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Ask an Expert: Online Engagement Tool Trends + Advice

Marcella Vitulli

The sea of tech options for nonprofits is large and growing - what isn't is data-driven, expert advice on making tech decisions (as a CRM provider, we get it!)

That's why we asked Maureen Wallbeoff, Vice President at Firefly Partners, for some expert insights, not only from her career in the third sector, but also as a nonprofit digital consultant and contributor to the Nonprofit Guide to Online Engagement Tools.

Read on to check out our conversation with Maureen and hear more about Firefly Partners' recent report.

cover-firefly-report-2.jpgGet your free copy on the Firefly Partners website


EveryAction: "You’ve worked for and with nonprofits for most of your career. What are some trends you’ve observed in the ways nonprofits are (and aren’t) using technology to engage supporters?"

Maureen Wallbeoff: I’ve been working with nonprofit engagement platforms of one sort or another since the late 1990s, which sometimes feels like the 1890s when you think about how far technology has advanced recently.

I find that organizations tend to rely most heavily on the same three things: Websites, Email, and Online Fundraising. Direct mail is never going away completely in my lifetime, and good old telephone solicitation continues to be effective for some nonprofits. Social media, texting, apps and blogs have all been added to the mix.

The current environment makes it tempting for an organization to spread themselves really thin as they try to use every channel at their disposal. It’s also become more challenging to have real confidence that your organization is using the right online engagement tool - whether you’ve been using it for 6 months or 6 years.

"Knowing that, what factors did Firefly Partners consider when putting together the criteria for this year’s Nonprofit Guide to Online Engagement Tools?"

MW: Our team’s extensive years of work in nonprofit technology inspire us to be a client advocate. We ask the questions that a nonprofit staffer might not think about, or even know they should ask. This "nonprofit advocate" stance is clearly demonstrated in our guide.  

We wanted to take the jargon and sales-speak out of the mix and serve up an easy to understand, knowledgeable look at a curated array of the systems in the market. We know what goes into creating a great online engagement program and wanted to bring that honest, fresh perspective into the very start of the search process.

"What has the reaction from nonprofits been like since the guide was released? Were there findings that surprised them?"

MW:  I really wondered what the response was going to be - we sort of pushed it into the world and held our breath. I’m thrilled to say it has been overwhelmingly positive.  We’ve had hundreds of downloads within the first 4 weeks of its release, and that pace doesn't seem to be slowing down.  

I’ve spoken with quite a few folks who really appreciated our unique take on things - and there have been a few conversations with nonprofit staff whose experience with a specific platform was not in alignment with the ratings listed in our guide. Your mileage may vary, as they say!

"The Guide is a thoughtful, in-depth read, and offers a lot of great advice to organizations looking at different tech options. If you had to boil it down, what are three questions nonprofits should ask themselves and/or technology vendors before adopting new tools?"

MW: This is a great question!  

1. What pieces of functionality (advocacy, email, events, etc.) are core to succeeding at our work today and for the next three years?

2. What is our in-house technical savviness?

3. How will we (internally) manage this change effectively?

Facebook_3-1.jpgFind out why nonprofits are making the switch to EveryAction

"In the guide, EveryAction 8 is described as one of the 'new kids on the block,' but received “Excellent” ratings in all but one category and was named the standout for Advocacy. What were some of the features that stood out?"

MW: We were very impressed with the user interface for EveryAction 8. It’s clear that the needs of the accidental nonprofit techie were considered in the design and navigation.

The interface is uncluttered and easy to understand. Another feature that was particularly interesting to us was the integration of Twitter into EveryAction 8. Action alert delivery to elected officials via Twitter is a really cool bit of functionality.

We appreciate that the EveryAction team pays close attention to social media trends within our industry and used that insight to enhance their tool set. And lastly, organizations who use EveryAction all had sincerely great things to say about the company - which is not always the case.

"How do you see online engagement evolving, and what advice would you give to nonprofits planning to adopt new tools in the near future?"

MW:  When it comes to nonprofit engagement tools, we live in a time of market disruptors and game-changers. New platforms and channels launch all the time, and there is often a huge amount of internal pressure to move from their legacy system to something shiny.  

It’s really important for a team to go slow in order to go fast. Think about your annual budgeting cycle and time your online engagement tool planning to align with it. Avoid launching a new platform in the middle of any major communication or fundraising campaigns (build it and go live once the campaign is over).

And lastly, don’t forget about project management and a detailed implementation plan! Firefly loves working on projects like these and our smooth processes are designed to keep our clients engaged, informed and confident throughout the entire project.  

C1-8796-9-x-385x415.pngMaureen Wallbeoff is Vice President at Firefly Partners. She is a jane-of-all-trades, overseeing internal and external operations with a steady hand. Her working life before Firefly was spent at Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, where she rose from clinic assistant to the Director of e-Business over a sixteen year tenure.


Topics: CRM, engagement