How Will Your Nonprofit Raise Money in 2012?
Peter Deitz, Social Actions
With the global financial crisis at its peak and a recession looming, many nonprofit managers are probably asking themselves, “How will my nonprofit raise money next year?” I suspect fewer fundraisers are asking themselves, “How will my nonprofit raise the money it needs four years from now?”
The second question is the more important of the two, and the more difficult to answer.
Current best practices will serve nonprofits just fine in 2009. Between email solicitation, direct mail, major donors, and grant-writing, the vast majority of nonprofits will weather the economic hard times. But a shifting communications environment and changing donor demographics could render those best practices ineffective at best, and obsolete at worst, as early as 2012.
Raising money in 2012 will require creativity and foresight. Micro-philanthropy — that ambiguous term that refers to all things socially networked, small-scale, and charitable — will have matured.
Donors of all ages will be looking for meaningful points of engagement with your organization. They’ll want to set the programmatic agenda, select the beneficiaries and target areas, communicate the organization’s message, and, in real-time, evaluate feedback as it comes in.
Notice something strange about those tasks? None of them involve passive check-writing on behalf of your organization. In 2012, individuals will come to your organization with the expectation of being full partners in your work, not just dollar wells to be tapped when cash is needed. Donations will be a consequence of meaningful engagement, not a measurement of it.
Over the next four years, innovative organizations will use technology to transfer to individuals the reins on everything from program work and evaluation to fundraising and communications. Raising money in a micro-philanthropic environment will come naturally to these groups.
The economy may be hopping four years from now. For organizations that stick to a more traditional managerial and communications structure between now and then, however, raising money is going to be tougher in 2012 than in the darkest days of 2009.
So how should your organization prepare for the changes that are afoot?
Get accustomed to using social media to communicate with all of your potential donors.
There’s an unfortunate consensus emerging in the nonprofit sector that social media is only helpful for communicating with young people. Nonprofits are spicing up their social media communications strategy with language and informalities that may turn-off older supporters and major donors. This is a flawed assumption. The fact is that program officers at foundations, boomers, and prospective employees are all turning to social networks to get a sense of your organization.
In this medium, openness, responsiveness, and inquisitiveness serve your cause well. Simplistic appeals targeted at teens and college students don’t. Therefore, when crafting your social media communications strategy, focus on the qualities you want to be associated with and not the target audience you want to reach.
Experiment with online contests, both creating them and participating in them.
Online contests like the Knight News Challenge, The Case Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge, and the AmEx Cardmember Project can be resource draining to participate in, especially for a time- and cash-strapped nonprofit. Nevertheless, participating in some (surely not all) of these contests will provide your staff members a focused opportunity to use social media to communicate with supporters. As a result, your nonprofit will get a sense of how many of your supporters are following you online, and to what extent you can count on them to act on your behalf.
Another approach to the online contest phenomenon is to run your own. Platforms like Genius Rocket and NetSquared provide nonprofits an opportunity to crowd-source a communications or technological need. Figure out what your need is, set a bounty on it as a deliverable, and then witness how the Internet responds. You’ll probably be pleased with the outcome.
Participating and running challenges encourages openness, responsiveness, and inquisitiveness online. These are important traits to develop, and will make fundraising easier as micro-philanthropy matures.
Make hiring decisions based on social media know-how and not just resume smarts.
When it comes to preparing for the shifting communications environment and donor demographics, your employees are your biggest asset. Most job seekers still list their desktop computing skills in their resumes instead of their social media know-how. When interviewing for any position at your organization, make sure to ask about the applicant’s familiarity with social media. Training employees down the road can be expensive and ineffective. You are better off hiring people who are at home online than trying to make them that way after they’ve been hired.
Note: Age is not a good indicator of social media know-how. Ask questions, and you’ll be surprised who’s on top of the technological changes and who’s not.
Empower your interns.
If your organization has interns, make sure to tap them for ideas on how to use social media to create meaningful points of engagement with your organization. Too often, interns are given menial tasks like photo-copying and filling out Excel documents. And yet, they are the ones who have volunteered to spend time with your organization (read: “they care”). They also have an outsider’s perspective on how your organization is represented online. Make the most of their time with you by asking them for ideas on how to better represent your organization online. Their ideas could very well lay the foundation for an effective micro-philanthropy campaign.
Get an iPhone.
The future of interacting with your organization is mobile as well as online. Get an iPhone or portable data-device in order to start experiencing the possibilities. If your nonprofit’s managers are not using portable devices to communicate with staff and supporters, they’re not going to understand the potential for mobile technology to change the what and how of your organization’s work. Get them started now, so that in 2012, you’re not beginning at square one to develop a mobile fundraising strategy.
Four years ago, web 2.0 was barely on the radar of nonprofits. Today, it’s becoming standard practice to communicate with supporters using tools like Flickr, MySpace , Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. If four years of social media can transform the way U.S. presidents get elected and people connect with causes, imagine the changes that another four years of social media will produce.
My advice to the nonprofit technology community: let’s start preparing now by thinking as creatively as possible