Is Fundraising Cinderella to Your Nonprofit Marketing?
Too often, fundraising is made to sit in the corner while her stepsisters, content marketing and online communications, get busy dressing up for the marketing ball.
Her stepmother and stepsisters think raising awareness is more important than raising money. They think all they have to do is look pretty, and they’ll naturally get chosen. Nobody wants to be bothered to include Cinderella (aka fundraising) in the planning. After all, she’s “dirty.”
If this strikes a chord with you, you’re probably working at one of the far too many nonprofits where marketing communications are considered the stepchild of fundraising. A support function, rather than an essential one.
Not sure where your organization stands? Consider how your coworkers and board members might answer the following question:
What is marketing’s most important goal: raising awareness or raising money?
I’ll bet you that many of your colleagues would probably answer “both.” I’ll also bet you that many will answer “awareness.”
Did you answer that way? Yes?
Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Because with that attitude, you’re not going to collect much. You’re not going to win.
Your answer to the question, “What’s the purpose of our nonprofit marketing strategy?” should be "money." That’s the bottom line.
Creating awareness is merely a precondition to sales.
I’m being a bit harsh here, I know. But I do so to open your eyes to the truth: It really doesn’t matter if folks are aware of your existence if they don’t give two cents whether you continue to exist.
Think about that for a minute. You probably have some sort of marketing communications program. It probably has a content marketing plan. What content you’ll create. Who you’ll target to receive it. Where and when you’ll deliver it. And so forth.
You’re creating all sorts of materials and distributing them in all sorts of places, offline and online. People are very busy counting all the issues of newsletters, blog posts, social media followers, email opens and so forth.
But are you asking the most important question?
What do you want to get out of the fact that folks see, read and listen to this content? If you don’t begin here, your content marketing probably won’t work any better than it did for the ugly, clueless stepsisters. Because they had nothing to offer that the prince wanted—no matter how they dressed themselves up.
What does your content marketing offer would-be donors?
If you don’t ask and answer this question, your marketing communications won’t take you where you need to go. Because they won’t be a "perfect fit" between values you enact and donors’ active expressions of those values.
Your marketing will just be. Something you check off your list of tasks. We delivered another newsletter. Created another annual report. Sent out another blog post. Made a video. Tweeted a link. Posted a photo. And so forth.
Patting yourself on the back for all these accomplishments? Wait up.
What did you accomplish, exactly? Is it something you can use to further your cause?
- Did you get 1,000 new Twitter followers? Or 1,000 new donations?
- Did 50 people share your story? Or did 50 people with whom the story was shared become new donors?
- Did you show your video once at your event, and then it just sat in your archives? Or did you put it on your website, share links to it on multiple social channels, and include a donate link at the end?
Moving forward, as you plan your content marketing, I’d like you to bring Cinderella to the table. Integrate your content marketing with your fundraising. Ask your fundraisers two questions about each piece of potential content:
- What do you want the reader/listener/viewer to feel now?
- What do you want the reader/listener/viewer to do next?
- What do you want the reader/listener/viewer to do ultimately (e.g., within a defined time-frame)?
- How will you get them to that desired outcome by following up with additional content?
- How will you assess that this content worked?
If you’re investing resources into marketing efforts, you should be thinking about results.
It’s tempting to fall into the trap of preparing and disseminating content designed to do really vague things—“raise awareness,” “engage,” “involve” and “empower,” for example.
Huh? That and $4 will buy you a beverage at Starbucks.
It’s a bit like asking people to give in order to “restore hope.” What exactly does that mean? And how much does it cost?
Just as it’s important to be specific with your fundraising asks, it’s important to be specific with your fundraising and marketing communications goals.
All of this, to me, is pretty much common sense. But it’s easy to lose sight of common sense when we cross the threshold of our places of work. And when groupthink begins to creep in. And everyone gets into implementation mode, with little time reserved for thinking, planning, collaborating and evaluating.
Make friends this year with your common sense. Don’t do something without a really good reason for doing it. If someone says “we need a video,” “we need a brochure,” “we need to post more often to Facebook,” “we need a blog” and so forth, ask why.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t do these things. I’m saying: Do content marketing with intention.
Establish bottom-line goals and measure progress towards those goals.
Think about all those terrific, award-winning commercials you watch. They may make you smile, laugh or cry. But do you remember what product they were selling? Sometimes yes. Sometimes they even inspire you to buy the product. But, more often, you can’t even remember what that great ad was selling. That means the advertising didn’t work.
Build a content marketing plan this year that works for you.
Consider what types of actions will get you closer to your goals. What will raise money so you can continue to fight the good fight? What will enlist new recruits to your army of supporters? What will grab you the type of attention you need to survive and thrive?
What will get people to care?
The fastest route to effective fundraising isn’t raising awareness.
It’s getting folks to feel something on an emotional level. Something that hits them in the gut and grabs them in the heart. Something that provokes their giving spirit.
Just getting people to know about something is a pretty passive, and ultimately useless, act.
We soothe ourselves with this platitude: “Awareness is the first step to future involvement and investment.” And, yes, that’s true. But it can be like a lead balloon. Unless you get ahead of the game. You don’t do anything that’s only a first step.
This year, figure out what will get people to act.
Go for the action you desire. Time and resources are too limited to squander them on window dressing. Pretty videos and brochures and reports are just that: pretty. The stepsisters had pretty gowns. What did it get them? They had no inner beauty.
Adhere to the Pareto Rule of 80:20. Spend 80 percent of your time figuring out what content you must deliver to open people up to philanthropy. What has meaning to your supporters? What will make them want to join you in your cause? Then spend 20 percent of your time wrapping up your relevant content in an appealing package.
I’m not saying the package doesn’t matter. It does. Just don’t squander the lion’s share of your resources on “pretty.”
Create content with the power to get folks to take a specific, desired action. Call for that action. Guess what will happen as a result?
Folks will respond. They’ll feel good about it too. So good that they even share what they did with their networks. Why not? It feels good to invest your money to participate in something meaningful and bigger than oneself. You, together with your donors, made a difference! And all because you took some time to think and plan before you leaped into the standard, same-old content marketing fray.
Now—pat yourself on the back.
May you and your nonprofit live happily ever after.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.