February 28, 2017 at 7:13 pm #10806
Dear Claire and Clairification Community,
Inspired by political event, 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 orgs’ 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 to be 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 an 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 then that they need to be tightly interwoven. 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 it’s parts.
Nonprofits that do not fully commit to this 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 the can’t attract and retain talent. Staffing up on highly skilled communications professionals is just the first step: if these rockstars 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.
Onward!February 28, 2017 at 8:37 pm #10807
Matt, thank you so much for this thoughtful and well-written discussion. I could not agree more. As you note, I’ve been “evangelizing” on this subject for years. 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 that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Don’t neglect the fundamentals. True, to some extent. People are still people. Good writing is still good writing. Hearts and souls are still moved by similar triggers.
But 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.
What do others think?