unicorn(clearing up stubborn fundraising myths)

So there is a lot of buzz about the ever-changing landscape of donor cultivation, retention and engagement. It seems like every other day, we field a call about crowd-funding, social media or some other new "hot" trend that is going to revolutionize fundraising for nonprofits. When we meet with you in person, your excitement is palpable as you tell us you just need that ONE celebrity or media coverage that is going to change your organization. You tell us that you have calls in to Michelle Obama's office, that someone has emailed Ellen and you're sure that a crowdfunding campaign is just around the corner. 

Call this your tough-love session, fellow nonprofit leaders, but we're here to give you the cold, honest truth about these common misconceptions. Brace yourself, we're only telling you this because we love you. 

We also love that you're passionate about your organization enough to give us a call and include us in your big new development plan. We know that the changing landscape is difficult and feels new and a little unstable, so we're happy to cheerlead and lend a hand. But when it comes to magic solutions, we're here to tell you what you already know (but maybe don't want to hear): don't buy the hype. While there is certainly value to be gained from almost all of these new models or plans, you'll find that ALL of it requires substantial planning and exceptional execution over a long period of time to make it work. There's no magic bullet, no lottery ticket and simply no replacement for good-old hard work. So here are our most common responses to fundraising gimmicks. 

1. Michelle Obama isn't being honored at your gala. 

Unless you are a nationally prolific organization which has ties to the First Lady, odds are Mrs. Obama will politely decline your beautifully written letter imploring her to be a spokesperson on behalf of your organization.  And Mrs. Obama is just a stand-in here - celebrity driven marketing is nothing new. Celebrities and Politicians are wonderful at promoting their own careers, accomplishments and agendas, but may not necessarily be the authority when it comes to reaching YOUR donors and building YOUR relationships. They bring you a temporary boost in name recognition and one-time donations, but that's where it ends. When it comes to events of ALL sizes, charity starts at home, and we mean that. If your Board and staff aren't the first in line to buy tickets for your event, nothing, even the presence of Mrs. Obama, will change that. 

2. Monthly Pledges require work. A lot of it. 

Monthly pledges are a great concept, and we're 100% behind you when it comes to the importance of recurring private donations. But, for a second, put yourself in the frame of mind you're in when you pay that Spotify account, increase your iCloud storage or sponsor that child in Africa. You ask "what am I paying for?" and this self-reflection matters. Somehow when we talk about recurring donors we seem to forget what it is like being on the other end. Donors need to feel their impact and trust you as a long-time steward of their hard-earned dollars. Now it's on you to earn donors' trust by keeping them informed and constantly showing them how their donations make a difference. Organizations like GreenPeace, The Red Cross and Planned Parenthood employ legions of canvassers to earn these donors, so look internally to determine how your organization will earn (and keep) this highly coveted yet elusive donor. 

3. The "Unicorn" donor is about as likely as a winning lottery ticket. 

It's always possible that Bill Gates could walk through your door, randomly surf the internet, or otherwise stumble upon your incredible work and write a check. Sure, anything is possible. But so many nonprofits spend all of their time chasing these unicorns and ignore the committed donors they already have. Finding that one-in-a-million donor is truly a one-in-a-million scenario, and it should be treated as such, not as a development plan. It's more likely that you have a hidden unicorn in your ranks than it is you'll suddenly find one just waiting to give your organization money. That's why it is just as important to have outstanding follow-through as it is to top-notch marketing materials, a strong website and clearly defined outcomes.  Remember to focus on your existing donors. 

4. Social Media isn't a magic solution.

We've touched on social media before and the need for organizations to create content opportunities as a vehicle for a social media platform. But if you're upset that your 438 twitter followers and 1262 facebook fans haven't yieded financial gains, then maybe you haven't completely grasped the concept. Social media is about reach, relevancy and impact. It's about connecting, on a social level, to users that might share your passions and insights. Eventually, after all of that fostering relationships, it might lead to you getting noticed by potential partners, collaborators, and *maybe* donors. Just like any relationship, this takes work and a lot of time. It's important, it's necessary, but its not magic and it certainly isn't fast.  

5. Crowd-funding shouldn't be a new idea. 

Something we've received a lot of calls over the last year has been an increased interest in crowd-funding as a viable fundraising mechanism. Sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter have convinced nonprofit professionals that there is a new fundraising model out there that is just waiting to be leveraged. What's particularly odd about this concept is that we, as nonprofits, have been masters at corraling small donations and converting them to large gifts for decades. Now, through sites like Donors Choose, we get to see these campaigns in a more visual way and it provides a new medium, but they are constructed identically to capital campaigns of old. What does this mean? It means that tangible results on a set deadline inspire action and build confidence. If anything, crowdfunding successes should inspire you to kick the dust off of that capital campaign you've been sitting on for years. 


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