Learning to Drive: Using Prospect Research for Early Cultivation Meetings

Remember the first time you got behind the wheel of a car? Maybe you had taken your learner’s permit test or not; maybe you had watched your parents closely as they drove. But when facing the wheel, pedals, and all those buttons for the first time, it might have been really daunting. I was frustrated the first time I got behind the wheel; no matter what I did, I could not get the car to go. I soon realized that no one had told me to push the brake while starting the car!

Naturally, if someone is getting a donor profile for the first time, it can be a bit daunting. There are lots of sections; some filled with charts and graphs while others have lots of information. And what’s with the “likely” and “possibly” speculation?

At the end of the day, you might be wondering what you should be doing to get the fundraising car moving forward. So today, I’m going to give you the fundraising equivalent of “putting your foot on the brake” to get the car to move.

Start a Conversation

When meeting a prospect for the first time, you might be a little nervous – and hopefully curious, too. What will they like? Who are they? Will they be interested in my cause? That’s where research can step in and help you get to know the prospect. The profile should include where they work, what they actually do (if found), where they live, their family life, and their philanthropic interests. Then you can walk into a meeting with the prospect knowing a little bit about them, so you can focus on their affinity and alignment to your organization.

But you don’t need to know everything about a person, especially at your first meeting. You just need enough information to know if it is someone you should focus on and what that person might be interested in. You don’t need to know all the parts of the engine to drive the car, right? One gift officer I worked with in the past told me that she didn’t need to know the names of the prospect’s children before the first meeting because she preferred to learn that naturally.

Only So Much Public Information

While it may seem that researchers have an uncanny ability to find all sorts of information, there’s a limit to what can be found. Our information generally comes from two sources: public information and what the institution knows about the prospect. All too often, real estate is the only asset we can find, since that’s publicly available. We might be able to find stock holdings if they hold 10% more of a public company’s stock or serve in a C-suite/director position. We generally can find where a person works, and their philanthropy (if they have made gifts publicly).

But other information may prove more elusive. For instance, you might think marriage/divorce information would be readily available, but it can be a challenge to find this information. Sometimes we can find a wedding announcement, but sometimes we have to make educated guesses. Similarly, private financial information is not available. Bank holdings, security holdings (for everyone who isn’t a 10% stockholder or C-suite/director), and trusts are not publicly available.

Get the Engine Going

Initial profile research is meant to get the car going (to further the car metaphor), but it is not everything. Hopefully, when you meet a prospect, you’ll get to know them much better, much more personally than what a researcher can find looking at articles, publicly available databases, and real estate records. Sometimes the information we find is incomplete or confusing and we make educated guesses.

Actually talking to the prospect will help confirm or deny some of those guesses and help you begin to understand their passions and philanthropic goals. The car takes you to someone wonderful places!

Starting a relationship with someone new can feel exciting and a little daunting. Hopefully, this article has helped you use and think about fundraising research when going on your early cultivation meetings with prospects.

Additional Resources

Review of Fidelity Charitable Giving Report 2023

What is this Report

The report is an annual report of Fidelity Charitable donor advised giving for the prior year. It explores both giving to Fidelity Charitable donor advised accounts as well as giving from donor advised funds to charities.

What are key findings from the article?

Fidelity Charitable Giving Report 2023
  • Fidelity Charitable donors gave $11.2 billion in 2022. Grants went to over 188,700 organizations.
  • 57% of contributions were non-cash assets, like crypto and stocks.
  • People gave $38 million in cryptocurrency to their donor advised funds in 2021. That’s down from $330 million in 2021 but up from $28 million in 2020. This may be a course correction over high values for cryptocurrency in 2021. Those non-publicly traded assets like private equity and limited partnership interests, totaled $1.4B.
  • 56% of DAFs have balances under $25K. 35% have balances between $25K and $250K. There are 9% of DAFs with more than $250K on their balance sheets. The median balance was $19,442.
  • 88% of DAFs made at least one grant in 2021. 63% gave the grant to charities to be used “where needed most.” 46% were re-grants; 31% were scheduled grants to the same organization; and 23% were grants to new organizations.
  • 4% of donors were anonymous, which is unchanged from 2021. 15% of gifts only included the Giving Account name while 81% included the donor name and address.
  • Religion remains number one for distribution of grant dollars, followed by human services and education, the same as last year. Human services decreased slightly from 2022 giving. The organization that has received the most DAF grants was Doctors without Borders, again #1, followed by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and then World Central Kitchen. American National Red Cross dropped from #3 to #4.
  • Over $2 billion was allocated to impact investments, down from $3 billion in 2021.

What can I do as a result?

  • Thank your donor advised fund donors. The report confirms that only 4% are completely anonymous. Send thank you’s and make phone calls to this segment, unless of course they specifically ask you not to. Just because they give through a gift vehicle, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t appreciate that special touch. It might make the difference between that one-time gift and a yearly one.
  • Can your organization accept non-cash assets? If so, display this information prominently! You want your donors to consider giving from their entire wealth, not just cash or disposable income. With 66% of all donations to DAFs as non-cash assets, it’s a solid bet that many of your donors are looking for a way to donate appreciated stock and other non-cash assets. If your organization can accept assets, you should let people know so they can donate them directly to you. If you can’t accept these assets, make sure to connect and build a relationship with your local Community Foundation so donors can create a DAF if needed.
  • Consider a campaign specifically for DAF account holders. There’s a lot of money flowing in and out of donor advised funds. Plus, we know that recurring donations are a real boon to nonprofits. With 77% of donations from DAFs going to charities that had already received prior gifts, there’s a real opportunity of turning a one-time gift into a recurring one!
  • While DAFs have their controversies, they are here to stay. The time to get ready to accept donor advised funds is now.

Additional Resources

Understanding Financial Audits: A Quick Guide for Nonprofits

The word “audit” tends to bring about anxiety and concern when the average person hears it. We picture horrible visions of the IRS combing through our personal information and telling us we did something wrong or owe money. While this may be the case for many individuals, there’s no need for nonprofits to have this same sense of stress and concern. 

Nonprofits don’t pay taxes, so there’s no reason for the IRS to come around, telling you that your organization owes money. However, audits can be incredibly useful for nonprofits to ensure donations are processed properly, tax forms are filed, and general accounting best practices are followed at your nonprofit. 

In this guide, we’ll cover the basics of nonprofit auditing so that you can better understand how your organization can use this important tool. We’ve pulled information from Jitasa’s comprehensive nonprofit auditing article, pared it down, and made it into this more digestible overview for the busy nonprofit professional. We’ll cover the following: 

Audits can be very useful for nonprofits to increase transparency for nonprofits, create regular financial accountability, and find new opportunities for improvement of financial practices. Let’s get started! 

Why Nonprofits Conduct Audits

Chances are, you don’t look forward to the IRS auditing your personal finances. There are not many people who jump up and down with excitement at the idea of the government double-checking their taxes. 

But nonprofits don’t pay federal income taxes. Sometimes their 501(C)(3) status means they don’t even have to pay state taxes! So, why should nonprofits need to go through a tedious auditing process? 

Some nonprofits are required to conduct regular, annual audits. Meanwhile, others simply volunteer to do so because they see the value in these comprehensive assessments of their nonprofit accounting systems. Your nonprofit might be a part of the former group if (required to conduct an audit) if: 

  • It’s written in your bylaws. Some organizations require annual or semi-annual audits in their bylaws to ensure financial compliance and effective accounting practices. 
  • Your state requires an audit. Some states also require audits from nonprofits—generally, if that organization accepts a certain amount of funding (usually more than $500,000) from the state government. 
  • Your federal funding exceeds $750,000. If your nonprofit accepts federal funding of over $750,000, you’re also required to conduct an audit.
  • Grant applications require an audit. Grant-makers want to be sure that your organization will use their funds wisely, so they sometimes ensure accountability by requiring financial audits. 

Even if you’re not required to conduct an audit, you may still find it a useful tool to ensure your organization has strong financial practices. Plus, you can communicate with supporters that you do conduct regular audits, increasing financial transparency and establishing trust in your organization’s financial practices. 

Internal vs. External Audits

While there are many types of audits out there, there are two main categories within the realm of financial audits: internal and external audits. These two differ primarily based on who conducts the audit: 

  • Internal audits are conducted by your team internally. The purpose of these audits is to discover potential opportunities to increase organization and streamline operations. 
  • External audits are conducted by a third-party auditor. Much like hiring a fundraising consultant, external audits are useful because they provide an outside perspective unclouded by attachment to your organization and mission. These audits are useful for ensuring financial controls and complying with accounting best practices. 

Solving financial discrepancies and ensuring accounting best practices not only keeps your finances organized, but also helps your organization with capacity-building initiatives. After all, it’s much easier to plan for growth when your finances are well-organized. 

Selecting a Financial Auditor

If you choose an external audit, your organization will need to select a financial auditing firm to conduct it. Start your research for an auditing firm by reaching out to your accountant and other organizations for referrals. Supplement this list of referrals with other firms you find through online search. 

Once you have an initial list of potential auditors, you can start narrowing your list to only the best candidates based on your organization’s needs and budget. Then, you should ask each firm specific questions that will help you further narrow your selection. These questions may include: 

  • What percentage of your clients are nonprofits? 
  • How long will the nonprofit auditing process take? 
  • What is your firm’s fee structure? 

Vet your top-choice auditors further by asking other organizations they’ve worked with for reviews. They should have experience, expertise, and the right technology to keep your information safe. This will help reduce risk at your organization as you’ll hand your auditor sensitive information to work with. 

Once you’ve vetted your preferred auditing firms, submit an RFP to solidify the agreement. Then, you can simply make your selection. The work isn’t over after you’ve found your auditing firm because you’ll still need to prepare for the audit. 

Preparing for an Audit 

To prepare, you’ll need to pull together all of the documents and reports that your auditor will review while conducting the audit. Much of this information will be available in your nonprofit accounting software, especially if you use a dedicated software solution rather than spreadsheets. 

Some of the steps you’ll take using this data will include:

  • Reconcile all bank accounts. 
  • Review uncleared transactions. 
  • Review your nonprofit’s vendors. 
  • Review customers’ or members’ payments. 
  • Review undeposited funds. 
  • Look for coding errors. 
  • Review your capitalization. 
  • Review your account balances. 
  • Review your accounts receivable and payable. 

When you’re reviewing all of this information, keep in mind that you’ll be reviewing both monetary and non-monetary transactions. Even if they don’t directly add to your bank account, in-kind donations should be recorded in your accounting system along with their approximate value to your organization. It’s easy to overlook donations of items and forget to include them in various accounting reports, but it’s a necessary step to keep up with GAAP standards and to have a successful audit. 

After the Audit

When the audit ends, you can breathe a sigh of relief, but only for a moment. You’ve made it to the other side of the process, but there’s still some work to be done. 

First, you’ll need to implement any recommendations made by your auditor. These changes should fix systemic issues by updating the financial processes at your organization so that you don’t run into similar concerns in future audits. 

Then, you’ll need to evaluate your experience with your auditor. You should ask questions such as: 

  • Are you satisfied with your chosen auditor? 
  • Did you notice any challenges or disputes among your staff members during the audit? 
  • Was the presence of the auditor disruptive to your regular organizational activities?

Chances are, this won’t be your nonprofit’s last financial audit. By asking these types of questions and considering your experiences now, you can improve your audit experience next time around. 

Financial audits may seem frightening in the beginning, especially if you’re comparing the experience of personal audits to those conducted at your nonprofit. However, nonprofit financial audits are ultimately a good thing! They can help you uncover mistakes or process discrepancies to improve your nonprofit’s accounting system over time, ensuring you always have the resources you need to further your mission. 

Author: Jon Osterberg
Jon Osterburg has spent the last nine years helping more than 100 nonprofits around the world with their finances as a leader at Jitasa, an accounting firm that offers bookkeeping and accounting services to not for profit organizations.

Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 2

NeonOne set out to understand what individual giving looks like in the post-pandemic world. By reviewing many sources including academic journals, industry reports, blogs, and more, they have synthesized six questions:

  • Who are our donors?
  • What do our donors support?
  • When do our donors give?
  • Where are our donors?
  • Why do our donors give?
  • How do our donors give?

In Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 1, we focused on the first three questions. In this Part 2, we are focusing on the last three questions.

What are key findings from the article?

  • Grants from donor advised funds in community foundations tended to stay in the community, according to the Lilly School of Philanthropy study. The researchers theorized that “the stronger local ties were, the more likely the donor was going to give to nonprofits in their community. They found that the longer an individual stays in the community that they live in, the more likely they are going to give to arts and human services organizations where they live.”
  • The top three states for private boat ownership are: Florida, California, and Massachusetts according to a Windfall study. The top three states for private plane ownership are California, Florida, and Texas. The top states for luxury car ownership are California, Texas, and Florida.
  • Donors prefer email for hearing about updates and appeals (48%) followed by direct mail as the preferred channel at 21% according to Data Axle.
  • There are three primary motives for why donors give, according to Professor Jen Shang, Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy in the UK. They are situation-based, relationship-based, and identity based. The report summed up the difference between the three motives: Situation-based motivations are often triggered by sudden changes in the environment, and individuals respond by giving. Relationship-based motivations are when donors give based on their connection to an organization. Finally, identity-based motivations focus on giving as a way for the donor to express who they are.”
  • Donor acquisition went up in 2020. “The percentage of donors acquired in 2020 who gave again in 2021 was at an all-time high in the first quarter and remained strong through the first half of the year.” But its unclear how many nonprofits closed their doors or stopped fundraising.
  • The study found that while only 10% of US households have wealth in cash, 80% of donations are cash. “Nonprofits that receive stock donations see 55% higher fundraising growth than those that only accept cash.” You can check Schedule M of your organization’s IRS Form 990 to see if you received reportable asset gifts.
  • Double the Donation estimated that $2-$3 billion was donated through matching gift programs. But estimates suggest that $4-7 billion may be going unclaimed since many donors may not know their gifts are eligible to be matched by their employers. Even more striking is the finding that “84% of donors are more likely to donate if their gift is matched.”
  • Corporations are now offering donor advised funds (DAFs) as an employee benefit. Similar to United Fundgiving campaigns of the past, employees can designate small amounts from payroll to go into these DAFs.Firms outside of Fidelity and Charles Schwab are working with companies to provide these services.
  • Dr. Russell James’ research found that while only 5% leave a gift to a nonprofit in their will, 33% would consider it if they were asked. Like Matching Gifts, that’s a lot of money left on the table.
  • Recent research found that recurring gifts are more likely to start in January than December. That should impact messaging for nonprofits about the importance of these gifts. Plus, previous research has shown that recurring givers “have a retention rate of 90% and that recurring givers are six times more likely to leaven an organization in their will or make a legacy gift to an organization.”

What can I do as a result?

  • “Think like a donor,” explained philanthropist Lisa Greer in her special aside in the report. What would a prospective donor want to see? Move away from transactional relationship with donors. Don’t over solicit! Remember that they are getting a lot of emails from nonprofits and companies every day. Engage with them like they are people. Because they are!
  • Consider how your messaging reflects the different motives for giving. Are you appealing to the donor’s sense of identity or situation-based identity? Are you giving donors the ability to give to satisfy their image of themselves?
  • Examine how your organization is talking about giving from assets, such as stock and property. As we’ve noted before, the largest gifts come from assets, rather than income.
  • Explore how your organization is educating donors about matching gift potential. That is a really easy way to get in more dollars without too much effort.
  • Review how your organization talks about recurring giving. Are you asking? When are you asking?
  • Finally, remember that people want to give; they sometimes just need to be asked! Authentic communications with your donors will build the strongest relationships. Asking can be a natural part of an ongoing conversation your organization has with the donor, instead of rote solicitations sent according to a schedule disconnected from the donor relationship.

Additional Resources

What’s in a Nonprofit Logo? 4 Things to Consider

Your nonprofit’s logo is a core element of your brand, as it acts as a reflection of your organization and mission. When supporters and new prospects view your logo on any marketing materials and donor communications, they should be able to immediately associate it with your mission. 

When we think of brands like Starbucks, Nike, and Mcdonald’s, the first things that come to mind are probably the mermaid emblem, swoosh marking, and golden arches. Loop’s nonprofit branding guide describes the logo as the “foundation of your overall visual brand” which is why it evokes so much emotion and recognition. It’s included in almost every document you create! 

As such a centralized element of your nonprofit’s mission, creating your logo requires additional time and effort to be sure it accurately reflects your mission and makes an impact on viewers. In this guide, we’ll cover four considerations your organization should take when creating your logo, including the following steps: 

  1. Reflect on your mission. 
  2. Consider the different types of logos. 
  3. Choose your colors. 
  4. Display your logo prominently. 

Ready to design a stunning new nonprofit logo? Let’s get started. 

1. Reflect on your mission. 

Your logo should reflect your nonprofit’s mission and will represent it moving forward. Therefore, before you start designing, you’ll need to take some time to consider your mission and how you present your organization to the world. 

Consider questions such as: 

  • Who is your target audience? They’re the ones who will interact with your logo the most. Ongoing donor engagement can begin with an impactful logo.
  • What makes your organization unique? Think about the elements of your mission that help your nonprofit stand out from others that represent similar causes. 
  • What is your ideal tone? Organizations with more formal, professional tones will have a slightly different tone and personality than ones with more casual or playful characteristics. 

Answering these questions before diving into different logo options will help you ensure your logo helps tell your nonprofit’s story and accurately reflects your cause. For example, a nonprofit that caters to children might decide to use a logo with dynamic shapes to emphasize its creative side rather than a monogram with hard ridges. 

2. Consider the different types of logos.

When you start considering the design that you’d like to see in your own logo, we recommend getting inspiration from other nonprofit organizations. Explore the best nonprofit websites to see how others incorporate their logo and the types of logos they chose. 

Consider if there’s a specific type of logo that you tend to gravitate toward. Wix provides a list of the nine types of logos that organizations can choose from, including the following: 

  • Wordmarks consist of the organization’s name, artfully written out. 
  • Letterforms only include one letter, usually the first letter of your organization’s name. 
  • Monograms leverage the organizations’ initials, generally used for organizations with well-known abbreviations like NASA. 
  • Symbols or pictorials are images that represent the organization’s identity, like Apple. 
  • Abstract marks are images that are more metaphorical representations of an organization’s branding, rather than a direct correlation like symbol marks. 
  • Mascots are cartoon characters that represent and become “ambassadors” or the organization’s brand. 
  • Emblems are more ornate designs that are usually similar to traditional crests. 
  • Combination marks are any two elements combined together to create one mark, such as words below a symbol mark. 
  • Dynamic marks are versatile, unique marks that can take on any shape that may not fit into the above traditional logo markings. 

The above photo provides examples of each type of logo organizations can choose from. Notice that one thing all of these logos have in common is simplicity. Your logo is featured everywhere from your t-shirts to event registration forms, meaning it should take on many shapes and sizes. Therefore, simplicity is key. 

3. Choose your colors. 

If you already have a brand guide that describes the colors that your organization will use for your brand, be sure your logo reflects those colors. If you don’t yet have a guide like this, choose the colors that you’ll use to represent your organization. 

Consider the natural association colors have with concepts and ideas and which will align best with your mission. For example: 

  • Red: Red is often associated with health, passion, and strength. 
  • Green: Green is often associated with growth and prosperity, making it a great option for conservation-related causes. 
  • Yellow: Yellow is linked to the sun and brings feelings of warmth and happiness.
  • Pink: Pink is often associated with creativity and innovation. It’s often associated with causes in the LGBTQ+ space.

Choose just a few colors to use in your nonprofit’s logo to make sure it remains simplistic. Then, make sure you have several versions of the logo; one in color, one in black, and one in white to use on various products and with any background. 

4. Display your logo proudly. 

After you’ve created your nonprofit’s logo, it will be featured on all of your marketing materials. Make sure your logo looks good everywhere and include it on your nonprofit’s: 

  • Website. Consistent branding is one of the most important best practices for your website. Include your logo on every page of your website and make sure it links back to your homepage. 
  • Letterheads. When you send direct mail to donors, sponsors, or other supporters, it should be immediately clear to your recipient which organization sent the letter. Include your logo on the letterhead to make sure this connection to your cause is clear. 
  • Emails. Set up your email templates to include your logo and organization branding. That way, every message you send will look professional and include your organization’s specific identity. 
  • Social media. Often, organizations use their logo as the image on social media profiles. This helps new supporters immediately identify the logo and recognize it in the future. 

While these are some of the core channels used to market nonprofit organizations, they’re far from the only options available. Getting Attention’s nonprofit marketing guide also names event materials, videos, content marketing, text messages, and Google Ads as marketing tools that nonprofits can use. 

As you put together your marketing plan, consider where you’ll need to leverage your logo and where it looks most natural and professional for that material. Then, choose the version of your logo that will best suit the channel. For example, you might use your black-and-white logo on the top of your letterhead because it looks the best on printed paper. And you may use one with the tagline for t-shirt designs but omit it from the top of your website. 

While your nonprofit’s logo doesn’t make up your entire brand identity, it acts as a core element to your nonprofit’s visuals. Put time and effort into ensuring your logo is as attractive and well-designed as possible to create a positive correlation between your cause and your identity. Good luck!

Author: Ryan Felix
Ryan is a co-founder of Loop: Design for Social Good who brings a strong intuition and insight to create bold, creative & impactful websites. Ryan has led design studios in Toronto and New York using his knowledge of Human Centred Design to increase meaningful conversions and design enjoyable web experiences.

Charities Aid Foundation World Giving Index 2022

What is this Report?

The report is an annual report that looks at global giving focusing on three areas: helping strangers, donating money to charity and volunteering time. The report has surveyed 1.95 million people since 2009. For 2022, CAF included data from 119 countries, which was 90%+ of the total adult population on the earth.

What are key findings from the article?

World Giving Index 2022
  • Sixty-two percent of people reported they helped a stranger last year. This is up from 55% for 2020 and the highest percentage of people since the CAF report began.
  • Thirty-five percent of individuals gave to charity in 2021.
  • Low-to-middle income countries represent the majority of most generous countries in the top ten most generous list, a change from before the pandemic. In 2018, high income countries dominated with 7 out 10 countries in the most generous list. But in 2020, the number switched to 7 low-to middle income economies in the top ten. 2021 saw a rise in high income countries in the list but six out of ten are still classified as low-to middle income.
  • Indonesia retains its top spot as the most generous country, fifth year in a row. Kenya is second most generous, followed by the United States, which has returned to the top ten list.
  • The Ukraine is the only European country in the top ten most generous countries, jumping from 20 to 10 in 2022.
  • Some countries may define charity differently from others, which may adversely reflect their scores. For instance, the report suggested that some countries who scored low on helping a stranger may have strong safety nets (France, Switzerland, etc.). Japan scored low on generosity but the report suggested that “what might be perceived as charity in the United States is likelier to be understood as responsibility in Japan.”
  • The countries with the largest percentage of people donating money are the following:
  • Indonesia -84%
    • Myanmar – 73%
    • Netherlands -68%
    • Iceland – 67%
    • United Kingdom – 65%
    • Australia -64%
    • Malta – 64%
    • Thailand – 62%
    • United States – 61%
    • New Zealand – 61%

What can I do as a result?

  • Remember that people can give in different ways and engage them. The CAF report breaks down generosity into helping a stranger, giving to charity, and volunteering. Sharise Harrison, Director of Prospect Management and Research at Loyola University Chicago, said it best in an interview with Aspire in 2022: “A good prospect is some institution, organization, or individual who is likely to be engaged, believes in your organization and will provide not only monetarily, but also volunteer time.”
  • Specifically, review how you are engaging volunteers. Neon One reported that 53% of people who support a nonprofit decide to volunteer there; 39% volunteer first, then give to the nonprofit. How is your organization engaging with volunteers? And vice versa?
  • Make sure to understand people in different countries understand giving and helping others. Some countries may see things as charitable that other countries don’t due to differences in perception. Like everything in philanthropy, it’s about creating relationships and making connections. Philanthropic culture is not the same everywhere.
  • While organizations tend to target high income countries for international donations, the report suggests that low-to-middle income countries are stepping up their philanthropy. Everyone can find a way to contribute but they have to be respected and brought to the table.
  • As always, ask for contributions! Even though most countries have reopened fully, generosity levels are still up. That suggests that more people see the need to help their fellow strangers.

Additional Resources

A man and a woman look at computer

Numbers to Know: Interpreting Website Engagement Data

When a supporter googles your nonprofit and clicks on your website, what do they do from there?

The hope is that your supporters actively explore your site’s content, use your online giving page to donate, and sign up for your newsletter or fundraising events. 

However, some nonprofits make the mistake of taking a “set it and forget it” approach when it comes to their websites. Instead of consistently considering and reconsidering their supporters’ experiences using the site, they put a lot of work into the look and functionality of the site upfront, hoping it’ll do the trick of catching people’s attention and getting them to act without ongoing updates. 

But the reality is that the best way to get the most mileage out of your site as part of your branding strategy is to actively monitor and course-correct how your supporters are engaging with it. You can do so with the help of website engagement data, which reveals how your supporters are currently interacting with your site so you can develop a plan to improve that experience. 

Making data-based decisions about improving your site can help you set yours apart as one of the best nonprofit websites. To help you get started, we’ve created this mini guide to interpreting website engagement data. In it, we’ll cover: 

Tapping into the power of website engagement data won’t require you to be a master web designer or expert coder. You’ll simply need the ability to continuously improve your website and envision a better, brighter future for it based on what you’re seeing in the data. 

Overview of Nonprofit Website Engagement Data

Nonprofit website engagement data is any data that gives a nonprofit insight into how supporters find and interact with their website. 

There are a number of different data points that you can measure to understand how your supporters are engaging with your site. These include: 

  • Conversion Rates: Conversion rates show you the percentage of users who complete a desired action. For example, you might track your conversion rate for how many people sign up for your online newsletter or donate to your online fundraiser. The specifics will depend on the context of your organization’s size and the pages in question. That said, action page conversion rates (such as your donation page) should be around 21%, while site-wide conversion rates should typically be between 2% and 5%
  • Bounce Rate: Bounce rate tells you the percentage of site visitors who land on your site and only visit that one page before leaving your site, rather than exploring other pages or converting. 41% to 55% is considered an average bounce rate
  • Page Views: Page views tell you how many people have visited a certain page within a set amount of time. You can improve your page views by working to gain more traffic through methods like optimizing your site for SEO, which helps your page rank higher on search engine results pages so that more people see it! Amount of page views will vary page by page, but tracking page views over time will give you an idea of which pages are most popular and thus most useful for your audience. 
  • Channels Visitors Are Coming From: Knowing where your website’s traffic is coming from can help you make informed decisions about which channels you use to market your web content. You might, for example, notice that email traffic converts at a higher rate than other traffic sources and decide to more intentionally highlight your web content in your email newsletters. 

Measuring engagement data like the data points described above can help you in a myriad of ways. Let’s take a look at three of those ways. 

  1. Knowing how your site engages your supporters will help you improve your digital fundraising strategies. If, for example, you know that a certain blog post gets the most page views of any other page on your site, you could include links to your donation page in that blog post to encourage people to contribute to your cause. 
  2. Website engagement data can help you to better optimize other marketing efforts outside of your nonprofit’s website. Say you notice particularly high conversion rates for website visitors registering for your organization’s fundraising event after sending an email campaign advertising the event. That tells you that sending out emails ahead of an event may be a particularly effective strategy for future events. 
  3. Your website engagement data can help you learn how to best share key information with supporters. For example, maybe your website’s blog has a high bounce rate. That tells you it might be worth it to invest some time into optimizing the content and presentation of that content in your blog posts. 

Answering Key Questions Using Website Engagement Data

If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to measuring and using your website engagement data, asking targeted questions is a great way to begin. The questions that will be most useful for your organization to answer will depend on your mission, what you know about your supporters, and what you’re currently trying to accomplish.

Let’s look at some of the most common questions nonprofits ask and then work to answer them using what you can observe with your website. 

Are your action pages accomplishing their goals?

Action pages are pages where website visitors are encouraged to complete a specific action, like your donation page or contact page. If you’re wondering how well these pages are succeeding in encouraging visitors to complete the desired action, measure the conversion rate for those pages. 

Remember, the conversion rate will tell you what percentage of users complete a desired action. Once you know your baseline conversion rate for these pages, you can take steps to increase the rate. Here are two suggested actions if you want to increase conversions on one of your action pages: 

  • Optimize the content on your action pages. For your website visitors to complete the action that an action page points them toward, they need to feel inspired to do so. You can inspire your visitors in a number of ways. For example, you might use descriptive and interesting language to catch your visitors’ attention. Or, you could include an engaging and emotionally evocative photo or stronger call-to-action copy ahead of the form or other tool for completing the action. 
  • Make forms easy to use. Much of the time nonprofits rely on forms as part of their processes to capture emails, collect donations, or complete other actions. But getting your visitors to your action pages won’t do you any good if your forms are inconvenient or confusing to use. Prioritize making the form short, labeling required fields, and making the form tab-friendly for those who navigate using a keyboard. 

How are supporters finding your website?

Say that you and a few other residents in your town notice a high volume of people consistently trying to cross a particular road downtown that has no crosswalk. While it’s a logical place for people to cross, as it gets them close to popular shops and restaurants, it’s a dangerous road to cross without protection. 

The best course of action would be to encourage the city to put in a crosswalk at that spot, to encourage more and more people to cross the street safely to get to where they want to be. 

Similarly, knowing where your website traffic is coming from will help you to more strategically direct that traffic and increase it! There are six typical sources of traffic: 

  1. Direct traffic: Direct traffic is website visitors who arrive directly on a site. These visitors might type your website’s URL into an address bar or click on a bookmark in their browser. 
  2. Organic search traffic: Organic search traffic is the traffic that comes to your site from search engines like Google or Bing, but isn’t paid for through ads.
  3. Paid search traffic: Paid search traffic is made up of the site visitors that click on a paid-for ad placed on a search engine results page for a specific search query. 
  4. Referral traffic: Referral traffic is the website visitors who come to your site through other websites rather than googling your nonprofit. For example, a local school that benefitted from your nonprofit’s recent book drive might link to your website on their blog, driving traffic to your site through that link. 
  5. Email traffic: Email traffic is the traffic that comes from people who click a website link within an email. 
  6. Social traffic: Social traffic is the visitors who land on your website after clicking a link on a social media platform. This might be a link in a Tweet or Facebook post, or a link in your Instagram bio. 

According to 360MatchPro’s roundup of fundraising statistics, 44% of total nonprofit website traffic comes from organic search. This means it’s well worth your time to “paint a few crosswalks” to your site for organic search visitors. Here are three tips for doing so: 

  • Target specific keywords. Keywords are the words and phrases users will type into search engines that will match them with content that closely aligns with those keywords. By targeting certain keywords for your web pages and using them in organic, natural ways in your content, you can increase your pages’ visibility when users search those terms. You’ll want to choose specific keywords that are closely aligned with your organization’s work. 
  • Maintain heading hierarchy. Search engines need to be able to crawl and index your pages in order for them to rank higher and higher on search engine results pages. One of the best ways to help search engine crawlers do this is to maintain heading hierarchy. Ensure that your headers are in sequentially-descending order. For example, there should only be one H1 on each web page, followed by H2s, H3s, and so on. 
  • Use a custom theme. According to Cornershop Creative’s guide to WordPress for nonprofits, custom themes are inherently more SEO-friendly than pre-built themes because you have more control over the site from the beginning. For example, you’ll be able to control the initial setting of the heading hierarchy more easily. 

Is your website sharing the information that supporters are looking for?

Another aspect of website performance that nonprofits often want to know about is how useful their website is in fulfilling their audience’s needs and providing them with useful information. Bounce rate (the percentage of how many visitors land on your site and leave before visiting another page) can provide some insight into this. 

Recall that 41% to 55% is typical for a bounce rate. This may seem high, but remember that context is key for understanding bounce rate from page to page. For example, perhaps Person A only visits your “About Us” page to get a quick answer to a question about one of your staff members. It would make more sense for them to exit out of your site after looking at that one page. On the other hand, say Person B is interested in donating and clicks on a link on social media that leads them to a blog post. You would want that person to avoid bouncing before navigating to your donation page.  

This kind of context will inform how you improve specific pages to prevent bouncing, but what are some steps you can take to decrease your bounce rate all around? Here are a few suggestions: 

  • Create interesting content. If you want someone to keep exploring your site beyond the initial page they land on, you have to keep them interested! Make sure you’re creating content that holds visitors’ attention. Use clear, concise language to make your content skimmable, provide high-quality images to break up long sections of text, and include buttons that provide links to different pages and resources. 
  • Improve your page load speed. We’ve all been there—a page you click on takes too long to load, you get frustrated, and quickly exit out. Or, if the page does eventually load, there’s no way you want to explore other content on the slow site. To avoid giving your website visitors this type of experience, compress all of your site’s images and reduce redirect chains
  • Build internal links to other content on your site. Building internal links gives your website visitors a clear idea of the next best place for them to go on your website. If, for example, they read a blog post about your upcoming 5K fundraiser, including a link to the registration form would be a great way to encourage visitors to continue exploring your site and completing actions. 

Web engagement data can help drive your nonprofit’s decisions in a number of different areas. It’s worth tracking and reporting on consistently. And the longer you track this data, the easier it will be to see patterns that can help you make your next move to more fully engage your supporters, whether that be strengthening the quality of your blog content, focusing your marketing efforts on social media, or some other new direction. Good luck!

About the Author

Sarah Fargusson
Self-described as a “non-profit junkie,” Sarah has dedicated her career to serving the needs of the non-profit sector. Her project management experience spans a variety of non-profit management disciplines including strategic planning, community engagement, capacity building, fundraising and research. She has worked both in and for the non-profit sector at the Feminist Majority Foundation, the Sadie Nash Leadership Project, and the consulting firms The Lee Institute and The Curtis Group. With her ever expanding non-profit tool belt, Sarah joined Cornershop Creative to tap into her techie, creative side, while developing meaningful partnerships with her clients to help them more effectively achieve their goals.

Neon One’s Donors: Understanding The Future of Individual Giving – Part 1

What is this Report?

NeonOne set out to understand what individual giving looks like in the post-pandemic world. By reviewing many sources including academic journals, industry reports, blogs, and more, they have synthesized six questions:

  • Who are our donors?
  • What do our donors support?
  • When do our donors give?
  • Where are our donors?
  • Why do our donors give?
  • How do our donors give?

Due to the length of the report, Aspire will focus on the first three questions. The second part will be published in 2023.

What are key findings from the article?

  • Typical demographics of a “generous donor” are: Affluent, college graduates, homeowners, people aged 55+. But priorities are different between generations. Older generations give to emergency relief but younger folks tend to give to children’s charities and animal-related causes.
  • Black families gave the largest proportion of their wealth to charity. Studies also show that Latino households are more likely to have generational giving traditions. “The Vaid Group and Advancement Project for Democracy, one of the key findings was that “POC donors are much more likely to live in cross-class families and communities, where the impacts of the racialized wealth gap are very apparent. This fuels a fire towards upward class mobility and a desire for community uplift. Giving by these donors has unique features that emerge from the economic, historical ethnic, and racial experiences of each community, and other features that are shared across ethnicity and race.”
  • There’s a correlation between giving and volunteerism. In a survey by Today’s Philanthropic Landscape, 53% of people who support a nonprofit subsequently volunteer there. 39% volunteer first, then give. Only 8% do neither!
  • GivingTuesday’s Data Collaborative found that “75% of GivingTuesday are repeat donors, which far outpaces the industry average retention rate of 45%.” Even more striking,  84% of donors said that GivingTuesday made them want to give more in their communities.
  • Donors support several charities annually, from five to seven. The report quotes Mark Phillips of Bluefrog Consulting who said, “They are not your donors; you are one of their charities.”
  • Donor attrition is a real thing. Of first year donors, 80.8% are unlikely to give a second year. Asha Curran & Woodrow Rosenbaum at GivingTuesday ask in the report if part of the problem is the sector’s reliance on hard data instead of appealing to people’s emotions.
  • Eleven-thirty a.m. on Thursday is the most likely day of the week that donors give online. And contrary to popular thought, December is not when the vast majority of giving is made. The report estimates that 17% – 22% of revenue from fundraising is in December.

What can I do as a result?

  • Consider how your organization is engaging your donors, especially first-time donors. We all know that keeping a donor is a lot less expensive and less work than getting new ones. So how many first-time donors drop off at your organization? Lisa Greer, a donor mentioned in the report, said it best: “think like a donor. Remember how many emails they are likely sifting through each day, the volume of texts and calls flooding in. Consider how many companies are competing with you to earn their support. Bombarding your donors with fundraising requests will never be as effective as clearly communicated, professional two-way communication that demonstrates your appreciation and respect for them – along with your dedication, as an organization, to your mission.”
  • Consider how your organization works with non-white donors and constituents. How are you treating them? How are you (or are you not) engaging them? Are you cultivating non-white donors? Asking them on your boards? Do your fundraising materials reflect the people in your constituency?
  • Consider how encouraging first-time donors to volunteer can help further engage them for the future! And also look at your volunteers. They may be low hanging fruit, waiting to be engaged to donate to your cause.

Additional Resources

3 Data Points Your Nonprofit Should Collect from Donors

Your nonprofit relies on your donors’ support in order to meet its daily operations. However, if your nonprofit doesn’t fully understand its audience, it’ll be more difficult to engage your donors and motivate them to give. 

Collecting donor data can help your organization create comprehensive donor personas for each of your supporters, whether you have hundreds or thousands of people giving to your cause. While this may seem overwhelming, a strong data collection strategy backed by a solid tech foundation can streamline the entire process. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the essential data points your nonprofit should collect in its constituent relationship management (CRM) platform: 

Comprehensive data can help your organization steward strong donor relationships and tap into your donors’ unique motivations for giving to your nonprofit. As a result, your donors will feel more passionate about your cause, leading to a boost in online fundraising. Let’s begin. 

Demographic information

Your donors’ demographics will give you a baseline overview of the type of donors that are likely to give to your nonprofit. This will inform your outreach strategies so you can better target your ideal audience or even work towards reaching new audiences. 

Specifically, you’ll want to use your donation page or data appends to collect data points such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Contact information
  • Employment Status
  • Employer

For example, let’s say you collect these data points and discover that most of your donors are Gen Z or Millennials. Younger generations tend to prefer digital communications, so your nonprofit can amp up its social media marketing efforts to encourage donor retention. 

Employer data can also have a huge impact on your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts. If your donors work at companies that offer matching gifts, your organization can receive double (and sometimes triple) the amount of the original donation. In fact, according to Double the Donation, over 26 million individuals work for companies with matching gift programs. If your donors are eligible for matching gifts, they can easily increase their impact and play a more rewarding role in your organization’s journey. 

Nonprofit involvement

By taking a closer look at your donors’ history, you can better understand their giving capacity and interest in your cause. This information will help you tailor your donation appeals, volunteer outreach, and other communications to their needs and preferences. 

Collect the following data points about your donors’ involvement:

  • How frequently they give
  • Their average donation amount
  • The last time they gave
  • The events they’ve attended
  • Whether they’ve volunteered and how often they volunteer

With these data points, you can then segment your communications to better target certain types of donors. For example, you can create an email segment for donors that used to give frequently but haven’t given in the last year to reengage them with your mission. If you have a fundraising deadline quickly approaching and you haven’t hit your goal yet, you can create an email segment for major donors to ask them to help push you over the finish line. 

You can also segment your communications to promote monthly giving. According to Donately, monthly giving can help your organization establish a reliable donation pipeline that you can access year round. Create a segment for donors that give frequently and have the potential to be monthly givers. In your outreach, highlight the various benefits of monthly giving, including the ability to play a more active role in your nonprofit and the convenience of only having to fill out your donation page once. 

Supporter interests 

These are often answers to questions like: What are your supporters’ hobbies? Why are they passionate about your cause? Are they interested in finding new ways to get involved with your organization? 

This information will help you build stronger relationships with donors and find relevant ways to keep them engaged. For example, a donor with graphic design experience may express that they want to play a larger role in your organization. You can then open up a new volunteering opportunity to them, such as improving your fundraising website or your marketing materials. 

Understanding your supporters’ passions can also help you craft personalized donation appeals that are more likely to inspire action. For instance, if you’re an environmental organization, you may have several donors that give because they care deeply about saving endangered species. In your donation appeals to these donors, you can then emphasize the different ways your nonprofit’s work is helping to protect endangered animals. 

By taking the time to get to know your donors, they’ll feel more valued and appreciated by your organization. At your next in-person event, ensure that members of your nonprofit board or staff are present to engage with donors one-on-one and ask them about their interests. If you have a large donor base, you can create online get-to-know-you surveys that take just a few moments to complete. 

To steward strong donor relationships, you need a comprehensive understanding of each of your supporters. The accessibility of data has made it easier than ever to create donor personas and use this information for better engagement and outreach. Use donor data research tools, like your donation page and data appends, to collect essential data points and learn the best ways to drive donor retention. Good luck! 

About the Author

Jacob Spencer | Customer Success / Account Manager at Donately
I strive to make every step of our customer journey as enjoyable as possible. My goal is to turn everyone that trusts Donately into a raving fan! Raising funds can be daunting, but we know that with the right tools, it can and should be easy. 

Throughout my career, I’ve been able to help sales and success teams tackle new markets, grow and expand. Leading with empathy, listening to actually solve problems, and remembering that we are all human are the key elements to growing any business in a meaningful way.

When I’m not working you can find me spending time with my wife, 2 boys and our Border Collie, Abbie. Family>Everything.

Taking email marketing a step further: 4 tips for nonprofits

A multi-racial group look at a computer screen together.

Whether you have an upcoming fundraiser you’re trying to promote to donors or if you’re preparing for the end of the year, your nonprofit needs a focused and impactful marketing strategy. 

Email marketing has traditionally been the backbone of nonprofit marketing strategies for years. And not without reason! Nonprofit email marketing is a powerful tool that allows your organization to reach individual donors with specific messages that engage them with your organization. 

However, this only works if your organization keeps up with the latest trends and strategies for email outreach. If you fail to do this, your organization might fall behind and spend more and more time on an inefficient strategy. Make sure you’re using the most effective email marketing tactics to reach your supporters by leveraging the following tips: 

The average email open rate for nonprofits is much higher than other industries. This rate rests around 26% compared to the national average email opening rate of 6%. Take advantage of this opportunity and make sure you’re making the most of your outreach by ensuring your email strategy is up to date.

1. Identify and segment your audience

Sometimes it seems like the most time-efficient way to get a message across to your audience is to send a mass email. That means if you have an upcoming fundraiser, you would add all of your donors’ and supporters’ email addresses to the recipient box. While this might seem time-efficient, it’s actually not effective at all. 

People are much more likely to read and engage with messages that are personalized. In fact, according to one source, 74% of Gen Zers, 67% of Millennials, 61% of Gen Xers, and 57% of Baby Boomers all prefer personalized messages in the marketing messages they receive. That’s over half of your audience (no matter their age) that prefers a more personal touch to your emails. 

The best way to make sure you personalize each email you send is to segment your audience and craft messages per segment. It might take slightly longer than a mass message, but it’s a much better strategy. 

Doubleknot’s segmentation guide explains that there are three primary types of data that nonprofits can use to group their audience into segments for marketing purposes: 

  • Sociological. These data points include the social, cultural, economic, and lifestyle traits of your target audience. For example, you might use gender or age as data points for some segments. 
  • Preferential. When donors provide you with information about their communication preferences, you can also use this to make specific segments. For instance, if a donor prefers to only receive emails twice a month, you can limit the number of messages you send them. 
  • Psychological. These are the traits that you might collect via survey or in notes after a one-on-one conversation with a supporter. Psychological data comprises an individual’s values, passions, interests, etc. For example, if you know a donor’s motivations to give, you can mention those aspects of your mission in your outreach to them. 

Save relevant details regarding this type of data in your nonprofit’s CRM. Then, use that information to create segments and better personalize your outreach strategy. Be sure to regularly clean up this data in your database so that you are always working with the latest information. 

2. Set a purpose for each message

Each email that you send to your audience should have a concrete purpose. The last thing you want to do is to send mindless emails that don’t call your supporters to do anything — these types of messages simply waste both you and your supporters’ time. 

Strategize what the most important thing you want to promote at your organization is. Ask yourself, “Why are we sending this email?” Then, you can use that information to structure your messages and encourage supporters to help you accomplish your goals. For example, consider promoting opportunities for: 

  • Online fundraising. Use your messaging to explain how the funds will be used and to share stories of previous fundraising campaigns that impacted the community. Then, be sure to include a link to your donation page so that people can give directly after reading your message. 
  • Event registration. Use these messages to highlight key aspects of the event like the auction items for lower-level audiences and your VIP tables for major donors. 
  • Volunteer events. Send specific outreach emails to talented supporters for specific volunteer opportunities (like graphic design skills). Or, send a more general message to past volunteers asking for help at your next event. 

Appreciation messages need to have a purpose too, even if you’re not immediately promoting an upcoming campaign. You should explain the impact supporters had, thank them for getting involved, then offer a next step, like filling out a feedback survey. 

You should always include an opportunity for your supporters to get involved after reading your message. These calls to action should link your readers to proper landing pages directly from your email. For example, link to your online donation page as a part of your fundraising outreach and to event registration pages when inviting people to attend your next big auction. 

3. Conduct A/B testing for various strategies

A/B testing allows your nonprofit to test aspects of your email outreach on your audience to see what strategies are most effective. Essentially, it helps you gain insight into what your audience responds best to so you can use that data for future campaigns

You should only ever test one variable at a time. Send one message using one strategy to half of your audience and use the other strategy for the other half. For example, you might send a message to half of your audience using a graphic style image and another message with a stock photo to the other half. Whichever gets more click throughs is the more effective image strategy. 

Some of the factors you might choose to test in your emails using A/B testing include: 

  • Subject lines
  • Calls to action
  • Images
  • Videos

Make sure you have relevant metrics you can measure to see which option performs better during tests. For example, you might measure the email open rate when testing two different subject lines or the click-through rate when testing different calls to action. 

Save this information and update it when necessary. A/B testing is an important aspect of donor data because it describes those preferences specific to your audienceIt’s much more precise than simply reviewing statistics for general audiences from other market testers and will be useful in future campaigns. 

4. Use email addresses to target ads

You can take your email strategy a step further by leveraging your email addresses to create ads that will help drive more traffic to your organization. This process is called email mapping. It allows your nonprofit to send targeted ads to a list of specific email addresses.

Although many organizations are often hesitant to leverage ads, whether due to financial strain or a lack of understanding of their impact, Feathr’s nonprofit advertising guide explains that there are a great number of benefits that accompany this strategy: 

  • Increased reach, providing more opportunities for supporters to get involved with your mission. 
  • Major returns and campaign conversions for a low-cost outreach strategy. 
  • Automation options, saving your team’s time for working on other aspects of your mission.

When you use email mapping to display ads to your supporters, these messages will show up in the margins of web articles, on their Facebook feeds, and elsewhere across the internet. Be sure the message you display relates back to your email campaign. This repeat exposure reminds your supporters about the opportunities you offer to get involved and increases the chances that they will do so. 

Now that you know email outreach strategies, create goals based on what you want to pursue. Be sure each goal is tied to a specific measurable metric so that you can define what success looks like for your organization. The key performance indicators (KPIs) you might choose to track could include your email open rate, click-through rate, and conversion rate. 

Consider which KPIs will be more impactful for your particular mission. This tracking of metrics will also help you identify improvement opportunities for future campaigns. Good luck!

About the Author

Aidan Augustin | Co-founder & President, Feathr | linkedin.com/in/aidanaugustin
Aidan Augustin is the co-founder and president of Feathr, an industry-leading software company making digital marketing more accessible to nonprofits and event organizers. Feathr has helped over 800 nonprofits and thousands of events know, grow, and engage their audiences. When he’s not steering the ship at Feathr, he’s playing strategy games, singing karaoke, or reading books about people who changed the world.