One reason many charities’ CFC donations have gone down so much during the past two years has been poor search engines on CFC websites. This poorly functioning search engine has been fixed, at least for the DC CFC.
Two factors made these search engines so bad for many charities, especially national and international charities.
First is the CFC’s push to get everyone to pledge online, rather than fill out paper pledge cards. As a result, online pledging has increased significantly during the past two years. Many employees will be going online to search for charities rather than using the printed catalogs (which will soon be phased out).
Second is the introduction of “universal giving” in 2014. This allowed employees to give to local CFC charities in other parts of the country. A soldier stationed in Germany, for example, could give to his hometown Boys and Girls Club.
To make this work, the CFC had to bring together the diverse data bases of more than 135 individual CFC campaigns, with more than 20,000 local charities. This was a huge task. As a result, CFC search engines struggled to come up with meaningful searches. Indeed, last fall’s CFC campaign was reportedly delayed because of problems with the data base.
How a bad search engine affected individual CFC charities
The search engine continued to be a problem this year. Two months ago we searched “environment” on the DC CFC website for a client with environment in its name. The result was amazing. Our charity didn’t come up on the first, very long page of results (50+ charities). What did come up were a ton of local charities with no obvious relationship to the environment. The second charity was Worchester Child Care Services. The third was Picatinny Arsenal Youth Development Services. This was the DC website. It made no sense.
For another client that supports research on birth defects, we searched on the DC website for “birth defect.” This charity came up 33rd. Why? Because there were about 30 March of Dimes local chapters from across the country that came up before it did. This charity’s CFC donations plummeted.
You can see the impact of this search engine in the data. In 2014, the average national charity was down 19.1%. National charities raised $22 million less in 2014. But local charities actually raised more in 2014.
Even when we searched on a charity’s exact name – which in this case was simply two common words – this charity (a children’s charity) didn’t come up until the second page of listings. This charity also experienced a big decline in CFC donations.
Fortunately the search engine has been fixed for the DC CFC, by far the largest campaign. Search on “birth defect” now and the national charity with birth defect in its name is first. Same with the children’s charity when you search its name. Plus, what comes up looks much better and is easier to read. There are far fewer results. Hopefully this will help many charities that have been hurt the past two years.
A Hodgepodge of Search Engines on Local CFC Websites
Unfortunately, other CFC websites are still using older search tools. A 2013 Workplace Giving Alliance report on online search in the CFC found that local CFCs use at least five different search tool providers (CFC Nexus, ONEEACH TECHNOLOGIES, Atornz, etc.), each of which produced different results when searching on the same search terms. For some CFCs, you could only search in a PDF version of its printed catalog.
The WGA report, which examined search at 30 CFC websites across the country, found many inconsistencies. For example, it found that tiny changes in the search words (St. Jude vs. St Jude, Alzheimer’s vs. Alzheimers) could produce very different search results.
This report (Helping a Million Donors Choose: Online Search in the CFC) included a dire warning.
“If search is implemented poorly, donors will be frustrated and may abandon the campaign in favor of easier giving methods. Equally detrimental, potential donors may be misled as to whether an organization is in the CFC.
Such confusion will undercut the campaign and likely lead to a loss of financial support for thousands of charities. For the CFC, the stakes could not be higher.”
Since 2014, when universal giving was implemented, the CFC has lost another 164,000 donors. This happened despite the fact that the big blows to the CFC – the government shutdown in the middle of the campaign in 2013, the sequester-caused furloughs of 2012 – happened in earlier years.
Hopefully the DC CFC search engine will quickly become more widely used in other CFCs. Eventually, perhaps starting next year, the CFC’s new rules will lead to a new, more centralized way of marketing the CFC. Presumably this will eventually lead to a much better, CFC-wide search function.