Nonprofit marketing and fundraising have undergone a larger change in the past eight years than the previous 50.
It began around the time of the Great Recession of 2008.
This caused retrenching and a bit of dislocation, causing many businesses – nonprofit and otherwise – to get a bit stuck (See Warning: Have You Caught Deadly Nonprofit Lemonade Standitis?).
They failed to fully recognize, let alone embrace, the change happening around them.
It’s not just the tech sector that changed.
The social sector evolved as well.
As did donor behavior.
If your nonprofit has not already done so, this is the year for a mission and operations check-up.
In a recent article I wrote:
There is so much change occurring in the world around us, and at such an unprecedented, rapid pace, that it’s sometimes challenging to make sense of it all. And, in particular, our place in it all. How will we face the world of 2017 and beyond? What challenges will we take on, and how? What can we do as individuals, as groups, as organizations, and as a community to adapt, stay positive and make a beneficial impact on the world within and around us — ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors and strangers. What can we do, especially, to protect and defend and care for the most vulnerable among us? What can we do that is not just transactional, but transformational?
As you strive to stay relevant in the current zeitgeist, there are questions leaders — staff and volunteers — should be asking. I encourage you to do so as a team. Have staff meetings, together and by department. Make this your agenda for a board and/or committee meeting. Bring everyone together for a mission-focused retreat. Struggle to get your new bearings, so you can face the future with renewed energy and purpose.
Ask yourself: “What is our overarching raison d’être, and has it changed over the past eight years?”
- Are the needs you’re addressing changing? How?
- What have changes in needs meant for the way you deliver services?
- Are projected changes in the economy and/or public policy likely to affect your constituents? How?
- Are you still creating positive change in the most effective way possible?
- Do you see new needs emerging?
- Is there more you could be doing to address current and projected needs?
- Are there things you should be doing differently?
Ask yourself: “Based on the fluctuations and trends we’ve seen in the marketplace, have we altered our modus operandi to reflect these changes?”
- Is your mission statement reflective of the ways you’ve evolved?
- Are your marketing messages reflective of the ways you’ve evolved?
- Are your constituencies the same, or different, than they were eight years ago?
- Are you meeting your constituents where they are?
- Is your marketing messaging integrated with your fundraising communications?
- Are your offline and online content marketing cohesive?
Ask yourself: “Do we have the leadership and infrastructure in place to effectively fulfill our mission, today and tomorrow?”
- Are you still using yesterday’s database?
- Do you have an integrated CRM to help you manage online engagement?
- Do you have the budget you need to operationalize and manage the technology you need to succeed today?
- Do your staff have the skills they need for today’s digitally revolutionized marketplace? If not, can you train them, outsource for them or hire new employees?
- Do your volunteer leaders have the skills and connections you need to reach your goals? If not, what will it take to get there?
Don’t get stuck in implementation mode.
In implementation mode, you simply do what you did before. Even if this worked well in the past, this doesn’t mean that it still will.
In implementation mode, you don’t rock the boat. You keep the same board members, rather than setting term limits so you regularly infuse the organization with new energy and ideas.
In implementation mode, you keep your head down and work. This may mean working really, really hard. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s smart.
In implementation mode, the strategic planning process is little more than cut/paste/edit from last year. A few things fall off the plate; a few things get added. But the plate looks very much the same in size, shape and color.
In implementation mode, no one asks the critical question: “Does this still make sense?”
Don’t go it alone. We’re stronger together.
I recently read Embracing Partnerships to Widen Impact by Masha Pearl, executive director of The Blue Card, a national nonprofit that assists Holocaust survivors. She wrote of the changes of the past eight years, and how they’ve forced many social benefit organizations – including hers — to rethink how they communicate and execute on their missions.
“Indeed, if we learned anything from the economic downturn of 2008-09, it’s that it is just as important to diversify one’s operational strategy as it is one’s fundraising strategy. By forging partnerships and taking advantage of synergies with a variety of public- and private-sector agencies, we’ve been able to increase our programmatic offerings while keeping our operational structure lean and nimble.”
The Blue Card reframed the way they did business by recognizing that nonprofits, government and socially responsible businesses focused on the same problem or cause invariably share the same goal.
So they teamed up with these folks to collaborate. In so doing, they found funders willing to increase their support because they knew the extra dollars wouldn’t be used to underwrite duplicative services or programs. Smart, no?
Several specific examples are cited in the article. Bottom line for you to consider:
- Identify entities that do similar work to yours. Maybe by working together you’ll be stronger and attract more funding.
- Network and form relationships. Figure out what you do best, and try to find partners who do something else best.
- Be open to new ideas and opportunities. Stop making your default response “No.”
- Embrace a collaborative mindset. The meaning of “collaborate” is to work jointly. Set clear expectations and boundaries.
- Be willing to give as well as get. Walk the talk. Don’t make it all about you. Make it about mission-focused outcomes.
Don’t treat all generations the same.
This advice has always been true, but it’s more important than ever in the post-digital marketplace.
Because today the difference between marketing to different generations is not just how you approach them, but also where. If you don’t meet potential new supporters on their turf, you’re unlikely to meet them at all.
You’ve got to layer social media appeals on top of your email. Millennials and Gen Z don’t use mail and email as their communications portal of choice. You reach them via text or social media. Or you don’t really reach them. Your e-appeal may end up in their in-box, but they may not view it for several days. So you’re wasting your efforts if all you do is send out an email appeal. You must guard against becoming irrelevant in the digital age.
You should invest more heavily in peer-to-peer fundraising. Millennials’ social networks play a significant role in influencing which causes they will support. The 2013 Millennial Impact Report revealed that 64% of millennials surveyed said they had raised funds for a walk/run/cycling event for charity; while 45% said they’re not afraid to ask family and friends for money if they feel strongly about a cause.Engage your constituens, much as you engage organizations, businesses and government offline, to collaborate on behalf of the values you share.
You must engage constituents of every generation online. If you can’t afford different strokes for different folks (i.e., segmented appeals), consider an integrated, common denominator marketing/fundraising strategy aimed at “Generation Connected” (Gen C) — almost all of whom are online. Yes, the lion’s share of every generation today is active online. The average person worldwide has five social media accounts and spends an average of 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day. Make development of an integrated online social marketing and fundraising strategy a priority.
Look change squarely in the face, and embrace the opportunity.
Don’t allow the rather pessimistic philosophy of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose blind you to the fact that change does happen. And it does matter.
Take advantage of the tools available to you today to engage new partners in your fight to make our world a better place.
In both the short and long-term, it will be well worth your investment.
What are you and your organization doing to adapt to changes in your environment?
Photo by Claire Axelrad as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums.