Sorry, but It’s Not the Economy
If your fundraising hasn't been going well, you might have been telling yourself it's not your fault — it's the economy. But it's not. At least not entirely.
If things aren't going well, it's probably your fault. (And if they are going well, it's to your credit.)
I've seen many fundraisers radically improve their fortune, even during the worst of the recession, by changing their behavior. I've had front-row seats at dramatic turnarounds that happened before, during and after the recession.
The truth is what you do has a lot more impact on your success than what the economy does to you. I'm not suggesting the economy is irrelevant. No question, it has hurt. But the bigger change we're facing is the baby boom generation.
Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) began to outnumber their elders in the donor-aged population starting in 2010. This monster demographic group is going to be the backbone of charitable giving from now until the mid-2030s.
Old-school fundraising built on the duty-driven psychology of the pre-boomer generation doesn't work that well with boomers. It's not all that persuasive to them.
And that's what's really hurting a lot of organizations. To reach boomers, you have to turn your focus on donors — to make your fundraising about their needs, not yours.
Below are some of the common ways fundraisers are leaving donors out of the equation — and doing a lot more damage than the economy has done. If your organization has any of these problems, you can expect your slump to go on indefinitely.
1. You have a self-centered brand
How much of your fundraising is focused on enlightening donors about the unique and excellent qualities of your organization? To the extent that your fundraising is that way, you have an inward-focused, self-centered brand. And it's killing your fundraising.
Weak fundraising says: "Our cause is super-important, and we are the best at addressing it. Join us." Great fundraising says: "You care about this super-important cause. We can help you address it."
Donors give for reasons of their own. Their gifts flow from their hearts, their values, their quest for meaning. If you're hammering away with your brand attributes and bragging about your organization, you're being irrelevant at best — irritating at worst.
Either way, you aren't becoming part of their lives, and that means poor fundraising results.
2. You're fundraising from yourself
When you decorate your house, the right way to do it is to make it so you like it. You keep on asking yourself, "Is this what's going to make us happy?"
If you do fundraising that way, you are building failure into your program. That's because you are not the donor. What feels motivating, exciting and persuasive to you seldom connects with donors.
The truth is, successful fundraising tends to seem a bit "off" to you and me. It's simplistic, repetitive, even ugly. You can look at it and say quite accurately, "I'd never respond to that."
That's the real world of fundraising. Ignoring this truth and fundraising from yourself rather than your donors will keep you deep in recession.
3. You're chasing the Next Big Thing
I'm going to tell you one of the darkest secrets of consultants and agencies. (They might break my kneecaps if they read this, but most of them don't have time to read.)
Here's the secret: The easiest, most dependable way to make nonprofits like you (and hire you) is to pitch the Next Big Thing. Really. Just tell 'em you can help them …
- Raise funds through Twitter.
- Use cell phones to mobilize supporters.
- Get lots of millennial donors.
- Revolutionize something with QR codes.
- Apps. (If the topic is apps, you don't even need a verb.)
Throw a couple of topics like those out, and your potential client will be eating our of your hand.
Which is too bad, because most Next Big Things will never even be close to big. Some eventually will get big, but today, when you need it, the money is in the Old Big Things.
If you're serious about revenue, you will put most of your effort into direct mail, events, telemarketing, e-mail, planned giving and a few other areas that dependably work.
There's more than enough challenge in the old warhorses to keep you interested. And none of them is going to die during your or my career.
It's great to look ahead and keep up with new developments. But when you budget your time and energy, you should put most of both into things that work.
4. Your online and offline channels are not connected
Amazingly often, it goes like this: A donor gets a piece of direct mail and then goes online to learn more. Sometimes she stays online and gives. Other times she comes back and give through the mail.
Either way, she's crossing a boundary, and it's up to us to make that crossing easy for her.
Unfortunately, too many of us can't help her across because we can't even cross the boundary within our own organizations. The mail and website were created and exist in two different worlds …
- Direct mail, created in the rough-and-tumble real world of direct response, looks and feels one way. It's about straightforward solutions to serious problems. It's urgent, concrete, clear. With rough, simple, old-fashioned design.
- The website, created in the fantasy world of marketing, has almost nothing in common with it. It's all abstract brand promises. High-flown claims. Modern design.
The donor who moves from the mail to the Web might conclude she's in the wrong place, that the website she's found is not connected to the mail that's in her hand. Worse, she might decide the organization is duplicitous, saying one thing in one place and another thing in another place.
If your website and traditional media don't say the same thing, look the same and feel the same, you're losing more donations every day.
5. You don't thank your donors enough
If someone gives to your organization, does he get proof that the world is a better place because of his gift?
It's easy to forget that when we raise funds, we are selling something. Unlike Amazon and Zappos, the thing we sell doesn't show up on the porch via FedEx. It's a sense of making a difference. And that's completely intangible.
There are two especially good ways to make that intangible sense as real as possible:
- Relevant, timely receipts connected to the thing that motivated the gift in the first place. Same topic, same flavor, same feeling as the ask. And soon enough that donors can remember the gifts they sent.
- Donor-focused newsletter. Sent quarterly or more, and it should be full of story after story of the great things your donors make possible — a celebration of how donors have changed the world through your organization.
By most accounts, the hard times aren't over yet. But you control your destiny. If you can turn your fundraising solidly in the direction of donors, you can laugh at the economy. FS