In order to attract, motivate, convince, and keep the dedicated donors who power your mission, nonprofit leaders need just as many technology tools as the big for-profit brands. But what nonprofits don’t have in common with those brands is a budget. To ensure you get the most for your money, it’s important to spend smartly on tech.
While some tools may seem expensive, the return on investment is worthwhile. Other pricey tools may have flashy features promising to solve all your problems, but the free versions will do just fine. Here are three tech tools you should buy, and three you should get for free.
1. Buy: A CRM
Customer relationship management software (CRM) is most commonly associated with sales, but it can play a huge role in building and maintaining strong relationships with your donor base. CRMs house your donors’ contact information as well as a history of your communications with each of them. You can use them to set reminders for when someone needs to be contacted and automate follow-ups.
There are a couple of free versions on the market, so why do you need to pay? One word: data. When a donor gives you personal details about themselves, they are giving you their trust. It’s critical that you keep that information safe. This is particularly important for CRMs that are cloud-based. Cloud CRMs make it possible to access data from anywhere on any device, an essential in today’s mobile culture. But they could also open up data to more security risk.
Go the extra mile and purchase a CRM with a strong history of security and all those automation features that will make your life easier and your relationship with your customers stronger.
2. Buy: Web hosting
A web host is the service provider that allows your site to be displayed on the internet. You pay to have your website stored safely on a server, among other things. There are free web hosting services out there, but they should be avoided, no matter how tempting the savings.
Paying for a web host increases your professional appearance because free sites require that their own name be part of your URL (think blogspot.com). And like it or not, appearances are critical to gaining potential donors’ trust, particularly in a our web-savvy world.
Free web hosting platforms typically limit the number of site visitors you can have and that’s a number you’re definitely aiming to grow. Even if you choose what seems to be a free platform at first, you’ll incur charges as your needs for your site increase. It’s better to start with a strong, paid platform from the get-go.
3. Buy: Email automation software
Email automation software makes it easy to take communicate with your donors by housing your email lists, taking care of sends and unsubscribes, and aiding you in designing beautiful HTML emails. And that’s just for starters.
There are free versions of top email automation solutions that meet those basic needs, but that’s about it. It’s worth it to invest further in a paid version that provides tools like segmentation, automated drip campaigns, unlimited sending, and delivery time optimization. For every dollar spent on email marketing, the return on investment is $44.
Quality email automation software will also provide guidance that can help you avoid being marked as spam. This is particularly important as every year, nonprofits lose an average of $15,000 in donations due to email getting stuck in a spam filter.
4. Use Free: Social media marketing tools
To build a strong pipeline of donor support, it’s critical that nonprofits make a connection with younger generations. And where are younger generations making decisions about spending their time and money? On social media — 95 percent of people aged 18 – 34 follow brands on social channels.
However, when diving into social media for the first time, some nonprofit leaders make the mistake of trying to do too much at once. Having many social channels with mediocre strategies isn’t nearly as effective as having one or two channels with strong strategies and engagement.
Free versions of social media management tools can help you get going with social media, so that once you have a solid grasp of your audience and strategy, you can upgrade to cover more channels. Buffer, for example, allows you to schedule posts in advance and track engagement for one profile on each supported platform for free while Hootsuite does the same for up to three profiles in total. Tweetdeck allows you to manage and respond to engagement on multiple Twitter channels. And Crowdfire provides recommendations for how to improve engagement.
5. Use Free: A re-engagement tool
The bounce rate — the number of website visitors who leave after looking at just one page — for most nonprofits is above 70 percent. And once those website visitors leave, most of them aren’t coming back as statistics show the vast majority of nonprofit website visitors are new to the site.
This can be really damaging not only to your ability to win repeat donors, but also to your ability to get support in the first place — most visitors just aren’t ready to donate at first glance. That’s why it’s important to give your site visitors options of how they’d like to stay in touch and what they’d like to learn more about. You can re-engage with site visitors in this way by asking them to sign up for your email lists or visit another page. And there are plenty of free tools out that to help you do just that.
Hubspot provides a free pop-up plug-in that you can use to redirect visitors or collect contact information — no developer help required. Hello Bar helps you sign visitors up for a newsletter or direct them to your social profiles. Sumo also provides free pop-ups and a sticky tool to keep your CTA close-at-hand as users scroll the page.
6. Use Free: Graphic design tools
Visuals are key to engaging your donor audience. Blog posts that include a visual every 75-100 words get double the social media shares than those with fewer images and tweets with images get 150 percent more retweets than those without.
However, whether you have a dedicated graphic designer on staff or cobble together images with the help of a few different team members, enough free design tools exist to get the job done without purchasing expensive software.
Canva is a growing favorite with marketers because it comes preloaded with templates for a variety of digital and print design needs — ads, social media posts, invitations, business cards, and so on. You can also try Pablo, a free tool from Buffer, to create social media images and PicMonkey to edit images.
Today’s nonprofits need to be tech-savvy in order to keep up with all the competition for donors’ attentions. Part of having that know-how is being aware of when to pay, and when not to.