The Robin Hood Foundation—an organization alleviating poverty in New York City—wanted to increase donations during their annual gala by making the donation process extremely easy, a challenge likely familiar to many nonprofit organizations.
To do this, Robin Hood sought to simplify the pledge experience, moving away from paper pledge forms to a streamlined mobile experience. In this post we’ll cover how Robin Hood approached the challenge, built a solution, and used Salesforce to succeed.
The Challenge: What to do?
Robin Hood considered building a downloadable app, but that would not work because event attendees were high-profile, security-conscious individuals. Robin Hood also considered text-to-pledge solutions, but ruled those out because of the poor user experience.
Not only would people have to remember an easily mistyped code, but they’d also need internet connection. (SMSs will fail to send if there isn’t a reliable internet connection). The event venue is known for spotty internet, even in midtown New York City. An unsent pledge could mean a potential loss of hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.
The Solution: Email Pledging and Salesforce
In collaboration with the Robin Hood team, we designed an email-pledging application that tied into their Salesforce instance. This allowed Robin Hood to easily track pledges from new and existing donors in real time during the event. Guests would email a pledge from their phone to a simple Robin Hood email address and receive a personalized confirmation that evening.
To keep track of pledges, we also built in a series of analytics dashboards to monitor progress and a direct integration with Salesforce to track progress on fulfilling the pledges.
The system managed the scale and immediacy of live pledge requests, as well as provide personalized follow-up to ensure the best guest experience possible. The Robin Hood team also received real-time analytics during the event so they could make additional appeals if needed.
Robin Hood rolled out the new pledge system for their 2015 annual gala, which raised over $101 million. Here are some figures:
- Over $5 million in donations received through the app in one evening
- Nearly 2,000 emails in under five minutes
- Increased participation over prior years
How the Application Works
- Appeal and pledges: During a fundraising event, Robin Hood organizers communicate their appeal for donations to the attendees. With the new system, a donor simply sends an email to a Robin Hood email address and includes their donation amount in the subject line. It’s as simple as that. The donor can include a message in the email if they wish, but it’s not required.
- Push to Salesforce: We tied our Heroku app to Robin Hood’s Salesforce instance using push button batching that flows donor data into existing contact records or creates new ones if needed. Additional information from the pledge, including the entire contents of a guest’s email, is added as a new Opportunity to the record. Leveraging standard Salesforce functionality, the staff can automatically send thank you emails, which appear in donors’ inboxes as direct replies to their original pledge emails.
- Reporting and follow up: On the back-end, event organizers can pull up a dashboard on Heroku that displays the pledges in real-time, so they can determine how close they are to their goals and whether or not additional appeals are necessary. After the event, Robin Hood staff sent out personalized thank you emails to donors directly from Salesforce. The email includes reference to the donor’s original email with their donation amount specified.
The Technology Behind the Application
Mailgun, an email automation service that converts email into structured data, receives incoming emails and pushes them to a server. The data is routed to a Python function on Amazon Web Services (AWS) Lambda, an event-driven computing platform which scales continuously and only bills for the time the code is running. The emails are parsed for the donation amount, matched to existing contacts in Salesforce, and stored in Google Firebase for real-time visibility in the dashboard.
In the background, this data is pushed to Salesforce as opportunities by matching on email and campaign member name. We built a custom Salesforce integrations to push the data in real-time and to facilitate the acknowledgement and thanking process. The Salesforce application queues up templated thank you letters for each donation, ensuring that the email address from the donation is the one thanked. This enabled quick personalization and timely response.
Patrick Yurgosky, president of Yurgosky, wrote this post. Yurgosky is the premier technology, strategy, and analytics company serving nonprofit and higher education clients. We work with many of the largest and most innovative organizations in the world to identify and build data-focused technology that conserves more land, engages more volunteers, raises more money, and delivers more comprehensive services to communities. Our mission is to transform our clients so much that they can’t imagine a better way of operating.