12 digital fundraising trends for 2012 #11 Properly Joined-up Digital Planning

The chart above comes from the 2010 Blackbaud State of the Nonprofit Industry Survey (SONI), and shows less than one third of Nonprofit organisations from any country surveyed that year saying that they had a ‘Written Online Strategy’ in place. Unfortunately the response to this question hasn’t been included in Blackbaud’s 2011 SONI Report, so we don’t know whether those who said in 2010 that their online strategies were ‘in development’ now have one in place. However, from what I hear when I talk to nonprofits around the world about their online activities, I’m afraid that if the question was repeated we would find rather a lot of those strategies are still ‘in development’.

While this apparent strategy vacuum is clearly not preventing nonprofits from achieving things through their digital activity, it must be impacting on how efficiently this activity can be carried-out and how effectively it can deliver on organisational strategic goals – especially in larger, more complex organizations. For without a clear and coherent strategy, supporting all teams involved, the complex mix of possible digital activities available these days simply cannot be used to best effect.

Given that everyone acknowledges the great potential that digital offers nonprofits in terms of supporter engagement, why do so many nonprofits find their online strategies stuck in an endless phase of ‘development‘?

I think the underlying issue behind this isn’t actually digital-specific – it’s a general lack of joined-up strategic planning within nonprofits overall. Other aspects of fundraising and communications can, if necessary, be planned in relative isolation without suffering too much. But the negative impact of ‘silo planning’ becomes a far bigger barrier to progress when it comes to digital activity, because all consumer interactions meet and mix in the online world and you simply can’t keep them on discrete departmental tracks.

As such, unless you approach digital planning in a joined-up way, taking into account the requirements of all stakeholders wishing to engage with consumers through digital channels, you end-up in one hell of a mess. Countless hours spent negotiating over whether your key campaign should get priority on the homepage; yet more hours trying to help manage an ever changing schedule of emails that each team wants to send; and then you end-up having to build a microsite to get the functionality you need within the time constraints you face. I suspect a lot of you working in organisations who have yet to crack integrated digital planning will know just what I mean.

Getting it right isn’t easy by any means, but it is possible and the investment of effort required is worthwhile in terms of the increased efficiency and effectiveness that an integrated approach can bring.

Start by stepping back from the fine implementation details that tend to suck-up everyone’s attention and lead to so many digital plans actually being a list of random action points rather than objectives-led strategies (i.e. don’t start by worrying about how you can fundraise with Twitter). Begin by using a common structure to confirm the objectives of each of the teams who want to use digital to engage with supporters. Then assess, based on who these supporters are and what other engagement activity is in place for them, how digital might best be used to help achieve these objectives. In this way you can build-up a common picture of requirements and opportunities for all teams, which you can then prioritise before mapping them against your digital resources and capabilities.

You’ll almost certainly find a gap between requirements and current capabilities (unless you already have the ideal Website, email system, analytics reporting, etc. – lucky you!). This will typically lead to another round of prioritisation before a series of strategic scenarios can be developed illustrating which objectives can be achieved immediately and which will require different levels of investment in digital resources. By this stage you’re well on the way to an objectives-led integrated strategy – and then you can start working the finer details of what the integrated email programme should look like, what the priorities are for homepage promotion each month, etc. All underpinned with a common results reporting and evaluation programme, so you can assess progress against objectives and adapt things accordingly.

The World Wide Web has been around for over twenty years now, we’ve been fundraising through digital channels for well over a decade, and digital is held-up throughout the sector world-wide as being of key strategic importance for engaging with supporters of all types. So will 2012 be the year that we see a more wholehearted focus on moving from silos to joined-up thinking when looking to develop digital strategies? There does seem to be a growing recognition across the sector that disjointed planning is having a serious impact on the benefit being derived through digital activities, so I’m hopeful that we will. Let’s just hope that I’m right.

This is the eleventh of twelve posts that I’ll be publishing on trends I think will prove to be important for digital fundraising in 2012. You can find the previous trend post, on Social Media Fundraising Growing Up, here.

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