Headlines about growing unemployment, business closings and other economic doom and gloom lead to the assumption that philanthropy is itself in dire straits. Fundraising today is more challenging, but it remains viable. Some foundations and businesses have restricted new giving. Some sponsors are reducing their underwriting. The message is to adapt to the new economy and change your strategy.
Not surprisingly, there continues to be growth and object lessons for philanthropic giving.
Nationwide and here in Arkansas we see evidence that personal giving continues and grows during or because of the economic situation.
- We hear of businesses releasing staff to perform charitable work in an attempt to keep them employed and productive.
- We observe acts of charity as individuals realize that they can no longer take their good fortune for granted. They act charitably because they see others in need and make a personal commitment to “pay it forward.”
- We see people and organizations employing technology (Websites, Facebook and Twitter) to share their messages and engage a different range of support.
An Object Lesson
Perhaps the Obama campaign can provide an object lesson to nonprofits. First, the campaign concentrated on broadening its traditional base. Then, it incrementally asked its supporters to contribute in small, regular amounts. It engaged its supporters and gained their confidence. Analysis of their $600 million fundraising campaign identifies six factors that made the difference:
Investment - Success Doesn’t Come Overnight
The Obama campaign invested, seriously: in technology, in good people, in office space and in testing. Similarly, successful nonprofits (Komen, Diabetes, Cancer, March of Dimes and Heart) grow through their level of fundraising investment and risks taken, not good luck, nor cutting corners.
The Obama campaign took some gambles - some worked, others didn’t. But on balance, more worked than didn’t. In a challenging economy trying new things is the only way to grow and differentiate your cause from all of the others asking for help.
Messaging and Branding
The Obama campaign was not about the man himself: it was about a movement and the necessity for change. The campaign’s success was due to staying on point. It wasn’t about spending extraordinary amounts of money on “brand building,” but on successful direct response fundraising.
The best messaging/branding that any nonprofit can do is fundraising. When things are tight, successful nonprofits continue to grow because they continue to outline their needs, invest in fundraising, which is the best brand building any nonprofit can do. Consider branding is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
The Obama campaign continued to deliver its message of change through a range of technologies - direct, indirect, personal or digital. They were omnipresent.
For a nonprofit there is no time like the present for fundraising…asking delivers your message. Invest in continuity and consistency. If your message is not on anyone’s radar, neither will your cause be in his or her heart. Space your message throughout the year with two signature events. Technology enables you to keep a presence for little cost with an accessible website, enewsletter and social networking. Keep your message fresh and active!
The Obama message was change. It was done with flair and creativity. The message was translated into a variety of media to reach different demographics. They kept it personal - combining high-tech with high-touch.
Sharing your passion for your cause engages others with a similar interest. Experience reminds us that people give to people. State your needs in a personal manner. Answer the question “what’s in it for me?” Outline opportunities to participate and to lead.
To successfully raise money for your passion, present your case coherently and consistently. That doesn’t mean different stories can’t be told, but there must always be an over-arching theme about what the nonprofit is there to do. It is that simple central theme that will attract and retain your supporters.
The message to nonprofits in a changing economic climate is: Growth comes from serious fundraising investment and taking informed risks. Adapt to the change.