2020 Vision: Catching Up to the Future
Take a moment to let this sink in: Next year is 2020. Does your nonprofit have a clear plan for how it is going to move into the next decade? How will you finish this one more successfully than you started it? If you manage any part of the fundraising effort and own a budget at your organization, you should be pushing hard for increased spend for your program in 2020 to move your organization’s revenue and mission forward.
As I have written here before, nonprofits are still lagging compared to our commercial counterparts in innovative revenue generation and the systems needed to drive a truly customer (or donor) centric relationship. People-based marketing is the standard for successful commercial brands, and yet the gap between consumer experience and the delivery on that expectation by nonprofits continues to grow.
Our industry needs to transform our marketing and fundraising strategies in ways that enable targeting and engaging with our donors where they are today and, more importantly, where they’ll be moving tomorrow. Change happens faster than ever, and it is imperative that all of us lobby for new ideas, tools and approaches to ensure our organizations are moving more closely to where the market — and our donors — are.
If your organization is slower to adapt, I challenge you to become a champion of transformation. If you were given the CFTO (chief fundraising transformation officer) title today, what would you do? I’d argue that with some creative thinking, a methodical planning approach and a leadership sponsor, you can begin driving change from wherever you sit in the organization. You can start by focusing on an area within your existing program that has great potential or a passion project that can reasonably and quantifiably increase revenue or long-term mission impact. Then leverage that idea to begin to drive change for your organization from the seat you’re in today.
To do this, you’ll need a top-down approach to planning, which begins with understanding three fundamental ideas:
- The strategic goals and vision established for your organization. It’s critical that your transformation idea can help accomplish the goals your leadership has established. Understand both their short-term and long-term vision.
- Your organization’s needs. Measure your organization’s status toward achieving established goals and where you need to be to reach them. The gap between the two can help you focus the lens to more effectively identify your best transformation opportunity.
- The revenue-generating capability of your existing donor universe. How is your donor file expected to perform based on your current strategy? What if you were able to drive more revenue or retention from your donors, and what would it take to get there? A detailed file analysis will help you quantify the current trajectory and, more importantly, the potential impact of new strategies.
So where will you find your new opportunities? By focusing on some key pillars of people-based marketing and emerging trends, you can uncover new ideas to drive transformation. Here are a few ideas to help get you started. This is not an exhaustive list, but should get you thinking about where you can go next.
If you are a heavy user of your organization’s existing technology, start with examining your tech stack. Today, commercial marketers are using technology platforms that manage and connect identities and provide deeper analyses to optimize experiences in both outbound and inbound channels. They are leveraging technology that delivers real-time, always-on, highly personalized experiences, while simultaneously optimizing their spend across their best channels.
Without the ability to connect all the signals and information donors are leaving you across different online and offline channels, you’re missing crucial opportunities to improve the donor experience and your investment strategy. This is costing you real donors. By investing in a more sophisticated data management platform, you can develop strategies that focus on improving the holistic donor journey and increase the relevance of your targeting. There are numerous technology upgrades available, but they require thinking beyond traditional donor management or basic email platforms. Explore what is possible to help take the next step in people-based marketing.
Do you have a clear grasp on what happens with your donors at each touchpoint across the organization? Every communication stream, every request they receive? How can you identify and capture their interests to tailor offers and asks, even without a more sophisticated tech stack? By understanding the complete current experience and mapping it out across the full organization, you will build a clearer (and possibly surprising) view of how your donors engage with your brand. More importantly, you will identify points at which donor attrition and retention are best influenced and could help improve existing and future contact strategies and messages.
According to nTask, “customer experience will become the key brand differentiator by 2020” and “will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator… This reflects the current service-centric shift in customer satisfaction and retention.” If your organization doesn’t focus on this, your competitors will. We are quickly approaching the moment where donor experience plays as significant a role in giving as mission or brand.
There are plenty of new platforms, companies and startups that could present a great opportunity to partner with your organization to increase reach and impact. Beyond your traditional partnerships, has your organization explored the types of brands your valuable donor segments are engaging with? Can you open a new audience by partnering with a commercial organization that has the type of audience your brand most wants or needs to engage with?
Think broadly here, and be creative. This can go well beyond traditional point-of-sale or simple matching-gift fundraising strategies. The number of established technology companies and new startups offer a great opportunity for nonprofits that are willing to think a bit differently about what they expect from their corporate relationships and what types of partnerships make sense for their brands. With some partnerships, you’ll likely even get the benefit of more data about your constituents to form an even more complete picture of their preferences and consumer behaviors.
Many organizations have benefitted from strong donor giving via Facebook. But looking for passive revenue from your Facebook presence is leaving money on the table. The last two years have seen the staggering growth of influencer marketing, and the statistics are hard to ignore. Influencer marketing has surpassed print marketing and is the fastest growing channel.
Eighty-six percent of women use social media for purchasing advice, 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations and 40% purchase something after seeing it on Twitter, YouTube or Instagram. Does your organization have a strategy for partnering with social media influencers who can amplify your asks and mission effectively? Or a relationship with a well-known person who comes with a large social following? It’s worth some time to explore this fast-growing channel.
Lastly, a Word About Silos
They’re very real. But through this transformation exercise, you can influence collaboration across programs, driving toward true people-based marketing. Find a partner from another group or program in your organization who will also benefit from your transformation idea, and work on it together. Recruit a visible leader who can act as a sponsor for your idea. This can help get the traction you need and will act as an example for your colleagues about how collaboration can work to drive more revenue or improve mission delivery.
Doing the same “but better” isn’t a strategy. Think provocatively. Turn over stones that were laid years ago. Understand your donors’ wants and needs. Don’t let the silos intimidate you. At the base of every great shift in strategy or growth lies a new idea or a new way of operating. Be the CFTO; help ready your organization for the coming decade and capitalize on market changes to drive new revenue and growth opportunities. Make 2020 your year of transformation.
Christy McWilliams is vice president of customer strategy at Merkle.