Innovation in Fundraising: Why, How, What, When? (Part 3)
This is part three in a four-part series on innovation in fundraising. View part one here and part two here.
In part one, we looked at the nature of innovation in fundraising, and whether same/old fundraising is a problem, especially when what’s innovative today changes and evolves at the pace of lightning. What seemed new yesterday seems quaint, clunky or just plain "old hat" boring today. How much should you care, and why?
In part two, we unpacked the popular notion that, by its very nature, "change is good," considering how this may be true—or not—for nonprofits.
Today, in part three, we’re going to begin to get down to brass tacks. In other words, if you do believe in innovation as a value, what is the best way to approach it? What questions must you ask and answer to change with intention—sensibly and strategically—based upon the outcomes you hope to attain.
The post-digital revolution has indeed made change inevitable.
"Business as usual" is no longer even possible. That’s a given, and charities must adapt. Much has to do with the fact that our would-be supporters today are all part of "Generation C"—they are connected and networked in ways that were previously (and not so long ago) unimaginable.
How donors find us, and how we find them, has changed. Outward-bound marketing is dead. The information imbalance that once existed between us and them no longer exists. And if we continue to speak at folks, rather than with them, they’re highly likely to move on to connect with someone who treats them with greater respect. Donors no longer want to be acquired (if they ever did). Donors want to be treated as investors and partners.
Because of this, I’ve argued that the old donor pyramid model has been replaced with a vortex model. You’ve got to meet donors where they are, rather than trying to force them up a ladder or down a funnel.
This is a lot for many charities to take in. It’s a lot of change. And it’s happened fast.
But layer upon this the current "innovation" call to arms and too often charities are led to feel they must constantly reinvent the wheel. Ian MacQuillan of the Rogare Fundraising Think Tank recently wrote:
For the past few years, "innovation" has been in vogue in the fundraising sector. Charities have appointed innovation managers, reports have been published on innovation, conferences have been held on it (for example the Institute of Fundraising’s innovation conference, which has run for the last two years) and delegates have flocked to them.
But just how many new ideas are there really? And is it really so bad to borrow ideas from other charities?
Whether or not your nonprofit has jumped on the "innovation bandwagon," the real thing you need to worry about is the sustainability and growth of your mission.
Do you have enough donors, dollars and person power to accomplish what you need/want to achieve? If not, then what can you do to refresh your strategies?
"New" and "fresh" are synonyms, after all. But "freshening up" is sometimes a lot more doable.
Begin by considering where you may be leaving money on the table.
- Is it not having enough donors?
- Is it first-time donors who don’t renew?
- Is it ongoing donors who don’t upgrade?
- Is it a lack of major individual donors?
- Is it a lack of corporate sponsors?
- Is it events that raise too little and suck the life out of staff and volunteers?
- Is it insufficient infrastructure to manage and evaluate strategies?
- Is it lack of trained staff and/or volunteers?
Then ask yourself if you have strategies in place to address these areas of weakness.
Wherever you need to add something new, make a note. Remember, generally if you add something new, you must either let go of something old or add resources so you’ve got the wherewithal to take on added projects.
Before you can assess what to let go of, you’ve got to understand whether it’s really effective. If so, terrific. If not, should you get rid of it or should you tweak it so that it becomes more of a workhorse for you? How do you figure this out?
Ask yourself which of your current fundraising and marketing communications strategies are carrying their weight.
For each strategy, ask these questions:
Is what we’re doing working?
If your answer is "no," then it may be time to shake things up, throw out the stuff that’s not helping you move forward, and brainstorm some new ideas. In other words, this is when it’s time for a throw-the-baby-and-the-bathwater-out revolution. Some truly transformative innovation.
If your answer is "yes," then proceed on to the next questions.
Could it be working better?
If so, in what areas? The best way I know to answer this question is to break it into seven parts based on the key drivers of donor commitment that contribute to building stronger relationships with donors over time.
This is important because, ultimately, the whole point of donor communications is to build donor loyalty.
If you don’t understand this, you’re at risk of innovating away from your donors.
So, let’s take a little side trip into the art and science of donor retention.
For years, fundraising luminaries, such as professor Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay in "Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value," Ken Burnett in "Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money," Roger Craver in "Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life" and, most recently, the Rogare Relationship Fundraising Review (for which I was honored to be a panelist) have been studying what drives donor retention. Their combined research yielded a list of remarkably similar drivers of donor commitment, from which I’ve borrowed to distill this body of work down to what I currently consider to be the top seven key drivers of donor loyalty.
All of these drivers of donor loyalty are within your control.
But they won’t do you much good unless you apply each consciously to your relationship-building (acquisition, retention and upgrading) strategies. In brief:
You must kick-start the donor relationship by triggering trust.
- Trust. This is the foundation of all good relationships, whether professional or personal. Your donors need to know they can count on you to deliver in the manner they expect. This creates a functional, satisfaction-based connection. Your single biggest tool to engender trust is the use of "thank you." Once your donors are satisfied, then you can go on to delight them and really win them over. But, first things first. You must sustain donor loyalty through a wooing strategy—an essential component of all relationships you hope to grow over time.
- Personal link to you. You’ve got to create these.
- Your organization’s performance in accomplishing your mission. Connect the dots between the donors' gifts to the impact that results.
- Choice/quality of communications. Do more helping, less selling
- Tangible link to beneficiaries. Seeing is believing.
- Multiple engagements. Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. Stay top of mind!
- Shared beliefs. Show them you’re rowing the same boat—together. Continually remind your donors that the values your nonprofit enacts match the values they hold dear.
Now that you’ve an understanding of these seven key drivers of donor loyalty, look again at what’s working/could be working better before you consider taking on new strategies—copycat or otherwise. Perhaps you only need some incremental innovation.
How can we refresh what we’re doing by incorporating key drivers of donor commitment?
Look at all of your communications. Appeals, thank-you letters, newsletters, blogs, annual reports, web pages, social media and so forth. Review them one at a time.
Do they incorporate at least a few of these drivers of donor loyalty? If so, great. If not, what could you do to make your communication more worth the time and effort you put into it?
- Could you make a generic "thank you" more personal?
- Could you substitute a column of facts in a newsletter for a story about someone who was helped as a result of donor philanthropy?
- Could you give donors more chances to offer feedback?
- Could you add an opportunity for donors to actually see your work—in person or via video?
- Could you add some emotionally compelling information about your organization’s mission and performance to your gala invitation?
You get the idea.
Don’t just write copy. Think about why you’re writing copy.
What are some ideas other charities are enacting that might help inform/improve this strategy?
Set up a system to collect ideas. Donate to a number of charities so you see what they send you and how they make you feel. Ask your board members to do this as well, and ask them to share. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. But if you come across something that’s working elsewhere, why not consider if it would work for you as well.
Evaluate what’s good about the new ideas you find. Check back with the innovator/creator to see what the outcomes were. There’s no point in borrowing an idea that was a failure—unless you can reasonably make the case that the reasons for the failure would not apply to you.
What about their idea will work for us?
Don’t borrow thoughtlessly. Give some thought as to what drivers of donor loyalty give the idea wings. If the idea does a great job establishing trust, make a note (e.g., a personal 15-second thank-you video sent via Snapchat). If the idea creates a personal link that you aren’t making effectively, add it to your arsenal (e.g., a dynamite email signature). If the idea connects people to beneficiaries of your services, take heed (e.g., thank-you testimonials from clients). And so forth.
If the idea looks destined for a crash landing, don’t torture yourself to try to get it off the ground. There’s a difference between "would be nice to do" and "it’s essential to do." You don’t use Snapchat yet? There may not be quite enough substance in this idea to serve as incentive to begin.
What about their idea could be tweaked to work even better for us?
If the idea you want to borrow looks promising, but not quite ready for prime time, consider how you might improve upon it. Let’s say it makes dynamite use of one of the seven key drivers of donor loyalty. That’s a good start, but it might not be enough for you to add it to your already overflowing plate. But if there are additional drivers you could easily incorporate, then it may be worth considering.
An almost last word:
The point of this series of articles is to help you move forward, thoughtfully, to attain your goals. It’s not to manipulate folks to your evil ends. So I hope you don’t find the use of the seven key drivers of donor loyalty offensive. They’re just tools I offer up to help you think about how, why and when to tinker with your system and, then, what you can do about it.
In the fourth and final installment of this four-part series, I’ll be suggesting three additional questions for you to consider to ascertain when adopting a new idea makes sense. And I’ll offer you a whole new set of tools to help you arrive at answers. Stay tuned!
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.