Monday, October 15, 2012

Using Free Google Products to Help a Small Nonprofit

We were contracted by a nonprofit organization that needed to revitalize their use of technology within their organization.  They had a number of goals that they wanted to hit but they had very little funding available.  We helped them get started with a number of free Google products that successfully met or exceeded their goals and we didn't break the bank to get there.


Background Information

So, here's a little background information.  The organization is mostly composed of volunteers with several leaders holding elected positions as officers (e.g. president, treasurer, etc.).  They've been around since the late 70s helping young couples prepare for marriage through several weekend retreats held throughout the calendar year.

Their main demographic was couples who were preparing for marriage in their particular region of the United States.  According to the most recent census data available, the average age of  individuals getting married for the first time in the United States was 27 years old; as a result, the average age of their target demographic was in their mid-twenties.

The State of the Organization

The nonprofit had seen the number of couples that were coming to their retreats steadily declining; as a result, there was concern that at the rate things were going, they would only be around for another year or two before having to discontinue activities through lack of interest and funding.

Our Involvement

So, we were asked to come in and take a look at their processes and practices and make recommendations on how to use technology to positively affect their organization.

The first thing we looked at was their web site.  Actually, we had to search for it through the Wayback Archive (link).  Eventually we found their old site on Geocities.  Their site hadn't been maintained in quite a while and was significantly out of date.  Moreover, their site did not offer any means that users could register for a retreat, pay their bill, make a donation to support the organization, or even see what was involved in going on a retreat.

What we discovered was that the couple who wanted to attend would have to call the leadership couple and make arrangements to attend the weekend.  They would have a short conversation that ended with the leadership couple telling the attending couple where to mail a check as there was no way they could accept a credit card.

Remember that the average age of the target demographic was in their mid-twenties.  As a result, most attendees were born in the mid-80s.  That is, they've been around the Internet since before they were in high school.  Asking them to drop a check in the mail was often a foreign concept; asking them to cold-call a a leadership couple at home to arrange registration frequently raised the awkwardness factor significantly.

Proposed Goals

So, we put together the following list of goals:

  1. Build a new web site
  2. Allow online registration
  3. Allow online payments
  4. Allow online donations
  5. Increase awareness through online advertisement
We were able to accomplish all of their goals using solutions provided for free using applications provided by Google.

How We Got There

Our first step was to register the nonprofit organization with Google for Nonprofits.  This is a free program offered by Google that provides a Google Apps domain, free search result advertising (i.e. Google AdWords) through a program called Google Grants, as well as access to a number of other useful applications.

Google for Nonprofits

In order to apply for Google for Nonprofits, the nonprofit organization needs to be a registered 501c3 nonprofit organization and meet several other restrictions. Acceptance in Google for Nonprofits is not guaranteed, nor automatic. In fact, the approval process takes several weeks. It is also extremely helpful for the nonprofit organization that's applying for Google for Nonprofits to be registered through GuideStar.

GuideStar

GuideStar registration is free, although it takes several days to go through the process.  It is also very helpful to have a copy of your SS-4 form from the IRS (notification of assignment of an EIN) available should you need to fax it to GuideStar.

GoodSearch / GoodShop

GoodSearch allows users to search the web like any other search engine; however, when they do so, the nonprofit receives a small amount of money (about $0.01 USD) per search.  This doesn't cost the user anything at all.  Moreover, GoodSearch has a program called GoodShop.  GoodShop allows users to shop online retailers; when they do, a percentage of each sale is donated by the retailer back to the nonprofit organization, typically around 4% of the purchase.  This doesn't cost the buyer any money; in fact, many retailers even offer coupons and discounts to buyers; as a result, it is usually less expensive for shoppers to shop through the nonprofit organization's GoodShop presence than if they were to search typical online web sites.

Services Provided by Google

After we went through the Google for Nonprofits application process, we described the new services that were available to the nonprofit, including:
  • Google Mail (a.k.a. Gmail) -- the volunteers wouldn't have to give out their personal email addresses
  • Google Drive (a.k.a. Google Docs) -- the volunteers could store documentation, contact information, registrant data, etc. and provide online registration, contact, and testimonial forms
  • Google Sites -- the organization's web site could be hosted for free and the ability to edit web site content could be assigned to volunteers as needed
  • Google Groups -- the organization could easily disseminate information to mailing lists
  • Google Calendar -- the organization's retreats and events could be maintained here and disseminated using embedded calendars on the web site and through iCal feeds to volunteers
  • Google Analytics -- web site traffic could be analyzed and tracked; online effectiveness could be determined
  • Google Voice -- volunteers could now publish free Google Voice phone numbers instead of personal home phone numbers for potential registrants to call; retreat organizer Google Voice accounts could be setup so that whoever's working at a given retreat could be contacted via a single phone number
  • Google Wallet (a.k.a. Google Checkout) -- event payments could take place online using credit cards; online donations were now possible as well
  • Google AdWords (search result advertising) -- Google for Nonprofits provides up to $10,000 of "Gift In Kind" advertising every month through a program called "Google Grants"
  • Google+ (social networking) -- couples who attended (or would be attending) and interested parties could tell their friends about their experiences and help build awareness for the organization

Building the Web Site in Google Sites

Next, we built their new web site through Google Sites.  We were able to build a template that was visually similar to their organization's national chapter and apply it to their site by way of page templates and custom HTML code through HTML Boxes.

We included information about the organization, about the weekend retreats, how to reach the retreat centers (via Google Maps), calendars with dates for upcoming events, how to get involved and volunteer or donate, and how to register for the retreats.  We were also able to include pictures from various events, as well as testimonials from actual couples who attended.  Video testimonials could be hosted both through Google Drive as well as YouTube and the mechanism for embedding those videos on the web site was quick and easy.

Retreat Registration and Online Data Collection

Then, we constructed a registration form.  The form was actually a Google Docs Spreadsheet that, when a couple submitted a form, would store all of the registration information in a format that could easily be accessed online or downloaded into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or an Adobe PDF file that could be printed and brought to the retreat.

Online Payment and Donation Processing

At the end of the registration process, we included a link to pay for the weekend retreat through Google Wallet.  As a result, the couples could pay online using a credit card; Google would then process that payment for the nonprofit organization and direct deposit the payment (less a small processing fee) into the nonprofit's bank account automatically.  Because the nonprofit never saw any of the credit card information (nor had the ability to store it), PCI compliance was a non-issue.

Next, we used that same Google Wallet account to allow for online donations.  This made it far easier for couples and interested parties who wanted to help out financially to do so in a way that was quick, convenient, easy, and safe.  

Additional Fundraising Efforts through GoodSearch

In addition to allowing people to donate online, we also configured an account through GoodSearch for the nonprofit organization.    

The nonprofit organization only has to provide links to their GoodSearch and GoodShop presence; when they do, they'll received a check in the mail with their donations.  

Social Networking using Google+ and Facebook

Finally, we helped the nonprofit expand their existing online social networking efforts (e.g. Facebook) and build new social networking outlets (Google+) to help get the word out and build awareness of the retreats the nonprofit was putting together.  

The Results

The results of these efforts were immediately visible.  Attendance at the first retreat held after the new web site and registration / payment system was put into place was double what the group had seen previously.  In fact, they had to make last-minute expanded housing arrangements to handle all of the newly registered couples!  Donations and pledges were also up sharply.  New registrations are now coming in months ahead of the weekend retreats and the pace is accelerating as more and more people talk about their experiences through the group's social networking outlets.  Also, there is now new interest in couples who had gone through a weekend retreat coming back and volunteering at future retreats and sharing their memories and stories.  Lastly, they were pleased to report back when they received their first check from GoodSearch / GoodShop.

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Wes Dean, a Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist and a Google Apps Trusted Tester, is Principal of KDA Web Technologies, a Google Apps Authorized Reseller.  To learn how Wes and KDA Web Technologies can help you, go to http://www.kdaweb.com/.