It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark

Recently I had some fundraisers over to catch up on fundraising developments. They wanted to pick my brain on what I think is “good fundraising” and “where things are going”. These conversations are always interesting, because it helps me shape my own thinking on what is really important to work on.

A diversity of topics surfaced the table in approximately 90 minutes: acquisition channels, retention programs, engagement opportunities, stricter privacy laws, reporting environments, team structure, key information sources, etc.

Because acquisition always seems to get more difficult, it is a topic that is always addressed. This is wonderful, because we absolutely need to talk about it. But it’s not enough to talk about it as part of a 90 minute informal exchange of ideas. If we’re serious about creating new recruitment channels, before the old ones are completely gone, we need to hurry up.

Why is that we’re still not serious about the replacement of recruitment channels that are fading away?

So… It’s not really a cycle, it’s not really scientific, it’s very subjective, it’s descriptive instead of predictive, but nonetheless a very interesting and useful way of looking at your acquisition portfolio: the Hype cycle.

A hype cycle is a graphic representation of the maturity, adoption and social application of specific technologies. The term was coined by Gartner, Inc. (Wikipedia)


The 5 phases in the cycle can easily be adapted for your acquisition portfolio if you replace “technology” with “acquisition channel”, change the original phase definitions in our own fundraising language and use some more imagination. Basically I only want to use the graph.

It’s not the Holy Grail, but if you understand these successive stages, you will be prepared of what is coming and, most importantly, it will make you a better fundraiser: you will start to think about new ways to recruit donors.

The 5 Hype cycle phases adjusted to (y)our fundraising acquisition market:

(1)    It’s a boy!
The first phase is the launch of the new acquisition channel and everybody is getting excited.

(2)    It’s brilliant, let’s all do it and do more of it!
In the next phase fundraisers get really excited. Everybody is copying the concept and is going full force ahead. The majority of the market is doing it. And without any respect for the market boundaries. We recruit on a large scale and prefer quantity above quality. The channel is so promising that we totally forget our surroundings and recruit blindly!

(3)    Houston, we’ve got a problem!
Next, the first great results are far behind us, we’re going down, we’re panicking, because this was the only horse we were betting on…

(4)    Get back in the saddle…
The only horse is still alive and we’re testing everything we can to keep it alive. And because we test and pay attention to the quality the results are going up again.

(5)    It’s OK, not great, but OK.
We’ve managed to improve the channel slightly and it becomes part of our acquisition mix, but we’ll never reach those first results again. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether charities are capable of continuous innovation.

This post is actually about innovation. It should prepare you: WHEN do you need to innovate yourself, before you’re too late? Shouldn’t you have acquisition channels represented in all 5 phases? It’s a sort of succession planning. Be prepared for what’s coming (or going). It wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark! (Howard Ruff)

So, please share with the rest of us: How do you prepare for the future?


P.S. Next week Sarah Clifton will continue this thread with some additional ideas and a checklist for planning ahead in donor acquisition. Watch this space!

P.P.S. As much as this was supposed to be a post to prepare you for the future, it turns out to also be a post raising the question whether we can change this pattern. Especially phase 2 seems to be disastrous; a more gradually increasing curve would be more ideal, don’t you think?

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