Change Your Fundraising—But Do it Right
In preparation for a class I’m teaching, I immersed myself in change management this past week. One of the best things I heard came from a video, "Change Management for Nonprofits Explained Visually!," from Better Business Learning. (This presentation is worth the three-and-a-half minutes to watch it.) The message I took away was, "Change is less scary when you’re driving it. Consider your passengers."
As fundraisers, our passengers are our donors. And as most experienced fundraisers have found, even the best change can impact income—at least for a while. I mean, let’s be real—what’s bad about going from a boring, two-color newsletter to one that is four-color and has larger photos? In most cases, nothing. But it’s change, and, as humans, we can be a bit slow to adapt to anything different; and that can keep us from giving until we get comfortable with the "new."
This is not an excuse to never change—but it is a reason to not make a change for the wrong reasons. So what’s a wrong reason to change?
1. Because you’re bored
"I’ve been looking at this same newsletter masthead for four years now, and I’m bored! It’s boring! There’s no way our donors aren’t bored. We have to change."
Maybe you do—but as the fundraiser who looks at your materials far more often than your donors (sadly, they usually don't file them, review them at quarterly strategy sessions and even hang them on their walls), simply being bored is not a reason to change.
2. Because you want 'better' donors
The best donors you can have are the ones who actually are donating to you. Yes, we want to keep going after new donors and even broaden our donor demographics. But that’s no reason to abandon the donors you have. They’ve invested in relationships with you and they may even have included you in their estate plans (and you often won’t know this until they’re gone). Keep loving the donors you have, even while you look for other donors (who may or may not really be "better").
3. Because 'everyone else' is doing it
I am so guilty of this. I see something from the "big guys" and I figure, "If they are doing it, it must be good." And maybe it is. But maybe they just like it and they aren’t as worried about a single fundraising project that bombs—especially if it was fun to develop.
I have a piece on my desk right now that I am enamored by. I want to use this idea, even write about it in a future article. But I have no idea if it worked, so until I find that out, it’s irresponsible of me to "sell" the concept to my clients or to readers of this column. I hope to find out more about it, but my initial call to the organization produced only one piece of information: The fundraiser responsible for producing it is no longer employed there. Hmm, I’d better do more research before I embrace that change.
So why should we change? Here are three reasons that point to "change" as a potentially wise solution:
1. Your income is declining
Maybe you aren’t the only one who is bored. If something isn’t working, change it up. Don’t keep using something that is on life support. Act quickly to find something that better resonates with your target audience. Hoping it magically will turn around is usually living in denial.
2. Your donors are not loyal
If you are plagued with a high percentage of donors who give once and never give again, it could be time to change up your communications to them. If long-term donors are lapsing, figure out where the danger zone is—that point in time where they are more likely to stop giving. How can you make it more attractive for them to stick with you after that point? Do you need to do a better job reporting progress made? Showing need? Saying thank you?
3. Your message is out of date
This one can hurt. It can cost you money. But continuing to send out a message that is no longer honest is not good fundraising; it’s manipulation. I once worked at an organization that had a very successful acquisition control; unfortunately, it played on people’s fear of something that was no longer real. Some said, "Keep it! It works." But we decided to take the hard step and revise it. It hurt income, but it was the right thing to do.
Change is hard. Smart change is harder. Staying the same because it’s the best course can be hardest of all, especially for those of us who get bored easily. This old dog urges you to not be afraid of change, but remember, "Change is less scary when you’re driving it. Consider your passengers"—your donors.
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.