Friday, November 23, 2012

BIG’s Blog: A Virtuous Cycle versus A Vicious Cycle

For some reason, we hear way more about “the vicious cycle” than we hear about the “virtuous cycle.” Both are economic terms but are opposite sides of the same coin, so to speak. Both refer to complex chains of events that reinforce themselves through some sort of feedback loop. A virtuous cycle has favorable results, while a vicious cycle has detrimental results.

What does this have to do with fundraising? Well, today, about everything. The goal needs to be to move into a virtuous cycle whereby we are aligning our fundraising methods and organization with younger supporters, beginning with the Baby Boomers. This alignment is driven by how people, approximately age 66 and younger, actually consume information, communicate, and think about their relationship with the organizations they support today. Okay, if you want to get very precise, then cede the older Boomers to the WWII generational cohort and focus on those born in 1952 and later. This group tops out at age 60 and very much represents the digital-adopter cohort.

Right now fundraisers continue to focus on the method of fundraising rather than the target of their efforts. By focusing on the method – because that is what they know – they don’t see that the target has shifted in how they communicate. The result is that declining direct mail results have started a vicious cycle that spirals down until the fundraising organization essentially collapses. Three years? Five years? Eight years? Next year?

But almost every fundraising organization I talk with points to their updated Website, Facebook page, and their increasing use of emails as proof that they have “shifted” with their target prospects and current donors.

Yet, the vicious cycle of decline continues.

What’s the problem?

Well, unfortunately, something has to break the vicious cycle.

In economic terms, the cycle will continue in the direction of its momentum until an external factor intervenes and breaks the cycle.

There are two ways you can read that. Either it’s inevitably a bad ending, or, through choice you can bring the vicious cycle to an end and replace it with a virtuous cycle which, as I pointed out above, has a favorable result.

For fundraisers, it’s not pre-ordained. It’s a choice.

In other areas of life, some things are out of your control and happy endings are not possible. I was watching the PBS Ken Burns documentary The Dust Bowl the other night. To see what those poor farmers and their families went through on the southern plains, especially southern Kansas and northwestern Oklahoma, you actually started to wonder why they would put up with that life year after dry and dusty year. Then, in one of the interviews with people who were children back then, now in their eighties and nineties, one of them said, “We learn slow. If our crops were failing one year, we just worked harder the next year doing the same thing we had failed at before.”

Eventually, the natural disaster of the drought and dust bowl years broke most of the farmers and they started the great American migration west that is the basis for John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath.   

Those farmers and their families were at the mercy of elements beyond their control. But fundraisers can choose to end their vicious cycle and begin a virtuous cycle that will bring a much happier ending to their story.


Welcome to BIG's Blog!  Please feel free to forward this post to your friends and coworkers...and email me a comment at:

No comments:

Post a Comment