Can We Talk About What 'Not Interested' Means?
I've spent the latter half of my career helping nonprofits design and deploy new fundraising visions and strategies. I have spent countless hours talking about long-term improvement versus short-term improvement. As you can imagine, I've also heard every excuse in the book to not try anything new or make a change. But the one that always stumps me is the generic, "We're not interested." And, for anyone who knows me, you know that generic statements are just the start of the conversation for me.
On days when I'm in a particular snarky mood, what comes out of my mouth is, "So, you're not interested in increasing your performance or net revenue?" OK, I admit, I don't often have the guts to say that. But I'm just concerned by the ease with which people in our industry say "no thanks" to new ideas, new information, new insight, etc. This can become very dangerous for not just organizations but marketing teams, as the "safe way" can prevent growth and positive movement for programs and strategies.
Here is my assessment of what can hold us back — and what we can do about it.
1. We are afraid of analytics at times
No one wants to admit it, but our industry is known for loving our comfort zones and our traditions. Traditional strategies are not a bad thing, but for sure we can get stuck there. It's easy to be afraid of something we don't understand.
But the fear that I'm talking about is the one where the new insight or new analytics might point out something wrong with the way we've been doing things. We need to shift our thinking and think of analytics as new information — and information is power. If there is information available that could help our fundraising work harder or more efficiently, why would we run from it? If there is information available that could improve performance — response rates, average gifts, etc. — why would we ignore it?
A great comment I heard around this topic is, "Fear suppresses new ideas." So the next time you say, "I'm not interested" — make sure it is not a fear-based issue.
2. Constant change is hard to manage
Yes, change is not as easy as "no change." But a clear testing strategy that includes ongoing challenges of control strategies is critical. I have often described the nonprofit industry as being similar to pack animals. We often move as a group. When something new comes around, we all watch it, then we typically report on it at a conference, and then it gains traction and everyone then starts to do the same thing.
OK, that's a slight oversimplification, but you know what I'm trying to say.
There's a lot of history in our programs and strategies, and the success has not been achieved through lots of high-risk approaches. However, when times are good we can easily rest on our control strategies and just watch the bank statements. But when times are good, it is the best time to push on new ideas, new insight, new tests, new marketing formats, new campaigns, etc.
It is very hard to do this when times are tough. So make sure when times are good you are using that as an opportunity to better your best. The next time you're tempted to say, "We aren't interested," ask yourself if things are going well and if you perhaps should be looking at new ideas.
Just remember, results are like roller coasters — sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down. If you're down, don't get caught in the trap of your executives asking what you've tried recently to make improvements in the program and you don't have an answer. An ongoing improvement strategy or approach within your fundraising team is critical to both short-term and long-term success.
3. We can't afford anything new
This is my favorite but probably the hardest issue to resolve. The scenario is that a new idea is presented to test and the test is designed to improve your results — but you can't afford to spend any money on trying to improve your results. This is a real problem.
If the budget every year is built upon the control program, then there is enormous pressure on that money to do it all. It would be easiest for me to say that every nonprofit should have a research and development budget that is set aside for doing testing. But, in all my years, I also know how difficult it is to do this.
I believe this is one of the toughest issues — and I also believe this is where agencies need to come to the table and make early investments to reduce the risk. The most common issue is if budget is spent and the test doesn't work, it's easy to feel that those funds were wasted. Learning that something doesn't work is still valuable, but it must be at an acceptable cost.
Agencies and nonprofits need to work together to find ways to advance programs without breaking the budget. Nonprofits need to identify areas where small reductions in budgets can fund new ideas, and agencies need to create investment-friendly approaches to pushing new ideas into the market (which eventually helps all nonprofits).
The next time you're tempted to say "I'm not interested," I highly recommend you break that down and understand what is really holding you back. Sometimes it really is the wrong time, not in the priority, etc. But, if you feel like what is holding you back is described above, then I suggest working on the real problem.
Vice President, Strategy & Development
Eleventy Marketing Group
Angie is ridiculously passionate about EVERYTHING she’s involved in — including the future and success of our nonprofit industry.
Angie is a senior exec with 25 years of experience in direct and relationship marketing. She is a C-suite consultant with experience over the years at both nonprofits and agencies. She currently leads strategy and development for marketing intelligence agency Eleventy Marketing Group. Previously she has worked at the innovative startup DonorVoice and as general manager of Merkle’s Nonprofit Group, as well as serving as that firm’s CRM officer charged with driving change within the industry. She also spent more 14 years leading the marketing, fundraising and CRM areas for two nationwide charities, The Arthritis Foundation and the American Cancer Society. Angie is a thought leader in the industry and is frequent speaker at events, and author of articles and whitepapers on the nonprofit industry. She also has received recognition for innovation and influence over the years.