Sunday, July 21, 2024



Here’s how nonprofits can best engage donors beyond their post-election outrage

"The Thinker" at the Rodin Museum. January 19, 2017 Category: ColumnFeaturedFundingMedium


This is a guest post by Fairmount Ventures President and Partner Don Kligerman.
What a week.

It began with a day-of-doing inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., and will close with the inauguration of a president whose pronouncements have generated shock, worry and outrage for many of us.

I meet people nearly everywhere I go who wonder aloud, “What should I do?” in anticipation of the new administration’s impact. I see nonprofits sending email blasts trumpeting the message, “Send money.”

In fact, lots of people are responding to the call.

Nonprofit executives tell me that donations are up, and many have more calls from people who want to volunteer than they can currently handle. But when I ask these same nonprofit leaders how they will capture and channel this interest over the longer term, the conversation turns quiet.

Instead, we should be turning up the volume. Capturing and channeling the interest, the outrage and the conviction before people begin to cede to the new world order is critical. How?

The for-profit sector fully understands the need to invest resources in customer acquisition and retention, the user experience and branding. Nonprofit culture continues to view these areas as expenses that are not mission-centric and that divert money from direct services, and therefore are reluctant to make these investments. It’s time to rethink that.

If nonprofits are going to help people channel their outrage concerning expected new federal policies and practices into resources to better serve their constituencies, then they need to create ways for people to concretely connect to their organizations in order to participate in ways that are meaningful and lasting.

This is not rocket science or anything particularly novel. Raising money and engaging volunteers are lines of service within a nonprofit that require a deliberate plan based on market intelligence, analytics and then resources to execute on the plan. Elements of a plan that delivers success:

  • Be specific and measure outcomes — Have an achievable goal: Say, “We need $X by Y date to do Z.” For what will the money be used? What will be the short- and long-term impact of this investment? Build information systems to track the plan’s success and manage communications.
  • Segment the target market — Who will give $25 to $100 in response to an immediate ask, and who may give more with time and cultivation? Go ahead and ask for the smaller amounts from the first group, but focus more attention and time on the latter group (and don’t send the standard appeal).
  • Clarify your unique value proposition — And identify the types of people for whom your issue is a top priority. Don’t be ashamed to brag a little — or a lot — with high-quality, compelling electronic and print communications about why you are ready to make a difference, speaking to the head and the heart.
  • Seeing is believing — Determine how to engage potential higher-end donors. Can they volunteer with clients, engage in round table discussions with their peers, meet with you individually to share their professional/industry advice? Remember: If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.
  • It’s everybody’s job — Nurture a development culture in your entire organization. This effort will need to be bigger than just the domain of a few people in the development office, a handful of board members and the executive.

None of us has a crystal ball, especially about a mercurial president who might not know himself what he plans to do. It is safe to say, however, that our world may be radically transformed over the next few years, and that business as usual is not going to work. Your clients, staff, board members, donors, volunteers and many people in the broader community are looking for a way to channel their outrage. Nonprofits need to take advantage of immediate opportunities while playing the long game. Start now.

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