“I love TechSoup!” I never get tired of hearing that phrase. I have to say, it’s my favorite part of getting to attend nonprofit conferences like the Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). Those of us here at TechSoup work diligently, day in and day out, I love TechSoup!to provide the social sector with access to better technology, advice, and education. But because our mission is so focused on nonprofit capacity building, we don’t often get to hear about the actual work you’re doing with that technology.

This year at NTC in (cold, windy, briefly sunny) Washington, D.C., my colleagues and I got to hear your stories. It makes all of the work we do so, so worthwhile. We met organizations who were using new platforms to connect food pantries to food providers, using technology to connect more people and more families to more rescued animals across the country (hello, Don!), pushing the boundaries of what health IT can be and do, and hundreds upon hundreds more stories!

It was also great to meet in person some of the generous donors who make our programs possible (and I’m not just saying that because James from Microsoft gave me some free drink tickets). There were fifteen TechSoup partners and providers attending. Check it out: Azavea, BetterWorld Telecom, Blackbaud, DonorPerfect, Esri, Idealware, InterConnection, Microsoft, Mobile Beacon, NetSuite, Network for Good, SAP, Tech Impact, Telosa, and VolunteerMatch.

So, Did You Get to Any Sessions?

For me, personally, NTC was a great chance to see what my peers were doing, to find new ways for TechSoup to innovate, and to hear where our fellow charities were struggling.

People at NTC
Marketing and communications for nonprofits is in a very exciting period. What was once a fairly straightforward field (writing letters of appeal, drafting a newsletter) is now in a tech renaissance. In a given week, my peers and I are

  • using e-marketing tools to write more personalized, relevant messages and stories,
  • reviewing email and e-newsletter metrics,
  • adopting design best practices,
  • building social media campaigns,
  • A/B testing the layout of our fundraising forms,
  • engaging in digital storytelling,
  • applying SEO best practices,
  • launching keyword campaigns for search,
  • drafting advertisements,
  • scripting and editing videos and short films, and
  • testing testing testing.

Email Matters

Patrick Duggan (author of this blog) at NTCI attended one session on email marketing that touched on some best practices for fundraising emails and letters of appeal. But it also went into the many ways in which email marketing feeds into community engagement, donor engagement, and messaging consistency from email to website to other channels. It’s great to see nonprofits engaged in this integrated thinking.

What were the two biggest takeaways for nonprofits doing basic email marketing but looking to go to the next level? One, find new ways to turn anonymous traffic into email addresses. Make your newsletter sign-ups a priority, and find new ways to give them other information behind an email sign-up. Two, invest time in lead nurturing. Send a welcome email; three days later, follow that with a program-content email; six days later, send another different program-content email; and then, twelve days later, send an invitation to join your cause or donate.

A personal takeaway of mine was the need to improve the way TechSoup’s own email appears on mobile devices. We send 15 million messages a year, and I’m hoping to finally make our email campaigns mobile friendly this summer. I also wondered what our members most wanted from our newsletters, and it hit me — I could just ask them. So stay tuned for that!

Online Testing

I also attended a session on online testing, which made me very excited. People are measuring and making impactful changes to their email campaigns, websites, and donation forms. At TechSoup, we started light online and email testing about a year ago, and it’s great to see the broader sector also adopting these practices. The session focused, of course, on our main pain point — fundraising.

Through online testing, we can gain insights into our audience and make our creative work better. The big goal is to raise more revenue for our organizations. The first rule? Always test everything. No best practice or example works for (or applies to) all organizations and all audiences.

During this session, they walked us through a series of case studies. Some of the more interesting ones included these:

Be The Match

Be the Match

Be The Match had been sending email campaigns about the work their organization was doing and asking for support for it. Their campaign had an OK open rate but low clicks and low giving. For a test, they sent a second “B” email that focused instead on the end result of their work: two visual stories of kids who received bone marrow transplants. That second email saw a 30% increase in opens, received five times the click rate, and most importantly, led to consistent year-over-year growth.

Show Your Strength 

Show Your Strength
Show Your Strength’s leadership felt strongly about only focusing their donor outreach messaging on "happy and healthy" children. The marketing team wanted to prove those assumptions with a test: what happens when you frame your fundraising request around “thanks to your support ...” vs. the visual human need. They convinced them to do a test with imagery of a sad child, the very kind they wanted to help. That test email had a 725% revenue increase!

Sierra Club 

Sierra Club
Sierra Club had three different call-to-action (CTA) buttons on their home page, and they thought it was confusing. So they decided to test a new design that cleaned up the look. They added a "Donate" button to the top navigation bar and removed all other buttons. It decreased donations. So they removed the "Donate" button and tested adding a "Join/Renew" button instead — that button increased membership and overall donations by 35%.

Network for Good 

Network for GoodFor mobile users visiting their site, Network for Good tested a "remind me later" function, rather than let people pay or donate on their phone. The test revealed only 3% of people who clicked "Remind me later" on their phones actually went through with payment. The takeaway? You need to capture people at the moment they want to take the action.

The panel also recommended that every nonprofit test the following: button placement on your website, email subject lines, value strings in your donation requests, home page image choices, and the donor conversion funnel.

More TechSoup at NTC!

That was my experience, but a few of us got to attend. My colleague Ale has a great post about getting social at NTC.


Patrick Duggan | TechSoup Digital Marketing Manager