Eric Horner serves as Vice President of Development for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). We asked him to share how he has navigated the changing tech landscape as a fundraising leader. Read on for his reflections and some inspiration for your own career.
“How can I fully embrace technology?” This is a critical question for every chief development officer—and it’s one that has surfaced and resurfaced throughout my own career.
In 2006, I was working for a university. I remember being tasked with telling the vice president that we needed to have a premium website that would enable us to send email solicitations and process gift transactions.
It may seem hard to believe, but back then, the prevailing wisdom suggested that online giving was only appealing to annual fund donors. In reality, major gift donors (who were used to conducting banking online) intended to give online, as well.
Fast forward to 2008. I participated in a workshop conversation with top university fundraisers about Facebook and Twitter. The topic up for debate? Whether schools should even have a social media presence at all.
At the time, many organizations felt that it was hard enough for staff to manage their email inboxes. How could any institution possibly keep up with social media? Again, the reality didn’t match these assumptions: The donor audience was already engaging in a conversation about their giving. There was simply no one representing the organizations and answering back.
Without question, my career has benefited from embracing changes in technology and diving in wholeheartedly to maximize the results for my organization. However, it would be disingenuous for me to say the secret lies in any technology itself.
Rather, I believe I need to maintain a futurist mindset that embraces innovative ways to connect with our donors—and I always stay open to trying something unknown that might be brilliant.
A decade ago, we used to say that the value of every active email address to your database was about $10. If you worked a pool of 1000 emails you could expect to receive about a $10,000 return by the end of the year. Has that value diminished now that those same emails may be flagged as SPAM?
Similarly, I was once considered a subject matter expert on building a brand on Facebook. Since then, the channel has changed significantly, and I no longer know how to evaluate its worth.
Lots of technology trends have come and gone in the last decade and most had little or no impact on the field of philanthropy. Some trends will not last or may not be the right tech fit for your organization. You need to evaluate each solution critically with a focus on outcomes. That is how you can discern the value of each tool and whether it can help you do what you do well…better.
Earlier this year, my organization was approached by the CEO of a company called Tiltify, which creates live fundraising events on sites like Twitch and YouTube during video game broadcasts. I was barely even aware of what a video game broadcast was, let alone how you could make money with one.
But I remembered that our organization received a large gift from a prominent game personality. He shared that our mission was embraced by others in his community, so I jumped in.
Partnering with Tiltify, DBSA worked quickly to construct a presence in the system and prepared our processors to accept these potential donations. Within two weeks, we had a celebrity-gamer known as Jacksepticeye running a fundraiser for us that brought in $125,000 from over 5,000 donors.
Technology is seldom so productive. Often it involves a huge investment with diminishing returns. But sometimes you see a technology solution come along that truly works. A good CDO has to be ready to embrace that innovation—just like you have to be open to a new donor relationship you did not see coming.
Campbell & Company’s Executive Search team partnered with DBSA to help place Eric in his current role. We have also worked with DBSA to assess its development program and provide guidance on fundraising communications and annual giving. To learn more about our work, explore our case studies.