49 posts categorized "author-Derrick Feldmann"

My Way, Your Way, and the Highway

February 14, 2019

My way orWorking on a cause or leading a movement today means managing a team of people whose ages, backgrounds, work styles, expertise levels, and personality traits can be all over the place. And the backgrounds of your donors and stakeholders can be just as varied. Sooner or later, it raises the question: Are you prepared to manage the inevitable (though often hidden) tension that arises between young and old, new and experienced, impetuous and measured?

I've heard lots of stories in which a seasoned nonprofit veteran sees a new recruit to the cause begin to get attention for her ideas and becomes disgruntled, even resentful, while the new hire just thinks the more experienced colleague is being unreasonable and stubborn. Meanwhile, the tension between them mounts, with each wishing the other would just go away.

The same kind of tension can occur between organizations, creating a monumental stumbling block to significant, sustainable change as donors and supporters sort themselves into opposing camps.

That's more than a shame. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report 2019, "The world faced a growing number of complex and interconnected challenges in 2018. From climate change and slowing global growth to economic inequality, we will struggle if we do not work together in the face of these simultaneous challenges."

In other words, if we expect to make any progress on the urgent challenges at hand, it's imperative that we all do what we can to minimize this kind of tension.

I know, it sounds difficult. But it's not; it just requires a shift in mindset. You could, for example:

  • Reach out to organizations or individuals you've never considered as a potential partner and initiate a conversation around a mutual purpose or shared goals related to something you have in common.
  • Look to form partnerships that actively benefit constituents who are undeserved, or not served at all.
  • Create joint ventures and co-marketing opportunities that focus donors' attention on a single objective, rather than distracting them with multiple appeals and calls to action.

How and Why It Works

Consider the World Economic Forum's System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Food. Through the initiative, WEF hopes to facilitate the creation of "inclusive, sustainable, efficient, and nutritious food systems through market-based action and collaboration in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals." Among other things, the initiative hopes to improve the ways food is tracked from where it's grown to where it is consumed (a process known as "traceability"). For traceability to work, however, unprecedented collaboration involving governments, tech companies, agribusinesses, retailers, food producers, and civil society leaders will have to take place and become the norm.

One key to success will be the reception afforded new entrants and players in already established food production and distribution systems.

Remember how I started this post? 

  • Will new concepts and challenges to current approaches be openly and honestly debated and weighed?
  • Have "safe places" been established for the deliberate, authentic sharing of knowledge?
  • Will stakeholders grant the space, time, resources, and tolerance for risk that are needed for real, sustainable innovation to take place?

In my opinion, the real issue hampering collaborations today arises from the very human desire each of us harbors to be the person who solves or dramatically advances an issue. Irony notwithstanding, that impulse is perhaps the biggest obstacle to any organization or group of people being real drivers of change.

Getting In Our Own Way

In a recent post here on PhilanTopic, I wrote about how we, as representatives of our organizations, want people to keep our nonprofits top-of-mind and appreciate us for the work we do, but that such a mindset runs counter to how people in real life actually engage with a cause, in that it tends to make us, rather than the people we want to help, the focus of attention.

Similarly, when we choose to partner with other organizations, it's often because we're interested in having more people learn how great our organization is. From annual reports that lack any discussion about things that failed to inauthentic marketing language, the message for donors is predictable: Our organization is the best positioned to solve a particular problem, and we’re working harder than anyone else to do so.

Such a mindset comes at a huge cost: over time, we lose sight of the bigger goal and shut ourselves off from new ideas that could help us address the problems we all want to fix.

Remember that the next time you're in a meeting and the discussion starts to pit a seasoned veteran against a new person, the way it’s always been done against the “let’s think different” approach, the way your organization does things against the way a partner does things. Only by recognizing that we all have biases and acknowledging that neither we nor our organization have a monopoly on good ideas can we hope to advance meaningful and lasting social change. It may not be easy, but it's definitely worth the effort.

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

Be Bold, Take Risks

January 10, 2019

Take_the_leapEvery year for the last decade or so, organizations have shared their ideas for engaging millennials with me and then asked for my feedback. Thinking about it over the holidays, I realized I received about the same number of approaches in 2018 as in previous years.

I've been studying millennial cause engagement with the Case Foundation for most of that time and have shared all kinds of research findings and insights through the Millennial Impact Project and the newer Cause and Social Influence initiative. Organizations seek me out for advice about their own particular situation, especially as it relates to what is now the largest generation in America. Typically, they do so for one of the following reasons:

  1. they have not been able to cultivate a younger donor base;
  2. their past success is being challenged by new ways of looking at their issue, new technologies, or both;
  3. their donor engagement levels have plateaued; and/or
  4. their revenues have been trending downward and the future looks grim.

After a decade of fielding such approaches, I can usually sniff out whether an organization has what it takes to change — and by that, I mean the kind of change needed not only to attract a new and younger audience, but to engage any person, regardless of age, with an interest in their cause.

Change is hard. It demands a willingness on the part of leadership and staff to leave the status quo behind and push in the direction of a new guiding vision. In other words, it requires people to be fearless.

This kind of approach to change is detailed beautifully by Jean Case in her new book, Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose.

In her book, Jean describes a set of five principles that can be used by any individual or organization to become more relevant and valued in today's fast-changing world. The five principles are:

1: Make a Big Bet. To build a movement or drive real change, organizations (or individuals) need to step outside their comfort zone and make an audacious bet on something they ordinarily would reject as too ambitious or difficult. And the risks associated with a big bet, says Jean, can be mitigated, if organizations are willing to learn and course correct along the way.

If you want to target a younger demographic, go ahead and do it in a big but measurable way that will teach you something. A/B testing one line in an email campaign to a purchased list is a small bet involving little risk and with little potential for changing anything. Building a canvassing team to collect emails at, say, a popular music festival and then tracking engagement after the event is over is a bigger bet involving more time and expense for an unknown return. Creating a mobile unit to travel to locales around the country where younger people tend to live, work, and play and then identifying influencers, micro-influencers, and potential supporters is a much bigger, more expensive bet and thus a much bigger risk. But it's big bets like that which lead to new discoveries and have the potential to propel your cause or movement forward.

2: Be Bold, Take Risks. We all need space and the permission to take risks, especially If we are looking to advance a cause or build a movement. Absent a willingness to take risks, we inevitably become complacent and are unlikely to ever tap into the creativity and enthusiasm needed to drive real change.

Internally, then, organizational cultures need to change from a stance of avoiding risk to one in which it is embraced. In practice, cause leaders should document the risks and lessons that may result from a new idea, campaign, or approach, then inform and reassure staff that though an action has its risks, the potential outcomes and learnings to be gleaned from it are worth more in the long run than not doing anything at all.

3: Make Failure Matter. Each action we take as an organization or individual brings us a step closer to defining a new hypothesis or proving an existing one. I get excited when someone calls me and says, "We tried this and it didn't work, but we learned something" — not because I want to see them fail, but because I know they're taking steps to creating an even better movement or organization built on tested methods and disciplined iteration.

Before you launch your next call to action, campaign, or event, take the time to gather from your internal stakeholders all the hypotheses you hope to test and then post them on a wall or whiteboard. Then, after the campaign or event is over, regroup and determine which of the hypotheses proved out and which didn't, what you think you learned, and what you need to test next.

4: Reach Beyond Your Bubble. "Partnership" is an overused word in the nonprofit sector. Today, being a partner is an expectation, as is finding ways to join forces with others around a common approach to social impact. That said, it tends to be the unlikely partnership that generates the most meaningful change for the issues we serve.

In other words, look beyond the tried-and-true partners you've always worked with and identify organizations and individuals in other sectors who may have a unique asset you can use to advance your cause or movement. It could be a tech company whose technology can help make your approach more impactful for your constituents, or an entity that serves the same constituency but with a different product or value proposition.

5: Let Urgency Conquer Fear. The time to take action is now. Not tomorrow. Today. It's imperative for your organization to develop a sense of urgency about its issue, because a sense of urgency is often the only thing that drives us to find time to make change. Look at any direct mail appeal you received in December: I bet every single one pointed to the urgency of the situation — and most of them probably included an explicit deadline In their call to action ("Act before midnight on December 31!").

Not convinced? What if I told you your organization has a built-in structural need to engage its donors and supporters right now. Give up? It's this: 18 percent of the contacts in your database go bad each year. If you don’t address your donor engagement problem now, you'll be launching your next campaign or call to action already behind. Today is always the best time to experiment, to adopt a new approach, to try something risky that may lead to a breakthrough.

In her book, Jean invites us to ask ourselves, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" — and to answer fearlessly. As I hope I've helped you see, being fearless doesn't mean you have to climb the highest mountain, swim the deepest ocean, or cross the hottest desert. And it doesn't mean you have to gamble your organization's future on an all-or-nothing bet. What it does require is thinking big, being intentional, making (and learning) from mistakes, and taking action, even if it's a small step — today and not tomorrow. You can do it. Good luck, and Happy New Year!

Headshot_derrick_feldmann_2015Derrick Feldmann (@derrickfeldmann) is the author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, the founder of the Millennial Impact Project, and lead researcher at Cause and Social Influence.

How We Actually Show Our Support

November 16, 2018

ActNowbuttonRecently, after a conference panel discussion, a young woman approached me as I was leaving the stage with a request I hear often from nonprofit professionals:

"Derrick, it would be great if you could show your support by tweeting and liking what we're doing."

Now, I happened to know she was part of a good cause and genuinely cared about the people her organization was serving. But the request was a little unsettling. Did she want me to show my support for her organization? Or for the people the organization was trying to help?

Let's examine the distinction.

We can show support for a cause in any number of ways. We can quietly make a donation through Facebook or an organization's website, create a scholarship in honor of a favorite teacher, or go big and make a lead gift for a building that will have our name on it. We can sign a petition, write our representatives in Congress, share an image or post on social media, or boycott a company or product. We can even walk, run, or bike for a cause or grow a mustache for a month.

All of these are tangible displays of how we, as an individual, feel about an issue — or, more accurately, about the people affected by that issue.

What these actions are not are displays of how we feel about an organization.

Someone who wears a pink hat or shaves her head is not doing it to say, "OMG, this organization is so great!" By putting her beliefs and personal experience out there for others to see, she is standing up and proclaiming, unequivocally, "I care, and I want everyone to know I care. And I hope you'll care, too."

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The Importance of Listening for and Sharing Stories

October 10, 2018

Share_your_story­When leaders of today's most vibrant social movements gather in a ballroom for a day to share advice and lessons learned, we ought to listen — and not just because as leaders of nonprofits competing for people's attention, dollars, and time, we should welcome opportunities to learn as much as we can about how best to apply our efforts to bring about change.

In September, leaders from the Ad Council, the Born This Way Foundation, Young Invincibles, the Transgender Law Center, the MBK Alliance, the National Geographic Society, and other organizations and causes gathered in Washington, D.C., at the Influence Nation Summit to talk about the tactics they've used in the past to move large numbers of people to take action.

Running through their remarks were two critical points that many nonprofits struggle to operationalize: 1) Listening is more important than talking; and 2) Sharing authentic stories with a compelling message is at the heart of every successful movement.

Listening is more important than talking

If you're a professional fundraiser, you've heard the admonition to focus on your donors and establish them as the "hero" of the narratives you share with supporters and stakeholders. You've been told to use "you" in your messaging instead of "we," to evoke donors' empathy by appealing to their emotions, and to assure them that whatever your organization has accomplished is due to their generosity and passion for the cause.

Imogen Napper, one of the speakers at the Influence Nation Summit, is a marine biologist and a National Geographic Sky Ocean Rescue Scholar who is focused on ridding the oceans of plastic, including plastic fibers found in clothing. Without listening to the online conversation around the topic, however, you might think Napper supports a ban on synthetic fibers in apparel. Not so. As she told attendees at the summit, "Plastic is a fantastic material as it is so versatile....Seventy percent of clothes are made of plastic. Therefore, it would be difficult and often expensive to completely avoid it." What people want instead, she said, is access to information that allows them to make informed decisions about the clothing they buy.

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Are You Too Predictable?

May 28, 2018

Yes-n-maybeEarlier this month, I got the kind of call that so many donors get from the organizations they support.

"Derrick, great to hear your voice. It's been a while. I'd like to sit down and share an update on our work, get your thoughts on our progress, and see if you’d be interested in talking about ongoing support."

This from an organization that calls me once a year. Like clockwork. The first week of May — just in time for the organization's fiscal-year-end close.

I know what you're thinking. Shame on them for calling just once a year. But actually, the decision to call annually was at my request. Before I made the request, they would send someone to visit with me over coffee two or three times a year, and we would always have the same conversation:

  • How is my family
  • How is work, and have I traveled to any new destinations lately
  • Quick update on his or her family
  • Quick update on what's new at the organization
  • Update on my last gift and how my dollars were used
  • Earnest request for a gift renewal

Not that there's anything wrong with that kind of exchange or the topics we covered. It's just that it's the same each and every time. As in: predictable. 

It's not really a surprise, because the organization itself is stable, efficient, and reliable. I expect a certain level of impact no matter what I do or how much I give. If I give X, I'll get Y 99 percent of the time.

Which is wonderful for donors who are looking to back sure things — and donors who want their donations to result in predictable programmatic impact. I honor and wholeheartedly support that position. I want that, too.

But the problem with being a predictable organization is that you may wind up being taken for granted. And let's face it, not all donors are looking for predictable. Some donors are attracted to new, different, and out-of-the-box. It's the way they're wired.

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What Is That Noise?

April 19, 2018

NoiseHow many times have you been startled by a noise and thought: What in the world?

You try to ignore it, but it won't stop, so you decide to take action. You go looking for the source, find and disable it, and sigh as you walk back to your chair.

I know the feeling. It's a feeling of exasperation, the feeling you get when someone or something absolutely insists you pay attention, whether you want to or not.

It's the feeling many of us have after we've been exposed to nonprofit marketing.

Hey, I get it. Marketing is noise to some and the stuff of life for others. It can inspire, persuade, and make us fall in love. It can move us to action or dissuade us from taking a stand. It can be something we welcome into our world — or something that intrudes on us when we least expect it.

The question you need to ask is: Is our marketing something our supporters want, or is it the noise in the background they wish would stop. Based on my experience, there's too much of the latter happening in our space.

Let me explain.

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Labels…Do They Matter?

February 22, 2018

I-am-what-you-label-mePhilanthropy researchers have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to understand the donor's point of view, and they've taken much of what they've learned and condensed it into a sector-specific typology: Donor. Volunteer. Activist. Advocate. Maybe it's time, however, for a more sophisticated approach to how we classify these types of constituent relationships — and how we structure our organizations around them.

In many nonprofits, departments and staff are organized according to the nature of their constituent involvement. You have volunteer coordinators, corporate donor managers, major gift directors, membership managers, and so on. What's more, many nonprofits still keep their development functions separate from their marketing and communications teams.

The most effective nonprofits don't operate this way.

Ask yourself this: Do the labels we attach to people influence how we relate to them, or how they view their relationship to us?

What do we really mean when we say things like, "She's a key donor." "He's a great volunteer." "She's a real advocate."

Do the people we talk about in those terms see themselves in the same way? Does she see herself as a "donor," or a "volunteer," or an "advocate"? And does it matter if she doesn't?

From donor engagement studies and the research on millennials we have done, we know that most nonprofit supporters don't think of themselves in terms of their transactional relationship with the organizations they support. They don't give or volunteer out of loyalty to an organization. More often than not, their willingness to give or volunteer is rooted in the idea that their support for an organization or cause will improve the lives of others.

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Spoiler Alert: It’s Not All About Fundraising

November 07, 2017

Spoiler-alertAs a nonprofit leader, you'll be delighted to learn that new research affirms what most of us knew: Americans are generous. In fact, this year’s edition of Giving USA found that charitable giving by individuals in the U.S. was up nearly 4 percent in 2016, hitting an all-time high.

But as The Chronicle of Philanthropy notes in How America Gives, a recently released analysis of American giving patterns, these gifts are coming from fewer people. In 2015, the Chronicle notes,

only 24 percent of taxpayers reported a charitable gift....That’s down from 2000 to 2006, years when that figure routinely reached 30 or 31 percent....

While the Chronicle suggests the drop off could be due to a decrease in the number of Americans itemizing deductions on their tax returns, they also point to other possibilities: the lingering after effects of the Great Recession, an increase in the number of struggling middle-class families, more competition for fewer dollars.

And then there's the millennial factor. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 is the largest in American history, and as the Chronicle notes, "it's well known that [millennials] aren't embracing traditional ideas of giving."

It's a trend that's reflected in our own research. Indeed, Phase 2 of our 2017 Millennial Impact Report found that the millennial generation doesn't rank giving — or volunteering — as all that meaningful in terms of effecting change. In the study, survey respondents were asked to rank their typical cause/social issue-related behaviors in order of how influential they believed each to be. Out of ten actions, volunteering for a cause or organization ranked sixth while giving ranked eighth — well behind other actions such as signing a petition, attending a march or rally, voting, or taking to social media to share one's views.

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The Secret to Motivating Donors

October 04, 2017

ActNowbuttonWith year-end fundraising season fast approaching, it's easy for development professionals to fall into the trap of focusing on a single project for which their organization really needs funding. Other nonprofit leaders are frantically crafting year-end appeals, checking and re-checking their donor lists, and trying to come up with creative new ways to engage donors.

No surprise, then, that this is the time of year when we're approached by nonprofits who want to know how they can develop a strategy for new donor acquisition and turn their one-time donors into loyal supporters.

The secret, we tell them, lies in connecting donors to the specific and general — in the same appeal.

Let me give you an example. Assume your organization is working to address a really big problem — say, eliminating hunger in the United States. Such a goal, and the language used to articulate it, can be hard for people to process. In our years of testing fundraising appeals, we've found that potential supporters often don’t understand or respond to messages asking them to support such an ambitious goal. Why? It's too big. What's the point of making a donation if you don't believe your donation will make a dent in the problem it's meant to address?

For a lot of nonprofits, a not atypical scenario looks like this:

  1. A donor — let's call her Margaret — receives a direct-mail appeal asking her to support Organization X, which is working to eliminate hunger in the United States: "Won't you help us end hunger?"
  2. Because she's a compassionate person, Margaret is a little overwhelmed. She isn't a celebrity activist or a deep-pocketed philanthropist, and she only has a couple of hundred dollars set aside for charitable giving. So many people in America struggle with hunger and food insecurity — how can her small donation possibly help?
  3. Margaret decides not to make a donation because she doesn't think it will make a difference.

Instead, we counsel our clients to tell the story of one individual who has been helped by their organization, in the belief that it's easier for a donor to grasp the specific rather than the general. Here's what that might look like:

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5 Mistakes You’re Making With Your Awareness Campaigns

August 29, 2017

Yell_at_earth_pc_1600_clrWith the busiest fundraising season fast approaching, nonprofit leaders everywhere should be spending much of their time thinking about their end-of-year fundraising campaigns. But when fundraising isn't top of mind, nonprofit leaders often turn their attention to another type of activity: the awareness campaign./p>

Awareness campaigns typically are defined as a sustained effort to educate individuals and boost public awareness about an organization's cause or issue. And in almost every instance they should:

  • target people who share your organization's beliefs and values;
  • educate those potential supporters about your issue or cause; and
  • generate new contacts for your donor database.

A well-executed awareness campaign will accomplish all three of those goals. But there's a caveat: awareness campaigns are easy to get wrong. And who needs that? So what should your organization be doing — and not doing — to raise awareness and acquire new donors? Read on to see whether you're making any of these common mistakes:

1. Your definition of success is too narrow; One of the most common misconceptions about awareness campaigns is that they should be mounted for the sole purpose of, well, raising awareness. But while an awareness campaign can be focused on awareness, there's actually a lot more involved: education (teaching the public about your issue or cause), explaining current events (and how they connect to your issue and efforts), and engagement (soliciting a low-level action on behalf of your organization or cause).

2. You didn't include an action in your materials. Regardless of your issue or cause, an awareness campaign should be designed to move potential supporters from interest to action — that is, from having a general interest in your issue to actually stepping up and doing something on behalf of the issue or cause. The thing to remember about actions in awareness campaigns is that they should be low level. While it's possible someone previously unfamiliar with your organization might be willing to sign up as a volunteer or donate on the spot, it's not usually the case (and shouldn't be something you count on). Instead, actions should be "stepped" like the rungs on a ladder: they should start small and increase in intensity/commitment over time, ultimately leading to concrete support (of time and/or money) for your organization or cause.

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4 Questions to Help You Develop Your Year-End Messaging

July 31, 2017

"Movements are built by and for the people. The people generate the movement, spread the rallying cry of the message, and depend on one another to meet the collective’s goals in addressing the social issue at hand. The people, though, are bound by a common vision and a common narrative — to change the course of an issue that has affected so many people. But how is this possible? How can an individual turn his or her attention from the general issues present in so many communities to the importance of one issue affecting a group of people they may have never met before? Or take a stand for a concept that may never even affect them personally? It comes down to the message and a story. A story based on a vision for change for people or communities that need it most."

— excerpt from Social Movements for Good

Dec-31-calendarIf you're like a lot of our clients, you're starting to work on (or at least think about) your year-end fundraising appeals. Although successful year-end campaigns are driven by a strategic combination of factors, one above all others is both critical and often the most challenging to execute: messaging.

From the belief statement (also called the opening or donor statement) and opening sentence or two to pull quotes, calls to action, and the ever-important P.S. line, you have a limited amount of space (and time) in which to capture potential donors' attention, communicate your story, and, of course, persuade them to donate.

That's a lot of work!

When it comes to developing messaging for a fundraising appeal, I'm asked one question more than any other: How do I get started? Though it can be a challenge to get past writer's block and craft effective messages for a year-end campaign, I always suggest that you first ask yourself these four simple questions:

1. What makes your organization unique? Chances are yours isn't the only organization working to address or solve your particular issue. And that's okay! A fundraising appeal is your chance to call out — loudly and clearly — what’' unique or different about your organization.

Supplemental questions to consider: Why does your organization exist (i.e., why does it do the work it does)? Whom do you serve (demographically, geographically, etc.)? What's special or compelling about the population you serve? How does your organization approach its work? What's unusual or unique about that approach? How is it different from the approach employed by other organizations?

2. Why should a donor give to your organization now? Why the sense of urgency behind your organization's appeal? Sure, responses like "It's the last chance for you to claim a tax deduction" or "Matched funds are available for a limited time" are valid, but end-of-the-year appeals really are your chance to think big.

Still struggling? Think in reverse: What won't happen if you don't hit your fundraising targets? Who won't ;be helped? What might happen if they aren't served by your organization?

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3 Ways to Bring Your Work to Your Donors (Instead of Asking Them to Come to You)

May 19, 2017

Mobile_ExperiencesNearly every nonprofit organization I deal with is careful to include an "experiential" touch point somewhere along the donor journey. That is, once they've cultivated a new donor, they spend a considerable amount of time and effort attempting to persuade that donor to volunteer or participate in some kind of hands-on activity at their headquarters or at an off-site location where the donor can experience their work firsthand.

Sound familiar? If your organization does something similar, how often is it successful? (Be honest.)

As nonprofit and cause leaders, we wish every individual had the opportunity, interest, and time to meet the people we serve and see the impact of our work in real time. But let's face it, getting donors to visit your offices or to join you on a site visit usually isn't realistic. Why? Because people are busy.

After my colleagues and I figured that out (it took us a few years), we adopted a number of practices designed to bring our work online: posting photos and videos on social media, sending out a series of emails, and so on. Unfortunately, pretty much everyone else adopted the same practices at about the same time. Today, they are so commonplace — and people are so inundated with emails and status updates as a result — that it's hard, if not impossible, to get your message stand out amid all the noise.

What's an organization to do? How can organizations share with donors the important work they are doing in a way that's both meaningful and experiential?

Actually, all it takes is a shift in mindset: Instead of bringing the donor to your work, you have to bring your work to the donor.

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Millennial vs. Boomer Strategies: Time to Move On?

April 17, 2017

Millennial-v-boomerIf you've ever talked to or heard from a consultant about how your organization can and should reach younger donors, I'd almost guarantee you were told something like, "Wait till they turn seventy-five," or, "Your young donors are fifty-five."

But is that right? Should you only focus your fundraising efforts on Silents and boomers? And is a millennial-focused strategy so bad?

Let's take a closer look.

No doubt about it, a millennial-focused fundraising strategy can be a challenge. (That's not an insult; it's supported by data.)

Then why would an organization even consider such a strategy? Typically, millennial-focused strategies are driven by two factors:

Media-driven generational comparisons. The media love to compare millennials and younger cohorts to their elders, especially boomers. But guess what? That's not a new storyline. The Silent Generation was compared to their parents, the so-called Greatest Generation; boomers were compared to their parents, the Silents; and Gen X-ers were compared to boomers. How long will it be before millennials are compared to the so-called centennials? The important thing for nonprofit organizations is to figure out ways to reach the rising generation as earlier generations move through and out of their peak giving years.

Board-driven pressure. Board members — older ones, especially — are beginning to notice that many of the prospective donors they see at fundraising events, industry meetings, and organizational activities don’t necessarily look like them. It's to be expected that older donors will continue to provide a significant amount of your organization's revenue for the foreseeable future. But Silent and boomer board members know they aren't getting any younger and, combined with all the media coverage of millennials, they are becoming increasingly interested in persuading leadership to shift some of their fundraising focus to younger generations.

Now, if you are an organizational leader, there isn't much you can do to control, or even shape, the media's obsession with generational comparisons. But you certainly can do something in response to pressure from your board — and I'm not talking about issuing a statement like, "We have lots of younger donors age fifty-five and over."

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What We Learned From Our End-of-Year Fundraising Appeals

February 14, 2017

Year-end-fundraisingWe all know how important the final few months of the year are for nonprofits, many of which see up to 40 percent of their total yearly contributions come in between Thanksgiving and December 31. No surprise, then, that year after year I see nonprofits rushing to get their year-end campaigns out the door and into the hands (and in boxes) of donors. And every year, that mad, crazed rush makes me think of something Benjamin Franklin said: "You may delay, but time will not."

Most of us start each new year with the best of intentions and, if we happen to be in the fundraising game, the goal of starting our various campaigns early. But like a lot of things, especially during the busy holiday season, we often leave the necessary preparation to the last minute and, with time running out, end up falling back on what we've done in the past.

But now that the holidays are behind us and the data have been tallied, it's time to take a look at what worked, what didn't, and how we can improve. As an organization leader, you should start by asking some questions. Are our mailing lists out of date? Have we updated our messaging and graphics in the last few years? Have we tested out any new messaging? Are we getting donors to see the important role they play in the work we do? All are important questions — not just with respect to your year-end campaigns, but for your fundraising throughout the year.

Last year, my colleagues and I sent out more than 250,000 direct mail and email solicitations on behalf of clients. And even though the organizations we worked with had strong year-end results, we noticed a few trends that underscore how important year-end appeals are for nonprofits. With that in mind, here are five things, based on what we learned, that your organization can do to ensure year-end success in 2017:

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Nonprofits! You Are Not the (Only) Gatekeeper for Your Issue!

December 16, 2016

GatekeeperLast month my mother called to tell me about a neighbor who had just been diagnosed with cancer. She talked about how sad the news made her, and told me the town was really coming together to do something for one of its own. In fact, local town leaders had already decided to organize a fundraiser for our friend.

While we were talking, my mother decided to check out the online fundraising page that had been set up. It didn't take long for me to realize that something was bothering her. "Mom?" I prompted.

"I thought we were being asked to donate to the local cancer society," she replied. "I'd feel a whole lot better if I knew something about the national organization or where my money was going."

Her comment was interesting, in a number of ways. It suggested, first of all, that my mother is more motivated to give when she knows her donation will be used to support a cause close to home and/or understands how her donation will be used. But as we kept chatting, I realized that what she really wanted was to do something for our neighbor directly and in a way that helped our neighbor and her family in their hour of need.

Understanding that way of thinking and, more broadly, what motivates people to engage with a cause — your cause — is critically important if your nonprofit hopes to gain the support of donors and grow that support over time. And while, obviously, my mother is not a millennial, her comment illustrates a mindset related to cause behaviors that, in our research on millennials (see the Millennial Impact Report), we've encountered quite a bit. Indeed, as we conduct that research, we continually ask ourselves, What are the factors that influence (or discourage) millennial donors to support a cause or organization?

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  • "Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary...."

    — Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

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