Fundraising Needs to Board the People Train
It wasn’t that long ago that “digital” came roaring into the nonprofit sector like a high-speed freight train barreling down the tracks without brakes—the steam whistle warning all those in its path to either jump aboard or get left behind. Today, the digital train continues to chug along, with consumers who are inundated by options and choices through every channel, and, increasingly, through digital.
People also are far more distracted than they were a decade ago, which means that even the most experienced fundraiser must continually evolve—something the industry has found difficult at times—and leverage new outlets to increase donations.
Is it possible that our inability to adapt or unwillingness to change is a primary reason for our industry’s declining performance?
The solution to improving performance is to not focus on the direct-mail or digital businesses. As fundraisers, it is essential to remember that we are in the people business—considering that individuals contribute nearly 72 percent of all charitable revenue.
People-based fundraising is what produces the desired results. The better we are at it, the more successful we will be for our organizations. But to be great, there needs to be a focus on understanding the changing dynamics of consumer attitudes and behavior. To do that, you can’t stand still—you must evolve and deliver messages when and where consumers expect them.
We marketers often look at things through a media lens, and our perspectives can be distorted by channel performances instead of by looking through constituent-experience lenses.
For example, it’s true that the performance of direct-mail fundraising campaigns is not as strong as it once was, and a legitimate argument can be made that direct mail is no longer a revenue-growth engine for most nonprofits—at least when it comes to its role as a source of direct revenue. Yet for those of us who don’t view direct mail as a primary fundraising program, but rather one of the many channels to target a constituent on during a campaign, we see things from a totally different perspective. We see a channel that:
- Produces a consistent, reliable and highly predictable stream of revenue from individual donors
- Expands audience engagement in their channel of choice
- Effectively targets a vital “constituency” of mature donors—something most peer-to-peer fundraising and digital programs fail to do
- Serves as an important bridge to enhanced revenue to and from other areas (major gifts, planned giving, events, etc.)
To be an effective fundraiser, we must become more proficient in the art of donor-centric fundraising, while also mastering the art of strategically balancing the unique benefits of all methods of communications—be it direct mail, email, digital, television, etc.
Resist being defined as a direct-mail fundraiser or a digital fundraiser. Rather, define yourself as a donor-centric fundraiser—one who uses every possible tool to produce the most successful outcomes possible.
Greg Fox is vice president of nonprofit vertical strategy at Merkle. He joined the company in 2000 to establish a data-driven, strategic fundraising agency group. Fox is a 30-year veteran of direct response fundraising, with expertise in developing innovative fundraising marketing strategies and solutions. He has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for many of the largest and most respected fundraising brands in America, and while he has broad-based fundraising experience, he is highly regarded as a leader in the national health-charity sector. Prior to joining Merkle, Fox was a founding partner in TheraCom, a leading provider of full-service specialty pharmacy solutions and marketing strategies that served the healthcare and charitable industries. He also served as vice president of direct response fundraising at the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he started his career and created the organization’s first national direct response program. Fox is an industry thought-leader, frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active participant in the DMA nonprofit federation. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.