Cloud for Good
Close this search box.

The Connected Nonprofit

This is a guest post from Jeff Rule, SVP of Digital Initiatives at National Geographic. The article first appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.

We, the nonprofit community, make giving very difficult. We don’t recognize you when you visit our website, we don’t properly thank you for your gifts, we talk at you and not with you, and we don’t tell you when your donation is being spent or on what.

People are inherently generous, but increasingly they want to get the most “bang for the buck” out of their giving dollars. This obsession with quantifying everything has escaped the technology world and now permeates all aspects of life. The technology oligarchs of our time have turned very generous in their old age giving away their fortunes. However, they also demand clear measurable outcomes for their donations. As Bill Gates drove technology, he is also setting new standards for transparency and measurement in the nonprofit world. People want to give to nonprofits with clear achievable goals, low overhead and measurable objectives.

A connected nonprofit leverages all touch points with its constituents and shares information seamlessly between parts of the organization. It uses cloud, social, and mobile technologies to connect staff, volunteers, donors, partners, and programs to deliver more impact

It’s nearly impossible to discuss the connected nonprofit without mentioning Salesforce. Attempts to write this article without mentioning Salesforce failed, as it has become the lingua franca for discussing Constituent Resource Management (CRM) best practices. They are the only provider that has a comprehensive solution without painful integrations and mappings. They are fast becoming the operating system for nonprofits.

So what does this new idea of a Connected Nonprofit look like? The first thing to realize is that it is a process, not a destination or a technology you can buy.

Data Governance: Bedrock to Build On

The bedrock for any good project is data governance and standards. The thing that ultimately feeds all the pretty dashboards, drives KPIs, OKRs and lets senior management steer the organization is rooted in a solid data model. If your data is a mess or being merged from multiple systems, then extract it, clean it, and map it before loading it into any system. Setting these standards must be a joint effort across the company. If one groups calls it “UC Berkeley” and another call it “University of California at Berkeley” then you can’t pull together reports, and the system will not work. The project is often won or lost at this phase. Standards aren’t standards if there isn’t consensus. Having a data governance group with an executive sponsor and broad input is critical.

Constituents: Also Known as People

Nonprofits exist to serve their constituents. These can be donors who give, volunteers who help us sustain the mission or grantees and educators who benefit. With full awareness of COPPA and PII laws, it is important to understand your constituents in order to serve them better. You should also recognize that a single constituent can wear several hats, being a grantee as well as a donor. Not all data on constituents is equal, and you should tailor data collection to specific touch points and measurable objectives. Don’t collect data on the off-chance you might need it. Unneeded data and data without an owner becomes a drain on the efficiency of the system. Our constituents are living breathing people, and their information will be constantly changing.

Privacy is another major concern. Unlike Facebook or Google, our Constituents are not our “product”. Buying and selling their information erodes the very foundations of trust that we are seeking to build. Allowing constituents to Opt-out is part of this respect.

Marketing: Making It Personal

This is where it gets exciting! All that carefully cultivated data can be brought to bear on personalized communications. Different constituents have different journeys to take with you. Modern nonprofit marketing’s challenge is to maintain communications in a media saturated world and coax the constituents down a path. The journey will deviate, campaigns will fail, response rates won’t live up to expectations.

The Connected Nonprofits learns in real time about these mistakes and course corrects using automation and smart marketers. Tools that allow you to visualize this are invaluable. Both of Salesforce’s marketing tools, Pardot and Marketing Cloud, provide this journey builder function, though with Marketing Cloud it is an additional add-on.

The Journey Builder (seen above) is just one of nearly a dozen integrated tools in Marketing Cloud. The Content Builder is the core digital asset management system you’ve always wanted. It ensures images, logos, headshots and approved text are readily available during campaign production. The EMail Studio and Cloud Pages connect to allow marketing to build emails and microsites using this approved campaign material. In the connected nonprofit, changes in the constituent data, such as changes to address, a yearly birthday or a changing job can trigger an automated email campaign. In reverse, open/click rates on emails can be reported from the marketing system and stored as additional information about the constituent. It is these connections that build a 360 degree view of the constituent and also reinforce the matrixed nature of the nonprofit.


How do we get our constituents involved? Involved constituents volunteer, they promote our mission and they give donations. If your organization truly has a mission worth talking about, then the community gives your constituents a place to discuss and organize. In the connected community the constituent is invited through Marketing to join a community. Their response is tracked and when they sign up or decline, it is stored. Signing up for a group in the community might trigger another automated series of emails. Groups on a specific topic might trigger a donation opportunity around that topic. Groups that are based on the constituent’s location could trigger an invite to a local meeting or talk. The community should integrate with your website so that constituents seeking information are frictionlessly presented with information from the website. Staff should be in the community mixing and providing support. Salesforce has poured enormous resources into Community Cloud. New industry specific templates, including nonprofits, allow nonprofits to get to market with a community very quickly. New features, such as Content Management System (CMS) integration and new Einstein AI tools, allow relevant information from your website to surface in the community in context with the conversations. Reasonable people should ask…if your goal is engagement should you be directing constituents to your website or community?


Websites are most useful when they adapt to their visitor. Being able to link your constituents’ website identity to their record in the CRM thus becomes a priority. Millennials might be more inclined to volunteer. Baby Boomers might be more inclined to donate. When identity can be established, we can trigger email campaigns based on visits to areas of the website or invites to join a community or attend a local event. Sharing login/identity across the community, website, donations and marketing allows nonprofits to better understand all the constituent’s touch points with the organization. Constituents on the move may also rely on your site for location-based information or to access information on the go.

“Technology may be the best way to bridge this gap, as more than 2 in 5 millennials agree that they would engage more with (46%)—and would be more likely to donate to (41%)—a nonprofit if they had a mobile app.” — Connected Nonprofit Report 2016


Nonprofits often lead with donations, but that’s a big commitment for the constituent. The connected nonprofit takes the constituent on a journey where we add value to their life gradually. Providing information, inviting them to talks, engaging in community, and volunteering all provide value, and lead to later donations. We should be prepared to accept donations at any time, but asking on the “first date” can be too soon for many. A volunteer or a member of the community is already engaged and much more likely to be open to a donation request or other marketing campaign. All constituent journeys are different, but the goal of the Connected Nonprofit is to have adaptable tools that allow different people to approach your organization at their own pace. Salesforce’s product for this is the Nonprofit Success Pack (NPSP). This along with other applications, such as Classy, can form the basis of a robust donation platform.

Measurement and Metrics

Measurement is an act of profound self-awareness. For a nonprofit, it is a series of brutally hard decisions about what is our core mission and what is not. Once the mission is clarified, there must be objectives established to make progress. That progress won’t happen in a straight line. There will be failures and setbacks and failing early is preferable to sticking with a losing strategy too long. Measuring that progress through agreed upon standards is how senior leadership guides the organization.

Why Aren’t We All Connected Nonprofits?

This is hard!!! Achieving consensus on the core mission is hard. Quantifying and measuring mission goals is hard. Buying a technology will not solve your problem alone. Additionally, many nonprofits are structured for historical reasons as divisions. Divisions often have redundant technical systems that don’t share information. A matrixed or functional organization, with shared resources, is much more likely to have a culture open to sharing constituent data.

Consensus on what to measure leads to good data standards and good data governance. Good data leads to more self-awareness and an increasing ability to better steer the nonprofit organization toward its mission.

Jeffrey Rule has extensive experience in strategy, development, operations, and management. He’s an innovative executive with a proven track record of evangelizing and leading projects, assessing organizational structure and linking technology needs to business investment options.