Commenting on non-profits doing desperate fundraising during the economic crisis, Seth Godin writes that Now is not the time to ask for money.
I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been thinking along these lines over the last year, since I took a step back from working with several large national non-profits.
So much has been done to optimize development through the sciences of direct mail and web / email metrics and analytics… and yet something basic seems to be missed in all this.
As they learned in physics, the act of observation effects the outcome.
In this case, the mechanism is clear. When every non-profit follows the same “best practices” shown to be effective at raising money, the weight of such concentrated action changes the way people behave, obsoleting the best practices. This creates a never-ending spiral of chasing your desired behavior down the drain since some small percentage is still clicking.
The same applies to getting members to take some other action, such as contacting a legislator to voice an opinion.
While the science of “best practice” ways to convince the membership to act continues to evolve, how much evolution is taking place in best-practice ways for non-profits to listen to their membership and ask their thoughts and opinions?
What is the “best practice” evolution of non-profit organizational structure that uses all this fancy technology to enable more participation, to enable de-centralizing management in the organizations?
I predict that economic crisis or no, the best way to raise money in the future will be to put much less into development (fundraising) and much more into programs and into ways to serve the needs of donors (and other interested parties).
Stop thinking of “donor cultivation.” Think instead of donor services.
Stop refining your messaging. Instead, refine your listening.