Embracing the Shift
I walked in a little late to the opening session of the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Fundraising Conference in San Antonio last month. When I did, the audience was watching the kickoff video, in which a very serious announcer was dramatically informing us that philanthropy was going through a revolution. I wish I had written down some of the verbiage, because it was, well, a little over-the-top.
I thought, “Oh, heavens, please let this be a joke.” And, thankfully, it was. Well, not exactly a joke but definitely a cheeky way to get everyone’s attention and then draw that attention to the theme of this year’s conference: Shift. Evolution, rather than revolution. And it makes sense. Revolution implies something harsh, forced, violent even. And while that’s not always a bad thing — sometimes it’s the only thing that will work — it’s not exactly where we’re at in philanthropy these days. Yes, some things have to happen, and have to happen now. For example, if you’re still treating donors like wallets rather than partners — stop. Now. If you’re spending more time wringing your hands trying to figure out how to save money by getting rid of that expensive direct mail than you are trying to craft relevant, effective mailings — stop. Now. If you’re chasing after every shiny new tool like a cat stalking a red dot in the carpet, without considering how (or even if) it fits into your overall strategy or works for your donors — stop. Now.
But beyond those and a few other blatant no-nos, we’re talking evolution. A shift in the fundraising paradigm that fine-tunes your efforts and your attitudes. It would be hard to put it more eloquently than AFP Chair Robert Carter and President/CEO Andrew Watt did in their welcome letter to conference attendees. And since I’m just coming off a whirlwind trip to San Antonio for what ended up being a fabulous conference, I’ll let them do some of the talking.
They wrote: “In a world driven by 24/7 news and information — where change is constant and every idea is announced as ‘the next big thing’ — why focus on the simple notion of just ‘shifting’?
“Not every idea leads to revolution and transformation. Not every innovation is appropriate for every charity or fundraising program. … Our world — and the fundraising landscape — is constantly changing. The change may be slow or subtle but we have to realize we are not working in the same environment of even a year or two ago. Even if we’re doing the right things right, we have to be flexible and nimble.”
Well put, gentlemen. In a sector like fundraising, where success can mean the difference, literally, between life and death, the space for inflexible, deeply entrenched organizations that are change-resistant is quickly decreasing. The same is true of the space for trend-chasing nonprofits that can’t sit still long enough to create a multifaceted strategy to sustain them through the fads and fancies of the ever-changing philanthropic landscape. The future of fundraising belongs to those organizations that refuse to stagnate, that opt for evolution over revolution, and are willing to embrace the shift.