Are you investing enough in digital?

ALS home page featuring Ice Bucket Challenge

ALS Association home page

No, this is NOT another “ice bucket challenge” blog post. That’s been covered, and that story isn’t even new. It just validates what Heather Fignar and I, and many others, have been saying for years: give people a reason to have fun, express their creativity, employ social media and mobile technology, integrate it across all channels and all parts of your organization (especially media relations) and you have a good chance at making a splash, (pun intended) if not some real money.

No, this is about meaningful, ongoing investment in digital advertising, and why your nonprofit is probably woefully behind the times. So far behind, that I had to go to big box retail to show you the way. That’s right… a company selling hammers, power saws, kitchen cabinets, and 2″x4″s is kicking your butt in digital revenue.

Home Depot is investing 36% of its total ad budget into digital media, especially email messaging and social media. Print only gets 10%. Digital’s share is increasing. “We like the ROI” says their Chief Financial Officer.

The company says its continued transition to online sales and digital marketing are also key, according to Craig Menear, President, U.S. Retail.

“We’ve shifted to more targeted personalized messaging to become more relevant to customers, and as a result, costs attributable to print advertising are down 60% since 2010, and have been shifted to more efficient advertising.”

So how much does Home Depot sell online? Less than three percent of its sales originate at its new website. What? How can it make money by investing 36% of its ad budget (translation: fundraising budget) in a medium that generates less then three percent of its revenue? Because one doesn’t allocate one’s investment in growth based on the past; one invests based on the future, and Home Depot is betting on digital to drive future sales.

Also, Home Depot knows that the value of its digital investment goes way beyond the amount of orders actually placed online. It knows that handymen and handywomen scope out new product ideas, watch how-to videos, read emails with special offers, and then go into the store to do business “the old-fashioned” way.

Lest you think this is a new trend, an article from 2011 lays out the plan. Home Depot had just embarked on a $1.1 Billion investment in its new website, despite then-current online sales of just one percent of total retail. They knew, according to industry research, that “around 48% of retail sales will be influenced by the Internet in 2011 and projects this to rise to 53% by 2014.”

Sadly, many healthcare nonprofits I know budget their digital investment as if it were part of their continuing, proven, direct mail budget, expecting it to return $4 or $5 in revenue this year from every dollar invested. Then, they don’t even do a good job of measuring the impact of that paltry investment beyond the online donation page.





Children’s Hospitals – the elite meet in Montreál

The good news is that we’ve basically eliminated infectious disease as a cause of childhood death in the US and Canada. The bad news is that we have an epidemic of new childhood diseases that, while not infectious, have roots in socio-economic conditions and kids’ environment. Our fundraising has to address these new needs, because if we can break some of these links between conditions and health now, we can stop them forever.

Alan Bernstein, OC, PhD, FRSC and President/CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research in Toronto gave the Woodmark Summit attendees a well-researched, cross-disciplinary kick in the pants to start off the three-day conference, hosted by the Montreál Children’s Hospital this week.

My second healthcare fundraising conference in as many weeks was packed with mostly young gift officers and annual fund professionals — an average of 10 people per hospital. Sessions ran from 7:00 am until 9pm.

Dr. Bernstein discussed the correlation between a child’s socio-economic environment and long-term health. For example, the incidence of obesity is dropping among children whose parents have a bachelor’s degree or higher education, but it is growing more rapidly than ever in families where the parents have a high school diploma at most. Obesity leads to diabetes and cardio-vascular problems which have enormous financial and social costs.

Children are at increasing risk for behavioral and mental health issues. ADHD, Autism, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise among all segments of the youth population. In addition, children from lower socio-economic families have higher incidence of adult health issues, like arthritis and hypertension, later in life.

Dr. Bernstein is not calling for massive governmental wealth redistribution (and certainly, neither am I). What he did say, however, was that we as healthcare fundraising professionals need to refocus our efforts on programs that will provide screening and treatment for young children. We need to work not only with healthcare providers, but also with social service agencies and especially with educational institutions who have great influence on families and children.

Each child we can reach now can not only become a healthier adult, but in turn can help raise a new generation of healthier kids.

All nonprofits are tech nonprofits

“all technology problems are ultimately leadership problems.”

Leigh Kessler, VP at CharityEngine,  asked on LinkedIn: “A Key theme from #14NTC, the NTEN conference, was ‘all nonprofits are tech nonprofits.’ Any tips on how people can become better technocrats, even those to whom it doesn’t come easily?”

(By the way, if you are unfamiliar with NTEN or its conference, you should know that you have a great resource available to you.

My response to Leigh was this:

One of the tips came up in Saturday’s keynote, and in many informal conversations I had throughout NTC: listen to everyone. Most people know how they’d like to do their job more efficiently and effectively than YOU know how to do their job. Those we serve need to be empowered more to help themselves. The key frustration of young people at NTC (and there were so many young people there!) was that they feel they have limited voice within their organizations, yet they need to drag their organizations (their words) into higher levels of technological capacity.

Leigh then pressed me for ways to empower those younger techies in our nonprofit organizations.

First, kudos to the organizations that invested $2500 or more for their young people to leave the office for 3+ days and attend NTC. If they want to realize a return on that investment, they need to expect those young techies to present a 30-minute talk on “what I learned at NTC and how it relates to us” to a wide swath of the nonprofit organization. NTEN works because there is almost no hierarchy — members talk to each other directly. As Michael Enos said on Friday, “turn your org chart sideways, because work gets done between the lateral boxes, not up and down the chart.” (view the entire discussion here.)

Specifically, how can young people be heard? We older people need to ask them hard questions, then shut up and listen. Then, instead of saying “that won’t work because…” we need to say, “that might work, if…” We need to let them try. Even Yogi Berra got it: “A fellow can observe a lot just by watching.”

This leads to my belief, first considered at the first NTC I attended in 2005, that all technology problems are ultimately leadership problems. Organizations that lead well, that cultivate leadership at all levels, will implement the technology ideas brought to them by young people at NTC, as well as from other sources. “Top-down” theory X organizations will never hear the ideas.

A large food bank leader explained that he’s trying to use technology to enable his food suppliers to work directly with the soup kitchens and others who use the food. This is leading to more direct deliveries, bypassing the food band completely in some cases.

“If we can get out of the business of moving food around, we can focus more on the business of finding fresh food and getting it to the people who need it,” he said. Mobile GIS-based tools (which is a part of every smartphone) and better communication networks will make this possible.

What are we doing in healthcare, and specifically in healthcare fundraising, to use technology to listen more to our donors, to connect them with the specific causes they want to fund, and to show them the results of their “investment?”

As I wrote for The NonProfit Times, ( and  technology won’t fix the problems your nonprofit is trying to solve. It will enable your people to tackle those problems in new ways that might be much more efficient than your old ways.