Whither the Winds of Change
The fundraising world is changing rapidly, and those who aren’t prepared will be left behind. Are you ready for these changes? Are you, in fact, leading your organization to embrace these changes? If you’re not, or if you don’t like change, perhaps now is the time to think about a career change.
Here, from my perspective and experience, are some of the more significant changes happening right now. Perhaps you can grab hold of these opportunities, change your fundraising, and soar.
Direct mail used to stand alone as the most effective and efficient communication channel for nonprofit organizations. But not any longer. It remains the workhorse, for sure, but e-mail, online blogs, outbound telemarketing, product and statement inserts, podcasts, and targeted radio are rising in significance. Most of these alternative channels are working well and attracting younger donors. And some are far less expensive than traditional direct mail; online blogs and podcasts cost almost nothing when it comes time for execution. Developing strategies and preparing creative content does cost you, but your ability to target messages to specific donors makes these costs insignificant compared to the potential benefits.
Are you using, or at least beginning the process of testing, alternative channels for both new donor or member acquisition and ongoing cultivation efforts?
If so, good. But alternative channels are just the tip of the iceberg. As communication channels evolve, the content of what is being communicated becomes even more important because donors are changing too.
More discerning donors
I remember that my parents gave multiple, small gifts to many nonprofit organizations. Their charitable giving pattern was the norm for their generation. They gave out of a sense of gratitude and obligation.
Today’s donors are very different. They give to make a difference, and they want proof of that difference. They are more demanding, more discerning. They expect strong, effective and lasting solutions from the organizations they support.
Today’s donors also are more cynical. They have a streak of doubt that shades their perception, and they don’t automatically trust you. Perhaps more than in any generation preceeding them, they have experienced deception from the institutions they value — religion, journalism, government and corporate America.
Nonprofit organizations that are in sync with donors’ or members’ expectations, needs, wants and — yes — even their demands will thrive.
There are several phrases or descriptions being tossed around today to explain the behaviors of new donors and how nonprofit organizations should respond to them. My colleagues and I tend to talk in terms of empowering donors, being donor focused. Others refer to being donor centered. No matter how you describe it, the reality is that donors are changing, and our response to them needs to change as well.
Here’s a quick test you can use to determine whether you are donor focused or not:
- Do you give donors the ability to engage with your organization on multiple levels? Examples: contributing their money, volunteering their time, sharing their ideas and opinions, advocating on your behalf with their friends or public officials. If you are focused solely on raising money from your donors, you are bound by a traditional approach to fundraising and not fully donor focused. Today’s new donor wants multiple engagement opportunities.
- Do you give donors control and choice over their communication relationship with you? Example: allowing donors to specify what communication channels they prefer and frequency of communication. If your communication stream is solely driven by organization needs and desires, then you’re not fully donor focused. Today’s new donors want to know you respect and trust them, and they want control and choice.
- Do you “prove” the value of your donors’ investments — money, time, ideas, advocacy — with your organization? Examples: detailed performance reports, specific case studies, stories of success, an open-door policy with regard to successes and failures in your organization. If your communications are organizationally focused (e.g., pictures of your building or board of directors, endless stories about fundraising cocktail parties, a constant focus on the methodology of your work), then you’re not donor focused. Today’s new donors want to see proof that their investments are making a difference.
- Do you and your colleagues accept the fact that your donors are significant stakeholders in, and in many ways “own,” your organization? I’m amazed at the low view some fundraisers hold of their donors. Suggestions that they need to be “educated” and changed reflect a disrespect of donors. Viewing donors as walking cash machines is just as disparaging. Failing to give donors opportunity for participation with your organization, including providing a sufficient number of fundraising appeals, reflects a low view of donors and of the overall fundraising enterprise.
Your donors love you because of what you accomplish with their investments. They see you as an extension of themselves; you’re doing what they want to do but can’t. And that’s why your donors want to give, share their ideas and opinions, volunteer their time, and become your advocate with others.
Could you answer “yes” to these four questions? If not, you might need a donor-focused tune-up. Today’s new donors expect more from you; you’d better give it, or else you’ll fail to win them over and lift them to new participation levels.
Timothy Burgess is co-founder of the Domain Group. He is vice-chair of the DMA NonProfit Federation Advisory Council and chairs the federation’s ethics committee. He can be reached at 206-834-1480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.