Several political pundits over the past two years have proclaimed that the economy isn’t in recession, it’s in recovery. At the 2010 Bridge Conference in National Harbor, Md., last Wednesday, Tony Elischer, managing director of Think Consulting Solutions, said fundraisers should focus on the third “R” — rewriting, as in rewriting how you think and how you fundraise. To do that, he proposed looking at fundraising as four babies — brave baby, baby and the bathwater, looking to the future baby, and fully managed baby — in his keynote presentation, “Futurology 2010: Focus, Determination & Transformation."
Elischer said he offered the analogy of babies because parenting is a big jump in life, and the secrets to good parenting are to play, praise, increase cooperation, set limits, etc. Just as in fundraising, parenting is nurturing a relationship — shaping, playing, talking, sharing, listening, giving, caring.
“I’ve been fundraising for 28 years,” Elischer said. “Twenty-eight years ago, it was almost as if money fell off trees. It’s not that simple anymore.” Just like raising a baby is not simple either. It takes work, hard work. But the payoff, when done with care and thought and consideration and love, is more than words can describe.
1. Brave baby
“Be brave. Be the one that’s different. Don’t follow a herd. Be a maverick,” Elischer said.
He provided the example of Bavaria beer, one of the most famous beers in the world not because of its taste, but “because it decided to break the rules,” Elischer said. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, Bavaria used ambush marketing at its finest, sending a group of attractive women decked out in orange dresses and a little logo for Bavaria beer, barely visible, on the dresses. It caused quite a stir, as the women were escorted out and the alleged organizers arrested.
That may sound like a bad thing — being arrested and getting tossed out certainly are unpleasant — but the stunt put Bavaria beer in every newspaper and on every television news station in Europe and actually throughout most of the world. The women became national heros. Bavaria took a calculated risk and was rewarded with incredible publicity.
So Elischer asked, “Are you brave enough to take risk?” He offered these tips for taking risks in your fundraising:
- Identify the risk and understand it.
- Decide which risks are natural to take.
- Align marketing and budget risk.
- Embed risk in all your decisions and processes.
More than ever, Elischer said fundraisers need to:
- Have strong belief
- Stand out
- Create pride, energy and commitment
- Drive vision
- Inspire enthusiasm
- Energize people to transcend the bottom line
Then he shared his secret formula for success in 2010 and beyond: natural talent + insanely hard work + risk management + luck = success. “Never forget luck,” Elischer said. “Luck hits all of us. It could be a one-off chance event. Stay in motion to put yourself in the way of opportunity. Create your own luck.”
Elischer said you should try to break away, to listen to yourself and follow your heart. Trust yourself to take risks, the way Oakwood did with its Don’t Give campaign.
2. Baby and the bathwater
Like the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” don’t throw out the old fundraising techniques and best practices that work. The biggest thing of all is stewardship. “People remember how you treat them in tough times,” Elischer said. And right now times are tough. Stewardship is “the lifeblood of fundraising, and sometimes we take it for granted,” he said.
Donors want to know that their contributions made a difference. They want to be engaged and reminded and reassured. Elischer suggested sending real, personal letters to your donors because letters are integral to communication, build relationships, are personal, feel real and add a novelty value that keeps donors involved. He challenged those in attendance to make at least five donor contacts a week, driving the point home with the fact that Howard Schultz, founder, chairman, president and CEO of Starbucks, visits at least 25 shops per week. “If you’re out of touch with donors, you’re out of touch with your communications and your fundraising,” Elischer said.
He said now is not the time to shy away from corporate fundraising. Embrace it. Find a company that can communicate your brand and cause. Keep practicing the traditional methods that still yield results.
3. Future baby
“Look to the future — what does it take to win?” Elischer asked. “Be leaders of tomorrow. Leadership is a mind-set.”
Looking to the future, Elischer said the institutional hierarchy needs to be flattened. Organizations must grow their leadership to survive the future. Strategy has to change. The new strategy must revolve around truth, assertions, alternatives and people. You must find a way to connect your cause to people’s lives. Make it easy to give, to help, to communicate with your organization. “Donors expect vision and sound,” Elischer said. Make sure you are keeping up with technology and the pulse of donors.
4. Fully managed baby
Elischer highlighted these points about being fully managed:
- Empathize with donors — talk about them, not you.
- Guerrilla marketing is growing. “Guerrilla marketing is about brain power, not money power,” Elischer said. He shared the examples of Ben & Jerry's giving away free ice cream and having huge sales on that same day, as well as a campaign against child labor in Spain that showcases children's drawings with the slogan "Kids should make drawings, not shoes."
- The mantra for 2010 — LOVE. Love your fundraising like parents loves their children.