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Giving Day Advice: Prepare, Learn, and Share

Field Notes

Beth Kanter shares advice from fundraising experts and practitioners on how to plan for a successful giving day by preparing for the worst.

After listening to Markets for Good’s Virtual Roundtable “Giving Day Technology: Making Good on the Big Day and Beyond,” the big takeaway for giving day hosts, platforms, and participating nonprofits is to be prepared when technology fails — but also learn from every experience and share it with peers. Let’s look at what a number of leaders and practitioners in the field are doing to be ready when inevitable challenges arise.    

Conduct “Tabletop” Crisis Planning Exercise and Develop a Plan

Giving day hosts are using “Tabletop Crisis Planning,” an interactive exercise that allows them to look at the first 72 hours of a response to a disaster and brainstorm innovative ways to address it. Participants identify a list of all the potential scenarios that could disrupt a giving day, rank them according to probability, identify action steps, and assign responsibility.

Dana Rinderknect, Director of Online Giving for Colorado Gives, has gone through this exercise as part of the planning for their giving day: “Our corporate partner, First Bank, does this sort of planning all the time. They facilitated our entire staff through the exercise.” Rinderknect describes their crisis scenario planning in detail.

Carol Goglia, Director of Communications at Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT), which hosts an annual giving day in September, has identified many non-technical scenarios that could pose serious problems: “It could be a tornado or a medical emergency during one of the many public events we host during the day.” And while unlikely, Goglia says they have action steps for scenarios like a gun shooting, terrorist attack, or disease outbreak (which is not completely far-fetched, given that one of the U.S. hospitals that took care of Ebola patients is in their community). While these potential scenarios may not take place, the point is, like the Boy Scouts, be prepared for anything.

Have Your Technology Crisis Communication Messaging Locked and Loaded

GiveMN learned the importance of having a crisis plan during a catastrophic technical glitch in 2013. Tom Zimmerman, Marketing and Communications Manager for GiveMN, shares a lesson learned: “We have all our messaging ready to go for any emergency so we don’t have to create messaging from scratch — we just have to revise it and get it out.”

GiveMN has taken an idea from Google’s playbook and created a status page that identifies 15 different site features and identifies whether they are working. They have trained their front line staff to refer nonprofits and donors to the page and go through a series of diagnostics to determine if the technical problem is systemwide or just one user.

GiveMN also sends an email the day before the event to local nonprofits about being prepared in the event of any crisis. They request that local nonprofits wait until they hear from GiveMN before blasting out information to their audiences if a major event occurs. This helps to avoid miscommunications and misinformation.

At CFT, Goglia emphasizes proactive communications with the local nonprofit community. They have communications protocols in place that outline what they will do if the site is down for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and so on. Goglia’s community foundation also keeps a backup copy of its contact database off-site, should there also be a problem with their internal servers or internet service that prevents them from communicating.   

Do Your Technology Due Diligence

As giving days have become vital community fundraising events, the technology to support the events has become mission critical. As such, giving day participants must practice technology due diligence, including the process of doing an independent review.

During the Markets for Good Virtual Roundtable, Jamie McDonald, founder of Generosity Inc., discussed how nonprofits should “be their own best advocate” and “ask hard questions” while using technology as a means not an end. She emphasized the need for nonprofits to be rigorous in evaluating and using technology as a tool to fortify relationships with their current donors and cultivate new supporters, particularly among today’s digital natives. The same goes for giving day hosts.

Jake Blumberg, Executive Director of GiveMN, says that they work with a third-party vendor that does load testing on the server in the days and weeks prior to the event. This helps them identify potential weak spots and take precautionary measures in close coordination with their giving day technology vendor, Kimbia. Says Blumberg: “Having a second opinion gives us more confidence that we won’t have to activate our crisis communications because of a technology glitch.”

Christopher Whitlatch, Manager of Marketing and Communications at the Pittsburgh Foundation, describes his organization’s approach to demystifying technology vendor selection choices. Whitlatch has developed a technology platform evaluation tool that organizations can use to analyze and compare several platforms. The areas of evaluation include: corporate stability, features and benefits, hosting architecture, capacity, pricing, and policies.

Whitlatch advises talking with peer organizations about their experience, both good and bad, with their particular technology platform: “Together, we can build a comfort level with technology and steward the growth of online giving for our nonprofits and our communities.”

The silver lining of these giving day failures is harnessing the opportunity to learn and foster sector-wide insights, as the recent Markets for Good Virtual Roundtable surfaced.

As the central theme of the roundtable, the advice to “prevent, mitigate, learn, and share” should be a credo for nonprofits, giving day hosts, and technology platforms alike.

Special thanks to Beth Kanter for sharing her post on giving day advice. Check out Beth’s Blog: How Connected Nonprofits Leverage Networks and Data for Social Change to learn more. 

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