Newsletter Archives

Paradigm shift in communications
creates major opportunities for non-profits

By Monty Aldous, Development Liaison, Planned Legacy

PlannedLegacy plasma screen display

Personal relationships and face-to-face communications will always be the most successful avenues of soliciting major gifts, but the technological revolution of recent years has created new and effective methods of enhancing and initiating relationships, which leads to increased support, improved awareness and eventually major gifts.

You build strong relationships with each of your contributors exactly the same way you create and nurture relationships with anyone that you care about. You talk to each other regularly. You share experiences, stories, thoughts, ideas, news and pictures -- things that are important to both of you.

An explosion of new advances in technology -- the Internet, Web sites, e-mail, interactive kiosks and plasma screens -- has created a paradigm shift in every aspect of communications. Non-profits are challenged daily to find methods they can use to take advantage of these new technologies in their communications and relationship-building strategies.

Success in communication and relationship-building demands interaction -- there must be a two-way flow. Relationships don’t grow out of communications from me to you, or from you to me, but rather out of dialogue between you and me. New technologies offer the opportunity to take advantage of the latter.

E-mail, instant messaging, Internet meetings, Web site based discussion forums, online surveys and interactive display technologies allow you to do more than “get the word out.” You can now create and sustain relationships online.

The Internet provides the capability of participating in two-way, uncensored mass communication. Until now, mass communication (itself a relatively recent technology) has meant controlled broadcasts in a variety of media to passive audiences. Relatively few people had the means to generate mass communication of any form. Audiences had no practical, direct opportunity to respond, nor any significant control over the content. Now, anyone and everyone with access to a computer, a modem and a telephone line, can be a publisher, a radio broadcaster or a TV producer with access to mass markets.

The Internet presents non-profits with unparalleled opportunities for effective messaging. And for the first time in history, an organization can economically communicate with a global audience while at the same time marketing ideas and causes to niche audiences.

E-mail – Low cost conversations build trust,
              lead to better bottom line

E-mail offers you the opportunity to build a personal, one-to-one connection with your contributors and potential contributors. It allows you to establish an ongoing, interactive dialogue that is measurable, cost-efficient and valuable. There are pitfalls however, and Netiquette rules must be followed to ensure success.

Seduced by the lure of “fast” and “cheap”, you can easily blitz your own e-mail list of donors and casual opt-in subscribers with self-serving, ill-written e-mails. An even worse scenario can develop when your e-mails are sent to purchased lists of “opt-in” subscribers you have had no previous relationship with. Rather than creating and building relationships, you can unwittingly destroy them.

Permission to begin an e-mail relationship is rather like an invitation to get together over coffee. If you neglect to get to know your host, focus the conversation entirely on yourself and don’t offer your host a chance to speak, you won’t be invited back. A meaningful, two-way dialogue, in which both parties participate equally, is the key to developing long-term relationships.

You don’t want to fill your contributor’s virtual mailboxes with the electronic equivalent of sale flyers and junk mail. You have to offer them choices regarding what they want to receive and how often they want to receive it. If you communicate with them on their terms, they will be appreciative and respond accordingly. This will not happen overnight. Without the benefit of previous face-to-face communication, it takes an average of eight e-mails to establish trust.

During this period of creating trust, you can also open up avenues for ideas and feedback, making it easy for your contributors and opt-in subscribers to share with you how they feel. Electronic surveys and questionnaires can capture opinions and information quickly and economically. Responding intelligently and personally to this feedback begins the process of establishing a trusting relationship online. This leads to valuable one-to-one dialogue that can be converted over time into moral, financial and volunteer support for your organization.

When you give your contributors and opt-in subscribers control over what they want to read, see and hear, they become pro-active. Your communications are driven by their desires and preferences, on their terms, in their preferred format and at their preferred frequency. Advanced e-mail providers offer customization capabilities that go well beyond mass personalization, such as dynamic segmentation and content assembly based on user preferences.

By constantly collecting and analyzing your contributor and opt-in subscriber feedback, you can gain an unmatched understanding of your constituency. The data you gather will tell you what your subscribers think about particular issues, what they want to know, and how you should communicate information to them.

Through the use of intelligent and timely one-to-one responses, you can create trusting relationships via e-mail that will result in greater campaign response rates, higher donation levels and improved donor commitment.

Interactive Web sites now a crucial marketing tool

A well-designed Web site is now considered a crucial element in the overall marketing plan of many successful for-profit businesses. Non-profits can take a lesson from this. 

Studies indicate that more and more potential contributors are researching non-profit organizations via the Internet prior to gift giving. If someone hears about your organization through a contact and decides to visit you online, will your Web site be up to the challenge? Will it grab a visitor’s attention, engage them, encourage communication and keep them coming back?

For many potential contributors, your Web site will be their first exposure to your organization. This fact cannot be taken lightly. On the Web you have only one chance to make a good impression -- the next giving opportunity is only a mouse click away. A poorly designed Web site gives visitors the impression that your organization does not understand or embrace technology, but more importantly, it creates the impression in their minds that your organization as a whole may not be worth their time. 

A well-designed Web site should feature clear, consistent navigation, compelling content and opportunities for visitors to communicate with your organization. It should be an interactive center for dialogue rather than a display piece. 

Invite first-time visitors (as well as current contributors) to contact you. Provide a phone number, a mailing address, a contact link for e-mail communication and a newsletter sign-up. Offer visitors the ability to ask questions or make a comment online. Showcase your people -- put their names and faces on your Web site, where they can be seen. If staff members are available for instant messaging or e-mail communication, point that out -- and tell visitors how to reach them. The above elements work to establish legitimacy, trust and confidence, all of which encourage further communication and participation.

It is vitally important that every aspect of your Web site reflect your organization’s message and values to visitors. State clearly what your organization stands for, your key beliefs, and your actions on those principles. Speak to your visitor’s convictions and concerns and demonstrate how you provide the perfect solution. You must also structure your Web site around your constituents’ interests, goals, and concerns, based on your research.

Contributors want to stay current with projects and initiatives that interest them. They want to know how their money is being spent. Your Web site should also keep them informed about new activities of special interest. Use photos along with streaming audio and video clips to show your contributors what their money is doing. Create a free screen saver based on your Web site and offer it as a free download.

Contributors love to know that you share an interest in their unique concerns. Use forums and discussion groups to ask them what they find important and encourage them to tell you how you can adjust your offerings to meet their particular needs.

Your Web site can build confidence and make it easy for visitors to support you. It can become your hardest-working, most cost-effective communication tool for developing and retaining contributors.

PlannedLegacy interactive Web-based kiosk

Kiosks and plasma screens – the next
wave of awareness and recognition

Web-based kiosks and plasma screens are now being embraced by non-profits as superior marketing, recognition and outreach tools. Placed in a high traffic area of your organization, these eye-catching multi-media displays attract visitors who can then view and interact with your Web site, learn more about your organization and read featured recognition pieces about your contributors and volunteers. Interactive donor recognition programming, staff recognition, Volunteer of the Month – all are elements of the powerful relationship-building capabilities of kiosks and plasma screens.

Studies show that people are now ready for this form of digital media. We are all comfortable using ATMs for our banking needs and most air travelers now use kiosks to expedite and simplify their flight check-ins. Confirming this, 95 per cent of respondents to a survey prepared by KIOSK magazine described kiosk use as “very simple.” In addition, 57 per cent of the respondents stated that kiosks “enhanced” their customer service experience.

Kiosks serve as a powerful donor recognition tool for non-profits. Their flexibility encourages innovative recognition ideas such as donor stories and profiles, personal testimonials and letters of thanks – all accompanied by enhanced graphics, photos, sound and video. Taking full advantage of digital information storage, kiosks are now beginning to replace static donor walls. They can make enormous amounts of information available without regard for space or logistical concerns and they can be updated instantly.

A plasma screen connected to a kiosk creates an eye-catching messaging center. In both indoor and outdoor settings, these networked digital/electronic signs have become a dynamic solution for organizations targeting their messages to both specific audiences and the general public. Plasma screens can also take advantage of rapidly developing technologies in the areas of networking, scheduling, and content management.

Internet-capable plasma screens are more than just electronic bulletin boards. They display digital video, audio, live TV, Web site content -- a whole spectrum of information that is packaged as "dynamic visual messaging”. A key element of plasma screen technology is its ability to “narrowcast” -- deliver highly targeted advertising and content to a particular demographic group at a specific time. Kiosks and plasma screens offer non-profits a variety of opportunities to create awareness, enhance current relationships and begin new relationships with casual observers. 

In the lobby of a concert hall, kiosks and plasma screens might “idle” by running a loop of multi-media informational programming that is interrupted only when someone begins to interact with the kiosk. Special programming could include the pre-promotion of a fundraising campaign, a season-ticket subscription drive or a special event. Timed to run pre-concert, during intermissions, and post- performance, these attractive presentations can create an awareness that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive. 

Contributors with stories on your kiosk invite their friends, family and even new acquaintances, to view their stories and information about your organization, on your kiosk and on your Web site. These contributors become proud pro-active supporters of “their” organization, which leads to increased awareness and interest, participation and ultimately – more donations.


Keeping in mind that nothing can seriously replace face-to-face communication as a means of establishing meaningful relationships and soliciting major gifts; the Internet, Web sites, e-mail, electronic newsletters, Web-based kiosks and plasma screens are fast becoming crucial elements in the non-profit marketing arsenal. These new technologies offer non-profits access to new and effective methods of relationship building and communication.

Technology can now be used to create cost-effective awareness campaigns, recognize contributors and reach out to both mass and target audiences. New relationships can be created instantly and current relationships can be enhanced. The first key to success lies in taking full advantage of the interactive capabilities of new technology to communicate with contributors and potential contributors -- creating an atmosphere of trust through sustained one-to-one dialogue. The second key lies in successfully managing the increase in communications that results from the effective use of this new technology.

Every instance of communication with a contributor or potential contributor; be it a face-to-face meeting, an annual event, a visit to your physical organization, a visit to your Web site or kiosk, or an e-mail, should be considered an opportunity to establish a long term one-to-one relationship, leading to further participation and long-term support for your organization.

The ultimate use of new technology to benefit your organization should include:

  • collecting the e-mail addresses of all your contributors and potential contributors whenever possible, while at the same time obtaining permission to communicate with these individuals online at regular intervals
  • informing staff of proper e-mail management and Netiquette so that they can respond to requests intelligently and in a timely fashion
  • establishing trust through regular, informative and personalized e-mail and electronic newsletters and a Web site that keeps current and potential contributors informed about your initiatives and successes
  • soliciting online feedback from your contributors and potential contributors via your Web site, e-mail and through online surveys
  • attracting new contributors and creating awareness through the use of Web-based kiosks, plasma screens and Web sites that feature enhanced donor recognition, multi-media presentations and up-to-date information while also encouraging communication
  • attracting new supporters through current contributors who ask friends, family and acquaintances to visit your Web site, Web-based kiosk and physical organization
  • integrating online initiatives and new technologies with offline marketing strategies
  • effectively managing and recording all communications with your current and potential contributors (and their preferences) within a central database that fund raisers can access when making or taking calls or sending electronic communications

For more information

For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.

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