A Realistic Look at Annual Funds
Decades ago, when we used volunteer groups to canvass, life was paced such that we could capture a week or more from our volunteers. They, in turn, were typically able to capture up to an hour from our donors as they made their personal solicitation calls. We “owned” a large chunk of psychological real estate in our constituent’s mind.
As our technology advanced and our efficiency increased, and as we began to get much more from much less, our need for real time and for our donors’ attention span for this stuff shrank — continuously. We went from being able to capture a half hour of our donors’ time through the volunteers’ visits to 10 to 15 minutes through direct mail, to three to five minutes through the phonathon. And we are now struggling to capture a few seconds of time and attention from our constituents via flash video to inspire someone to click “reply” and key in a credit card number. The psychological real estate we capture through the new media is shrinking — rapidly.
Have we asked ourselves: Can we ask? Is this psychological real estate important? How is it important? Does it have a half-life like uranium that reaches into infinity? Or is there a zero-point rapidly approaching where, for mass solicitations from organizations responding, not to natural disaster (which can capture continuous exposure on cable news), but to simple annual support, it will literally disappear? Should we worry that eventually the psychological real estate might become too small for established charities seeking baseline support?
Perhaps social media will become a new panacea. Certainly, we should do what we can to create this. But we probably need to spend some time asking ourselves what this history really means. Look again at the Obama fundraising phenomenon. Does it fit with this analysis? Was social media the tool that the Obama staff used to capture the psychological real estate? Or was it simply the tool the campaign used to harvest the results from the real estate that was captured by the news media — continuous front-page stories, cable news coverage, stump speeches broadcast, exceptional events, talking heads, continuously obsessing, etc.?