Once upon a time I knew what I was doing. I attended The Fundraising School, discovered a host of tried-and-true techniques, mastered the art and science of fundraising transactions and went forth to apply the tools at my disposal. Money was raised.
Fast forward several decades, to sometime about five years ago. I had a dawning realization. I no longer knew what I was doing. I had somehow entered “wing and a prayer” territory. The culprit? Revolutionary and disruptive technology that, simply put, has ended “business as usual.”
What can you think of that has been done the same way for 50 years? For too many nonprofits the answer is fundraising and marketing (aka “development”). And it’s beyond time for a change. In fact, a sea change. It turns out Bob Dylan got it right.
Come gather ‘round people wherever your roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown…
Before the digital revolution, an information imbalance existed. This facilitated a one-way ‘push’ model of marketing/fundraising. We could define our own brand and sell it. Guess what? That imbalance is gone. Everyone has access to information now and chances are good that folks are already two-thirds down the path towards engagement with you before you even know they exist! So you’ve got to think not only about them helping you but about you helping them.
We’re social businesses now. We must move beyond defining ourselves by what we’re not (nonprofit) and begin defining ourselves by what we are (social benefit). We must move beyond outbound telling marketing to inbound sharing marketing. We must source the wisdom of the crowd, and shift our focus from outcomes to value. Merely “transacting” no longer cuts it. Uh oh.
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’…
Fundraising is transactional. It’s about money. When viewed as being about money fundraising, at best, is seen as an onerous chore; a necessary evil. We’ll put it off for as long as possible – sometimes forever. When fundraising is servant to philanthropy – existing only to make possible the types of social change that people value – it rises about the transaction and becomes a catalyst for something people truly want. The Secret of Donor-Centered Fundraising: No Money Involved.
Philanthropy is fundamentally social. It’s about love. What could be more transformational? When you move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). you become a philanthropy facilitator. You move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation.
Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide the chance won’t come again…
Seasoned development professionals must be prophets and remind the social benefit sector that successful fundraising, first and foremost, is about building relationships. To the extent that new social tools help you to do this, wonderful. To the extent the adoption of shiny new objects takes away from your ability to be up close and personal with supporters, not so terrific. That said, screaming that “fundraising is about people; not technology” is just a defensive reaction by those who have no real clue how to smartly embrace our brave new digital world. These are the folks who, like me five years ago, are completely at sea. Sure, there are many “adopters” who have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. But adopting is a far cry from adapting. Only adapting will keep you from drowning.
Keep your eyes open to both the opportunities and the threats presented by new technologies. If you spend time tweeting that could be better spent meeting, eating and greeting, then you’ve lost sight of the big picture. If you link folks back to your email list through your tweets, and thereby build a larger potential supporter pool, now you’re on to something. If you get those folks sharing your stories with their friends and colleagues, engaging in meaningful dialogue about your work and your values, and spreading their joy of giving — now you’re really onto something.
Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you don’t understand…
I’ve heard too many E.D.s, and even development directors, pan social media. They say it’s “a fad” or just something “fun and frothy” that can be added onto more core disciplines like direct mail, major gifts, annual campaign, special events, corporate sponsorships, grants, public/media relations, advertising and marketing communications. They think it can be farmed out to unpaid interns, or relegated to low-level staff.
Even the fundraising profession has not really embraced the digital revolution. I recently taught the CFRE course. One teaches to the test, so I carefully reviewed the materials to optimally prepare my students. I was amazed! Apparently the “powers that be” had determined that social media was not an expertise that Certified Fund Raising Executives should master. Say what?!
The line it is drawn the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be fast…
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.
Please ponder: What’s the number one way you think nonprofit marketing and/or fundraising has changed in the past five years? Or do you think it’s still fundamentally the same?
And one more thing to consider: If you wish to position yourself as a social, transformational business –becoming a philanthropy enabler — the SPECIAL GUIDE: 7 CLAIRIFICATION KEYS TO UNLOCK YOUR NONPROFIT’S FUNDRAISING POTENTIAL may be just the thing. It’s super affordable, chock-full of worksheets and exercises, and comes with a money-back guarantee if you don’t find it helpful.
This post is part of the 2013 Philanthropy, Not Fundraising series.
Flikr photo by epiclectic