Sunday, March 11, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Can Social Media Drive Major Gifts?

As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, although I occasionally get a response to my posts through the blog link (see the link at the end), most people still send their responses via email to me.

One topic that has popped up a number of times is the question regarding how the Internet will help planned giving and major donor work done by your organization’s Charitable Gift Officers. The gist of the question is, “I understand that the Internet is impacting direct mail, but how will it change working with major donors?”

I am really glad several of you raised this question. Obviously, the huge and looming threat (some would call it an existential threat) to your fundraising group’s ability to raise significant annual support will be the fall-off of direct mail fundraising over this decade. Yes, this decade! Two years ago, when I began to explicitly predict that direct mail fundraising would begin to decline in profitability for fundraising organizations that had large direct mail programs, my views were considered controversial. Now that people are seeing the significant contraction of the Postal Service, it is finally sinking in.

And we have been equally explicit in stating that “if your direct mail program is still profitable, leave it alone.” That statement is not a contradiction to our view that there will be a huge fall-off in the effectiveness and profitability of direct mail fundraising over the next decade, but rather shows our understanding of the internal dynamics of nonprofit fundraising organizations. Of course direct mail will decline as the number of your Depression and WWII cohorts shrink and the use of digital Internet-based communication rises, and each organization will have its own fall-off timeline based on many unique factors. But trying to shift long-tenured direct mail staff in their late 40s, 50s and 60s into online technology doesn’t work. With few exceptions . . . and there are some exceptions . . . online will always be treated as the second fiddle if you force direct mail professionals to also own online. Been there, tried that . . .  IT DOESN’T WORK!

You need to develop a new strategic plan that recognizes that the rise of the Internet is not about transitioning from the way you are doing fundraising today but ultimately transforming to a new fundraising model.  You need to build online as a separate team within fundraising. Developing a plan that leaves your direct mail alone while creating a separate online team (small to begin with) will allow your direct mail team to maximize its declining profitability while your online team grows.

But back to the major gifts and planned giving question.

Charitable Gift Officers are the equivalent of person-to-person sales people in the commercial world. Charitable Gift Officers reach out to a select group of donors that have the ability to make significant donations. They do this by staying in touch with these individuals and in-person meetings. In the past, their methods of staying in touch were limited to phone calls, mail, newsletters, and previously mentioned personal meetings.

But now we are in the Internet age and the quiver of tools has expanded. Methods of staying in touch can still include the above listed methods, but now – depending on the age and online abilities of the potential donor – email, Web links and social media play a growing role.

In the commercial sales world, the advent of sales force automation tools have allowed sales people, who previously could only manually manage upwards of 75 customers, to now easily handle 5 to 10 times that number.  

Creating a new strategy for online development of new donors to replace your direct mail methodology also will impact your planned giving and major donor team, making them more productive and effective.

When we say; “the Internet changes everything,” we are not excluding your Charitable Gift Officers.


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