Shake It Up: Shifting Your Strategy in the Disruption Economy
Recently, I read a provocative op-ed on The Hill called “Has Philanthropy Kept Up With the Times?,” written by Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, and Eric T. Rosenthal, founder of the National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Centers Public Affairs Network. The piece points to the same fundamental idea as a host of other recent articles: organizations must make strategic shifts to adapt to the changing economic and philanthropic environment.
From my perspective, even in the best of times, our industry cannot thrive with a business-as-usual approach. In today’s market, all nonprofit organizations should objectively ask and answer hard questions about their impact, solvency, relevancy and opportunities. And as an outcome, they need to act differently—diversify their revenue streams, approach their fundraising work in new ways and shift their strategies.
The disruption economy is changing consumer expectations more quickly than ever. Disposable income and wealth distribution, commerce, technology, laws and politics are all changing. And nonprofits are not insulated from these market disruptions just because of the good work they do. Without strategic shifts, charities risk massive revenue loss that threatens their missions and makes it far less likely they’ll solve the problems they were created to solve.
Organizations that continue to grow in this climate have been proactive in the face of significant volatility. If your organization is being battered by market changes, it’s likely you haven’t done the work needed to capitalize on the shifts the market demands.
But the good news is that it’s not too late. You can make the decision today to move forward, and one of the best places to shore up your strategy and revenue portfolio is at the donor level. Individual giving plays an incredibly important role for organizations large and small. Improving performance among your donors will help generate stronger revenue and can help your organization maintain or return to growth, even in this era of change.
To get your planning started, here are five ways to shift your individual giving strategy and drive both stronger relationships and increased revenue from your hard-earned donors.
- Improve the focus and health of your major, planned and mid-level giving programs. America’s wealth disparity keeps growing and organizations focusing on major gifts have proven to weather these shifts more effectively. As part of your major gift efforts, capitalize on donor-advised funds (DAF). Learn how to leverage them and enhance your gift processing systems to identify and maintain relationships with DAF donors. With the recent tax law changes, the importance of DAFs is growing, and they are collecting billions of dollars annually. These efforts are well worth the investment.
- Update your technology platforms to drive quicker and more personalized donor engagement. The right communication strategy can drive donor loyalty and affinity to your organization by providing better and more relevant experiences, but the right technology is required. A good technology platform will help you better understand how to invest in your communications and donor relationships and develop deeper insight into what’s driving a donor to give. And don’t just invest in the technology; ensure that your organization has the expertise to leverage that technology, so that you may deliver on the promise you make to your constituents. The right technology paired with the right strategy will allow you to both listen to your donors and meet them where they are.
- Diversify your revenue by shifting the mix of your donors. Identify new audiences, leverage new channels, integrate all channels, expand into new platforms, create new offers and expand the use of your digital properties for fundraising. Remember it’s okay to ask for donations. Not every communication or impression must focus on programs and services. As you expand your efforts here, make sure you implement an onboarding and thank you approach that has relevance for these new and changing constituents.
- Assess and revise your case for giving. Do you know why different types of donors support your efforts? Can you infuse a philanthropic call-to-action in your marketing efforts? Can you build your case for giving, using the capital campaign model, which highlights specific restricted giving areas and leverages a traditional campaign structure, even when your funding needs are not capital investments? Think differently about your opportunities and understand what would best resonate with your donors.
- And lastly, break down your silos. Lead with the donor in mind. Commercial brands have shifted (or are quickly moving) to planning everything through the lens of their customers, moving from a channel or program-first orientation to the much more personal route of customer first. By making the donor your starting point, you’ll have a much better shot at ensuring your relevance for the long term. And to borrow a commercial phrase, you’ll grab a larger share of market from your competitors.
Christy McWilliams is vice president of customer strategy at Merkle.