In Part 1 of this two-part series I reviewed the ways nonprofit marketing and fundraising have significantly changed in recent years, and what this means for your ability to succeed in raising awareness and money.
I talked about how easy it is for leaders to blame staff, and vice-versa. It’s also easy to get sidetracked, because we’re operating in something of a Wild West frontier. And no one really is clear on the rules of the game.
Within the current zeitgeist, the job of the development professional becomes critical. Your organization needs you to lead. They need you to be an expert strategist, even if they don’t always know this.
If you’re just put into a corner and told to “go forth and raise money” or “go forth and make our name known,” you’re in for a bumpy ride. But you have the power to smooth the way!
Don’t let this bad thing happen to you (you’re a ‘good people’).
I invite you to join me.
Together, we will take your donors on a journey down the joyful pathway to passionate philanthropy.
Your job is to shine a light in the darkness.
People won’t always thank you for this. They won’t always follow you.
But you must try. You must do the right thing, as best you know how. That’s what professionals do. That’s what leaders do.
Sometimes, when it comes to reinvigorating the fundamentals, this can be relatively easy:
- If your boss tells you to squish your font down to 11-point type so you can fit your fundraising appeal onto one page, ask if you can try a test. Then do another version that’s 14-point type and two pages. See which one yields the better result.
- If you’re told you can only send one fundraising appeal a year, ask if you can try a test. Take a random subset of your mailing list and send them two or three appeals. See which group gives the higher cumulative annual gift, and which group renews at the higher rate.
- If you’re told you can only ask for unrestricted gifts, ask if you can try a test. Divide your mailing list and create two appeals and response devices/donation landing pages. In one ask for general operating support. In the other ask for a specific project. See which appeals yields the best results.
Sometimes, when it comes to adapting to new technology, it’s a bit trickier:
- If you’re told you have no resources to invest in branded, online donation pages, develop a ‘show and tell’ to demonstrate how this works in the current nonprofit marketplace. Find a number of other organizations your leaders respect, and show what they are doing (implying that if you’re not in the hunt, you won’t be competitive).
— Everybody in our market does X and Y.
— If we don’t do X and Y, we’ll fall behind.
— If we add A and B, here’s what good things will happen.
— Here’s what we need in order to do these things.
— Here’s how we’ll know it’s working.
- If you’re told no one on your board will participate in Peer-to-Peer (P2P) fundraising, find a champion. You can usually find one or more people willing to discuss the merits of a given strategy. Use this person as an advisor and mentor. Share articles with them. Invite them to webinars and conferences. Slowly get them on your side. They will help you build credibility.
Begin with yourself.
If your development efforts are yielding sub-par results, the best place to look to for change is in the mirror.
This is what will set you apart as a leader.
Look for solutions, not problems.
Try to put yourself inside the minds of those resisting change. Imagine what they may fear. What pressures they may face. Then see if you can help them reframe the issue so they can see a win. Or a lighted pathway.
Rather than dwelling on who’s being an idiot, or who’s messing up, focus your energies on what can be done to move your awareness-building and fundraising efforts to the next level. That’s something everyone can agree on.
If you encounter negativity, focus on positivity.
There’s something quite contagious about a “yes we can!” attitude.
Build your authority and credibility.
I always advised my direct reports of the importance of coming across as a savvy, strategic professional. Respect is earned, not given.
- Sometimes this means dressing the part. If you want to be esteemed as a professional, you may need to put on a suit. Especially in the beginning of your tenure, or the first visit with a donor. First impressions count for a lot with people, like it or not.
- Often it means being up to speed on what’s happening in the profession. When you can quote what you’ve learned and seen from others, it may have more credibility than when it comes just from you. This means reading all you can. Attending online webinars. Sometimes attending in-person educational seminars, workshops or conferences. And maybe finding a mentor or coach.
“I just got back from the Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference, and I learned we should be doing A, B and C. And if we did, we could double the lifetime value of the donors already in our database. I’d love to show you some of the options available for accomplishing this.”
- Often it means being up to speed on what’s happening in your particular marketplace.
“I’ve done some research on other food banks in our region, and they all seem to be having excellent results with monthly giving. In fact, I spoke to the director of development at Second Harvest in the next state, and they’ve increased the average gift by 18% simply by moving to this model. Here’s how I think we could implement a similar program.”
In other words, you must come across strong by making clear recommendations based on evidence and experience.
Development today is a data game.
Always come to the table armed with the facts.
- If you’re failing to acquire new donors, begin by sharing your acquisition rates before you suggest a new acquisition strategy (e.g., P2P fundraising; social media list building; online events).
- If you’re failing to renew donors, begin by sharing your retention rates before you suggest a new stewardship strategy (e.g., thank you videos; social media postcards; thank you landing pages).
- If you’re failing to recapture lapsed donors, begin by sharing your lapse rate before you suggest new strategies (e.g., lapsed donor thankathon; targeted lapsed donor online appeal).
- If few of your social media followers convert to donors, begin by sharing the number of donor/follower overlaps before suggesting conversion strategies (e.g., Facebook ads; social media advocacy campaigns; Facebook live or Google hangouts).
Data tells you in black and white what’s going on with your supporters and would-be supporters. It’s hard to argue with data.
Success begets success.
Whenever you have a win, share it. No one else will.
You don’t have to brag; you simply must report.
Successes build your credibility like nothing else.
And when people believe, they will follow.
And don’t forget to share credit where it is due.
Lead the way, spread the glory and encourage others to take up the gauntlet.
You’ll know you’re succeeding when you hear your words coming out of other people’s mouths.
Always come from a place of donor advocacy.
Your job is to represent your audience’s needs and desires. You should always be asking: “What’s in this for them?”
If your constituents will benefit, then you can defend your position.
Really, there’s no higher ground on which you can stand.
- Remember, learning what you do can be a huge gift to a potential constituent – especially if they or someone they know could benefit from your services.
- Similarly, being offered the opportunity to invest in what you do can be a huge gift – especially if it enables them to enact their values and become the person they want to be.
Did you know MRI studies show our pleasure centers light up when we merely contemplate philanthropy? It’s your job to advocate for giving this opportunity to receive a dopamine rush to your would-be donors.
Why? Because you know that giving brings meaning and joy. Donors can accomplish through you what they cannot accomplish on their own. You don’t want to withhold this opportunity by letting others talk you out of sending a meaningful donor publication or appeal. If you don’t offer gifts, you can’t expect donors to offer them back.
Know when to call it quits.
Once you’ve done everything within your power to develop and reach realistic, stretch goals that will meet the needs of all of your stakeholders, it’s time to reap the results.
Sometimes, this means acknowledging change is not going to happen here.
If you really tried… put your best foot forward… sought advice and counsel from peers and mentors… read the research… learned about best practices and trends… and still, nothing, then you can comfortably call it a day.
Sometimes matches aren’t made in heaven.
If you find you don’t “fit” in the organization you’re in, please don’t cast aspersions on the entire development profession or nonprofit sector.
Move on and find another situation where you can be the change you want to see in the world.
Remember, you know what you’re doing.
You’re good at this. You deserve to be somewhere you can demonstrate this.
The sector needs you.
So does the world.
SUMMARY: Top 10 Leadership To-Do’s to Succeed with Modern Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising
- Get stakeholders on board with your integrated development plan to survive and thrive.
- Get stakeholders fired up about what they can do to move your plan forward.
- Challenge stakeholders to raise the stakes and move to the next level.
- Challenge yourself to raise your own game.
- Educate yourself using data, experience and wisdom gathered from other professionals.
- Gently educate your colleagues about what works/what doesn’t, and why.
- Share successes.
- Give credit where it is due.
- Advocate for your donors.
- Evaluate successes and failures based on evidence.
Need Help Changing Your Existing Dynamics?
Here are two options:
1. Grab my 7 Clairification Keys to Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential. Through a series of clairifying worksheets and individual and group exercises, this 23-page guide will give you fresh insights into how fundraising and marketing have changed more in the past 5 years than in the previous 50.
2. Hire me for an Hour of Power. Or for some ongoing coaching for your development, marketing or other executive staff. I will deliver focus, honest feedback and strategic thinking.