LIVINGSTON, NJ — At the annual Sobel & Co. Nonprofit Symposium held on January 13, 2016, four panelists and moderator Sally Glick shared insights and real world experiences in three key areas that are essential to all nonprofit organizations, including

  • Events
  • Fund raising and donor cultivation
  • Infrastructure 

Gail Stone, Executive Director of the NJPAC Women’s Association and Jenn Shetsen, Deputy Director of External Relations for KIPP New Jersey addressed the use of technology before, during and after an event.  While the very large and elaborate galas still require an invitation that is printed and mailed, most of the small and mid-sized events are well-suited for e-invitations. “Attendance jumps every time we invite people through an online service,” noted Gail. The reason? It is just so easy to RSVP!

That is technology at its best.

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For nonprofits, e-invites, online registration, onsite registration, instant updating and managing the attendance list all create an efficient process for the organization and a seamless experience for the guests. Once the event is underway, use of iPads for auctions and donations along with mobile device apps, smooths out the typical kinks in giving and encourages donors to be more proactive and even more generous. At the conclusion of the fundraiser, most of the e-invitation websites offer a follow up thank you or acknowledgment that closes the loop for guests and reminds them how welcome they were and how appreciative the organization is of their support.

Helen LeFrois, the Director of Development at Jersey Battered Women’s Services in Morristown, continued the conversation, talking specifically about the use of technology to build the organization’s brand and tell its story through a variety of tools such as websites, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pintrest and more. These communication platforms help the organizations develop a reputation, share meaningful content and differentiate themselves in the minds of their donors. She also mentioned the importance of using a balanced mix of strategies and also cautioned never to become too dependent on technology. Every now and then a personal call or note can have a huge impact in cultivating and sustaining meaningful relationships. Regardless of which specific database management software system the organization uses, LeFrois talked about the importance of employing technology beyond an excel spread sheet in order to be most effective!

With a focus on the common challenges facing nonprofits such as security, back-ups, lost time/disasters, cloud storage and being PCI compliant, SWK Technology’s Matt Hahn provided case studies–and suggested solutions–for mitigating loss and preparing for viruses, malicious attempts on operating systems and the many scams that plague users of  computers today. All nonprofits are becoming more complicated. Employees no longer work from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Instead, during the 24-7 day, they often have confidential records stored on their Smart phones and laptops, which are not necessarily kept safely in the office. The audience was pointedly asked how often they back up their systems. Too many said monthly, yearly or even not at all.  When asked how long they think they would be ‘down’ if their system had major issues, some of the participants estimated it could take as long as 16 hours to get back up and running!

Paying attention and employing old fashioned common sense was one of the many solutions offered to the audience. From NOT replying to odd or unfamiliar messages; NOT replying to a strange request, even when the sender appears to be familiar; looking into cybercrime insurance; training the board and staff on how to use social media; and becoming comfortable with leveraging technology to create a WOW event experience for donors- all this and more were skillfully woven into the conversation.

As each of the panelists pointed out, donors and volunteer supporters are more sophisticated today than ever before and they EXPECT the nonprofit to be cutting edge as well. The panelists all agreed that use of technology in every facet of the nonprofit is not an option, it is a given.

Alan Sobel, Managing Member of Sobel & Co., drew on his 15 years on the Board and eight years as Board Chair for The Children’s Institute (TCI) in Verona, NJ to share real world examples of the changing impact of technology, the potential problems that can occur when a nonprofit relies solely on technology, and some of the best ways to harness the great opportunities that technology provides.

Using today’s technology tools (why not!) Sobel & Co, launched a Poll Software at the symposium that enabled them to ask key questions of the members of the audience who then texted their responses for immediate access. Results to each poll question were tallied for all to see within seconds – and then addressed real time by the panelists and incorporated into the discussion in a meaningful way.

Watch for the January 2017 date to be announced.