Community impact is all about people—the customer experience. Making a difference through philanthropy is the result of donors getting connected to causes they care about. The deeper the engagement, the deeper the impact. That's nothing new.
But what does donor engagement mean now, in 2014? And what does it mean to your institution's future success? The answers to those critical questions might just be online. Literally. Here's the reality:
- The online environment continues to transform our lifestyles. Cloud storage, mobile devices, social media, and "big data" analysis are now part of contemporary life.
- Software will continue to shift its emphasis to the quality of the user experience. Donors want a clear, relevant, and interactive digital experience. Online applications must be engaging, easy to navigate, and compatible with mobile devices.
- Online transactions are the accepted norm and an integral part of society.
- An organization that delivers an engaging online experience will drive asset growth and will secure the long-term loyalty of its donors.
- A few years ago, the mere existence of an online transaction-oriented platform could be a compelling selling point for a philanthropic institution. Now, the mere existence of a system is not enough. The overall online experience, not simply a system's existence, is the key.
For donor-advised funds, it is essential that the online account system continuously improves so that it meets donor expectations. For Internet users, the absence of a positive, effective online experience is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Consider the reported by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:
- As of January 2014, nearly 87 percent of American adults use the Internet.
- As of 2013, about 73 percent of Americans use social media networks. Of those, 63 percent check daily, and 42 percent use multiple networks.
In addition, a growing number of Americans now trust and use online services for a variety of financial transactions. Even large corporations understand the importance of online technology to the customer experience. Consider these statistics:
- In 2013, 51 percent of American adults, or 61 percent of Internet users, banked online. In 2010, the numbers were 46 percent and 58 percent respectively. These figures are up from 18 percent in 2000.
- Some 60 percent of executives note that they plan to invest most heavily in websites, 40 percent in e-commerce, and 51 percent in mobile applications.
- In 2013, 35 percent of mobile phone owners banked using their mobile phones, up from 18 percent in 2011.
And here's the real kicker for donor-advised fund programs. Consider these statistics of affluent individuals (those earning more than $70,000 a year), the population most likely to engage in philanthropy:
- Some 96 percent use the Internet and 75 percent bank online.
- Some 44 percent with mobile phones use them to conduct banking.
The upshot here is that savvy philanthropic institutions—especially community foundations—are figuring out how to respond to donor demands for a comprehensive online experience. Donors expect a high-quality and integrated online experience that meets all of their online needs, from accessing contact information to finding dates for events to recommending a DAF grant. Oh—and it has to be visually pleasing, too. Clunky just doesn't cut it anymore.
Why does a comprehensive online experience matter? Because what's at stake is the bottom line. How would your bottom line change for the better if you knew your website—and your online account platform—were working hard, synergistically?
Consider this chart:
What can you do to get started? Begin by testing a few theories internally. For example, consider the following scenarios in an executive team brainstorming session:
- Evaluate the cost of a major event, involving 100 or more donors. Could the goals of that event have been accomplished through online engagement? Donors are faced with too many events pulling for their time, and they might welcome an alternative to an evening out. The math can be compelling. For instance, if the event cost is $50 a head, 100 donors at an event is a $5,000 expense. Staff time would likely add an additional $5,000, for a total $10,000 expense. The question here is, might there a better use for the funds and staff time? Would the organization be better served through a content-rich website that gives donors great information and a place to collaborate and make grants with other donors?
- Conduct a scan of multi-generational donor families engaged with existing funds. If your foundation is already working with more than 10 multi-generational families, ask yourself whether you offer a compelling online option to encourage family members to work together and communicate? If you don't, you may be missing an opportunity to retain the next generation and generate those powerful donor-to-donor referrals.
- Pretend you are a donor preparing to make an online grant. Hop onto your website. What is your honest impression of your foundation's brand and quality of technology? Pay attention to the look and feel of the online environment as you are walking in your donors' shoes, toggling between the core website content and the online account system. Is it a seamless and pleasant experience? Or do you feel whiplash?
So, the key to the new donor engagement reality is simple. Philanthropic institutions must acknowledge that it is the quality of the online experience that matters, not the mere existence of an online presence and transactional system. A positive online experience creates a positive return on investment. A negative online experience creates a negative return.
It's time to take it seriously.
© 2014, Crown Philanthropic Solutions
Crown Philanthropic Solutions creates a powerful donor engagement platform that empowers clients with the ability to create passionate donors by managing their donors' experiences.