow good processes in future. So, plan your metrics, measure them, and report them! Everyone – including you – will be thankful for it.

Getting people on board for technology changes

People get used to things, and they resist change. Even if change is good. There’s nothing you can do about this.

This is where the work you did in the previous stage is so important. By having a measurable success criterion, and making that the centre of your case for improvement, you can get people on board with your planned improvement.

In the case of the improved giving form, if you centre your case around improved conversion rates, you can make an argument to the fundraising team that you will increase donor retention, and to the database team that you will improve the quality and format of donor data. By making these arguments, your measurable success is something that others will benefit from, and by proxy become their success, either saving them money or time, or improving another of their KPIs.

In short: using measurable and defined success criteria helps others to connect your success to their own goals, and get behind you.

The dangers of ‘one off’ technology solutions

Once you’ve defined the problem, the success measures, and got your team on board, you’re ready to look for solutions.

The most important thing at this stage is not to try to reinvent the wheel. Over the last 20-30 years it’s increasingly become clear that creating one-off solutions to technical challenges is a really bad idea. This is particularly true for non-profits who, for example, have commissioned one-off websites which are then left looking dated as technology moves forward.Try to use technology that many others use, that is based on a common (ideally open-source) framework, that is easy to change, and that will be supported in the long term.

The reasoning is really quite simple. Let’s carry on the giving form analogy. If you had commissioned a state of the art giving form from an agency 10 years ago, it would have looked amazing on a desktop computer or laptop running Windows and Internet Explorer. It might have been Flash based. It would, at the time, have improved conversion rates, for a while.

The agency would have charged you a lot of money on a project basis and designed you a highly bespoke form, and you would probably have hosted it in house or perhaps the agency would have an ongoing contract to maintain it.

Then its performance would have started dropping off a cliff, as mobile browsing began to become the dominant platform. You’d have found yourself with an expensive, dated giving page which could not be modified for mobile, and where key elements of it didn’t even work in modern browsers.

You’d have been right back to square one.

Invest in technology that develops over time

One of the new trends that largely replaces this periodic need to reinvest in a major way in new technology is to instead use a software as a service (SaaS) provider, who commits to developing a tailored solution but do so for a large number of clients simultaneously, developing on a trusted technology platform, investing in improving the technology over time and adjusting to the changing needs and improving best practice across the whole market.

Obviously at Hubbub this is our approach, and we firmly believe in it. We are able to make use of incredible open source tools to develop a mobile-responsive solution that integrates the learnings from all customers into improving every giving system. We constantly invest in and improve the technology and continuously deploy improvements to customer platforms, to make sure that changes in user behaviour do not leave these solutions behind. We can afford to do this because we support many customers on the same underlying technology. This model provides robust, resilient and future proof technology solutions.

This is what we think the sector needs more of.

When technology changes – plan for team training

Many people forget that any change in technology requires retraining of the team. It’s one thing to get people on board with a change, and it’s quite another to get them using the new system!

Don’t forget to allow time and budget for migration – both of data, and of users. Depending on how complex and embedded a system is in your organisation, you may need to spend weeks or months moving people and processes across.

Moving giving pages can be relatively simple, whereas moving a payroll system or a CRM can be more complex.

In summary, when considering a solution, don’t just consider the technology cost, also consider the cost of the (re)training and migration. If you don’t know where to start here, the best thing to do is to find other organisations who have done something similar. In the fundraising space, this might mean asking in different online forums. See some examples below:

Summary of how to implement new technology

Define your success and your metrics, and measure them. Get people on board by demonstrating how these metrics connect to their success. Invest in training and migration as well as technology. And don’t reinvent the wheel and commission agencies to build custom solutions – they always go out of date. Try instead to find providers who can offer long-term solutions.

Good luck and get in touch if we can help with anything you’re looking at building!

Jonathan May

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