How a digital literacy blind spot is harming your nonprofit

publication date: Feb 10, 2016
author/source: Clare McDowall

Clare McDowallThis article is the second in a series of four about the digital literacy blind spot. Read the first post here.

Now that we’ve dispelled the myths of digital marketing and communications, it’s time to talk about the harm caused by a digital literacy blind spot in your leadership. 

Canadians are the most online country in the world. In fact, 95% of us are connected to the internet. Not only are the vast majority of us online, over half of us (and growing) are active on social media. 

(Source: We Are Social)

Your donors are spending more time online than ever before. They’re buying gifts and groceries, booking vacations, getting their news, and researching and donating to nonprofits online. How does your nonprofit measure up in this experience?

You are losing donations

Well that got your attention, didn’t it?

Being unaware of digital trends, best practices, and how to leverage tools for your organization means you aren’t directing your staff or volunteers or consultants very well.

Across every sector, online donations have been increasing (the drop in International donations is because of the huge spike in 2013 in response to Typhoon Haiyan). Your donors do want to give to you online. Take a look at the change in online revenue by sector reported below. Measuring year-over-year growth in online revenue shows that online donation processes (acquisition, retention, stewardship, etc) need to be taken seriously. Online is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a “must have”.


(Source: M+R Benchmark)

Not only do your donors want to give to you online, they are giving more each year. Blackbaud’s most recent report indicates that the median online gift is about $92 (a 2% increase from the previous year).

(Source: Blackbaud).

Online experience is key

Your donors’ online experiences play a big factor in whether or not your cause gets the cash. Conversion rates for nonprofits with a responsive website are 34% higher than those with no optimization. A responsive site (also referred to as responsive web design or RWD) is a web design approach that aims to make your website easy to access, navigate, and interact with on a variety of devices including desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones. You might have run into a non-responsive site on your phone or tablet -- those sites are the ones with tiny fonts, broken images, and small navigation links.  You have to use your ‘pinch fingers’ to make things bigger and smaller and moving around one of these unoptimized sites, just to read basic information, is frustrating.  You certainly wouldn’t even try to make a donation, would you?

If your nonprofit website is responsive, make sure your donation page is responsive too. I’ll say that again: If your nonprofit website is responsive, make sure your donation page is responsive too. This especially needs to be tested if you are using a 3rd party online donation service.

(Source: Blackbaud)

Alas, more than half the nonprofits tested don’t have responsive sites. That’s money down the drain! Consider this, the M+R benchmark report from 2015 found that for every 1000 website visitors a nonprofit receives, about $612 is raised. And that stat only includes first-time donations (so the value of each visitor is actually higher).

(Source: M+R Benchmark, Nonprofit Tech for Good)

You’re losing connections to your supporters

Digital isn’t just about fundraising, it’s also about awareness and stewardship. Email and social media can give you a direct link to the people who support your work (donors, volunteers, advocates, your board, etc). If you aren’t leveraging these connections and asking the right questions of your staff (which we talk about below), you’re wasting your nonprofit’s time and money by simply broadcasting on what should be considered two-way platforms for engagement.

Though weak connections can be made between the number of social media followers and your online donation revenue, the opposite is true for email. Based on the 2015 M+R Benchmark report, the average amount of money raised per 1,000 emails is $40.

(Source: M+R Benchmark)

Though money is an important indicator for nonprofits, we urge you to also consider the other benefits you get from digital, the Return On Relationship (ROR) as well as the ROI.

A report by Waggener Edstrom found that 55% of their survey respondents who engaged with causes via social media were inspired to take further action.

(Source: Nonprofit Tech for Good)

Social media combined with great web content gives you a cost-effective method of broadening your audience. Providing a mix of information to an online audience helps build your organization’s reputation, increases brand awareness, and develops trust for when you get around to needing some help.

If you aren’t driving people towards an email collection form at some point in their digital relationship with your organization, you’re throwing money down the drain, too. Emails are still your best digital ROI. When you get to know your supporters you can start tailoring emails to suit their interests, past interactions with your organization, and preferred delivery frequency.   Literacy around email segmentation, automation, and personalization is key. Does your staff have this? Do you? Are you using a service provider that has the capability to effectively segment your data?  Imagine an easy way for monthly donors to receive slightly different messages to those who have made one gift, or those who give to different types of programming getting tailored messages about those specific programs.  How much better would their impression of your organization be?

Great news, the tools to do this exist, and they are cost effective.  Many of the great email tools offer nonprofit discounts, and API integrations with your database too, with a little customization.

Where does digital literacy fit in?

How does your digital literacy blind spot cause a problem? I’m glad you asked.

Do you have the basic knowledge about your digital activities?

  • What social media channels is your organization active on, and more importantly why?
  • Who are your online audiences, and how do they differ from your offline audiences?  Do they?
  • How many people visit your website in a month, and what are the most viewed pages?
  • What open rate do your emails have? 

That’s just the beginning. To be a strong nonprofit leader (with no digital literacy blind spot) you have to start asking for more information and understand what it means.

Answer me this: Is your nonprofit’s website mobile optimized? Responsive? Does your donation page offer monthly donation options clearly? Is your online giving process seamless within your website, or does it redirect to a third party, unbranded (and possibly unoptimized) site? What percentage of your website traffic is driven by social media posts? What percentage of your website traffic is driven by your emails? Where do your website visitors come from, and how long do they stay on your site?

If you don’t know the answers to those questions and you don’t have a staff member that can competently answer these questions for you, you’re in trouble and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Do you know your donation page conversion rate? Have you A/B tested your online giving copy, buttons, suggested donation amounts, and required information?  What about colours of the donation buttons? How often do you A/B test? Have you set up remarketing campaigns that target your donation page visitors? What kinds of social media posts garner the most engagement? What calls to action on social media give you the most clicks? 

If you can’t answer these questions, you have an expensive digital literacy blind spot.

It’s not enough to hand over your digital efforts and never get a report back from your staff or consultants. Updates on your digital efforts are just as important as updates on your program work, traditional fundraising, and outreach activities. It’s 2016. Not having digital literacy, budget, the correct tools, and the correct skills for your digital communications and fundraising is now harming your nonprofit. It’s leaving money on the table. It’s time to talk to your board about investment in digital infrastructure. 

It is no longer a “Maybe one day.” It’s urgent.

Ready to get started? Click here to download this checklist 5 things to do right now to check your blind spot.”

In our next instalment, we’ll talk about the importance of being digitally literate, how your digital literacy impacts hiring and outsourcing, and how your digital literacy affects management and budget decisions.

Clare McDowall (that’s me!) is the owner of Socially Good, a digital communications and marketing firm based in Toronto, with a track record in working with nonprofits to improve their digital strategies.  When Clare is not working on communications and marketing strategies, you’ll find her on the dance floor competing as a West Coast Swing dancer around North America. You can connect with Clare on Twitter at @Socially_Good.


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