Navigating the Fundraising Maze
Donor development contains a built-in tension that’s not easily solved.
People want their donations to impact lives. In fact, donors would be happy if 100% of their contributions went exclusively to the programs and services that benefit recipients most. That’s a problem, however, because we hear from donors that they are frustrated by two things: they weren’t thanked appropriately, and they don’t know how their money was spent.
Donors expect an organization to respect their communication preferences, they’re delighted to listen to impact stories over coffee and they want their program ideas to be considered. But meeting those expectations costs money.
This tug of war ratchets up pressure on ministry leaders to grow donor engagement while holding costs at bay. It also makes them vulnerable to the continual quest for the silver bullet that will ultimately produce the perfect solution.
Currently, the buzz around emerging fundraising trends includes a whole gamut of high-tech and high-touch tools and methods. There are new developments in major donor and planned giving models; experiential interactions with virtual reality and immersion events; artificial intelligence and augmented reality; ultra-personalized print media; social and online targeted presence; apps, games, donor-driven social enterprise, and “text to experience” on mobile devices, to name a few.
In addition to what’s new, neuroscience research has discovered through imaging of brain activity that physical (print) materials are more “real” to the brain, more connected to memory and brand association, and more likely to produce an emotional response than virtual (digital) communication. This debunks the notion that direct mail has run its course and is now dead. So now a not-for-profit leader must evaluate existing as well as new strategies.
The challenges to vetting trends and refining strategies are real. These challenges include limited staff time, budgets stretched to the limit, and difficulty convincing others in the organization to take a risk. The level of complexity involved in strategically orchestrating offline, online, and face-to-face touch points (choreographed seamlessly to capture donor attention and inspire response) has reached new heights. So how does today’s leader navigate the maze?
So how does today’s leader navigate the maze?
Here are some points to consider:
1. Look to God first, not strategy.
Ask God, who is the provider, what his design is for the provision of resources for this ministry assignment. Ask for wisdom on development strategy.
2. Look inside, next.
Examine whether your heart is following his heart above all else. Surrender your personal ambition and the pride of your reputation to his refining fire to burn away any trace of self-promotion. Pray for humility and selflessness no matter the sacrifice.
3. Look around at your donors.
Examine your assumptions. How much do you really understand about what resonates with your donors? Be careful before generalizing across all donors what you hear from three or four anecdotal comments.
Don’t judge what will work best based on what you like. You are not the donor audience.
4. Look to the desired outcome.
Evaluate outcomes, not outputs. New tools or methods may look impressive but how the donor responds is most important. Don’t get caught up in the sizzle of what looks great, because it is the donors’ opinion that matters most.
Test to see how donors respond. Tests sometimes produce counter-intuitive conclusions. The output may be an attractive communication piece or exciting activity, but if it doesn’t resonate with the donor, it’s not worthwhile.
Identify how to measure impact. Identify numerical metrics that can be tallied and add a narrative describing non-numerical evidence as well.
Overcome inertia and make appropriate changes without waiting to be forced into a move. Lagging behind presents an organizational risk just as much as jumping ahead.
Take the high road on ethics; make sure that there’s no erosion of integrity due to the fear of failure or the lust of getting more money.
Ministry leaders bear a heavy responsibility to continually procure resources for their work. They’re always on the look-out for new tools and methods that will help them move forward.
The vetting process is a challenge that requires great discernment, but the encouragement to leaders is that God is the provider and he generously grants his wisdom to those who seek him. God moves in leaders’ hearts as they make decisions and in donors’ hearts as they give to his work. All those who follow him will flourish.
Shelley Cochrane is the vice president for strategic partnerships with Douglas Shaw & Associates. Throughout her career, Shelley has mobilized tens of thousands of donors to impact hundreds of thousands of lives. Experienced in strategy and innovation proven to grow donors and revenue, Shelley has consulted with ministry leaders in social services, community outreach, international missions, healthcare and more.