By Aly Sterling, founder and president of Aly Sterling Philanthropy

There is no doubt that technology has the power to revolutionize the nonprofit world—and in recent years, it certainly has. With all of the obstacles nonprofits face, from fundraising struggles to managing donor records, technology has become an important tool to have on hand.

However, technology can also limit the personal interactions between nonprofit professionals and donors and, in more extreme cases, replace the need for some nonprofit staff altogether. With that said, how can nonprofit professionals keep the human side of fundraising alive? 

Because of its many benefits, technology shouldn’t be disregarded or ignored by nonprofit professionals. Rather, technology should be used to aid your team and strengthen donor relationships. As you figure out the best way to incorporate technology into your nonprofit’s operations, ask yourself these important questions: 

  1. What tech trends are taking nonprofits by storm?
  2. Why should nonprofits care about maintaining a human element?

In this post, we’ll explore ways you can use technology for your nonprofit’s benefit. By coupling technology with your nonprofit’s passionate team, you’ll be able to improve your fundraising strategy and retain donors for the long run. Let’s begin.

What tech trends are taking nonprofits by storm?

Technology has become a critical part of daily nonprofit operations, from simplifying administrative tasks to facilitating capital campaigns that can take years to complete. 

There are several budding tech trends as well as tried-and-true systems that have been adopted by nonprofits. These include:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Virtual reality
  • CRM software
  • Prospect research software

Let’s take a look at these in more depth and see how they can help nonprofits run smoothly and more successfully.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to a technology that acts as a substitute for human intelligence. While this is still relatively new in the nonprofit sector, several nonprofits have successfully integrated AI and machine learning to support their work. 

AI technology is especially helpful in managing data and using it to form concrete predictions for your nonprofit’s future. This can come in handy when creating a strategic plan for your nonprofit so you can reach your fundraising goals. 

AI technology can also alleviate some of the stress of:

  • Tedious administrative tasks. The most common form of administrative AI is customer support on your website known as chatbots. This tool automatically appears on a site visitor’s screen to answer basic questions that once would have necessitated an administrator’s interference. Your nonprofit team can use chatbots to easily answer questions about the donation process, your organization’s goals and the cause your organization supports!
  • Human resources. AI-driven software can screen, filter and compare potential employee candidates and present the hiring team with a list of the most qualified applicants, effectively streamlining the hiring process. This will help ensure your nonprofit’s fundraising staff are equipped to drive your organization to success.
  • Recurring giving. AI technology can quickly identify donors with the highest likelihood of signing up for recurring giving, such as on a once-monthly basis. This can help your nonprofit establish a reliable revenue stream year round and create a healthy giving program. Plus, it can also help you identify lapsed donors who would be more likely to give again if they receive a targeted message from your nonprofit. Make sure that your messaging to donors is personalized and includes a strong call to action to inspire them to donate. 

AI tools allow nonprofits to reduce the amount of time they spend doing lengthy tasks, leaving more time to focus on big-picture elements and cater to donors’ experience. For instance, instead of taking hours to analyze donor trends and identify major donors, nonprofit administrators can spend more time creating highly personalized donor communications and building relationships over time. 

Virtual reality

The best way to inspire others to support your nonprofit is to demonstrate the value of your cause and your nonprofit’s work in creating a solution. While you could simply tell your audience about it, it might be even more worthwhile to show the problem you are trying to solve with virtual reality. 

For example, the International Rescue Committee created a virtual reality film called “Four Walls” to help people understand the Syrian refugee crisis. Viewers are given the point of view of a refugee living in dire conditions, such as an abandoned building or tented settlement. A simulated first-hand experience like this not only raises awareness for extremely important causes, but also evokes empathy and inspires audiences to take action and donate. 

While virtual reality can be an effective storytelling tool to garner support, there are barriers to accessing the technology and financing the production of the simulated video footage. To get around these obstacles, you can form a corporate partnership with a tech company that has experience in virtual reality and ask them to finance and create a project on your behalf. 

According to Aly Sterling Philanthropy’s corporate philanthropy guide, corporate partnerships are rising in popularity. These relationships benefit not only your nonprofit, but also the business by allowing them to associate with your great cause. Do your research to find a partner that has similar values and is willing to fund a virtual reality project. 

CRM software

Software designed for constituent relationship management (CRM) is one of the most vital tools a nonprofit can use for data management. While this software isn’t necessarily a new trend for nonprofits, it’s one of the most important pieces of technology used by organizations to effectively and strategically manage fundraising.

CRM software allows nonprofits to:

  • Better organize their data. All donor data is clearly organized according to the nonprofit’s preferences and can be easily filtered to show the nonprofit team exactly what they need to know.
  • Segment their donor lists. Nonprofit teams can better understand patterns and trends in their donor population when they segment their contact list and know the exact demographics of those who support their cause. Segmentation can help your nonprofit learn about donors’ giving capacity and even determine their matching gift eligibility. According to Double the Donation’s matching gift statistics, an estimated $2-3 billion is donated through matching gifts annually, so pinpointing eligible donors and letting them know about matching gifts can significantly boost your revenue. 
  • Manage donor relationships. Knowing more about donors’ behavior can help nonprofits tailor their communication approach to make their fundraising strategies more purposeful and successful.

CRMs can also help turn donors into loyal volunteers. Use CRM software to segment donors by volunteer history so you can conduct outreach to potential volunteers and encourage people who have volunteered in the past to get involved again. Volunteers are vital to running effective fundraisers, so this is a great way to strengthen your fundraising strategy. 

Prospect research software

One challenge for nonprofits is determining which donors have the potential to make a major gift. Prospect research software is specifically designed to provide insight into a potential donor’s ability and willingness to give to your organization.

Prospect research software uses a range of tools to collect and analyze key data and provide your nonprofit with concrete next steps. Important data for prospect research includes:

  • Wealth markers. Wealth markers demonstrate prospective donors’ net worth and giving potential. This can help your team determine who they can solicit for major gifts and which leads could be dead ends. Important wealth markers include business affiliations, real estate investment and stock ownership.
  • Philanthropic indicators. Possibly the most important aspect of prospect research tools, philanthropic indicators reveal donors’ giving histories and relationships to other organizations. These indicators can include their last donation, the frequency with which they donate, who they donate to and how much they typically donate.

Prospect research can take some of the guesswork out of your major gifts strategy. It’s important to note that the only way to secure a gift is through regular and genuine donor stewardship. Prospect research merely facilitates the fundraising work of your team and helps you make educated decisions around your major gifts strategy. 

While prospect research software and other technology tools can support your nonprofit’s strategies, they won’t run automatically. They still require a human touch to operate effectively and correct any errors that slip through the cracks. Make sure you have a team member on board with the expertise to set up and monitor these technology solutions. 

Keep in mind that technology can’t solve all of nonprofits’ problems or replace the need for face-to-face interactions. In reality, technology is used to further enhance the human element for better interactions with supporters.

Why should nonprofits care about maintaining a human element?

Adopting technology into your nonprofit strategy is certainly considered a best practice for managing your nonprofit, but your nonprofit’s greatest asset is its team. Don’t let your team of experts end with just your nonprofit staff—hiring a fundraising consultant can help you fill in gaps in your current fundraising strategy and determine how to best integrate technology into your strategic plan. 

Donors value personalized experiences, so your team should brainstorm ways to best engage your supporters. While technology can help (such as with CRM software that can determine donors’ preferred communication methods), your team should add a human touch wherever possible. To maintain this human element when communicating with donors, consider incorporating the following strategies:

  • Address donors using their name. Instead of using a generic greeting like “Dear Valued Donor,” use donors’ first names. This helps donors feel more connected to your organization and feel like they’re an essential part of your nonprofit’s giving community. 
  • Express your appreciation. Show donors how much you value their contributions by using specific details. For example, reference the donation amount they last gave and thank them sincerely for supporting your nonprofit. You can even include details on how their donation was used so they can see the impact their funds make. This makes it more likely that they’ll want to give again. 
  • Incorporate face-to-face time when possible. While this might not be possible with all donors, make sure you have team members available to engage donors face-to-face. For example, if you’re hosting an in-person fundraising event, there should be staff there to speak to donors and thank them for their time and contributions. This helps donors get to know the people working behind the scenes at your nonprofit. 

If donors receive communications that seem more robotic than human, they’ll lose interest in supporting your nonprofit and feel like they’re not valued. Remember to keep this in mind as you use technology to support your needs. In the end, it’s the human element, not technology, that will keep supporters on your side. 

Nonprofits use empathy to further their cause and inspire their community, but technology can greatly enhance your team’s ability to do this, as long as it doesn’t detract from your personal outreach efforts. 

A nonprofit should utilize a combination of technology tools and human expertise to construct the best fundraising strategies with the greatest chance of success. By using these two together, there’s no limit to how much your nonprofit will be able to accomplish.