Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BIG’s Blog: A New Golden Age of Fundraising

When I write about a “new” golden age, you might wonder, “What was the old golden age of fundraising?”  Well, for most of your organizations, that was before 2005 and probably between 1985 and 1998. Your direct mail program was king. Your acquisition mailings were cost effectively growing your donor file, and your donor mailings were delivering solid returns.

Yes, that was the old golden age of direct mail fundraising, the likes of which we will never see again. But, of course, it was all built around a transaction-based approach.

There was nothing wrong with that transaction-based approach in its time . . . after all, we were living in the era of broadcast. That was the norm and it worked.

But for charities (and especially for faith-based charities) it was always a bit uncomfortable. I mean, how many of you referred to your direct mail solicitations as “begging letters?” Uncomfortable? Ah, yes.

But that was the methodology that we had and, uncomfortable as it may have been for members of the religious communities or organizations, it nonetheless was the accepted methodology.

But for fundraisers today, the Internet has ushered in a new golden age of fundraising. Today, the Internet allows your organization to connect with people online. And when I say “connect,” I don’t mean just looking at your Website. I mean connect, as in two-way interactive communications.
The old paradigm of “appealing” for donations is fading as fast as the Depression and WWII generations are passing.

Today people don’t want to be manipulated into a gift. People want a relationship . . . a connection . . . with the charities they support. They want to know what is happening all the time. They want to be kept informed. And occasionally they want to talk with somebody. They want to connect and feel like they have a relationship. Even if your organization is national in scope, they want it to feel local to them.

What do I mean by “relationship?” I mean that they want to know the people and the work of the organization. Young people in their 20s and 30s might even want to get involved in your mission. There must be a human connection.

Some of you reading may think that I am overstating this. After all, your organizations continue to raise money the old fashion way. To that I say, “Thank God!” But very quickly . . . if you haven’t already seen it . . . you will start to see donations falling off. One look at your donor file will tell you what is wrong. Your donors are mostly over 68 years old. Why do I pick 68 years old? Because that is the youngest age of the WWII generation. The youngest !

So, what is the real story here beyond the “cutesy” phrase of the “New Golden Age of Fundraising?”

The “real story” is the light bulb going on in your head with the realization that things have now shifted to a point where the old isn’t working so well. And if there weren’t an alternative . . . in fact a great alternative . . . the situation would be dire. But in fact the proverbial “old” door closes and the “new” door opens up. And what a door it is, especially for those of you who desperately want to move beyond “begging letters.”

The Internet is opening doors that didn’t exist before, and now the Internet and Internet-based tools aren’t just opening up doors; the doors are being blown apart.

This is the real story here. And the sooner fundraisers quit holding on to what they know . . . as if it is a safety net . . . the sooner they begin to reach new and younger potential supporters by building relationships with them.

You need to reframe the conversation of where you are going. It is about transformation. Eliminate the word “concern” from your personal lexicon. Roll up your sleeves and look at new technologies and ideas of where fundraising can change and how relationship-focused Development/Advancement is better and more in synch with the people and the mission of your organization.

Quit making assumptions until you have looked and examined it yourself. Withhold judgment until you have formed your own opinion.

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