Change is constant. Trends, styles, technologies and cultural norms shift every day. Sometimes it happens suddenly, like the first time you were able to FaceTime your friend on the other side of the country. Remember that feeling?
More often, though, it happens slowly. In ways that are harder to notice. One night, your phone updates and maybe you notice a new function, but overall it works the same as before. After 5 or 6 seemingly inconsequential updates, you realize that your phone monitors how long you stare at the screen and tells you when it’s time to look away. After a month or two of the new functionality, it feels like you’ve been able to do that forever.
That’s how the disconnect between donors and nonprofits was grown in the last 5 years.
Steady upgrades in the power of data and technology has dramatically changed the way we connect, interact and develop relationships with each other. Our inboxes have “focus mode” now to make sure we see messages from our VIP contacts. Our social media timelines favor the people we love most. Our already-curated realities are slowly narrowing in on a few of our favorite voices. In this new space, many nonprofits find it nearly impossible to keep up, especially with their current set of tools and processes.
While the growing disconnect with donors might not have been your organization’s top concern in the past, it’s become too big to ignore. Nonprofits who want to grow in the future need to adopt responsive fundraising now, before it’s too late.
The combination of machine learning and shifts in consumer behavior has created change at an exponential rate (it turns out there’s actually a principle in technological innovation that has driven this change: it’s called Moore’s Law). In previous periods of technological innovation, nonprofits could wait to adopt a new system or software. On some level, they knew that donors understood how hard it was for nonprofits to buy the newest technologies.
Now, powerful tools and resources are everywhere. For every previously unattainable giant in software, there are 2-3 affordable competitors. Nonprofits are running out of reasons why they can’t adapt to the new way we communicate. And donors are noticing. The longer you wait to include their interests and goals into your development, marketing and fundraising tactics, the less they can trust you.
For example, they will find it hard to trust you when you say you value their contributions if you wait to acknowledge their contribution at the end of the year instead of at the moment it’s given. They can’t trust that you’re making significant progress in your cause when you fail to show them the actual impact their personal investment has helped produce. Every missed opportunity for connection erodes your donors’ trust. With so many options and ways to give, losing your donor’s trust will negatively impact your growth potential for years.
There is good news. As soon as you commit your organization to being more responsive to your donors, earning trust becomes relatively easy. All the strategies and tactics in responsive fundraising boil down to one central philosophy — put your donor at the center of all your work.
As soon as you switch your organization to be donor-centric, the answers to many of the donor engagement problems you’ve struggled with in the past will start to become clear. As you employ responsive behaviors, you’ll learn exactly what to say in those end-of-year appeals for generosity. You can see your path to growing a peer-to-peer program. You might even be able to find potential solutions for getting that second donation from new donors. By combining your fundraising experience with donor behavior, you start to see highly successful campaigns and programs.
If you don’t have the systems in place to monitor your donors’ behaviors, now is the time to make those changes. You need more than an open rate to really understand what resonates with your donors. You need to track and understand the right data around behavior, like click rate, conversion rate, social media data and donation information, to name just a few. But you also need to look at it in context. Use tools that integrate with each other so your data doesn’t exist in silos, but rather creates a full picture of your donors.
Not all the answers will reveal themselves. When you’re dealing with human behavior and technology, everything can change in an instant. However, responsive nonprofits don’t let that scare them into inaction. Inaction has been the solution for too long, and the numbers show that it’s a solution with a very short lifespan.
To ensure the long-term success of your organization, you need to take calculated risks. Try things you’ve never attempted before and you’ll see different results. Sometimes the ideas will miss the mark. Your campaign might not drive the generosity you were hoping for, but it might bring more general awareness to your cause than ever before.
In cases of calculated risks, remember that you have a team of smart, experienced professionals. As long as you equip them with accurate data and the right resources, most, if not all, ideas they pitch will be worth trying. Make sure that everyone is clear on the goals, can access the appropriate data and is supported with the resources they need and you will see your calculated risks pay off. Your nonprofit won’t just survive this year, it will start to thrive year after year.
Often you hear new strategies around how to treat donors, and it’s hard to judge the actual ROI you can see from those approaches. Responsive fundraising is more than a touchy-feely way to connect with your donors. At the core, it’s about driving annual growth in a way that actually aligns with what your donors expect. Many nonprofits professionals have accepted limited growth via 20-year-old fundraising strategies because they didn’t know where else to turn to inspire generosity. But now the answer is clear: evolve and respond to the current landscape. Keep your eye on the future. Use what you know as a fundraiser and an everyday consumer to come up with creative new ways to connect with your donors.
Of course your big focus right now is this year’s goals. And no, you can’t turn your whole organization around on a dime. But that’s not a reason to ignore what’s happening. In order to see the growth that your beneficiaries deserve, you must have a focus on the future as well. Set yourself up with processes that keep your day-to-day operations running so that you can focus on big picture ideas that will bring more donors into your network and inspire more generosity and commitment from your current donors. This isn’t a goal you can put on the list for next year. This is something you have to start right now.
The first step to change is always the hardest. We made it easy for you. Discover more about responsive fundraising and responsive nonprofits here. Read about the problem organizations are facing across the country and get the blueprint for how to set yourself up for success in the future.
Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.