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Why My First Time Attending NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference Was Disappointing

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

The art of simplicityThe 80/20 rule works for nonprofits. Most organizations get 10 to 20 percent of their gifts and 80 to 90 percent of their revenue from major gifts (including planned gifts). So why was NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference completely absent any discussion of the use of technology for generating major and planned gifts?
I really don’t know.
Instead you could learn lots of nerdy things that are somewhat valuable but, from a marketing perspective, won’t really move the needle much. Check out some of these hip conference agenda titles:

  • Measuring the success of your blog through content, social media and analytics
  • Grow your nonprofit with email and social media
  • Email matters – two case studies from acquisition to conversion

I’m about as geeky as they get but even I couldn’t understand what they were talking about in some of the presentations.
Confucius once said, “Life is really simple but we insist on making it complicated.”
Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”
And, lastly, my hero Steve Jobs said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” in his early Mac ad campaigns
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I’m a big fan of the simplicity of the 80/20 rule. That’s because I know that it works. I’ve seen it work over and over again. I also know that one of the most effective marketing best practices is to focus on your bread and butter because that will expand it further.
So, while I was glad to see a growing focus on technology in the nonprofit sector at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference, I was tremendously disappointed that 100% of that focus was aimed at the “20” instead of the “80”.
 
 

9 responses to “Why My First Time Attending NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference Was Disappointing”

  1. Scott Park says:

    I sense a consistent theme in your recent posts, Greg. Planned Giving budgets that are not adequate to meet the needs of not for profit institutions and organizations? National Conferences on technology which neglect even mentioning Planned Giving?
    I’ve come to believe, and your observations have confirmed, that Planned Giving is the “red headed step child” of the Development world. (& I’m comfortable using that description, as I am one.)
    It is but a small consolation that this is not unique to my experience.
    I wonder if we aren’t partially to blame for this situation ourselves.
    It has only been in the past couple of years that I have sought to “demystify” the concept of planned giving and the available planned giving vehicles with donors. As we all know, there is a lot of fine print involved with the various types of planned gifts, and this can be overwhelming when seen through the eyes of someone who doesn’t work with them daily.
    Are we all striving to simplify our explanations of these gifts with our donors, (& OUR ORGANIZATIONAL DECISION MAKERS) or do we fall into the habit of “showing off how much we know” in our conversations?
    In the spirit of marketing planned gifts, maybe we need something along the lines of the GEICO “So simple, even a caveman can do it” campaign for planned gifts.
    At the very least, if each one of us who have the majority of the Planned Giving responsibilities for our institutions and organization would pledge to scale back from a fire hose to a garden hose when we speak about what we do with “civilians”, the industry as a whole would be better for it.
    Great thought provoking posts, Greg.

    • Greg Warner says:

      Hi there Scott.
      Somehow the nonprofits at the event were excited to embrace some pretty confusing stuff like:
      – The different technical conversations you can have about programming Drupal
      – How to move your technology infrastructure to the Cloud
      – How to apply the Idealware pyramid evaluation model
      – And more…
      But none of those topics add much revenue to the bottom line.
      So, yes, my posts have a consistent theme and will probably continue to do so until I get this ship turned.
      The 80/20 rule is powerful. The money will come mostly from focusing time, money and effort on the most loyal supporters (major donors and planned gift prospects). And, while it may be important to do “Drupal this” or “Idealware that”… nonprofits need to realize that attention and money should go to supporting those efforts because they bring in the most dollars with the least investment— all while helping organizations to fulfill their missions.

  2. Scott Park says:

    I sense a consistent theme in your recent posts, Greg. Planned Giving budgets that are not adequate to meet the needs of not for profit institutions and organizations? National Conferences on technology which neglect even mentioning Planned Giving?
    I’ve come to believe, and your observations have confirmed, that Planned Giving is the “red headed step child” of the Development world. (& I’m comfortable using that description, as I am one.)
    It is but a small consolation that this is not unique to my experience.
    I wonder if we aren’t partially to blame for this situation ourselves.
    It has only been in the past couple of years that I have sought to “demystify” the concept of planned giving and the available planned giving vehicles with donors. As we all know, there is a lot of fine print involved with the various types of planned gifts, and this can be overwhelming when seen through the eyes of someone who doesn’t work with them daily.
    Are we all striving to simplify our explanations of these gifts with our donors, (& OUR ORGANIZATIONAL DECISION MAKERS) or do we fall into the habit of “showing off how much we know” in our conversations?
    In the spirit of marketing planned gifts, maybe we need something along the lines of the GEICO “So simple, even a caveman can do it” campaign for planned gifts.
    At the very least, if each one of us who have the majority of the Planned Giving responsibilities for our institutions and organization would pledge to scale back from a fire hose to a garden hose when we speak about what we do with “civilians”, the industry as a whole would be better for it.
    Great thought provoking posts, Greg.

    • Greg Warner says:

      Hi there Scott.
      Somehow the nonprofits at the event were excited to embrace some pretty confusing stuff like:
      – The different technical conversations you can have about programming Drupal
      – How to move your technology infrastructure to the Cloud
      – How to apply the Idealware pyramid evaluation model
      – And more…
      But none of those topics add much revenue to the bottom line.
      So, yes, my posts have a consistent theme and will probably continue to do so until I get this ship turned.
      The 80/20 rule is powerful. The money will come mostly from focusing time, money and effort on the most loyal supporters (major donors and planned gift prospects). And, while it may be important to do “Drupal this” or “Idealware that”… nonprofits need to realize that attention and money should go to supporting those efforts because they bring in the most dollars with the least investment— all while helping organizations to fulfill their missions.

  3. Planned giving has been ignored long before the marketing technology that’s available today. You don’t need high tech thinking or rocket science to recognize extraordinary revenues yet no one wanted to pick up the gauntlet going back decades and the same antipathy exists today…and probably will tomorrow. Each year, a few more nonprofits give it a try, but not because improved marketing technology exists. It’s more likely because some board member has been jumping up and down to do it.

  4. Gary Pratt says:

    I’m finding consistent success by consistently telling the story of changing a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or retirement account (IRA) to go to charity. People are predisposed to resistance when it comes to estate planning, trusts, “planned giving” (if that term means anything to them) and conversations about death. Once we get the conversation narrowed down to “yes I want to give something”, I am training our volunteers to ask if they would consider 1% of one asset at death if there was no expense to make the change (unlike changing an estate plan or spending the time to try to understand more complex planned gift ideas). Then our foot is in the door.
    We are trying to build a culture in the Catholic parishes of our Archdiocese where every practicing Catholic leaves something to charity at death. Demystifying the concept is an all day, constant struggle. It is done one conversation at a time. If all of our organizations web pages reported on what users found engaging we might be able to eliminate substantial portions of the pages we maintain and target content directly to specific users. If nothing else it would confirm that what we were doing was effective. At its best it would lower costs and help to lead souls to Christ, a better relationship with the Church, and more engagement in the mission of love we are called to every day. … oh and it would make my job much more effective and rewarding.

  5. Hi Greg-
    Thank you so much for attending the 2014 NTC and for sharing this feedback – I hope you’ll also (or have already) share it in the conference and session evaluations. The more feedback the better to help us continually improve.
    The NTC had over 100 educational sessions this year, and unlike most nonprofit conferences, they all have a technology focus. It is the Nonprofit Technology Conference, after all! That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of techie talk to include on topics like major and planned gifts. The agenda for the NTC is entirely community-driven. Much like other conferences, anyone can submit a session proposal. We post all of the session proposals for public voting. And take those votes to the steering committee for additional review and feedback. I would love to see you or others propose sessions for the 2015 NTC – proposals will open in May!

    • Greg Warner says:

      Hi Amy-
      Thanks for your response. But I think you might be misunderstanding the point of my post.
      I feel that major gifts and planned gifts need technological innovation. That’s why I have focused my firm’s software and products in that space. The 80/20 rule is powerful. But, sadly, nonprofits focus too much on the wrong stuff. The expensive stuff that produces little or negative ROI. Too often nonprofit staff chase shiny, fun objects and new technologies— even though they rarely produce outstanding results.
      I wrote this post because I was disappointed that the focus of the conference was not on where the big money resides. Rather it seemed to be on shiny, fun objects. Results can be attained with a technological focus on the lowest dollar investment— major and planned gifts.
      Here are some other blog posts (below) that might help you understand where I’m coming from. Feel free to call or email me if you’d want to chat. I introduced myself to you briefly during the event. I’d be glad to collaborate to make great things happen. I’m afraid that my session proposal would be rejected by the “public” since most fundraisers focus too much on the 80 in the Pareto Principle. In other words, I don’t think they would “get it” based on my proposal and, therefore, wouldn’t vote for me. 🙁

      • Hi Greg –
        Thanks for your reply; I do understand. Our voting process tries to account for differences in public opinion and strategic need for conversations by splitting the weight: 33% public, 33% steering committee, and 34% staff. The steering committee and staff also work together to set goals and highlight important topics to ensure certain conversations happen at the conference and that we don’t have too much duplication.
        Again, I do hope that you also included feedback in the evaluation process to ensure it is captured there as well. I appreciate you following up and sharing blog posts for context. The NTC is meant to be a community-driven space for conversations about ALL kinds of technologies for nonprofits, and I do hope you continue being part of it.

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