Calling All Agents of Change
A few months ago in Tucson, Ariz., I got a shot of reality — and humility, I should add — as I listened to a group of colleagues discuss emerging challenges in nonprofit fundraising. There were several “a-ha” moments.
The DMA Nonprofit Federation brought together about 100 direct-response fundraising leaders and commercial partners to dialog about our industry at its Leadership Summit in early June. We heard keynote speakers from our country and the United Kingdom, and then reacted and brainstormed in small groups.
That’s when it hit me: The right people — CEOs, board chairs, and marketing and communications directors — weren’t in the room! Others agreed with me.
Addressing the challenges we identified at the conference will require significant changes in nonprofit organization governance, management and fundraising. I wish we’d had a few of these high-level leaders sitting with us, because the changes necessary to propel our sector forward will require these folks to be agents of change.
What follows is a summary of what I gleaned from the Tucson dialog. I hope this list will prompt dialog inside your organization. And when you’re done reading, you’ll probably conclude as I did, that we’ve been talking about this stuff for many years.
1. Vision and mission statements must describe end results and the values our donors hold dear. A passionate statement of desired results and values will attract like-minded supporters and advocates. Agreeing to talk about desired accomplishments and values instead of ourselves will require strategic alignment with your CEO, board of directors, and marketing and fundraising staff directors. Not an easy chore.
2. Silo management must be stamped out. Silo management causes inconsistent messages, internal disputes over who gets credit for donations, and failure to take advantage of funding opportunities. It robs organizations of energy and passion. I know several nonprofits that have taken bold steps toward eliminating silo management. They’ve created marketing and fundraising councils where planning, resource allocation and campaign planning happen at the same table. These organizations aren’t fighting over who gets credit for gifts. They aren’t sending out inconsistent messages. The marketing and communications, major-gifts, and direct-response leaders are working together to accomplish positive things for their organizations.
3. Long-term accomplishments must be valued as highly as short-term gains. This is tough for many organizations because meeting revenue goals this year — or this month — is often the most compelling focus. But long-term financial growth will happen only if all key players learn how to balance these competing pressures.
Top leadership must demand balance, or it won’t happen. Short-term pressures always will prevail unless the CEO and senior management understand the importance of long-term donor-behavior trends, new-donor acquisition needs and the creation of net present value — the key building blocks of financial growth.
4. Donors deserve more respect, more control over organizations and more opportunities for participation. We know donors are changing as more and more baby boomers enter their prime giving years, so why haven’t we changed to accommodate them?
A participant in the Tucson dialog said it well when she observed that “the doctor-patient relationship has changed dramatically in recent years; we demand to know more about our doctor and our choices.”
Exactly. And the same people who’ve changed the doctor-patient relationship are changing the donor-organization relationship, too.
The most successful social-enterprise organizations of the future will be those that allow donors to lead. Those who empower their donors to accomplish their deepest desires. These organizations will flourish.
Timothy Burgess is co-founder and senior strategist at direct-response fundraising firm Merkle/Domain. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.