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How to Harness Technology for Smarter Philanthropy

Smart development shops are embracing change and experimenting with technology to optimize their fundraising efforts.


Year after year, nonprofits feel pressure to meet and exceed their fundraising goals, but development professionals can’t expect the same approaches to yield different results. As technology continues to disrupt many sectors and industries, nonprofit organizations are experimenting with how to optimize various technologies to further their missions. For example, The Nature Conservancy set up an innovation fund dedicated to testing new digital fundraising strategies, and Feeding America is exploring how to use the new Fundraisers feature on Facebook to reach a wider network of supporters.

Technology will increasingly play an important role in philanthropy. By viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat to the status quo, organizations can realize their full potential to advance their fundraising programs and their missions.

Across nonprofit sectors, the ability to innovate by leveraging technology is becoming more and more critical. As Peter Fissinger, President & CEO of Campbell & Company, explains: “Technology will increasingly play an important role in philanthropy. By viewing it as an opportunity rather than a threat to the status quo, organizations can realize their full potential to advance their fundraising programs and their missions.”

From donor analytics and database management to website design and social media, leveraging technology can help organizations plan ahead, better reach their audiences, and conduct efficient philanthropy. To this end, Campbell & Company has outlined five ways nonprofits can use technology more effectively for maximum fundraising success.

  1. Target the right prospects through the power of electronic screening and customized predictive modeling. Electronic wealth screening—measuring the capacity of prospects through publicly available information—is a time-tested strategy. However, organizations are becoming more advanced by pairing this data with complex predictive modeling and likelihood scores. “By using predictive modeling, we’ve seen organizations increase their ability to identify the constituents most likely to give a major gift, upgrade their giving, attend an event, take a personal meeting, or respond to an online communication,” says Carrie Dahlquist, Director of Strategic Information Services at Campbell & Company. “In this way, development professionals can find answers to the questions that matter most and harness that knowledge to shape their fundraising efforts.”

    harness technology

  2. Use your database to make fundraising projections and ask critical questions. Proactive organizations track future asks in their databases and record expected amounts. Many systems also allow users to assign a rating to each amount. For example, a major gift officer could record an ask amount of $50,000 for six months in the future. The officer could then enter an expected amount of $45,000 and assign a rating based on how certain he or she is that this gift will be received—a 75 percent rating would indicate strong confidence, while a 25 percent rating would signal significant doubt. Either in-system or through add-on reporting tools, users can create reports that will discount the expected amount based on this rating to provide more realistic projections.

    Using these projections, development professionals can keep leadership informed, evaluate the accuracy of their estimations, and ask important questions: “How likely are we to hit our goals? How close were my projections to the amounts received?” As development professionals become comfortable with making projections, they can do so with more confidence and precision. “We build out future opportunities as far out as we can in our database system,” explains Adam Runions, Deputy Director of Philanthropy at The Nature Conservancy in Washington. “You need to have that cumulative view of a donor’s giving. Over time, it may take a donor multiple gifts to get to the level that you’re really seeking. In the database, using those multiyear projections and being able to roll those together is really critical.”

  3. Let the goal of your website guide its design and focus on user experience to create interactive, immersive webpages. An organization’s website should funnel visitors toward the end goal, whether that is giving, behavior change, advocacy, or another objective. Optimized site architecture can lead visitors—click by click and page by page—closer to this goal. As John Zabinski, Senior Vice President for University Advancement at Rowan University notes, “Our philosophy is if someone’s ready to make a gift, then get to it. Don’t have them go to three or four different landing pages because, ultimately, people get frustrated and walk away if they click too much.” His colleague, Vice President for University Advancement R.J. Tallarida, Jr. adds, “We want to make sure content on our site is relevant: it’s fresh, it’s new, it’s always changing, and there’s variety.”

    Website design should focus on how the user will experience and move through the site, creating opportunities for engagement through videos, blogs, images, social media tie-ins, and comment sections. Testing user experience doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. Research by the Nielsen Norman Group indicates that around 85 percent of usability issues can be identified through interviewing and observing five of your users.


  4. Send out online surveys to pinpoint messaging that resonates with your core supporters. During campaigns, nonprofits often invest significant money in collateral materials to promote their cases for support and count on that messaging to connect with donors. Since so much rides on the campaign case, development professionals shouldn’t assume they know what language will inspire gifts. A range of user-friendly online survey options exist—from inexpensive to more advanced tools—giving organizations a cost-effective way to gather input from constituents. By testing messaging on the front end through online surveys to their network of supporters, nonprofits can refine their approach and avoid throwing resources behind ineffective messaging.

    To refine their approach even further, nonprofits can map survey responses to wealth screening data, uncovering how their messaging will perform with people of varying wealth levels. “With a past client, survey responses initially indicated overwhelming support for a specific campaign project,” says Carrie Dahlquist. “However, when we filtered by capacity, we found that the respondents with the greatest wealth were interested in a completely different aspect of the campaign. This knowledge helped the client decide which projects to market broadly and which to share one-on-one with high capacity prospects.”

  5. Adapt messaging to develop social media posts that drive awareness, influence, engagement, conversion, and retention. Organizations now have the ability to connect with current and potential supporters across a wide range of communication channels. “We have different roles and goals for each of our primary social media platforms—Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—and we don’t treat them as one-size-fits-all,” explains Liz Nielsen, Acting Senior Vice President of Direct Marketing & Digital Engagement for Feeding America. “Our social media presence is an entry point to build new relationships, a communication stream to deepen engagement within our community, and a way to build loyalty and steward longtime supporters. For us, social media from a fundraising perspective is about driving traffic to our website, but we are also always exploring how it can do more.

    Social media has a wide variety of applications for nonprofits. It can increase awareness of programs, encourage influential supporters to promote your mission, engage supporters by prompting two-way interaction, convert supporters to donors through giving appeals, and retain donors by inspiring repeat gifts. As Andy Brommel, Director of Communications Consulting at Campbell & Company emphasizes, “Organizations should use philanthropic messages to shape their editorial calendars and build specific social media content that ties back to their cases for support.”

Advances in technology can often feel disruptive to a sector that was built on face-to-face relationships. However, by experimenting with new strategies and effectively implementing tech developments, nonprofits can see a return on innovation and ensure their fundraising programs will be successful long into the future. To learn more, please visit

This content was paid for and created by Campbell & Company.

The editorial staff of The Chronicle had no role in its preparation.

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