3 Tips To Implement Fundraising Change in a Resistant Environment
Fundraising strategies have been evolving since the dawn of the digital age. While some organizations have been quick to adopt innovative new techniques, most are still resistant nearly two decades later. We hear the same old objections: “These organizations are traditional. They’ve never done things this way.” and, my favorite, “I don’t understand any of this online stuff, so why would my donors?”
Many of us face obstacles when introducing changes or offering suggestions for improving decades-old processes. Colleagues might be intimidated by new technology or afraid to make mistakes. There could be a fear of encountering audience backlash or offending a donor. Leaders might object to the resource investment needed for new initiatives or have anxiety about potential revenue loss. But change can happen with the right combination of research, data analysis, persistence and creativity.
1. Internal Research for Your Case
Utilizing internal research can be an excellent tool to advocate for change. Examine the performance and trends within your own data to strengthen the case and craft goals for increasing revenue or conversions.
For example, if the number of online gifts and revenue have been increasing year over year, use this analysis to support a proposal for new online campaigns. A projection of the revenue in future years based on the percentage of growth in the past can be a compelling argument for investing in resources to support these efforts.
Perhaps you want to remove fields on a donation form to streamline the experience for your users. Start by looking at the percentage of use for each field over the past year. Make a case to remove the fields used most infrequently. In one evaluation of a form, I found numerous non-essential fields that were used by less than 1% of donors. These fields were perfect targets for an A/B test of a streamlined form.
Evaluating past donor performance can help with launching a new renewal process or creating a targeted campaign. Segment donors who have historically made gifts online and craft communications specific to these audiences. Take this a step further to create digital benefits and virtual event invitations for a comprehensive cultivation strategy.
2. Use Benchmarks and Comparative Data
In a scenario where there is little internal data to create a case, utilize external benchmarks and comparative data. Conferences, webinars and industry magazines can provide stellar examples of innovation and success to support proposals for new initiatives.
For example, perhaps there is an organization like yours who had success with a new peer-to-peer campaign, texting services, or found an increase in campaign performance using online advertising. I’ve adopted clever themes for my campaigns and unique email layouts to refresh our templates. Additionally, vendors will often share new techniques to enhance campaign strategy or platform upgrades to improve performance. These changes can be folded into your existing strategy or used to create new ones.
Benchmarks can be invaluable for creating goals for optimal performance. For example, if the industry benchmark of a donation form conversion is 21% and yours is at 17%, what changes can be implemented to improve your own donation form? Perhaps a data point that reflects the ROI of investing in paid search can be used to justify an increase in the advertising budget. New tactics can be developed for improving retention rates, creating a mobile-friendly website, or increasing the number of fundraising emails for your campaigns.
3. Build on Small Wins
Sometimes the best way to overcome a monumental obstacle is to chip away at it, one step at a time. If your dreams of launching a robust, integrated, year-end campaign are dashed by a resounding “no” and a litany of reasons why your ideas can’t be implemented, consider proposing a small test to a reduced audience that won’t rock the proverbial boat. Then build on that win one campaign at a time.
When I was introducing a new email fundraising strategy to an on-air, pledge-reliant public media station, I started with emails to small groups outside of pledge windows. When my events team adamantly objected to a 24-hour streaming online fundraiser because of lack of resources, I gathered volunteer ambassadors to support and implement the effort. When I proposed the donation form revisions mentioned above, I implemented changes using either secondary forms or those within certain campaign efforts to reduce anxiety about revenue loss.
The key is to listen intently to the reasons for the resistance, explore why those perceptions exist, and then create an alternative solution that garners leadership support and feels (relatively) comfortable for all involved.
There is no doubt that being the change-maker for an organization can be exhausting. We are often considered a threat and can become the object of contempt. We are constantly overcoming objections and repeatedly hitting walls of resistance. While it can be frustrating, the reward that comes from implementing new and successful efforts is deeply gratifying. Through patience, persistence, and creativity, we can deliver innovative online experiences that our donors will appreciate, applaud, and enthusiastically support.
Jen Newmeyer, CFRE, is a digital fundraising strategist specializing in integrated campaigns and online engagement. Through her groundbreaking work and creative approaches during her 15-plus-year tenure, she's raised more than $10 million in online revenue for nonprofit organizations. She is the author of "The Insider's Guide to Online Fundraising: Finding Success When Surrounded by Skeptics" and provides workshops and services in areas such as the growth funnel, ambassador programs, tactics related to acquisition, retention and segmentation, as well as helping nonprofit professionals launch comprehensive efforts in resistant environments. She is the founder of CharityJen, providing support and resources to nonprofits, and host of CharityChats, a meetup group aimed at helping professionals solve their most pressing problems. Jen is the director of digital membership at WHYY and serves on the board of the Association of Fundraising Professionals - Greater Philadelphia Chapter.