Here be dragons

Fundraising needs to change. The way ahead is unchartered. It’s going to need those with courage, and an appetite to try the unknown – fundraisers willing to explore a different approach, feel the fear, and do it anyway.

Of course there are many who will not chose to tread such a path – they will wait until the way is safe, stick to what they know and can measure, and the fire breathing dragons are dispelled.  That’s ok (but don’t belittle those adventurers that take the path on our behalf).

Fortunately there are some pioneers who have helped pave the way and left a guide. One of my guides is a book by Grant Leboff called Sticky Marketing. There are others – but this one stands out for me. I’ve recommended the book countless times. Those peers that have taken the trouble to buy it and read it agree (I also come across many who say they haven’t quite got round to doing either).

How often do we take time to read something and really digest it? Often we have to fit it in outside working hours. Could you sit and read a book at work and not be frowned upon? Yet now could not be a more important time to do just that. I’d go as far as to create a book club within your organisation to dissect Sticky Marketing, alongside ‘guide books’ by the likes of David Meerman Scott, Bernadette Jiwa, and Beth Kanter. They are great thinkers that challenge what we do.

Sticky Marketing, and its updated version, Stickier Marketing, wasn’t written with fundraising and the voluntary sector in mind, so it needs translating to our context. Actually, the process of doing that in your mind really helps you think about what it says. I revisit this ‘guide’ book many times – it helps me pause and think.  When I first read it I suddenly understood the cause of the symptoms I was seeing all around me, and like a doctor knowing the root cause it helps you diagnose what to do next. I suspect even with best intentions you will not get around to reading it. So let me share some of the conclusions from Sticky Marketing to help get you started.

Everyone is now a channel

At the core of what it says is simply this: everyone is now a channel and has the ability to spread ideas. That fundamentally changes marketing, and that includes fundraising in all its guises. In fact I think it has a more profound impact on us than the for-profit world.

Stickier Marketing spells out three golden rules.

The first is: Marketing is about building communities. “An engaged community become your best marketers”. And of course it’s far better your story comes from them – your community of supporters – as their network is far more likely to listen to the story as a result. Better still if your story becomes their story i.e. they own it, hence creating a community. This begins to leverage their ‘social capital’. And in this increasingly connected world you do not know who people know. So ask yourself, what would you do if your objective was to build a community (that feels very different to building a donor base that you target)? Hence the need for activities that engage people and unite them in achieving your mission.

The second golden rule is: Marketing communications should focus on people. “It’s not about products or services, it’s about experiences”. So in our context it’s the experience when you give, after you give, when you don’t give. Grant Leboff writes “What touches someone and excites individuals are emotions and stories and understanding how something will affect them and make a difference to their lives”. Emotion and stories – that’s our territory! And in our context it’s making a difference to other people’s lives too.

What’s your story? Is it compelling and one that others will pass on? Is it consistent across the entire organisation? How do your stories make people feel? What experience do your staff and volunteers pass on to those they engage? Have you tried making a donation to the charity you work for online? What’s the experience? If you phone your office how are you treated? If you arrive at your office how are you treated? Do you achieve ‘wow’ on all of the above?

Focus on the experience as much as you do to create a fundraising proposition or product.

The final golden rule is: Marketing is no longer a means to an end, but an end in itself. It’s not about the response, i.e. sending out 10,000 letters and focusing on getting 10%+ to respond and thinking the other 90% are irrelevant.  Think of your marketing as an asset that you build – not one you spend, use and discard.

It’s no longer how to get money out of me – it’s how to inspire me to spread your story. They are very different approaches. So our communications need to provide value – whether it’s an appeal or a thank you letter – a phone call or asking face to face – whether people choose to give at that moment or not.

And it’s worth emphasising again and again, I and my network could open the door to a grant, a major donor, a corporate partner. To do so, and release my social capital, you need to inspire me (so pressing home an ask for £5 a month in a mailing, on the doorstep or on the phone doesn’t do that – in fact it often does the opposite). You need to make your mission matter to me.

Apply these rules and you attract people who will want to engage with you. Sounds like ‘opt ins’ to me. It’s not just an alternative approach. It’s a solution to the firestorm the UK finds itself in from sticking to traditional forms of marketing. This doesn’t recognise we are all now channels and our opinion matters to our trusted networks – and that includes bad experiences too! In fact ‘there be dragons’ – there right behind you, not ahead! So join the adventurers and explorers. It might be unchartered but together we can share our learning as we go.

I’ve used Sticky Marketing as a guide book for the last 5 years during my time at SolarAid. We focused on our story, prioritised giving a great donor experience and equipped supporters to be our advocates and spread our story for us.  And my conclusion?  It works – creating a community of supporters that builds organically, growing the number of inbound ‘sticky’ opportunities across all income streams, which are so much easier to close when people come to you. And if you succeed in securing their support they are more likely to stick with you too. Its sustainable cost effective fundraising that helps deliver on your mission – because your mission is what will inspire people to share your story (and that’s when the magic begins).

The reason to provide a book review is I genuinely think it’s a game changer that will give you the right mindset and help guide you through the path we now must take.

I’m delighted Grant Leboff has also agreed to be part of The Commission on the Donor Experience. So although he is in demand with our for-profit marketing cousins, he can help us define our golden rules for fundraising. Ones where we create communities who willingly advocate on our behalf because of the experience we give them and the inspiring stories we equip them with – because … we are all now channels. The magic land, free of fire breathing dragons, awaits you. Join us.


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