Cover Story: Know Your Mission, Grow Your Mission
No matter what cause you raise money for, you know what the across-the-board challenges are. The economic downturn. More and more competition for donor dollars. Rising mail costs. The delicate balance between old and new strategies. Figuring out how much people power to devote to things that might raise some money in the future but aren't bringing in the bucks just yet. Finding, training and keeping good fundraisers. Etc., etc., etc.
But on top of all that, each charitable sector under the nonprofit umbrella has its own special challenges. Here, we talk with some fundraising professionals about their areas of expertise. For insights into other missions, go to fundraisingsuccessmag.com.
Faith-based organizations: Bridge the credibility gap
Far from running a bake sale or passing a basket at a church service, fundraising for faith-based organizations is a sophisticated, far-reaching facet of the charitable sector. Its appeal, so to speak, reaches beyond just supporting well-intentioned organizations. It speaks directly to donors' religion, spirituality, relationship with the Higher Power, and overall sense of connection and concern for their fellow man and the world around them.
J. Scott Faircloth, founder and principal of Virginia-based communications firm Allegiance Direct, warns that some of the country's largest and most well-known faith-based charities are going to be facing an aging donor base and have to focus intently on bringing in new donors.
"Without bringing in new supporters, it's going to be an uphill climb," he says. "With newer organizations, there is a large credibility gap. A group like Focus on the Family is always going to be able to raise money because of the great work it's done and the name recognition of [founder James] Dobson. However, if you have a new organization, while your group might be doing great work, you'll have to go above and beyond to prove it."
As an example of ways faith-based groups are adapting to that challenge, Faircloth points to Prison Fellowship Ministries, which created the "Next Generation Initiative" that focuses on the social-justice aspect of its ministry to get younger people on board. "While that may not translate into immediate fundraising success, they are building a foundation by sowing the seeds now that will reap the rewards later," he explains.
While every organization needs to continually feed the large end of the funnel, faith-based charities face the challenge of attracting not only new donors, but ones who react to different messaging than their older counterparts and give for very different reasons.
"While I don't have any quantitive data to back this up, my observation is that the younger generation [communicating mainly] online is going to respond more to the charitable and social-justice aspects of faith-based ministries," Faircloth says. "They gravitate toward the 'love thy neighbor' teachings of the Bible, whereas the older generation seem to gravitate more toward the 'go and make disciples of all nations' teachings.
"Both are quite Biblical, and the end results may be the same in that the gospel is being spread," he says, "but the approach is quite different."
Like most charitable sectors, faith-based organizations also must look at adding online strategies to their fundraising toolboxes. Especially in the face of major disasters around the world, where people who give out of a sense of moral or spiritual duty tend to be most active, the immediacy offered online is vital to tapping in to those motivations.
"With online you can tap in to the immediacy of the situation," Faircloth says. "For example, with the Haiti earthquake, you could have an e-mail out to your supporters and prospecting mailing lists within hours — and that's quite compelling."
He also predicts shrinking traditional, direct-mail donor bases that will have to be compensated for with robust e-mail lists and a fresh approach to how they're used.
"I see online efforts picking up some of that slack," he says, "but there needs to be a true online sense of community built, and that takes a consolidated effort and plan. If you're using your e-mail list as you would a direct-mail donor base, I think you're doomed to failure."
Finally, Faircloth takes a look at the future in regard to fundraising for faith-based missions.
"[There will be] more focus on the social-justice aspects of [faith-based organizations'] ministry," he says. "This has great appeal to the younger generation and, I think, is necessary to attract younger donors as their existing donor base continues to age."
Education-related missions: Reconnect with ex-pat grads
Like all charitable sectors, education-related fundraising needs to hone in more specifically on the interests of its donors and potential donors, as well as make strategic use of online strategies.
Missy Ryan, senior director of development at the College of Business and Behavioral Science at Clemson University, says education-based donors are becoming more global, so institutions and other organizations no longer can rely on local loyalties.
"We are finding more and more of our donors have very engaged relationships with organizations that are changing the face of the very community they live in," Ryan says. "When an alum lives miles away, they are less likely to see the living, breathing impact of their gift the way they do in their communities.
"Colleges, universities and schools can't just continue to rely on 'education loyalty,'" she adds. "We need to engage our donors in the everyday work and mission of our institutions."
With the sour economy thinning even the historically loyal and relatively undemanding support of graduates, schools have to focus their energies on making a case for giving that's independent of the traditional "give back to your school" approach. According to Ryan, that means focus.
"Focus on your mission every day," she says. "Ask yourself daily, 'Does this gift, this meeting, this interaction forward our organization's mission?' If the answer is yes, then keep moving forward. But if the answer is no, then it's time to redirect your energies."
The advent of online as a fundraising medium and social- networking as an engagement device has been crucial in education-based fundraising, Ryan says, because it allows schools to quickly and more economically bridge the gap that evolves as graduates relocate.
"With a donor base across the country, our Facebook page and other online social-media tools have allowed us to re-engage with our alumni, whether through mentoring, job networking or information sharing, in an avenue we have never seen before. We are also finding that these tools are significant in sharing the story of donors and volunteers, and inspiring others to be involved."
Ryan points to an influx of online donations that came in by the Monday after a weekend football game as an example of the power of online to tap in to the school pride that often is the impetus for giving to universities.
As for the future of education-based fundraising, Ryan sees these trends already taking hold and predicts they'll continue to play an increasingly important role in strategic planning:
1. Donors are becoming more savvy with technology; fundraisers have to keep up with them.
2. The face of the donor is starting to become more global.
3. Donors want to be more hands-on and involved in the gift process.
"Although I think there are a lot of changes on the horizon, a basic principle of fundraising still exists: It is all about the personal relationship we have with the donor," Ryan says. "For every few e-mails we send or posts we make on Facebook, we should challenge ourselves to get out and visit just as many of our donors face to face."
Political fundraising: Wade through the ennui
There's no denying the "ohhh ahhh" element of the 2008 presidential election. Voters (read: donors) from both parties were so hyped up and ready to embrace change — in one form or another — that the excitement among the voting public in the United States was at a frenzy level.
Add to the mix the explosion in the use of the Internet and social networking as awareness and fundraising tools, and you have yet another reason the 2008 presidential election can be classified as history in the making.
Recently, a politically connected friend of FS, who asked to be identified only as the finance director for a local congressional campaign, talked about his experiences in the political fundraising arena. Not surprisingly, he says the biggest challenges this year are the letdown from the energy of the 2008 campaigns and, of course, the economic downturn.
"During the 2008 election cycle, candidates from the presidential campaigns and down the ticket set records for fundraising," he says. "The environment was perfect: a critical combination of enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle, and prosperity. This cycle, those donors simply don't feel as though they are able to give because of their new financial circumstances.
"There is also a significant amount of political donor fatigue after the 2008 election year, although I find that is beginning to thaw," he adds.
Also no surprise, effective messaging that keeps the donor in the here and now is crucial to overcome what some might define as malaise on the political interest and giving fronts. "Why is it so important for me to give politically NOW?" is the question. The answer, of course, is to focus on the pivotal issues facing each demographic at the moment.
Social networking and other online strategies are crucial in creating and capitalizing on the urgency that must be communicated to spur giving in the political arena.
"Since so much of political fundraising relies on messaging, [social media and other online engagement] can be really effective," our expert says. "Something as simple as posting your e-mail solicitation on your Twitter or Facebook page has the potential to broaden your outreach exponentially. Indirectly, by keeping your supporters — old and new — informed and connected via social media, you can constantly be educating and communicating with existing donors and cultivating new relationships.
"Online fundraising allows us another (and more cost-effective) way of reaching our supporters, offers another (usually more convenient) way to give and allows us to connect to new supporters more effectively," he adds. "It's easy to forward an e-mail or retweet a post, much harder to make 10 phone calls."
To underscore his point, he talks about candidates effectively harnessing the power of the Internet by using "money bombs," where a candidate "takes a divisive political issue or statement and reaches out to a base of supporters, energizing them in a really effective way."
"A select few campaigns have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in mere hours using this strategy," he says.
Finding new and more effective ways to engage political donors will be essential in the near future, since thanks to a recent Supreme Court action, corporations are poised to open a floodgate of political giving that could result in a bombardment of television advertising in support of certain candidates at the federal level.
"At a time when a competitive congressional race can cost upwards of $6 million or $7 million, a Senate race $20 million or more, this could really increase the importance of individual political fundraising going forward," he says. "Unfortunately, we won't know the result of this [Supreme Court] decision until the end of this election cycle in November."
As for the future, our expert says more candidates will have to get on board with social media and other Internet-based strategies to keep up with new contenders who are coming into the game with a second-nature understanding of those skills.
"I think we are going to see a slow, but certain, transition to a political fundraising model that utilizes social media and the Internet," he says. "So many campaigns still do not use these tools fully, and as we have new candidates who are more Internet-savvy, we'll see more.
"The road to success will continue to rely on harnessing these new tools to attract new donors by educating people on why financial support of politics is so important," he concludes, "creating a personal and direct relationship with supporters and offering new and easier avenues to get involved." FS