The last word

This is the very last 101fundraising blog post of 2012 and incidentally also our 200th. It therefore seems doubly appropriate to round out the year with a retrospective look at the year (almost) gone by.

For me personally and professionally 2012 has been – more than any year yet – one of tremendous learning. Some things I have learned through study or testing. And also many through mistakes and failure.  But now, after taking stock, I’m very glad for both.

So what are my big lessons from the year?

Continuous acquisition of new donors is just as important as a good retention program.

While the real fundraising happens (at least traditionally) within our existing base of donors, I’ve come to think much differently about the necessity of having a strong and constantly (re)innovative program to attract new supporters.

Having worked historically in a very large market for relatively small organisations, I never had to think in more than a cursory way about market positioning, channel diversification, etc.  But after coming to work in a much smaller and highly competitive market, suddenly the need to have a sharp, forward-thinking and ingenious recruitment programme seems much more pressing.

And although my change in thinking is driven by experience in a new market, I can’t help wondering if, even though it didn’t seem necessary at the time, I could have done a lot more for the small organisations in the U.S. if I had invested more time and energy on testing new channels and finding new types of supporters.

I have also learned this year that branding and name recognition are far more essential to a successful acquisition program than I previously thought. Sure, there are those who will give just by hearing what great work you do. But if you really want to grow, it helps if the general population (or at least the population of those who are trying to recruit) already know something about your work.

So in 2013, I will pay a lot more attention to my communications colleagues when they start talking about positioning documents, brand guidelines, brand keys and so forth.

Engage (potential) donors emotionally rather than transactionally.

Emotion in fundraising has been something of a theme this year on 101fundraising, and it was reiterated for me at IFC when Bill Toliver characterised seven stages of engagement, using the analogy of buying a car or jewerly.

In contrast to buying groceries or a toy (a merely transactional purchase), donors who stay with an organisation through thick and thin have likely gone through a decision-making process much more intimate and reflective.

And this approach to building loyalty is not merely ‘soft’. It’s also reflected in the increased application of the segmentation models that more and more organisations are using. Models that weigh donors’ non-financial engagement and commitment have replaced the old purely transactional RFM matrix.

Innovate or fail.

The world is changing rapidly, and with the current economic climate and international and generational transfers of wealth, the role of a fundraiser seems increasingly complex. It is no longer sufficient to just keep doing the same thing that has always worked. Sooner or later, things will change. This year we have also seen a number of posts on 101fundraising about innovation, product and channel lifecycles and planning ahead. And with good reason, because many of us have found ourselves caught off guard, without a back-up plan. This year has shown me the importance of always thinking about the future.

Lastly I have in 2012 not so much learned but come to accept that – to bastardize an expression that we use often in fundraising – you sometimes have to learn to walk while you are running. Change is messy. People are messy. Groups of people are even more messy. And groups of people creating change are especially messy. And as fundraisers, creating change in the world stands at the core of our motivation and our practice.

And so I have in 2012 learned to better appreciate the mess, though it sometimes feels chaotic, as a sign of a highly engaged, functionally diverse and roundly creative team. And even to be grateful for it, because it means that we continue to reinvent ourselves.

Finally, in the spirit of the season, a New Year’s resolution:

Will we go the distance next year to ensure the success of the causes we cherish? Can we be more than just professional fundraisers, but earnest champions for the people, animals, planet and values we represent? I hope so. Let’s resolve to begin 2013 as a sector with soaring expectations but also a healthy fear of failure.

Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season, and see you back here in 2013!

p.s. Be sure not to miss the best blog posts of Q4 this Thursday! Check back here or subscribe to 101fundraising.


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