Tech Trends for Fundraisers to Watch in 2016

2015 is in the books! Back to the Future II Day came and went without the release of flying cars, though we did see the rise of hoverboards (which do NOT hover).


Although Doc Brown and Marty didn’t offer us a ride in their DeLorean, there was still plenty happening in the world of technology that’s relevant to all of us in advancement. There’s no better way to start the new year than to peruse a moderately amusing listicle, so here I am to present the technology that died in 2015, along with what might be the toast of 2016 for the nonprofit world. Here. We. Go.

No Bulletproof Vest Do-Over For These Folks:

1. Internet Explorer (IE)

Ding-dong, the witch is dead! Well… pretty much dead. IE will live on for those of us with business accounts, but for the majority of us who have labored through support calls with students, staff, and alumni who are still running IE 7, this is a glorious day.


As we think about how we’ll continue to engage our constituents in the digital space, it’s reassuring to know that those hanging onto their IE loyalty will soon be forced into contemporary web browsing. This means we can be more aggressive in the pursuit of new and exciting digital strategies without our IT teams telling us, “Good idea, but it won’t run on IE.” This is a win for all of us.

2. Google+

But isn’t Google growing faster than Facebook? Google’s decision to make “Plus” a stand-alone feature—versus requiring a Google+ profile for all Google products—was a sugarcoated way of putting their sweet prince to rest. Google+ technically isn’t dead, but it just won’t be the adhesive for the Google universe it once attempted to be. According to, only four to six million people posted on Google+ in January 2015, compared to Facebook’s 1 billion+ monthly active users. Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting says 90% of Google+ accounts haven’t made a single public post.

(Not quite how it turned out.)

Though the social activity may be lacking, Google+ did bring us Hangouts and Hangouts On Air, which have been revolutionary for many of us in higher ed. But if you betted that it would leave Facebook in the dust, it’s time to pay up.

3. Cable TV

Turns out it’s not wise to offer poor customer service, even when you have a monopoly. Cable companies are losing subscribers as streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Apple TV gain adoption from consumers who don’t want to be “bundled” any longer. Over the past three years, cable has lost close to a million subscribers, a downward trend that’s been rapidly accelerating since the late 2000s.

(chart via Pacific Crest)

Considering how many people still subscribe, how can we say cable is dead? Well, it’s certainly not gone. Think of it as having a terminal illness with a low probability of finding a cure. HBO made big headlines when it launched a stand-alone streaming service, and now major networks like CBS are following suit. Power is now in the hands of the consumer, and it’s something that advancement professionals need to pay attention to.

There is an uncomfortable commonality between cable TV and higher-ed advancement: We’ve both made a living off our audience needing something that they couldn’t access on their own. In the past both had the luxury of dictating the terms of engagement, but now, it’s all self-service a la carte. And cable TV’s drop in subscribers looks eerily similar to our alumni participation rates.


For higher ed, our ownership of the alumni database was a golden ticket desired by alumni for networking, business opportunities, and event planning. Alumni relied on their advancement office to supply them with information on fellow classmates, which made it easy for us to stay in touch with them. Then social media came along and blew that all to smithereens; alumni can connect with classmates without our help. The alumni relationship with alma mater is no longer a 150-channel bundle that we can force feed. Instead it’s what the alumni want, where they want it, in whatever dosage they prefer.

Change has been brewing for quite some time now. Let’s hope we’re willing to adapt faster than Time Warner and Comcast.

4. Organic Reach on Facebook

Most of us in the nonprofit world have realized that organic reach is falling. Our Facebook posts that once easily roped in hundreds of fans have been replaced by the sound of crickets. According to Edgerank Checker, organic reach per fan in 2012 was 16% and by 2014 it was down to 6%. has reported that organic reach fell to 2.6% in 2015—and for pages with over one million followers, it’s even lower.

While organic reach has been plummeting for a few years now, I think our arrival at the 2% mark means it’s technically alive, but only because no one filled out the “do not resuscitate” form, so we’re not legally allowed to pull the plug.

The latest reach percentage isn’t the only reason to declare organic reach dead. The arrival of Facebook’s Ad Manager and Power Editor makes it clear Mr. Zuckerberg expects you to pay him for the privilege of accessing his users. The good news is, Facebook for Business allows you to target your audience in an awesomely creepy way and recently added the ability to do email matching and targeting across Facebook.

5. Unlimited Character Counts in Twitter Direct Messages


This is a small one that many may have missed. But for those who want to use Twitter in a way it was never intended, you can now send lengthy private messages to other Twitter users.

The nice thing about this is that if you use Twitter to engage with specific alumni and donors, removal of the character limit allows you to have deeper conversations with them while still existing in the Twitterverse.

Get out there and feel the freedom of the 141st character.

From Ifs to “Biffs” – Poised for Future Success:


1. Drones

Unmanned systems/drones came alive in 2015, and they’re set to soar to new heights in 2016. As their functionality becomes more complex, our ability to use them for business purposes will improve. At the very least, campus images are a major part of the higher-ed social content strategy, and these machines have the ability to go where no photographer has gone before. The aforementioned extinction of organic reach means we have to get more creative with our content, and drones could be the best weapon to fight back against the growing wall between us and our page fans.

Not only can we capture new and exciting images and video, but we can also livestream video with the recently revealed Axis Vidius drone. That could provide an incredible real-time experience for your virtual audience, whether it be reunion, commencement, a giving day, or any day.

2. 3D Printing

You may be thinking, “Printing… how analog.” However, 3D printing has the potential to bring the virtual and real worlds together in a way that could provide futuristic engagement opportunities for the nonprofit sector.


While 3D printing stocks have been down the past two years, the Motley Fool reports the industry is expected to grow by 31% per year between now and 2020. The Wohlers Report 2015 estimates that 3D printing will earn $7.1 billion in 2016, up from $4.1 billion in 2014. Printing is expected to become 10 to 100 times faster in the coming year, and that could encourage organizations to tap into 3D printing for the first time.

While I can’t offer any great ideas on how your organization will be able to use 3D printing, it’s undoubtedly a disruptive technology that will have a ripple effect on the way everyone does business. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that we should keep an open mind to emerging technologies because they offer us an opportunity to do our jobs better.

3. Periscope

According to AdWeek, Periscope is “now boasting more than 10 million users watching 40 years worth of video every day.”

As someone who frequently livestreams events to an alumni audience, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with this app over the past year. What I love about Periscope is that it’s a great alternative for organizations that don’t have the budget to buy a camera, audio equipment, and a livestream subscription. As microphone accessories for smartphones continue to evolve, streaming from a phone will become more practical for capturing live moments of interest.


In an attempt to increase awareness, Periscope added a map feature that provides a menu for what’s being broadcasted in each city. Considering they’re owned by Twitter and have a rapidly increasing user base, prepare for wide-scale adoption of Periscope.

4. Snapchat

“I don’t think most people are aware of how massive Snapchat is becoming. Teens don’t use Facebook or Instagram anymore—their moms use it. Snapchat has already made a move to monetize through ads to large companies. I think we will see this expand to encompass much more advertising in 2016.”

Brandon Stapper, 858 Graphics

This is one app I don’t use with regularity, but it’s clear Snapchat is becoming a major focus for higher-ed professionals looking to engage students on campus. More and more, I’m seeing blog articles and presentations that prove Snapchat engagement is on the rise; many schools have unleashed creative strategies that not only engage students, but also offer them value at the same time. I’m expecting Snapchat to blow up in 2016 and become a household appliance for every higher-ed institution.

5. Smartphones (Again)

“I see personalized campaigns based on a specific device, profile, and/or usage data as a major trend for the first half of 2016. Today’s customers want to be cared for everywhere, so it’s important that we cater to their needs and create personalized campaigns. As we move further into the mobile era, it’s crucial that companies create a human experience inside mobile.”

– Eli Rubel, Helpshift

That’s right: For the 10th consecutive year, expect even more disruptive evolution in the world of mobile. While selfie sticks generate much of the casual buzz, smartphone technology will blow our minds yet again and further pressure our institutions to think about a comprehensive mobile strategy—one that takes full advantage of how much time our donors and volunteers are spending on their phones. We need to continue to think about how to leverage mobile to advance our organizations, while also delivering value to our constituents.

Mobile payments continue to rise and are expected to surpass $140 billion by 2019. As more people become comfortable paying through their mobile devices, it will become increasingly crucial for us to offer a seamless mobile giving platform. The term “mobile first” has been around for a few years now, but how many nonprofit organizations are really following through with that philosophy? If you want the money, you better meet the mobile demands of your donors—or they’ll give to those organizations that do.


Perhaps the most important advantage that our industry ignores is the opportunity to create a customized experience on mobile. Organizations that spend time charting the engagement and giving behavior of every constituent can provide a truly unique and meaningful experience through mobile. Again, we have to constantly remind ourselves that people don’t feel obligated to give us money. The market for donations is fiercely competitive, and rising tuition and student loan debt only make the case for higher ed tougher. But we can combat this by using data science (start with my whitepaper, “The Art of Fundraising With Data Science”) to connect the dots and offer our donors a tailored experience that offers round-the-clock stewardship and engagement.

There are many other mobile developments worthy of your attention, including vertical video ads, automated assistants, and mobile marketing automation. You can find information on all of these and more on Mashable.

“Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads”


No one knows for sure what 2016 will bring (other than another NFL season in which my Buffalo Bills fail to qualify for postseason), but through modest research and personal experience, these are a handful of technological advancements likely to impact higher-ed fundraising in 2016. Some of these things will be great for you, but others not so much—so just remember to walk before you run when it comes to shiny, new gadgets. Make sure that the tech you employ fits within your brand and delivers value to both you and your audience.

Also remember that even the nonprofit sector must continue to evolve, lest we find ourselves scrambling to retain our audience like the giant cable companies of today. Doc Brown dodged death by way of a bulletproof vest after he was warned by Marty 30 years before he was originally gunned down in a mall parking lot. We don’t have the luxury of a VP of advancement from 2045 coming back in time and telling us what to do to avoid becoming obsolete. We have to keep experimenting and, at times, be willing to fail. If not, we’ll find ourselves snuggled tightly in the end-of-year “in memoriam” montage.

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