Customer/member centricity, Relationships

Relationship-Driven Fundraising: A New White Paper

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In her latest white paper, Steal Like a Fundraiser: Innovations
in Cause-Oriented Fundraising for Associations, Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CEO of Spark Consulting LLC and her co-author, Sohini Baliga, Director of Communications, Taxpayers for Common Sense, dissect successful fundraising strategies from charitable organizations to draw lessons for associations.
The authors walk you through the steps of new, relationship- and cause-driven models of fundraising—from creating compelling campaign goals to targeting audiences, crafting messages, motivating others to act and evaluating the success of your campaign. But This paper is not just another list of smart tips and “how to’s.” Its most significant contribution is that it systematically builds a new foundation for an association’s relationship to its members and stakeholders. It provides a three-fold, systems approach to leading a modern membership organization—building two-way, strategic relationships with customers/members; crafting solutions that matter to them and converting them from passive participants to partners in its growth and mission.

The paper begins with a reality check and a tough message. This is no longer “business as usual.” The Internet has not only disrupted most industries, but also “democratized” them so that lines are blurred. As the success of GoFundMe campaigns demonstrate, for example, just about anyone can fundraise today, without having to rely on “experts.” The implication is clear. The “new business” is people. Success is not based exclusively on expertise or specialized techniques but on the ability to create meaningful, authentic, value-generating and long-term relationships.

I highlight two foundational building blocks:

1. Treat members equitably not equally.
Associations, the authors maintain, tend to treat all members the same.  But members are not all equal---with some having much deeper relationships with, and commitment to, an organization than others. The paper argues that an association’s level of commitment to members must be proportionate to the level of these members’ commitment to that association. One size does not fit all.

They offer, as an example, the case of Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and others whose success in fundraising is based on their ability to customize approaches and relationships to the level of commitment of donors.
2. Build strategic, two-way relationships rather than conduct one-way solicitations

This is the foundation of the fundraising model in this paper. It means:
  • Talking to and understanding people on a continuous basis: “…charitable organizations with high engagement rates do one thing consistently: They talk to their donors.” 
  • Customizing approach and benefits 
  • Making sure that donor benefits are meaningful and put to practical use by these donors, by constantly checking with them—not only asking about “expressed preferences” but “observing actual behavior.”   
  • Constantly demonstrating to donors, what their donations contributed to   
  • Solving problems; going beyond “fees for service” to deliver value. ASPCA, for example,  provided free information on animal poison control and developed “an online Pet Food Recall resource center” to keep their “pet parents” informed of the latest developments. By becoming a hub of reliable information, ASPCA increased loyalty, commitment and support.  
  • Tapping member value beyond donations, for example, relationship-building and solving problems of importance to members could result in repeat donations, increased retention, customers serving as champions, etc.  
  • Measuring success on the basis of value rather than one-time transaction, for example, in terms of lifetime value, donors’ influence and ability to build networks of support, etc.   

Because of the focus on relationship building within the development staff, Woolly Mammoth has achieved a 53 percent overall donor retention rate

The paper is thorough in its analysis of cases of successful fundraising, step-by-step descriptions of how to create successful campaigns and expand your communication channels and use of social media. Most importantly, it demonstrates that successful fundraising stems from meaningful and sustainable relationships with members and donors and calls for new capabilities for customizing, solving member problems, co-developing, measuring success and generating two-way value.