Successful direct-response fundraising is harder than most people think. Sure, anyone — or any agency — with a creative idea can design a website, craft an e-mail, create a direct-mail letter or even produce a TV spot. Good ones can even give you goose bumps.
But the primary objective of direct-response fundraising is to acquire and cultivate donors to generate the maximum net income for nonprofit programs over the long haul.
Precious few direct-response fundraising campaigns these days accomplish that objective. Hence the budget problems of so many nonprofits — the cutbacks, the turnover in development staff and the lack of funds to accomplish the mission.
So what's the problem?
First, nonprofits have for too long ignored the importance of building their brands. But money has always been tight, so most nonprofits focused their limited marketing resources on fundraising.
In recent years, however, there has been an influx of marketing talent from the corporate world that has espoused the importance of brand building. And that's a giant leap forward … unless it's done in a vacuum with no understanding of or connection with the direct-response fundraising program.
Here's the rub: As an industry, we've been so successful at direct-response fundraising that we've made it look easy. As if all it takes is an idea, a channel and a tactic. As if it doesn't matter what you put on the website or in the direct-mail appeal.
So we've seen countless major nonprofit organizations launch beautiful new brand platforms that appear divorced from best fundraising practices. Many are feel-good campaigns based on the belief that people want to see success, not need. Happy children rather than suffering children. Accomplishment rather than problems. Empowerment rather than reality.
This might fit their new branding guidelines, but it hasn't proven effective at raising money. I contend that great branding always supports the mission of the organization: raising money to fund programs that will make the world better.