Why Integrating Fundraising and Awareness-Generating Media is Essential
The nonprofit world has a population problem. The number of nonprofit organizations has increased by 42 percent in the last decade alone. And with the IRS granting nonprofit status to an average of 83 new organizations every day, it’s clear this is becoming a very crowded environment.
As a result, the nonprofit sector also has an identity problem. In a marketplace that’s this crowded, how do you distinguish your organization from all the others rivaling for donors’ attention and funds? How can your organization stand out in such a large and continually growing crowd and still get noticed? How can you make your mission resonate with donors, so that when your appeal arrives in the mail or they enter your Web site, they’ll respond with a gift? And then how do you convince donors to keep giving to your organization?
It’s about relationships
The answer to these questions, in a word, is connection. People don’t give money to strangers or causes they know nothing about. Communicating with potential donors is more about relationship building than it is about persuasion. And, like all relationships, there are phases: the introductory phase, the exploratory phase, and the commitment phase. Organizations that believe they can conduct all three phases — introduce themselves, convey their mission and purpose, and then ask for money — all in the same direct-mail appeal usually are met with resistance. This is why donor-acquisition appeals usually generate low-performing results and why mailing such large quantities is necessary. So, what do you do?
Nonprofits and for-profits think alike
Nonprofits have to reach the same audiences as commercial businesses, while using the same highly saturated mediums. Both need to gain mind- and market-share. And both need to generate revenue in order to thrive. The reality is that nonprofits usually have only a fraction of the budgets and resources available to most businesses, but they need to accomplish all of these same objectives. And therein lies the challenge. So let’s start addressing it.
Awareness and branding
In the introductory phase of a donor relationship, visibility for your organization is the first logical step. This is the phase of the relationship when potential donors are forming their first impressions of your organization and beginning to get to know you by collecting information. And as the old adage goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
That’s why you should take a long, hard look at your “brand.” And by that I mean your reputation and donors’ current perceptions of your organization. If you’re not sure how your organization is perceived by donors, you might want to conduct some research. The best means to do this would be to ask your current agency to help you, if you have one, or to contact a research firm to help you gain deeper and more objective insights.
Depending on the results, you might need to take a good look at your mission. Have you drifted off track or has your mission become diluted over time? If so, then donors won’t fully know who you really are today or what you stand for, which will in turn affect donations. It’s amazing how many organizations have an outdated mission statement. As the organization has evolved over time, the existing statement no longer reflects reality. Updating this most vital component of both internal and external communications should be a top priority and completed before doing anything else.
If your organization’s mission statement is still germane, you might need to look at some of the other aspects of your brand identity: your logo, tag line, the images, typefaces and colors you use. These elements of your brand are your organization’s “face.” And, in this case, looks do matter. These components of your brand are the first things people see when they meet you. It’s also your organization’s personality — the way you present yourself to, and interact with, the world.
Because these branding and messaging elements are so vital to your organization, adding an audit of these to the research mentioned earlier will reveal just how much recognition and equity your existing logo and tag line hold. Chances are you might not need a whole new “face”; perhaps just a face lift will do.
Donor-focused print and Web
Fine-tuning your messaging is next. What you say in your communications also should reflect who you are today and have a strong donor focus. Connect donors directly to those served by their donations. Too many organizations unwittingly neglect to do this. Most organizations are institutionally focused when it comes to communications, failing to involve the donor directly, missing this opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with the very people who enable the organization to exist and grow.
Which brings us to the exploratory stage of the donor relationship, where donors take some initiating steps to gather more information to determine if there are common ground and interests they share with your organization. Communication from the donor at this point is still fairly superficial and passive. In the not-too-distant past, this was achieved by providing printed materials and literature to prospective donors, and to a degree still is.
However, today more and more of this information-gathering step taken by potential donors and volunteers is accomplished online. That’s why your Web site is such a critical ingredient in your organization’s communications and branding mix. Your site needs to reflect your organization and its mission, be clearly and succinctly written, designed to reflect your branding, and easy to use and navigate.
With a well written and designed Web site, potential donors and volunteers often will move fairly quickly from the exploratory stage of the relationship to the commitment stage by making a donation of money or time. Online giving grew more than 50 percent each year in the last two years alone. And this growth trend has every indication of continuing. That’s why placing the development and/or upgrade of this vital communications vehicle into the hands of proven professionals is a must.
Tying it all together
So, let’s say you have your branding and messaging fully developed to reflect your mission, and your Web site upgraded and up and running. Now it’s time to go back to the beginning. And by that I mean back to the introductory phase of the relationship, where visibility is key. You’ll need to introduce yourself to potential donors and begin driving them to your Web site. And to do that you’ll need to show up where they are — in their newspapers and magazines, on their billboards, radios, televisions, iPods and cell phones, at the mall, in their movie theaters, on their favorite Web sites and search engines, in their e-mail, and in their mailboxes.
The nonprofit world’s population problem will only grow more pronounced over time. The only way to stand out from this ever-growing crowd and gain your organization’s share of loyal donors is by developing an ongoing, cohesive, well-planned and integrated communications and fundraising campaign that utilizes appropriate awareness-generating and relationship-building media.
Richard DeVeau is the executive creative director at Meyer Partners, a Chicago-based integrated fundraising and marketing communications agency serving nonprofit organizations and ministries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.