One Lesson from the #iGiveLocal “Give Local America” Fiasco

midlands date changeYesterday, May 3, was Give Local America Day.

In many of the 50+ communities that participated, today — May 4 — is now also Give Local America Day. That’s because Kimbia’s giving platform crashed for most of yesterday, so they had to extend the campaign into today.

Kimbia is going to have hell to pay on this one, but I’ll leave the skewering to others.

Instead, this post is about lessons learned for communications pros. And there will be many that come out of this.

One big obvious one is that you need the ability to redirect quickly all the traffic your campaigns have generated elsewhere when your primary page or even your whole site goes down.

Many — probably most? — of the thousands of nonprofits participating in Give Local campaigns across America were sending donors directly to donation pages on Kimbia’s platform.  When the platform failed, they had no easy way to send the traffic elsewhere.

In South Carolina, the Central Carolina Community Foundation scrambled to create a backup site using a Wufoo form for participants in Midlands Gives.  This was great Plan B hustle on their part, but it required nonprofits to communicate two different URLs to donors — the main one on Kimbia in hopes it would come back up and the second form at Wufoo.

Here’s the lesson: It would have been so much easier for individual nonprofits if they had set up a redirect with their own domain name, like mynonprofit.org/givelocal or used a link shortener like Bitly and distributed that link (not the Kimbia link!) from the start. Then they could have changed the destination URL from Kimbia to their own donation page or to a backup page like the Midlands Gives form at Wufoo — and all the previous links sent out to donors would still have worked!  No need to update donors with a new link, because the correct link is served up behind the scenes.

For massive campaigns like this, you have to assume something will fail, and know how you will put Plan B into effect immediately.

Anastasia Khoo, chief marketing officer from the Human Rights Campaign, has talked about how she redirects her whole website domain, all of hrc.org, to their Tumblr page when the main domain goes down because of extraordinarily high traffic. It’s her go-to Plan B. Sure, the main site going down is still a huge hassle to deal with it, but it’s not a devastating catastrophe, because she has a fast, workable Plan B.

If your regular donation/e-commerce provider goes down, could you quickly redirect somewhere else? At Nonprofit Marketing Guide, we use Infusionsoft/Authorize.net, but also have accounts at PayPal and Square that can be used in a pinch.

If you don’t know how to do this, make it a priority to find out.

There are a few different ways to do it. For example, to redirect your entire website domain, you can do it with the company where your domain name is registered.

If you only want to redirect a subfolder, like /donate or one specific page on your site like donate.htm, you can add a line in your .htaccess file on the hosting server.

You can also use a link shortening service like bit.ly which lets you edit destination links. Or if you own a short domain yourself, you can use a service like ShortSwitch to manage the redirects. We use ShortSwitch to manage links we create for kivilm.com and npmg.us, which are short domains we own.

Here’s a second issue for communicators . . .

Many nonprofits, including some who contacted me for advice yesterday, were afraid to redirect their traffic away from Kimbia — even though the site was down — because only gifts through their platform would be considered for local matches and other contest winnings. Should they redirect to their own donation page to capture the donation and forgo it counting towards the matches, or should they wait it out with traffic going to a broken page?

I recommended they redirect to their own pages and capture the gift. It’s all about the donor relationship, and facilitating that gift is paramount to any particular contest.

Once the dust settles, I’d love to hear from those of you who went through this. What did you learn?

 



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  • Nicole Daspit Sarkar

    Thank you Kivi for being on top of this and sharing this post. I feel sorry for the nonprofits that were counting on these funds. It is definitively an important learning opportunity for all of us to immediately talk about plan for.

  • Britt Madsen

    In Seattle, GiveBIG has kicked into its second day due to the Kimbia problems. I’m the communications and development director for a music education non-profit here. At about 9:00am it was clear something was wrong with the Kimbia site. My ED and I decided to send email with a link to our own donate form. At the same time she emailed a committed supporter to see if he would put up a match so that donors going to our site would still have their gifts matched. He agreed and we sent an email (our third of the day) announcing this major match opportunity. Our donors have been incredibly patient and upbeat even though some of them were charged twice by Kimbia (one was charged three times) and many more were never able to get the Kimbia site to work for them. Most orgs I know ended up directing donors to their own sites, some had extra matches to offer and some did not. We have been able to raise something close to what we were planning on but I imagine this has been much worse for less nimble organizations. Seattle Foundation downplayed the technical glitches for most of yesterday. I won’t get into it here, but if you want a sense of the tension and anger, read the comments on their Facebook posts yesterday.

    • Thanks for sharing Britt! Sounds you didn’t meet a beat, so congrats on being agile!

  • YCAU

    It’s good to have a backup plan, and as someone in tech, I would recommend it as well. But many running small nonprofits might not have the expertise available to set up their domains and redirections properly for failover or plan B. Kimbia advertises itself as a reliable platform that handles all the technical details so small nonprofits don’t have to. After seeing this, and finding out that local nonprofits are being charged 6.2% processing fees for using Kimbia… dang! How did anyone ever decide this was a good idea?

    • Michelle Wilkinson

      My thoughts exactly. The higher expenses didn’t seem like it was worth it, and then once the technical difficulties hit, it was really a questionable idea. Personally, my organization has liked the Click & Pledge platform, so I was disappointed to see the changes.

  • Dwain

    Great points Kivi. As someone who leads business development for a crowdfunding and peer to peer company, I feel for the Kimbia team. I can tell you that every single platform can go down for a number of reasons. It’s not that companies are doing a bad job of testing or reviewing their “load balancers”–system failure usually occurs when there are multiple layers of complexity and multiple nonprofits that a donor can select from. A Giving Day or race where many nonprofits can receive gifts can get tricky. Also, new pieces of functionality introduced that aren’t fully vetted (IE: Leaderboard) or payments provider issues (WePay, Stripe, Authorize.net) throw off platform continuity. It’s not unreasonable for technology to crash, what is unreasonable is that the vendor did not have a good risk management strategy for the effort (or good PR / backup plan).

    The answer for any big online campaign is: Create a backup campaign using a different crowdfunding platform and payment provider. So many nonprofits worry about opening up another payment processor account or have some internal red tape about doing this and there’s really no setback to doing so. My company actually has two crowdfunding platforms–and we always recommend cloning the campaign to the other platform ICE or catastrophe as there’s no upfront cost to doing this.

  • Dwain

    @YCAU:disqus the value that a peer to peer system provides is well worth the 6.2% for these groups. These systems are innovative and integrate with social media and email that allow donors and fundraisers to share campaigns, updates, and virtually spread donation solicitations in a viral way. With most crowdfunding systems there is no upfront cost and the % keep from donations helps them keep the lights on. There are always going to be credit card processing fees of 2.2-2.9% + $.30/ transaction that goes to the “bank”.

    Shops like GoFundMe and Indiegogo in no way offer peer to peer fundraising with hierarchical structures for teams and individual fundraising pages. They are simply pretty donation forms with some social media sharing capabilities. Vendors in the P2P space charge a % on donations for their services for innovation and customization of their platforms which in this case failed.

    • YCAU

      I haven’t seen the numbers on the increase in donations based on their platform. Maybe it’s worth it for some, but I don’t see it panning out for our local small nonprofits. Some people posting on the Kimbia pages mentioned their groups are only being charged about 3%, so I’m left to guess at what accounts for the difference.

  • curls0821

    Assuming our community participates in Midlands Gives next year, the technical aspects of redirecting donors to other sites without confusing them should be covered in trainings.

    We were told to disable our own personal donation links on our agency website so as not to confuse donors on the day of giving. It was also stressed time and time again that donations needed to go through Kimbia to count–so it was incredibly frustrating to realize that we should have just kept our own donation pages and links up, since that’s what people were using anyway.

    • Agreed! I hope a whole page on “crisis management if everything blows up” is added to the materials!

    • Steve Varholy

      As discussed below, regarding how expensive the fees are (6%+) and then with the technical issues on top of that, we’ve got to think long and hard about participating in another “day of giving.”

  • Thank you, Kivi, for the article. Although I do empathize with Kimbia because that is every tech company’s worst nightmare, what frustrates me as both a volunteer for one of the organizations that participated, and also as a communications professional for a tech company, is the lack of good guidance and a Plan B for the organizations who were left scrambling. I can tell you from recent experience with a large giving day, and as DWain points out, giving days and other large fundraising events are full of complex challenges. It is imperative for all of us in the industry to step back and evaluate our own risk management and crisis communication plans. What we all learn out of this is to always have a backup plan at the ready. Kudos to Britt Madsen and the team at Seattle’s GiveBig and all the other organizations who were able to recover and make lemonade out of it.

    • I empathize as well as someone who works online. And I agree that companies working in this sector need much better risk and crisis plans in place. But so do each and every nonprofit. Some will be more capable than others at implementing a Plan B, but everyone needs to give it some thought.

  • Michelle

    Interestingly, it was not just Kimbia! Here in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, we used Bidr – another event fundraising platform. They went down as well and had to add several new servers. Even after that, the site barely functioned the rest of the day. A plan B is a must-have from here on out! Thanks, Kivi!

  • Debbie

    In St. Louis, my team felt that initial communication about the issues would have been helpful. Late afternoon, the Community Foundation (host of event) arranged for the local NBC affiliate to start up a phone bank – they took donations & all info until 12:30 pm today. At that point, my organization was not willing to pay the high fee. Additionally, the wait time, if our donors could even get through at all, was ridiculous. We put out the word that our peeps could make a donation right on our website and many did. We will not, however, reach the amount we budgeted for the day. The previous two years were really such fun, alive, energizing days – we planned great strategies for maximizing the prizes/matches and celebrated each milestone. This year, we all felt like a balloon that someone just stuck a pin in 🙁

    • I can only hope that some great conversations about this year will lead to much better programs next year and you can get back to that wonderful experience!

  • Great advice, Kivi…and thank you for sharing it! It had to be one very long day for everyone involved– the nonprofits, the donors, and Kimbia. Technology is great when it works properly… but always have a Plan B for when it doesn’t.

  • Virginia

    Thanks for this great and timely article! Our org is one of the many impacted, so we’re eager to learn our lessons and put measures in place so we’re better prepared going forward. I checked out the bitly solution and the redirect is only available to Enterprise customers, which is $495 a month (that’s the non-profit rate! Just spoke with bitly on the phone), so that solution isn’t feasible for us. Checking into shortlink next.

    • It’s affordable if you use the bit.ly link — I think that enterprise solution is for your own url. ShortSwitch is much more affordable if you have your own short domain name.

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  • Cangle

    This is my sixth year with the giving day and had been pleased using Click & Pledge. Non-profits were UNABLE to do a practice donation with Kimbia prior to May 3, that should have been a big red flag. No beta testing?

    The dearth of accurate information from our foundation caused us to re-direct our people (FB, twitter, eblast, web page) to our own donate page like others did. We re-blasted communications late in day that the Kimbia site was up, with advice to use our home donate page if that balked for them. We said our office staff would stay until 7:00 pm to handle their phone calls. We printed the paper credit card donation forms for manual entry.

    Colleagues emailed each other – my informal network of development colleagues – we were each others best allies and texted each other the latest which was good moral support.

    Glad our city did not pull the plug. We knew their message “so popular we’re repeating another day” was a spin, but it worked!

  • websavvyrach

    We really appreciated this article to get us thinking about Plan B for situations like this (our second of the fiscal year). We stressed to Development this was not a great use of staff time, but had NO idea it would become a disaster they talked about on the ABC7 News!! The value of donors going to one clear place to donate with our core messaging and within our control is even more clear now. When we send donors through another site (for match, to support a foundation that supports us, etc.) and it doesn’t work, donors get confused and annoyed. We don’t want them to give up on our emails or see us as less-than trustworthy. Now, we are better equipped with evidence to say NO we do not need to participate in this event, app, etc. But if we are told to move ahead with 3rd party events anyway, we are now thinking “how can we make this as seamless as possible for donors while still being a team player with this event?”

    • So good to hear these conversations taking place! Thanks for sharing.

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  • I want to invite everyone to another location for this conversation as well. I posted on my personal Facebook encouraging fellow bloggers, consultants, and other people who have the ability to start conversations in this sector to talk openly about what’s happened and what we should all learn from it. My fear is that participants will try to put a positive spin on everything publicly for donors and the general public (which is totally reasonable), but that we will lose some hard-fought lessons as a result of that positive spin. That post has some great comments and insights on it. It is set to “public” so we don’t need to be personal friends for you to read and comment. https://www.facebook.com/kivilm/posts/10205661801814689

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