5 Fundraising Paradigm Shifts in 2015
Everybody knows fundraising has gotten tougher over the last decade. But something tells me this year could be some kind of turning point — if for no other reason than the current course of things is unsustainable. Call me the crazy optimist, but here are five big changes I see on the horizon:
1. People will stop talking about innovation and start innovating. In 2014, there was a lot of talk about the need for new ideas in the fundraising world. And we weren't the only ones talking about it. Innovation was one the 10 most-searches words of the year.
The problem with innovation is that it's risky. In these nervous times, when risk and reward bump up against what's tested and proven, the latter often prevails. You can't blame organizations. There's a lot at stake, and the cost of failure can be high, especially in the short run.
But as postage and production costs leapfrog, a few bold organizations will dare to explore strange new worlds. You can already see it in those nonprofits that are transitioning from traditional, incremental tests to "testing big," and pitting outside-the-box ideas against proven, but fatiguing, controls.
One challenge for innovators will be not to throw out the baby with the wash water. Even revolutionary creative still needs to understand basic principles of prospect and donor motivation. Smart organizations will get very creative, but they won't let the creative get in the way of their message.
The future will belong to those who understand that innovation includes failure, but take the risk anyway. One result is that ...
2. This will thin the herd. A new Darwinism is afoot in fundraising, and those who don't adapt won't survive the evolving environment.
People launch organizations for all kinds of reasons. And with 1.4 million nonprofits out there, it's inevitable that there'll be a lot of duplication. Back when making money was as easy as dropping a letter in the mail, it worked out, for most of them.
But that time has passed. Now, challenges are at every turn, from rising costs to rising donor expectations. Going forward, nonprofits with clear missions and sophisticated fundraising abilities will prevail. Many of them will grow and absorb smaller groups. For good or ill, this will lead to increasing ...
3. Corporatization. The trend has been growing for some time for nonprofits to take a more businesslike approach to raising funds. A core principle of the business model is consolidation for efficiency. So it seems inevitable that some smaller organizations will be absorbed by bigger ones.
However, it won't be all mergers and acquisitions by a long shot. Being big has its advantages, but nimbleness is not one of them. There are a lot of small to medium nonprofits that do incredible work either in niches or local areas. Their donors are loyal and generous, and their communities depend on them. And their size gives them the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. This can be a huge advantage.
But for all organizations, big or small, in 2015 ...
4. Donor relationships will get real. Acquisition continues to get harder and more expensive. But investing in growth is a fact of life. Just as important, more attention is finally being paid to the importance of donor retention (thank you Roger!). Fortunately, data collection and analysis are getting more sophisticated too, so plenty of information will be available to those who dig it out and use it wisely.
One more major challenge, which will be a direct result of innovations and increased focus on donor needs, is that ...
5. Creative will matter more. The push to have more content in more places — in the mail, online, across ever-expanding social media, in cause-marketing partnerships, and on and on — has kept creative teams hopping. The media landscape continues to change so fast, the jury is still out on the long-term dollar value of all this activity. But that hasn't slowed the demand for more and more messaging.
Unfortunately, quantity has a tendency to dilute quality. Nevertheless, as innovation increases, creative's ability to get attention and persuade people is going to be more important than ever. Writers and designers will be challenged beyond what we're accustomed to. Cranking out formulaic copy and layouts won't cut it anymore.
From where I sit, it looks like the future of fundraising is catching up with us. We are afflicted by the ancient Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." And in the year ahead, times are going to get a lot more interesting.
For 2015, Outside Counsel is proud to present a new post-script to our weekly epistles called "OMG of the Week." With your help, we'll ferret out, expose, and laugh ruefully at the worst, laziest, funniest and most cringe-worthy copy bytes from across the spectrum. There is no shortage of material. For example, check out this very first ...
OMG of the Week: Found on a "Conversations Starters" card at a restaurant that caters to educated, upscale singles: "A man sits at the bar and stairs at his phone. He smiles. What is it the person he texting with missing? What are we loosing from texting that we once had?"
Come across any hilariously horrendous copy lately? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. If it's bad enough it just might be the next OMG of the Week!
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.