Why are Jewish Nonprofits Afraid of the Power of Technology for Fundraising?

by Robert I. Evans and Avrum D. Lapin

Interactive cell phones now beget landlines and the printed newsletter is now being challenged by organizational internet sites with icons that read “Give Now.” Every new day brings advancements in the way organizations ask and people give. Donors are making scores of smaller gifts on cell phones and computer screens. It is the 21st century equivalent of envelopes being passed around High Holy Day services so we offer you this posting as part of our commitment to reintroducing 11 ideas for 2011, our outline of critical concepts each non-profit should be considering for this year.

We do not wish to misstate our premise: technology is by no means a replacement for personal cultivation and in-person meetings with donors. Instead it is a vital tool to ensure all constituencies are “in the know” about organizations they support, and understand needs and expectations. We believe that every non-profit organization should know and use certain almost commonplace electronic tools.

The other reminder that we state here: social media (Facebook, Twitter, and other options) as well as using the internet to promote philanthropy is not just aiming at Millenials (donors 20-35 years of age). People of all ages and income levels are increasingly paying their bills on line and are “conversing” on Skype as well as other technology.

Despite very affordable hardware and software and a plethora of options that make social media options available for even the smallest non-profits, too many non-profits are content to stay where they are. Consider that only 40% of all U.S. synagogues today have a “donation” button integrated into their websites. It is a simple widget that can streamline easy participation by integrating with PayPal or Google Merchant services. Thus 60% of affiliated Jews go onto their synagogue website and are never offered an easy opportunity to give any gift, sign up and pay for an event, or make a timely payment of dues or a campaign pledge.

Another creative avenue to raise awareness of campaigns in progress is to collect Twitter handle names or create a Facebook group. With Twitter, any organization can “hash tag” special activities. (Hash tag is an organized callout. You can put out a message. For example, the hash tag can read “#NYJCCIsRaisingMoney.” Then everyone who has those keywords on Twitter can see the callout message.) With Facebook, an organization can add events and drum up interest by self-promoting. Both are free and keep members involved and attached.

This approach can then ease friends into visiting an organization’s website, too, where they can be introduced to the “donation” button. Not having a Twitter or Facebook presence today means that an organization is losing out on a key communications medium and leaving too much to chance.

Let’s go back to cell phones for a moment. Cell phone companies are now offering a way to donate to causes by texting. Companies like MPowerGiving.com and GiveByCell.com provide any institution the power to collect smaller gifts by simply having a unique code to text into phones. The way that it works is that the donor texts a code into their phone, which permits a cell phone carrier to add a charge to the phone bill for a nonprofit of their choice. Once the bill is paid for by that donor, the carrier sends that donation directly to that specific nonprofit.

Since phones today are essentially mini computers with clickable icons, non-profit organizations are slowly realizing that reaching people through their cell phone is the technology of the moment. With some organizations, it is one way for donors to receive alerts about the news on their favorite organizations. For membership-based agencies, such as synagogues, it is an accessible way to encourage members to pay their dues and for other organizations it is another avenue to incorporate a “donation” button.

And yet, according to The New York Jewish Week (February, 2010) only 500 nonprofit organizations had launched text campaigns in the two years that tool was available. We know of the fundraising efforts in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti that succeeded primarily because of this technology. Despite its demonstrated efficacy as a fundraising tool, there are only a few Jewish organizations that seem to be engaged or have engaged in text donation campaigns. They include the American Joint Distribution Committee, UJA Federation of New York, American Jewish World Service and the San Francisco Jewish Community Center, to name only a few. It is time for the Jewish community to get up to speed or they will be left behind.

While there are a few drawbacks to consider, including monthly fees that range from $50 – $500 along with transactional fees, it may be well worth the investment. To “sweeten the deal” the price includes many added features and statistical analysis tools.

We reiterate that this form of technology does NOT usually attract large gifts. It is a potentially efficient tool for an organization to mobilize many small gifts in response to a cause, event or short term stimulus.

Lastly, any good fundraising campaign should involve good data research and tools that offer efficient management and easy access to solid and credible data about its donor pool. In today’s world, there are a plethora of donor management software tools that help address this. Giftworks, Blackbaud and RaisersEdge are all excellent options in capturing data, running reports and cultivating databases. DonorPerfect is a popular, simple and powerful software option. For synagogues, several viable options exist and they, too, are undergoing significant changes to adapt to new requirements for ease of use and  capturing precious charitable dollars from technology-savvy donors.

Outreach fundraising through creative media is a relatively new way of thinking for Jewish organizations. Sometimes we need to think outside of the tzedakah box in considering innovative yet available ways to create or access new revenue streams. Using technology and appealing to members of the Jewish family at all ages and at all levels of technological proficiency is becoming the new norm. Don’t let unconventional attitudes block untapped fundraising dollars.

Robert I. Evans, Managing Director, and Avrum D. Lapin, Director, are principals of The EHL Consulting Group, of suburban Philadelphia, and are frequent contributors to eJewishPhilanthropy.com. EHL Consulting works with dozens of nonprofits on fundraising, strategic planning, and non-profit business practices. Become a fan of The EHL Consulting Group on Facebook.