I’ve just been watching the movie, Selma. It tells the story of the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King and his frustration at the slow pace for bringing about change and the right to vote for all. Dr King mobilises action, leading to front page headlines and photos of his followers as the authorities clamp down on their non violent protest. President Johnson, troubled by the headlines and photos on the front pages of the main newspapers, is finally stirred to act.
On Saturday the London Times front page had a headline and picture that I’m sure caught the eye of many trustees in the UK. The associated picture – even though it was a different story – further accentuated the point. This is the latest in front page stories on the clamp down on fundraising.
The coverage in the last few months has often been skewed and sensationalised. But my point is, this is an opportunity for changing how we approach fundraising and the pressures put on fundraisers from above. The time is now.
Whether you are a fundraiser, a consultant, or part of an agency these are the actions you can take right now:
1. Understand why. Believe me when you get the ‘why’ it will help you push through change far better. People resist change so you will need to be determined. By ‘why’ I mean the root causes not the symptoms. There are plenty of publications which explain why marketing has profoundly changed – we desperately need to catch up. My personal favourites are Sticky Marketing by Grant Leboff, and The New Rules of Fundraising by David Merman Scott. Neither of these books are written for the voluntary sector – but that’s the fun – you can start to translate it to our context. By reading them you will understand why old style broadcast market that interrupts our day no longer works. Worse, it really irritates the hell out of us. If you want one written for our sector then check out Beth Kanter’s excellent The Networked Non-Profit and her wonderful concept of ‘social capital’. They don’t just help you understand the problem they help you see the solution!
Given you can download these electronically, even browse for free the opening chapter, or order on Amazon and have them within days, you really have no excuse. A great holiday read. Here is essence is what I would boil it down to:
- Everyone is now a channel and connected in ways they never have been before. They each have social capital with their own network of contacts which is greater than the social capital we will have with their network of contacts.
- So we need a narrative/story across our entire organisation that our supporters will spread for us and so leverage their social capital.
- As our story is spread by others we need to look at fundraising holistically – how it all connects – so the overall ROI is driven by return on engagement.
When you understand why, then what to do and how become clear. You’ll be able to lead the change and understand what not to do. So what next?
2. Bring solutions not problems. Be proactive and put forward your strategy and plan to respond to the current situation to your board of trustees, director of fundraising, or client. Right now, with the growing number of headlines, you have a greater chance they will listen. They will be worrying what it means. If you don’t operate in the UK, you can point to the headlines and chaos as an early sign of what could come. It may take time, but time is all it will take. So get cracking. The time to act is now.
The strategic basis for what you could say is this:
Recognising all our *supporters are now potential channels and connected, we will inspire and equip them with our story to leverage their social capital to maximise income across our entire fundraising portfolio.
* supporters = donors, campaigners, service users, staff, corporate partners, suppliers, beneficiaries, …
Now the donor experience has a strategic basis – it’s not just words “we need to provide a better donor experience”. Now you have a reason why. Your donors open doors, they don’t just give you money. We need to inspire them – even if they don’t give. Yes even if they don’t give! Their social capital is as valuable because of funds it could release – a major gift, a trust grant, a corporate partnership.
If you are struggling with this concept of social capital then stop and look at yourself. Think about the friends and contacts you know. Who they know. You’ll start to appreciate the connections you have. Multiply that by all your supporters.
So you know why and you have a strategy to deal with it. What next? The time to act is now.
3. Just get on with it. My dad taught me a great principle when he operated in the Royal Air Force (it doesn’t get much more hierarchical) – ask for forgiveness not permission. Rather than wait for an answer – just state this is what I am now implementing (and why) and get on with it. If your leadership have a problem they will soon say. If you wait for permission it will probably never happen.
Once you understand the why and unpack what it means for your organisation it’s obvious what this means you now need to do:
• Invest time and resources in awesome supporter care. Focus on activities that really engage – face to face time, real phone conversations, great communications that involve us. Divert some of that old acquisition budget to engagement – after all it’s your existing supporters that will attract you new ones, and more.
• Story, story story. What’s the story you need to tell across your organisation? Get your comms specialists to figure it out not get it out. It needs to be consistent across your organisation. It will need to be compelling and sticky. We have the best stories full of heroes and villains, and huge obstacles to overcome. Don’t forget the struggle is a key part of the story. Then focus your resources on equipping all your supporters to share and tell it. That includes your staff, especially your leadership, to give it that authentic voice. The very process of sharing the story with, and by, your supporters is engagement !
• Start putting in place new measures. The only ROI that matters is the overall one. You now need to think return on engagement. Measure engagement coming back, not just money. Conversations, feedback, letters, emails, comments, RTs. Measure something and it will happen more. And the money will follow. I believe it will be greater than applying the old ROI approach to fundraising which pushes you to focus away from activities that truly engage.
There is a danger I sound like a broken record. The essential elements are contained in the blog I wrote on 101fundraising back in September 2014 – Wake up to The New Rules of Fundraising. It might be simple but it will not be easy. It will take time. There will be failure along the way. Despite this, given the huge cost of acquisition based on the old ways, I doubt net income will fall. And failure with learning always leads to insight and progress. ‘Fail – learn – leap’ is a mantra I was once told. So we need to learn and share together. After all, we can all blog.
The time to act is now while we have the attention of our leaders. We can’t wait for change. There are lives to save, diseases to cure, social issues to solve. What a great time to be a fundraiser. What a great time to be a donor.
The time is now. Comrades you must act. Don’t wait. Vive la révolution!