A Realistic Look at Annual Funds
Our long romance with mass-marketing technology distracted us from this lesson. We actually were making real money from the annual fund, and it looked like a bonanza with seemingly infinite potential. If we really took the lessons from this insight that annual giving is not really so much about the money as about the engagement — if we try to leverage it — we might find an insight that again positions the glass to appear to be half-full.
There is a striking coincidence between a couple trends that show through this history. Volunteer-based fundraising was (ROI) inefficient relative to money and participation breadth. But it was quite effective at capturing a huge share of psychological real estate in the constituent’s time/attention continuum — it was very, very engagement-effective and efficient.
As we professional fundraisers became more bottom-line focused, aspiring to raise larger, faster, easier money from a broader and broader base, we bought, one might say, this bottom-line efficiency and dollar growth and paid for it with the currency of that old psychological real estate. This is not, of course, a black or white situation, but there is no escaping that this gray area has progressively become darker and darker over the years. When we run out of this currency (psychological real estate), can we still have the efficiency and the bottom line?
Here’s a takeaway, also part of the history sketched above: Even in the old days, though we may not have realized it, our efforts were not so much about money but rather about donorbase management. We did not care as much that people gave sacrificially; we cared that they participated. The issue was to build a broad base and donor loyalty — we focused on building a supporting constituency. Episodically — once every 20 years or so – we “harvested” that base, that loyalty, with a major campaign. In the interim, the money we raised was as much a sign that we had a base as it was real money. Next issue, let’s explore the pragmatic implications of this insight. Good donorbase management is still possible, of course, and we can still make it pay.
The Troubled Future of Mass Solicitation
Part Two: An Intriguing Future for Donorbase Management