One of my Clairification community subscribers, Matt Patchell, recently began an important discussion in our online Subscriber Forum about what he termed the current “digital divide.”
He was referring to those nonprofits who are facing the digital revolution head-on, and adapting their strategies to embrace its’ opportunities, vs. those who are sticking their heads in the sand and hoping it will go away.
Folks, it’s not going away.
The only thing that will be going bye-bye are your supporters if you continue to ignore the channels they frequent and the ways they prefer to receive their information.
And I don’t mean you can just slap up a Facebook page or adopt a Twitter handle. It’s a sea change in how your marketing and fundraising team(s) operate and cooperate. Adopting is a far cry from adapting.
What does this have to do with Trump?
His election has proved to be an engagement catalyst for many would-be supporters.
Matt was writing now, post-Trump if you will, not because nonprofits have changed since the election. But because so many more people are seeking active engagement with nonprofits (Matt included) and are sometimes finding it difficult to engage. The result? They move on to become involved with those organizations who make it easy, meaningful and, yes, even fun!
Opportunity is knocking on your nonprofit’s door. Are you opening it?
Matt wrote such a thoughtful and spot-on piece that I asked his permission to share it with you all here.
Dear Claire and Clairification Community,
Inspired by political events, like many of you I’ve made a lot of donations to causes in recent months. I’ve signed up for a wide range of action alert networks, and I am a major gifts officer job-seeker, so between these activities I’ve had a pretty immersive view into how nonprofits are engaging their donors and their communities. As a donor/stakeholder and a fund development professional I’ve been thrilled by some of the organizations’ engagement, and troubled by others.
The digital engagement process flow for the best cases is visual, with succinct engaging messaging that seamlessly flows from one option of engagement to another. Real thought and skill is being invested in the user interface, and it feels like an unprecedented level of empathetic marketing.
User-friendly menus of campaigns to fund flow to volunteer or political engagement opportunities, or to peer to peer fundraising opportunities, or to opportunities to share on social media. The vibe is welcoming, enthusiastic and all about the donor. It’s a little like walking into a party and being warmly welcomed along a receiving line by one excited charming host after another.
This is the vortex theory of communications and community engagement that Claire has been evangelizing for years. This thoughtful engagement is meeting a broad need for inclusion, belonging and community that has grown since the ascendance of Donald Trump. The “aha” here is that those organizations that invest in empathetic engagement with their community are being rewarded with massive levels of funding. It’s a beautiful win-win, perhaps on a scale that we’ve never seen before.
Now here’s the bad news.
My unscientific observation is that a surprising range of nonprofits still practice fund development, communications and community engagement in the same old way. To be effective, all three of these organization actions need to be practiced well, and more than that they need to be tightly interwoven.
FUND DEVELOPMENT COMMUNICATIONS COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
The apt metaphor is not so much three legs of a stool as much as interwoven strands of rope, with each strand of the rope contributing to the strength of the others. The whole is so much more than the sum of its parts.
Nonprofits that do not fully commit to this interwoven rope matrix are nothing new of course. What is new is that they will be left in the dust with their missions unfunded, as they cease to be perceived as vital and engaged.
I sense an increasingly stark divide between organizations that get the vision of matrixed vortex communications, and those that don’t. The latter category won’t even know why their gifts are declining, or why they can’t attract and retain talent.
Staffing up on highly skilled communications professionals is just the first step: if these rock stars are not led by visionaries to cross silos to organize cross-functionally, they will get discouraged and bored sooner rather than later, and move on to organizations that will take advantage of their skill, vision and passion.
These organizations that are falling behind are likely facing a stark choice: Adapt and evolve, or die. Change is hard, and many will fail. When they do, we can only hope that their mission will be adopted by an organization that has managed to keep itself relevant to its community.
This bleak outcome is not inevitable: the challenge is certainly a matter of resources, but also one of fearless leadership and vision. Because the template for success has been defined, and can be viewed and understood for the cost of a $50 donation and a 20-minute digital tour of a highly-effective organization’s digital engagement landscape.
Thank you Matt.
As Matt notes, I’ve been “evangelizing” on this subject for years. Even though your organization may be divided by department or function, your communication with donors should be unified. Presenting a united front to the world is essential if you want your vision to be crystal clear and your mission compelling.
Folks, fundraising has changed more in the past eight years than the preceding 50.
If it hasn’t changed where you work, it should.
Many will tell you the more things change, the more they remain the same: “Don’t neglect the fundamentals.” “Don’t chase after shiny new objects.”
True, to some extent. People are still people. Good writing is still good writing. Hearts and souls are still moved by similar triggers. You don’t have to throw the baby out with the bath water. But… the devil is in that bath water!
The ways in which people receive and communicate information are dramatically different. Even my 80-year-old mother-in-law texts rather than calls. She emails rather than sending cards and letters.
Like it or not, new technologies are being thrust upon us. We ignore them at our peril. And before you say this has happened before – that the telephone, radio and television gave fundraisers new tools but didn’t fundamentally alter the landscape – think again. Those technologies were not disruptive. They were enhancing. Today’s technologies have, in ways previously unimaginable, deeply changed the way people communicate and do business.
What do you need to do to move onward and upward?
- To get inside the heads of your supporters and know what they most value?
- To communicate more robustly in real time?
- To provide meaningful “gifts” of content?
- To showcase yourself as a thought leader?
- To do, as Matt suggests, make your donor’s experience “like walking into a party and being warmly welcomed along a receiving line by one excited charming host after another.”
It’s time to seriously consider this; then do something about it.
Come on in. The water’s fine!
If you have examples of organizations doing an effective job navigating the digital divide, please share in the comments below!
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