This past week, I had the pleasure of stopping by an event for an organization I volunteer with. I often find it to be a really instructive experience when I go to a charity event as an attendee as it allows me to be reflective in a way that just isn't possible when you're actively involved. This one, a donor appreciation event, turned out to be especially reflective but in a more personal way. By coincidence, it was held on the same block in New York City where I did my first bit of fundraising nearly 15 years ago. Naturally, this got me thinking about how much the fundraising profession has evolved since I started in the field.
With that in mind, I wanted to share what I view as some of the more important changes I've noticed. I'm happy to say that nearly all of these advances are firmly in the win column. They've enabled fundraisers to create stronger, longer term relationships with donors and make the process of giving easier and more appealing to donors. Here are my top three:
The Death of the Traveling Rolodex: I was offered my first fundraising opportunity because it was assumed that fresh from 13 years in the financial sector, I would lead this nonprofit straight to a bunch of high net worth individuals and investment managers. In other words, they weren't really hiring me, they were hiring my Rolodex. A lot has changed since then. First of all, I haven't seen a Rolodex in ages. If you have, please take a picture and share it on Instagram so others can see what one looks like. (PS - sharing and Instagram weren't part of the vocabulary back then but more on that later). Nonprofits have become much smarter. While I'm sure it still happens, there's wide recognition that hiring a fundraiser with the assumption they'll "bring their book" is the exact opposite of what this job is about. The idea that donors move from cause to cause based on their relationship with a particular fundraising professional is a complete non-starter.
Technology and all that comes with it: One of my first challenges during my first year or so in fundraising was trying to figure out how to embed a video donation request into an email. I know, I know - highlight, copy and then paste. But it wasn't that easy in 2001. The BIGGER idea here was we send the video out to our initial list of 300 emails and then (the suspense is killing you)...ASK THEM TO SEND THE VIDEO TO THEIR LIST. We used the term VIRAL and we were thrilled when we got 5 surprise donations because it worked. If this all sounds a bit old and archaic, it's only because it is and it should. Of course today we know this simple act of instantly building and engaging our community as SHARING and we can do it with our eyes closed on any number of social media platforms such as facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. The breadth and depth of technological advances that have happened over the 15 years are worthy of so much more space . But you get the idea.
The Evolution of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: It's no coincidence I highlighted the first two changes and am finishing out with this one. Peer-to-peer fundraising is the natural outgrowth of them. There's been solid movement away from the old "rainmaker" idea of a professional fundraiser coming in and saving the struggling nonprofit with their contacts and ability to raise tons of money that first year. Rather, there's recognition that the most authentic way to fundraise is for those impacted by causes to create a community of caring by reaching out to those closest to them. And by the way, this model scales easily to major gifts or any other type of campaign. When you get down to it, isn't any true capital or major giving campaign the ultimate peer-to-peer model at work? The technological advances are the icing on the cake that have made these opportunities grow exponentially and move that much quicker.
It's been an amazing first 15 years and I can't wait to see what's next!
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
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