Technology is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to fundraising, or almost any kind of work. It can be a huge help or it can be a frustrating time suck. The key is making smart decisions by using the right tool for the right task at the right time. We’re not technology experts at Productive Fundraising, but we’ve certainly been around the fundraising scene long enough to know a great tool when we see one. Here are our ten favorite tech tools for more productive fundraising …
- Your Fundraising Database
Let’s start with the most obvious place first … your database. And I certainly hope you have a fundraising database. Excel and Outlook are not fundraising databases, they are places to dump information … not tools that make you more efficient. Getting information back out of your database is just as important as having a place to put it, and that is not easy with spreadsheets and contact files. When it comes to fundraising databases there are tons of options out there. We’re currently partial to Bloomerang and NeonCRM. Both of these products offer monthly fees that are based on the size of your donor base, so they grow with you and do not require large up front cash investments. The key is to make sure your database is right-sized for your organization. You don’t need something with every feature if you’ll never have the time to use them.
Have you ever noticed how it seems like you’re typing the same thing over and over again … especially with emails? Well, there’s a tool to help with that called TextExpander. TextExpander lets you instantly insert snippets of text from a repository of emails, boilerplate and other content, as you type – using a quick search or abbreviation. Our favorite time to use it? When sending donor visit request emails. If you’ve been following us for long you know that we advocate using an optimized template for these requests. So if you’re using a template why not make it easy? We can insert this template into our email simply by typing “\donor” in the subject line of a new email. TextExpander handles the rest … here’s a video we compiled a few months back showing this in action. We also use this tool for doing things like following up with potential event attendees, sending birthday greetings and reaching out to keep in touch with donors and contacts. TextExpander is a paid service, but we’ve found it to be well worth the minimal annual investment.
Pocket is probably our favorite tool on this list. It is a handy tool that keeps you on task and ensures that you are always learning something new … two essential keys to productive fundraising. Pocket lets you save all that great content you find when browsing the web and social media, without using precious blocks of time in the middle of your work day to read it. When you find something you want to view later, you simply put it in your Pocket. You can put articles, videos or pretty much anything into Pocket using a simple button directly from your browser or using the share feature in apps. If it’s in your Pocket, it’s on your phone, tablet or computer. You don’t even need an Internet connection. You can then use all those little snippets of time in your day (waiting rooms, waiting on hold, etc.) to be productive and learn something rather than aimlessly flip through your Facebook news feed. It’s a win-win … staying on task and making snippets of dead time productive. And it’s a free service!
If you haven’t gone paperless, we’d encourage you to highly consider it. It is life changing and freeing. You are never worried about where something is, it’s simply always with you. The tool that makes this all work is Evernote. Evernote lets you collect what matters and find it when you need it, wherever you are. You can write notes, capture ideas, clip pages from the web, scan statements and receipts and even record your voice. With Evernote on your computer, phone, and the web, your notes are always with you and always in sync. Plus their easy search feature means you can find what you need when you need it, even handwriting in images. Guess where we keep track of blog post ideas? Yep … Evernote. We recommend getting started by putting one type of information in Evernote. See how that goes and then move your life there … it’s a journey.
So let’s say you send one of your donors a personal note in the mail and it gets returned as undeliverable, what do you do? Yes you can search Google or the white pages but often times they are not adequate. You need a good research tool that can pull together all the public data and let you figure out where your donor went. Have they moved? Are they at a seasonal address? Our go to tool (because of its affordability) is Spokeo. Spokeo lets you look individuals up by name, narrow in to find the right person and then access all of the public data available on them. It’s often a good way to find a missing email address as well (but don’t just automatically add them to your list, you don’t want to be a spammer).
There are bunch of great fundraising thought leaders out there putting out amazing content (for free) just about every day. There’s so much quality information that it can get overwhelming and it is very easy to miss great content. Subscribing to all of their email newsletters just makes your inbox a train wreck. So, we recommend putting them all into an RSS aggregator like Feedly. Then you can just spend a bit of time every few days flipping through the headlines and save what you would like to read to your Pocket (with one click). Then when you read it in Pocket and find something you want to implement it you can save it to your Evernote (with one click). See what we did there? A lot of these tools work great together to optimize your workflow.
We coordinate a heck of a lot of meetings as fundraisers. If you’re scheduling these by sending emails back and forth to committee members you’re wasting a lot of time (and driving them nuts). Thankfully there’s a far better option, check out Doodle. Here’s how it works … you select dates and times that work for you using their intuitive website. This creates a poll which you invite your attendees to view. With the invitation, participants can select their preferences. They don’t even need an account. Once the votes are in, you select the option that works for the most people and notify the attendees. It’s easy as pie (and the basic service level is free).
- Auction Management System
An auction management system can really streamline special event auction coordination and make it a much more enjoyable process for your guests. After you enter your auction items into the system, it can handle time-consuming tasks like generating bid sheets, catalogs, bidder reports and preview websites with the click of a button. On the donor’s end the addition of an inexpensive credit card reader to a laptop allows you offer real-time check out and even pre-swipe credit cards to expedite checkout. Our current auction management system of choice is Auctria (formerly Charity Auction Organizer). It offers an affordable annual license which is adequate for most small to midsize nonprofit organizations.
- Image Editing Websites
So much of the content that we generate is much more appealing in a visual format. Our donors are far more likely to read something if it is graphical or includes an image. Thankfully you no longer have to be a graphic designer to be able to produce nice, simple, clean images that enhance your messaging. There are a bunch of free websites that allow you to create sharp images with text overlays (or even your logo) on top of free stock images. Our current favorite is Pablo, but this seems to change every few months.
What does almost every tech tool mentioned so far have in common? They are all websites that require passwords. Where are you putting all of those passwords? Hopefully you are long past the days of keeping a written password book or putting them on a post-it note attached to your monitor. But often times we end up using the same password for everything in order to make remembering them easier. In the process we make ourselves (and our organizations) extremely vulnerable to hackers. What’s the solution? Use a tool like LastPass which is an online password vault which generates and remembers incredibly secure passwords. The best part, you only have to remember one password moving forward (your LastPass password) which allows you to make it something creative, unique and secure.
That’s it … our ten favorite tech tools for more productive fundraising. Do you have a favorite tech tool that isn’t mentioned? If so, head on over to our Facebook page and let us know. We’d love to hear from you!
PLEASE NOTE: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means that we earn a small commission if you make a purchase (at no additional cost to you). We are VERY selective with this list. To be included on this list it must be a tool, service or vendor that we have personally used and know that you too will have a positive experience if you implement it in your development shop.