Skip to contentSkip to navigation
Written by
Stephanie Reid

Stephanie Reid

There is a dramatic shift happening in the fundraising world in the way people react to traditional mass marketing and fundraising communication. Evidence of this is seen in the results of direct mail appeals as Gen X and Boomers continue to grow older, which is contributing to a decline in annual revenues. Philanthropic leaders find themselves at a crossroads as their values come face-to-face with new learnings related to the changing communications environment and a new generation of fundraising.

In recent years, many non-profits have been paralyzed by their existing organizational and funding structures that have limited their ability to react quickly when faced with decisions related to social innovation, specifically the adoption of new technology. Sometimes organizational reliance on undesignated giving comes into focus or quite simply, the fear of failure. After all, does a leader want to explain a costly failure to their board? Unlikely. Not having the permission to fail along with traditional non-profit success indicators (i.e. how little is spent vs. how much revenue comes in) are, in many cases, hurting the causes we love.

One thing is for certain: Non-profit organizations need to continue to adapt quickly and begin to attract the attention of a new generation of donors. And the rules of engagement sometimes feel like they’re changing daily. The future of major gift programs depends on the non-profits’ ability to not only speak to a new generation of prospects but to also establish new, long-term, giving relationships. Easier said than done? Absolutely. In many cases, these changes will require new, full-time resources and support from governing boards (just to name a few). But, even the smallest, and/or heavily governed, non-profit organizations can focus to a few key areas to start seeing results. The good news? You may have seen these before.

1. Narrative Storytelling. So many non-profit organizations tell stories, but few have mastered the art of storytelling. It’s crucial that organizations are able to communicate their “why” quickly and with purpose. Could you tell me why I should give to your organization in a compelling way in 30 seconds or less? If the answer is no, you may have an opportunity to elevate your narrative, or your “why”, along with key messages. This exercise will immediately strengthen fundraising activities across your organization.

2. Accountability Of course accountability is important. However, there continues to be increased pressure on the level of accountability, especially amongst Gen Y donors. Gen Y donors are far more likely to demand accountability and transparency than older, more established, donors and it has a significant bearing on their decision to give. The non-profit’s ability to demonstrate the impact of donation is critical and some have gone as far to suggest that transitioning from undesignated to designated fundraising will be the key to future fundraising success. This can be alarming to many non-profit organizations whose funding models rely on a “general fund” or undesignated giving.

3. Relationships Form, establish, build, and maintain. Non-profit development officers and relationship managers are acutely familiar with the importance of donor relationship building. But has the model evolved? Relationships are being established and maintained in very different ways. Both generational giving and communication preference (channel and frequency) are major factors. When was the last time you asked your donors how they would like to receive updates and how often? What is important to your donors in regards to corporate social responsibility? Are there new ideas to be explored that could result in stronger partnerships? If you continue to fundraise the way you have always fundraised you will not see the growth needed to remain relevant in the future.

4. Privacy And with relationship building comes various terms and conditions, which need to remain top of mind. The burden of keeping this information up-to-date and current is higher now than ever before, particularly with the dominant theme of spurious data use and privacy infractions. The terms will continue to evolve as new legislation is introduced (i.e. Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation or CASL) and as online properties like Facebook continue to change their privacy conditions. Narrative, accountability, relationships, and privacy are certainly not new fundraising buzz words. They have shaped, and continue to define non-profit organizations. But when faced with new technology, changing donor needs, and the fear of change, it can be very easy to lose sight of these fundamental principles. They still apply today, but certainly need to be executed differently.

Tell me what you stand for, show me where my money goes, and continue to tell me why I’m valued. And, most importantly, communicate with me how I want to be communicated with. If you don’t know, please ask. If you can do all of that with ease then you are probably on the right track.

Sources of Inspiration and Reading List

——— Stephanie Reid is a former Senior Consultant at NATIONAL Public Relations