Fundraisers and communicators experienced frustration after technical problems stalled Give STL Day and other “Give” days throughout the nation on Tuesday, May 3.
Kimbia, a software company in Austin, provided the online donation services for approximately 50 communities through the Give Local America campaign on Tuesday. Give STL Day, presented by the St. Louis Community Foundation, was one of those communities. A Kimbia statement reported the company tested the system for weeks, but a hardware problem on a server caused a series of failures.
Last year, Give STL Day raised $2.1 million from 20,260 donors—an average of $78.67 per gift. On Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., it raised $1.6 million.
There’s always some risk when nonprofits partner with outside organizations to raise money or to promote programs. Most technical problems can be solved. Other risks are more challenging. For instance, some youth agencies recruited professional athletes to promote membership drives and then were forced to pull the marketing materials when the athlete was arrested for drug possession, driving while intoxicated or soliciting a prostitute.
Last week, the concept and messaging of “Give” days was reviewed (Why ‘Serve STL Day’ is better than ‘Give STL Day’) in this space. This week, we’ll review some ways to recover from a technological collapse and learn lessons in preparedness.
Always have a Plan B: One of the greatest gifts a public relations person can give to their organization is a healthy sense of worry, anxiety and pessimism. Most of the time, it’s the PR person who is troubleshooting various projects and educating top leadership about the consequences of failure or poor execution. In this case, the development and communications people were probably focussed with creating all of the digital assets required for the campaign’s success. It provides an excellent example for the need to always ask, “What if…?” when planning and executing any type of large project.
Here’s an excellent tactical suggestion from Kivi Leroux Miller (@) in her post, One Lesson from the #iGiveLocal “Give Local America” Fiasco, on the nonprofitmarketingguide.com blog:
Here’s the lesson: It would have been so much easier for individual nonprofits if they had set up a redirect with their own domain name, like mynonprofit.org/givelocal or used a link shortener like Bitly and distributed that link (not the Kimbia link!) from the start. Then they could have changed the destination URL from Kimbia to their own donation page or to a backup page like the Midlands Gives form at Wufoo — and all the previous links sent out to donors would still have worked! No need to update donors with a new link, because the correct link is served up behind the scenes. For massive campaigns like this, you have to assume something will fail, and know how you will put Plan B into effect immediately.
Be prepared to pull the plug: Email messages, Facebook posts and Twitter updates from some nonprofits continued throughout the morning and afternoon without mentioning the problems. This caused confusion when donors attempted to make a gift and were stymied. When similar problems arise and automated communication is scheduled for distribution, your organization must be prepared to quickly make changes and adjustments. Many of the 900 nonprofits participating and the givestlday.org social media channels sent messages about the problem, asked for patience, and set up a phone bank at a television station to take donations.
No matter how great your organization delivers services, many donors—especially first-time givers—will not have a favorable impression of your nonprofit if you can’t execute something as simple as accepting an online donation.
Have courage to decline: Organizational leaders and the development team must evaluate the net gain from “Give” days in May and the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. All organizations can benefit from tracking time spent on various projects and evaluating the efficiency and effectiveness. If “Give” days aren’t providing a significant return on the investment of time and money, perhaps those resources can be more effectively used in other development activities. And have the data handy to answer the inevitable question from the well-intentioned but often uneducated board member, “I saw all of the money other people raised and wondered why did’t we do this?”
Say thanks and start communicating your story again: No matter how much money your organization received during this event or other campaigns, prompt messages of appreciation are critical. As part of those messages, your organization can communicate how the donations will be immediately used to carry out the mission of your organization. And if your board members, donors or volunteers express disappointment with the execution of the “Give” day, be prepared to change the focus. Communicate how your organization must continue fulfilling its mission and will be working to obtain the resources necessary for success. Tell your story and move toward achieving your organization’s goals.
Most nonprofits are striving to increase donations to meet the needs of their clients or participants. Development professionals succeed when they take the time to develop strategies and refine execution.
Mueller Communications works with nonprofit organizations as they improve their capacity to increase financial resources through various types of giving. Contact Joe Mueller (C: 636.232.7730) and schedule a free 30- to 45-minute consultation/conversation.
Your success in fundraising will create enthusiasm and momentum throughout your entire nonprofit organization.