Responsive fundraising starts with overcoming inertia

Adopt Responsive Fundraising: Strategies for Overcoming Inertia

Megan Donahue

When people learn about responsive fundraising, it usually makes sense to them. Very few disagree with its central principles. “NO! We should give donors less of what they want and treat them like anonymous ATMs! Make everything less human, and more transactional!” is not something that we hear a lot of. Most people get it.

So why don’t more nonprofits adopt a responsive approach to fundraising? 

Often, it comes down to inertia. 

Change is hard. It’s always easier to keep doing what you’re already doing, rather than trying something different. And changing to a responsive fundraising model isn’t a small shift — it requires new technology, mindset, and organizational culture. 

If you see the value in becoming responsive, fighting this tendency towards inertia at your nonprofit can be daunting. How do you get decision-makers onboard, and make the case for doing something rather than staying the old course?

Let’s consider some of the common roadblocks to responsive fundraising, and how to get past them.

Roadblock #1: Change is Hard

In the short term, inertia is appealing. Not changing your fundraising takes much less work than becoming a responsive fundraiser. Not changing can be very comfortable, until you want different results. That’s where inertia stops being soothing and starts causing real problems. 

Changing your organization’s fundraising approach and processes, reworking your mindset and culture, and getting everyone onboard with the change, is a significant undertaking in the best of circumstances. If you’re an overworked fundraiser working in a “hair-on-fire” environment, I understand that you’re not jumping with joy at the prospect of a full-on change management process to adopt responsive fundraising. 

The fact remains, you can’t get new results doing the same old thing. In fact, these days you probably can’t even get the same results you used to get. If you want to grow your fundraising, you have to change something. Responsive fundraising changes the right things–your donor relationships, the way you attract and retain donors, and ultimately, your revenue.

Changing to a responsive fundraising approach will have some growing pains. But it’s not all a slog through change management. A lot of what can change will ultimately make your work both more precise and more human. Whether you’re a “data nerd” type of fundraiser, or a “warm and fuzzy” type, responsive fundraising gives you more of what you like. When you engage the Responsive Framework you’ll listen to donor signals, getting broader and more accurate data. By telling your story and connecting with donors in the ways they find most meaningful, you’ll deepen relationships. 

Another welcome change is how you can spend your time when you adopt responsive fundraising. Automation takes care of a lot of data collection and entry, the nitty-gritty of sending communications at the right time to the right donor. This frees up nonprofit staff to do the more creative, engaging, and human parts of your work, like storytelling, talking to donors, and connecting them with their passions at your organization. 

When you consider what responsive fundraising could look like, day-to-day, it starts to become more appealing than inertia. 

Overcoming This Roadblock

To overcome inertia, you have to get a clear idea of what’s not working now, and what exactly would change at your organization. The better a picture you can paint about what the change will look like, the more your team will become interested in pursuing the change. Include who would be affected, where processes would be different, and most importantly, what responsive fundraising would allow you to do. 

For the biggest brain trust, and the most buy-in, create a team to “own” the change to responsive fundraising that doesn’t only include development staff. Responsive organizations adopt the framework across the organization–everyone is a part of it. With a team that includes expertise in fundraising, technology, leadership, and programs, you’ll include the most perspectives possible and avoid the problems that come with siloing. 

Get the Blueprint for Responsive Fundraising Here

Roadblock #2: “Traditional Fundraising Has Always Worked For Us!”

It’s a difficult truth, but the things that worked in the past can’t be your only metric for deciding what action to take now. The world has changed too much for nonprofits to only rely on how things performed in the past. 

Look at your data and examine how well traditional fundraising is really working for you. Like many nonprofits, you may find evidence of a generosity crisis–there was an 18% drop in the number of individuals who gave to nonprofits between 2006 and 2015. It’s not a coincidence that this time period also contained the boom of social media, smartphones and personalization.

Before the Internet transformed the world, things like impersonal mass messages did work for nonprofits. When average givers had no expectations of personalization, they didn’t hold a lack of it against anyone. Those days are done. From the moment Amazon could make recommendations based on your past purchases, personalization was here to stay. 

Your donors receive a barrage of personalized messages every day, so generic messages from the nonprofits they support land differently than they used to. These messages feel inauthentic and alienating. 

If your current donors are still responding to outdated fundraising techniques, it can be hard to see why you need to make a change and become responsive. To do so, you have to move out of reactive-mode, and start to look to the future. Your donors today are still giving, but what about your donors tomorrow?

Investing in automobiles probably seemed annoying and onerous to successful carriage makers in the beginning of the 20th century. “I’ve got a solid business here!” they may have thought, “Why should I change?” But hindsight tells us that once society has been transformed, as it was by both cars and responsive technology, clinging to the past brings diminishing returns. 

You don’t need a crystal ball to know that traditional fundraising is not going to keep delivering the results you want. Again, we’ve already seen it, as more nonprofits fail to engage the modern donor, and retention rates remain low. 

Overcome This Roadblock: Make the Change Before It’s an Emergency

First, make sure traditional fundraising works as well as you think it does. Use hard data, year-over-year. 

Then, if you find that you’re holding strong, recognize that this is an opportunity. You can adapt to the responsive fundraising you’ll need for the future before you start experiencing a decline in revenue.

Finally, don’t make the mistake of thinking that traditional fundraising is going to keep working in the future. Data tells us it’s already declining significantly, and there’s no reason to think that will reverse. 

Roadblock #3: “Responsive Fundraising Feels Too Risky!”

When budgets are tight, spending money on anything seems scary. The long-held suspicion against overhead doesn’t help here, either. Many nonprofits are understandably risk-averse. When corporations risk something and fail, that’s part of “research and development.” When nonprofits do it, often we jump right to, “Wasting donor dollars.”

But again, we must look at the data. It’s telling us that there’s a better way to do things: responsive fundraising. We know donors want personalized, authentic relationships with the nonprofits they support. So eventually, you have to ask yourself, “What is the risk of not changing?”

The risks of not changing are harder to see than the risks of spending money, but they are just as real, and often ultimately more expensive. If you can’t attract, retain, and engage new and existing donors, you can’t raise more money. 

While all change brings risk, responsive fundraising arguably brings less than some other options. When you’re constantly getting signals from your own unique donors, you make decisions based on that data, instead of guessing what they care about. This allows you target your efforts more accurately. 

It’s possible that you’ll try some things, and they’ll fail. When you’re responsive, that’s not a disaster, it’s data.  Innovation and experimentation are how you learn to best serve your donors. Donors who have a deep, authentic connection with you won’t hold a failed campaign or weird communication against you–they know who you are and what your intention is. 

Overcome This Roadblock: Reassess Your Relationship with Risk

Start collecting data on some of those harder to see risks. Calculate your donor retention rate, and donor attrition rate. What will the impact be if things continue at that rate? 

Start adjusting your attitude and culture around risk. Re-evaluate how you respond to failure–do you learn quickly and make adjustments, or do you shame/punish/despair? Innovation requires experimentation, and lots of experiments fail. That’s how we learn.

Clear the Way for Responsive Fundraising

Inertia, old habits and fear of risk are tough blocks for many nonprofits, but you can get past them, and if you want to grow, you have to. The time for hanging back or spinning your wheels has gone. But you don’t have to approach responsive fundraising alone. Virtuous is here for you. More than a responsive CRM, Virtuous is a partner that is ready to travel alongside you, helping you past your roadblocks and onto your responsive fundraising journey.

Responsive Fundraising: The Blueprint for Engaging Modern Donors

Traditional fundraising strategies no longer work. This blueprint explains why today's donor expects more, and how nonprofits are shifting to responsive fundraising.

Get the Blueprint