Tuesday, October 30, 2012

BIG’s Blog: Fundraisers' Future is in the Clouds

Working in the nonprofit fundraising industry, some days I want to laugh and some days I want to cry. No wonder so many fundraising professionals are so confused about the “moment” we are in. Just like in every industry, fundraisers read and follow thought leaders. These are people who think about fundraising and the future of fundraising and write books and articles. And today, most of them also post blogs.

In years gone by it was easy to know when a genuine breakthrough-idea came out. Typically it appeared in book form followed by articles about the book’s central thesis in trade publications. That was the normal pace. But today, weekly or daily blogs and information in general come out much faster. And even the best of the thought leaders can have trouble keeping up.

Where am I going with this?

This past Monday, The Agitator, a weekday blog by Tom Belford and Roger Craver, came out with a blog post entitled “Acquisition – Direct Mail: The Exquisite Corpse.” I like Tom and Roger and I generally like their blog. In their post they quoted a Mr. Chuck Pruitt, the co-managing director of A. B. Data Group, from a piece he wrote in June of 2009 entitled “Chuck Pruitt is Mad.” Apparently what Chuck is mad about is the “myth” that “direct mail is dying.” Chuck then throws out three purported “Facts” that are supposed to support his thesis that direct mail is not dying. Fact #1: The direct mail donor universe is alive and well and actually shows little signs of rapidly diminishing – at least in the next decade. Fact #2: The growth of online fundraising is happening but it is happening much more slowly than predicted. Fact #3: There are enormous multi-channel marketing opportunities out there for smart people with open minds.

Neither I nor anyone else has to spend two seconds responding to the above purported “Facts.” All you have to do is be a direct mail fundraising practitioner to see the cracks in Chuck’s arguments. Better yet, just read DMA, AFP, or Target Analytic’s benchmark reports on the trend lines of direct mail fundraising. Behind all of Chuck’s bluster is a guy who wants everybody to quit talking about direct mail being dead. So, okay Chuck, I’m on your side; direct mail is not dead. Now, can we discuss with fundraisers what is REALLY worth discussing? Outside of those in the nonprofit direct mail fundraising world, nobody in marketing is debating whether direct mail is viable or not.

Do you sense my frustration?

Here is what the rest of the marketing world is focused on because this REALLY matters. Tablets are taking over. In about a two week period, Apple announces the iPad mini, Microsoft is giving us Surface, and Google is expected to offer a new Nexus tablet. In 2011, 31.9 million tablets were sold. By the end of next year, annual tablet sales are projected to be nearly 120 million. All the while PCs, laptops, and notebook numbers are in decline. Just within the past year, the number of adults who own a tablet has doubled from 14% to 31%.
Tablets are not PCs. Tablets are about connecting. They have apps, not traditional software. Meanwhile, the whole software industry is going online.  Whether in business or in our personal lives, people are accessing their programs “in the cloud” to accomplish their tasks.
The world is looking at tablets and smartphones (as they are really in the same category) and trying to figure out if the personal computer in its different forms (PC, laptop, notebook) is dead or dying. Why?  Because THAT has real implications on how people communicate, market, and, ultimately, fundraise.

The direction of personal communication technology within the culture matters. For fundraisers who are seeing declining numbers of Depression and WWII era donors (and need to engage Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials), this REALLY matters.


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