Omnichannel vs. Multichannel
In the April issue of FundRaising Success, our cover story featured the nonprofit organization Compassion & Choices, which advocates for the rights of individuals to make their own end-of-life decisions. The organization owes much of its fundraising success to the concept of omnichannel fundraising. Here, we talk with Dennis Lonergan, owner of Eidolon Communications and a pioneer in the use of omnichannel vs. multichannel.
FundRaising Success: What is omnichannel fundraising?
Dennis Lonergan: In the nonprofit arena, omnichannel fundraising is the coordination and integration of fundraising and marketing messages, each on their own as well as to bolster the other. It's an outgrowth of a trend in nonprofit management where development and external relations departments are unifying or brought together under a single umbrella. It's a natural evolution of multichannel fundraising, but much broader.
FS: How is it different from multichannel?
DL: Multichannel originated as the application of direct-mail messaging and tactics across e-mail and telemarketing channels, broadly and within individual campaigns. Have a renewal or appeal campaign, and make sure it's carried out on those three channels, and more recently, Facebook and Twitter. Omnichannel includes fundraising as well as marketing and advocacy messages, delivered in paid media, earned media and direct marketing.
FS: Is it a mind-set or a strategy? Or both?
DL: I think with the unification of development and external relations departments — huge entities in many larger nonprofits — it's an organizational mind-set, a conscious decision to include fundraising within larger communications and marketing objectives.
FS: What has been missing from fundraising messaging up to now?
DL: I'm not sure anything has been missing. It's more that with the rise of social media and other channels that can be used to conduct or support a fundraising campaign, and the increasing sophistication of acquiring and retaining supporters, that it became prudent for the folks in external relations to know what the fundraising folks were doing and vice versa. All too often, fundraising and membership campaigns were conducted in isolation inside many organizations, with their own themes and messages, and the two teams were not talking to one another.
Now those messages are more likely to bump up against other marketing campaigns, and they need to relate to them in full or in part, again to the benefit of both.
Also, there was a pattern of having online communications, whether for fundraising, advocacy or other purposes, housed in the communications department, with fundraisers having to fight for a piece of the e-mail pie. With communications and fundraising under a common umbrella, that kind of dissonance is less likely to happen.
FS: Do you see this as a progression (from multichannel to omnichannel) or more of a lateral option?
DL: It's a progression in that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What comes out of an omnichannel planning event will reach more people with more coherent messages than ever before, so the impact of those messages is amplified. And that's just among the outside audience. Inside an organization, the process of developing and executing those messages is stronger, because they are being developed by fundraising and marketing minds jointly. As an ancillary benefit, this model is more likely to create a positive and more collaborative team environment, with buy-in from stakeholders across departments, which should also help to bolster the entire organization.
FS: What does this different approach mean in terms of fundraising?
DL: For one thing, it means that fundraising will have a greater profile inside organizations than it did before. It will be seen as a necessary partner instead of an off-to-the-side silo. External relations teams will learn why donors need particular forms of cultivation and management, and development is reminded that their communications can be more integral to an organization's broader objectives — selling the whole magazine, so to speak, instead of just subscriptions to it. Also, direct mail's longer lead time is better accommodated within this structure because its stakeholders now have a place at the table from the beginning.
FS: How does an organization move from a multichannel approach to one that is more omnichannel?
DL: The key, as I have seen it, and I am by no means an authority on how this is happening throughout our vast industry, is the willing unification of fundraising and external relations. I've watched this most closely, and participated in it most directly, with the International Rescue Committee, which adopted this structure three years ago, and with Compassion & Choices. Parenthetically, I've had a number of industry colleagues talk to me about wanting their next jobs to be heads of this kind of department because they see it as the only way to be fully effective within every option in an iPad screen.
FS: Will there be resistance?
DL: Development and external relations departments are both key pillars of a nonprofit organization. There has been a lot of freedom within each, some owned-and-operated turf, and things have worked pretty well on that basis for a long time. Now, they are bumping up against each other in the marketplace too often to be wholly separate. And the turf that each department is after is getting harder and harder to grow. But I think the opportunity to work and brainstorm around the same table will elevate everybody's sense of what their responsibilities and opportunities are.