FYI Blog

Checking All of The Boxes

This summer, I’ve been taking my oldest son to look at colleges. Like me, he’s analytical, so we started by making a list of the critical things he requires: does College X have the business program he wants? Study abroad? The right club sports offerings?

I want him to check all those boxes, but my ultimate goal is to find the right fit for him (and to graduate in four years!). But his way of defining the “right fit” has really surprised me—because my very logical child is making more of his decision based on the totally emotional reaction to how the campus, the people, and the program make him feel.

I’ve been amazed at his visceral response to some colleges we’ve looked at. I didn’t think one college would make the cut, but he loved it the moment we walked through the main quad; another, he wouldn’t even get out of the car. He just knew it wasn’t right for him. He felt it.

Emotional responses—feelings in the gut or the heart—can take over how we act. And that’s not a bad thing. For so many donors, the act of giving is not logical, nor is it well researched. It is emotional: it is about organizations and missions they care deeply about; issues and incidents that have impacted them personally; and/or nonprofit missions that reflect what they want their legacy to be. Yes, they have high expectations for how their gifts should be used, but they also just want to support organizations they feel emotional about, and that reflect their values.

As evidence of this, look at how giving in 2018 actually increased over 2017 according to the 2019 Giving USA update, despite a number of challenges fundraisers are managing. From the tax law changes, to the decline in the total number of donors, so many factors are negatively impacting giving, and yet many organizations are still seeing record levels of giving.

Of course, we must set our emotions aside when designing fundraising strategy and making decisions around direct marketing investments. Direct marketing growth comes from careful due diligence:  balancing the number of donors lost through natural attrition and those acquired to replace them. And by ensuring that the underlying health of the program is strong and that your fundraising team clearly understands the complex nuances surrounding the factors impacting your program.

If you want to grow, you have to acquire more than you lose.  Seems simple, right? But it’s amazing how easy it is to lose sight of that under the scrutiny of high costs to acquire, and the search for the silver-bullet solution to our creative, messaging, and markets.  So how do we make the case for investment to our leadership and boards? Carefully.  With clear data, a concrete plan for execution, and clear accountability.

People who use their own feelings and experiences to drive their critical feedback/input into organizational strategy, are missing sight of a critical question: who is your target audience? The reality is that most of us managing and supervising direct marketing programs rarely represent our target audience.

We as fundraisers and fiscal stewards have an obligation to go where the money is: and that is solidly in the Mature, Boomer, and now the Gen X generations.  Data shows they give the vast majority of the income, and in fact have double the donor value of their younger counterparts.  So embrace maturity in fundraising and let the millennial’s grow into giving over time.  They will naturally fall within your fundraising program when and how they can give. Check out Blackbaud’s The Next Generation of American Giving for more.

I know it will all work out for my son. He’ll home in on the right college for him—making sure the boxes are all checked so that he will get what he wants out of the experience. But once those boxes are checked, he’s going with his gut. And I’m encouraging that.

Your donors are doing the same thing—looking at your mission, your programs, your results, and then responding to their feelings about the work you’re doing. Your job is to make sure you’re strategically and analytically engaging them across channels with heartfelt messaging to let them know what you are working on and how their support can make a difference.