From taking advantage of the latest technology to getting more done with less, Sarah Olivieri shares several golden nuggets in her interview. These are steps any organization can start applying right away. We discussed the range of topics that impact digital fundraising including artificial intelligent and ever-changing online tool. Press play to hear this vibrant discussion as as Sarah Olivieri of PivotGround shares how non-profit organizations can organize, optimize and thrive in the digital age.
Sarah Olivieri is a nonprofit strategist with a passion for helping organizations thrive in the digital age. The founder of PivotGround, Sarah helps human-service nonprofits increase capacity, deliver better programming, attract more funding, and make the world a better place. She is the creator of the Impact Method™ – a business framework for nonprofits designed to help nonprofits thrive in the digital age. She has over 15 years of nonprofit leadership. Sarah co-founded the Open Center for Autism and was the executive director of the Helping Children of War Foundation. She is also a published author who co-wrote Lesson Planning a la Carte: Integrated Planning for Students with Special Needs.
Find Sarah Olivieri on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahfolivieri
Connect on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sarah-olivieri/
Danielle: Welcome back to another episode of Dreamer’s Den Podcast. I’m Danielle Towner and today we have a guest with us, Ms. Sarah Olivieri. She is a non-profit strategist and she’s the founder of PivotGround. And her passion is helping organizations thrive in the digital age. Which is very critical because everything now is converting to digital, and you need a digital presence, a web presence and you need to capture people’s attention in that way. Sarah, here specialty is helping human-service non-profits increase their capacity, deliver better programming and attract more funding. So she’s somebody- for all you non-profits looking to grow and expand and to bring more funding into your organization, she’s someone that you need to pay attention to.
So, welcome Sarah!
Sarah: Thank you Danielle. It’s great to be here.
Danielle: Thank you for coming on. Now, we have a few questions for you and this is some good stuff, so I’m ready to dig right into it.
Sarah: Excellent! Let’s go. No time like the present.
The Full Picture of Breaking into Digital Fundraising
Danielle: Okay, so, Now as we were just talking about the digital impact, digital fundraising is an avenue that some non-profits, they still haven’t gotten a grasp of it or they haven’t begun to explore it. So, what advice do you have for those who desire to add this element to their plans?
Sarah: Sure. Well, I think it goes back to what you just said, like having a digital presence is really important. That’s only kind of half the picture of the digital story. Now, that’s your property online, where you exist online, and the other half of digital is really about how we communicate with each other. How we engage with each other. And we’re using digital tools to communicate all the time – whether it’s a chat tool or social media, email, a form from our website. There are all sorts of apps on people’s phones that are helping people communicate and collaborate and do things together.
Sarah: So, when it comes to fundraising, probably the most fundamental piece of fundraising is engaging your donors. Having that conversation with your donors. And so if you’re not doing digital fundraising, you are missing out on that opportunity to be communicating with your donors in this way that so many of us are communicating. More often than not, we’re communicating digitally.
One piece of advice is definitely do digital fundraising. And if the communication piece wasn’t convincing enough, what a lot of non-profits are doing is they’re doing fundraising events. Everybody knows the gala, the fundraising dinner.
Sarah: Unfortunately, that is the hardest, most expensive way to fundraise of ALL the kinds of fundraising. So, I really encourage you – I know it’s easy because it’s tangible to think about those events, but really try to – if you can just carve out some time from doing that and think about doing some digital fundraising.
This is a big, big topic. So starting on digital fundraising, I’d say probably the number one thing you can do to get started is write one or preferably multiple emails that everybody who joins your list or every new donor who donates to you for the first time receives. Basically kind of bringing them on as a donor and moving them towards their second donation.
Once somebody has made a second donation, the chance that they will donate again and again goes way up. So, getting that donor to make the first donation is big, but that’s not where your journey needs to end. You really need to push on through to getting them to make that second gift. And most email tools will do this for you. Technically, it’s called a drip campaign, like a drip of water or a drop of water dripping.
Sarah: And there are certainly tools you can pay for to do this in very complex ways, but even MailChimp will do this. When somebody signs up to your email list, you just add an automated campaign where they receive, I like to say at least three emails and it depends. Introduce them to what your organization does, and go ahead and make that ask for more.
The Don’ts of Digital Fundraising
Danielle: Okay. Excellent! Now, you have 15 years of non-profit leadership experience and it shows. I can tell. With that being said, is there anything about digital fundraising that you wouldn’t advise organizations to do?
Sarah: Oh man! So-
Don’t Say Anything Stupid
That’s a great question! I think everything about digital fundraising, if you put it through the filter of human psychology, it’s less about the trick of the day and more about asking yourself “what is that human interaction that I’m trying to replicate using a digital tool?”. There’s something about the internet that makes us like all socially stupid.
Sarah: Things that we would never, ever say to someone in person, we’ll say it in an email, we’ll say it on social media, in a text message. [laughter]
Sarah: So, you have to like check yourself with this filter of like “would this really mean something to someone if I communicated it to them?” So, and yes, there are lots of tactics that come and go. Usually, it’s about getting noticed in a very crowded marketplace. There’s lots of people doing fundraising or just selling stuff to your audience trying to get them to spend their money instead of donate their money. So, a lot of kind of trends that come up are about getting noticed.
Don’t Get Stuck in the Crowdfunding Box
Sarah: And they will be – they will come and they will go, so run it through that like age-old human psychology filter. One kind of pet peeve I have I can share about is a lot of people, when they hear digital fundraising, they think like crowdfunding. And just kind of go back to like logically think about what is crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is what non-profits have always done. It’s called individual donations. You go out and you say, “would you donate to my project or my program?”
Danielle: Right. [laughter]
Sarah: Crowdfunding was created by the for-profit world to create some kind of security so that people could donate to organizations, essentially, or pay for-profit organizations to do things in a more secure way.
Sarah: Right. So crowdfunding definitely leveraged tools to help you raise money for a cause, but again, think about that human interaction. And the name of the game really when it comes to really building a solid fundraising engine is to build individual donors who are recurring. They come back. They give to you every month, every year, every quarter. Whatever works for them.
Danielle: Right. And I think it goes back to what you said with us wanting to be noticed or to stand out and sometimes we over-communicate and try to use fancy language when it’s unnecessary and like you said, it’s about building that relationship and that loyalty.
Don’t Limit Yourself
Sarah: That’s right, and there’s a number one thing that is always good for relationships and loyalty, and it’s authenticity. Be yourself. I’ve had non-profits tell me, “Oh, we can’t market ourselves because we have money and if people think we have money, they won’t give to us”. And I’ve had another non-profit say, “well, we don’t have any money and if somebody finds out we don’t have money, nobody will give to us”.
Sarah: If you started your non-profit, there’s probably really a good reason. If somebody started it, there’s probably a really good reason and somebody will probably give to you. Because what they want is to join you on your journey. And there are people who want to join you on your journey from having nothing to doing great things. And there are people who want to join you on your journey from being great and doing even more of that.
How Artificial Intelligence and Innovations Shape Digital Fundraising
Danielle: Right. Absolutely. Now, let’s break into something that is taking off this year or, so that’s what I’ve heard or what I’ve observed. Artificial Intelligence, it’s breaking ground in our everyday functions and the way we do business. Even down to things like Alexa and Amazon, and how people just function and gather information. Now, some of us are not – or some people out there are not that familiar with it. So, could you share some details on how AI works and how it impacts digital fundraising?
Sarah: Sure. So, I like to think about the printing press. I know we’re going way back now, but the printing press was really revolutionary. Cause it scaled our ability to have a one-to-many communication. One person could write a book and it could be printed thousands and thousands of times over and distributed throughout the world.
And then, we had the first version of the internet, which came around like the printing press times a million. You know, it was like one-to-many. We could then spread a message, not only to the entire world, but almost instantly we could spread messages to the entire world. And it opened that up. Anybody could have the printing press at their fingertips. They could build a list, then send a message to thousands and thousands of people from their home computer.
But something happened in around – I think it was 2006. A number of things changed the way the internet technology fundamentally started working, and that had to do with we started to collect more data and we started to use the internet to communicate a lot. And with this data came the ability to program computers to start to kind of make basic decisions using that data. So like if you – if the computer knows I’m on my phone versus I’m on my computer, if I give it two options say, “if they’re on their phone, give them this. If they’re on their computer, give them this other thing”.
So, what this means is we are now in an age where instead of focusing on scaling our one-to-many communications – we have that – we’re now able to scale our one-to-one communication. So that means whereas before, I could only have as many conversations as I could have in a day, I can now use technology to aid me in having almost personal one-to-one communications. They’re one-to-one, but they’re not 100% me. They’re partially me.
So, bringing this all the way around to artificial Intelligence, there are three kind of terms that I like people to think about: Artificial Intelligence, automation and augmentation. So, I’ll break this down for everybody.
Artificial Intelligence is basically when you teach a computer a bunch of rules to make decisions by, and information goes in and it starts making very complicated decisions that kind of replace the human, and that’s coming down in the future more and more. It’s becoming more accessible.
And this here now is automation, which means we’ve created kind of more manually a “if this happens” – it’s like the phone versus the laptop. “If this happens, do this. If that happens, do the other thing.” And it becomes very, very complex. But a person is saying what happens if-then, whereas with Artificial Intelligence the computer actually starts to decide what to do and make its own rules.
The most exciting for me right now, especially for smaller non-profits who are on a budget is what I call augmentation. Which means there’s a little artificial intelligence coming in. Some conveniently produced information or some assistance that helps you do still what you do everyday, but a little bit faster and a little bit easier.
We see that already in like Google’s email. If you use Gmail or the app, it will kind of pre-fill what it thinks you want to say.
Sarah: And then you can just click to write it in. Other things, systems where if somebody calls you it pulls up information about them so you have good context when you have that conversation. Or there are fundraising platforms that can recommend, say “hey, this is probably a good time to reach out to one of your donors” or “this is how much money you should ask them for next”. So it’s supported information.
Danielle: Okay. That’s great because it seems like even though there are so many tools to help save you time, it seems like the more that innovation happens, the less time we have.
Sarah: Yes. And you can get lost in the complexities. I think with augmentation, it comes very natural and you’re like “oh, I’m doing this much faster”. I use a tool that tells me my appointments for tomorrow and it quickly pre-fills an email. I just kind of like click a button, customize and then send. Saying “our appointment is tomorrow at 1:00 PM”. And I’m still adding to that email It’s not totally automated, but I don’t have to look up the time. I don’t have to put that into my email. It automatically puts it in their time zone. So it saves me, like what was a five minute job is a now like a 30 second job.
Sarah: But the automation piece, if you actually get into it, it’s a totally different way of thinking. You have to imagine like multiple scenarios. It’s like playing chess. So that’s a really different kind of way of thinking. It’s not for everybody to kind of get into that.
Danielle: Got ya. It’s almost like you have to begin with the end in mind and kind of work your way backwards.
Sarah: Yes! That’s exactly it. In fact, most of marketing, which a lot of digital fundraising comes from, basic roots of marketing – which I always say marketing is presenting what you have to offer and then engaging them so they’ll take action with you. So when you plan out what we think about it, “okay, we want first person to do and go through this journey”, but when start to you build the journey, you have to build it from the end back to the present.
Danielle: Right. Got ya. Okay, so now that we have a better understanding of AI and how it’s impacting things with fundraising, with digital fundraising, what are some of the tools that non-profits can use to begin including AI in their fundraising strategies?
Innovative Tools that Aid in Digital Fundraising
Sarah: That is a great questions. So, right now as far as true Artificial Intelligence, most of the tools that have some of that are quite expensive, so it might be prohibitive to the smaller organizations. A lot of specifically, in fundraising, what’s happening is Artificial Intelligence, is creating better reports. So, it can take into account a donor’s activity. Have they been donating more frequently or less frequently? It can grab data about their posts on social media, about their income, and basically start recommending to you things that may be considered information that you wouldn’t have had otherwise. And, like I said before, the tools are beginning to tell you what – “this is what you should ask for next” or” this is a good time to ask for a volunteer type activity as opposed to a dollar activity”.
Danielle: Oh. Okay.
Sarah: But it’s really Artificial Intelligence is just, just kind of beginning to come into fundraising, but augmenting things is definitely very much in place and automated communications is huge. And helping with things like renewing credit cards. It’s just a lot of housekeeping work involved with fundraising that technology is helping with these days.
Getting More Done with Less
Danielle: Okay. Awesome. Now, as you were saying, some of the smaller organizations, some of them are working with a lean budget or a small staff or both. So, how can these non-profits -the ones that are still trying to get off the ground – take advantage of such digital evolutions.
Sarah: Yeah, well fortunately, there are more and more options everyday. I highly recommend that non-profits can have either the full Google suite for business or the full Microsoft suite for free. I tend to prefer the Google suite for those who are looking to kind of be on the cutting edge because it is more about collaborating and communicating with the world, so I think that’s often a great place to start. There’s a tool, a service called Zapier, Z A P I E R. That’s a great – it links two programs together or it can actually perform single automations. So, you can tell it to do certain things for you it’s a great way to kind of play around and just get a feel for automating some things. They’re called Zaps when you use Zapier. And for non-profits, they can have the – there’s a free account, but there’s also a professional account, the next grade up, that is normally paid, but non-profits can use it for free. So that’s a great resource for them. Otherwise, I would just kind of say, there’s a golden rule I have about tools because the number of tools are growing exponentially every year, which is I follow a hierarchy of people, process, tools. Meaning, the people have to come first, and then the processes or systems that work for them, and then finally the tools that make that stuff work.
We have this saying called shiny object syndrome. It’s so easy to look at a tool and get all excited about it, but you really have to do what to some people is the boring work of kind of writing out what is it that I’m trying to accomplish and what tool will help me accomplish that. And then, each tool will probably have extra features that you’re not going to use. Don’t try to use all the extra features just so that you’re maximizing the tool. Stick to, who are your people, what do they need to get done, and then what tool’s going to do the job.
Danielle: Right. So, in everything, it’s always going to start with a plan.
Sarah: That’s right! That’s right! And you will -I mean I love plans, and I don’t think you can go wrong with a plan ever, but the internet of all places. I call it, it’s the infinite universe where the laws of physics change every month.
You will get very, very lost without a plan. You can waste many, many hours of your time. You can waste tons of money. So, DO NOT go into the internet without a plan.
Danielle: Right. Exactly. Right. Well, you are full of information and full of energy and I don’t see why any non-profit wouldn’t want to work with you and learn more. Could you share with everyone how they can collaborate with you or how they can get in touch with you?
Work With PivotGround
Sarah: Sure! Yeah, well we’ve actually started on a mission this year to make organized, optimized and thriving the new status quo for non-profits. So, if that sounds good to you, you should definitely get in touch with me. Our website is pivotground.com, P I V O T G R O U N D dot com. And generally, what we’ve found is our secret sauce, which I just shared with everybody, because I believe in sharing the secrets, is that strategy, having a plan is really important. But for most non-profits, there’s a step that needs to come before that, which is leveraging their existing capacity so they can actually take advantage of amazing bold strategy. So, that’s always how we start with our clients, and for larger non-profits, particularly, we take them through a process one-on-one. And for smaller non-profits, we have a group program, which is kind of a hybrid of learning the tools you need to get organized and optimized and thrive. And then support from me, but more in a group setting and it makes it both more affordable and more effective for the smaller non-profits.
Danielle: Great. Awesome. Well, this has been amazing and I really appreciate you coming on Dreamer’s Den Podcast and chatting with us and teaching us more about digital fundraising.
Sarah: Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here.
Danielle: And as I always say to you. Dream Until your Dreams Come True. Thank you guys!