Earlier this month, thousands of non-profits participated in the Give Local America campaign—a national day of local giving held in dozens of cities across the US. While the campaign raised an impressive $68 million, the event was overshadowed by significant technical and performance issues with the technology platform. Many organizations took to social media and other locations to express their frustration publicly. And many other organizations completely missed out on thousands of dollars of needed funds. It was a bad day for everyone involved.
But as a technology company, we've seen this before (and experienced a few glitches too), and the lesson here is an old one. Be prepared. Like a flat tire on the way to the airport, or rain at a huge outdoor event, we all know "stuff happens." Fundraising events are no different. Technology providers really do try their best to prepare for these events, but no system can ever be made completely indestructible. Prepare and exercise a plan in case something goes wrong. And be ready to switch to it. We all know that "failing to plan can be tantamount to planning to fail."
One key suggestion for any online campaign is to make sure you are in charge of your own links. Using a site like Bit.ly (my favorite), or tinyurl.com for instance, you can share a link with your donors and change where it goes, even after you send it. This way, if the online donation site you emailed your donor a week ago has trouble, you can switch them to another location in seconds. At the very least, you can explain the current problem, what’s being done to correct it, and what donors can do to circumvent the problem.
If you are directing donors to your own site first, be sure it can handle the load too. Have at least a shell of your site on another location such as Weebly, Wix, or GoDaddy that you can redirect to in a pinch. We’ve seen clients struggle when their own site was overwhelmed with traffic and became unable to direct clients to a DonorPerfect donation form, even though the online donation form was just fine.
Have drafts of your communications already written out, and know where and how you’ll post them. You’ll want to communicate any change in plans quickly and easily. It may be human nature to take to the web to vent your frustration, but your first priority should be to your donors. There will be time for griping later.
Stay in touch with your constituents regularly. Keep updates going on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you post your event info.
For in-house events where you plan to use technology (such as live auctions or galas), don’t depend entirely on the event location WIFI. Hotel and event WIFI are often purposely "throttled bac" by hotels, overwhelmed with traffic, and heavily fire-walled. Dropped connections are commonplace, and while that may be acceptable while using email, experiencing these drops while processing a $4,500 donation for an auction purchase is not. Having access to a portable 4G hotspot can be a lifesaver and keep your event going, and it's wise to even have multiple providers ready, such as Verizon and AT&T.
Finally, if you have troubles, try to remember the big picture, take a deep breath, and keep focusing on the problem at hand. Keep the tone positive and stay in touch. Issues at a single event are frustrating, but are rarely life-altering. Donors can be incredibly understanding—and can always write a check or follow-up later.
In the end, your donors give because they believe in you and your mission, not because of the technology. Stay positive. They’ll remember how you reacted long after they’ve forgotten the technological glitches.