With the start of 2017 there seems to have been a run of blogs about emerging trends, such as crowdfunding (again) and future gazing that highlight the potential application of new technology, such as virtual reality. Reading such posts – fascinating as they are – suggests you have time to start adapting or you can put off how to apply the thinking for now or leave it to others who have budgets for innovation. After all these are just trends and predictions.
Actually I think we need to wake up to the reality of now – so many of these trends began ages ago. Like some star exploding light years away – it already happened – we just saw the light! And whilst it’s easy to be dazzled by new technology – if it’s applied with the wrong mindset then it could be ineffective.
So my advice is look back. The clues to the future, and most importantly what you need to do now, can be found if you understand how we got here. And that understanding will spur you on to get cracking immediately.
So looking back – what can I see?
We live in a world of abundance of information. This is a direct result that we are all channels. Your charity is a channel. Your website, YouTube and Facebook presence are all places you can share content – so you are a media channel. Other organisations are channels. You yourself are a channel (and an important one too, which I’ll come back to). As a consequence we are drowning in information. So what do we do? We filter information from trusted sources. We are less open to intrusive messages and marketing – unless we want to receive it. Marketing used to be the art of interruption. That worked on the basis that attention was plentiful. It isn’t anymore.
So here is the opportunity. Everyone is now a channel (yes the problem is also the opportunity). And that filter we all apply means trusted sources count more than ever before. Hence the view point of an individual can be more powerful than that of an institution or organisation. Think about when you use Amazon or TripAdvisor and the degree to which you take on board customer reviews. In fact it is more powerful if I hear about your cause via someone else. There is plenty of evidence that posts from individuals are more likely to be read than posts by an organisation.
I’m told your average Facebook post is three times more likely to be seen if it comes from an individual than from an organisation. I also heard LinkedIn did a test that compared the click-through rates for an identical post, when shared by an employee, or from the company handle i.e. the exact same content, but published by two different ‘champions’. Employees got twice the number of click-through from their shares, compared to the number of clicks on the exact same content when shared by the company.
When people talk about you, that’s your reputation working for you (your reputation is after all what other people say about you). So your story is better coming from others.
Now you need to build an audience. One whose attention you have and who will also spread your story for you (as they will have their own audiences). This needs a different mindset to the art of interruption – marketing as was (and still is).
My cousin’s son (age 10) has started his own YouTube channel producing some fun short videos with friends. In a few weeks he has attracted an audience of 50 fans, and it’s growing. Early days of course. He is building an audience and has their attention. That’s what you now need to do, and as you do it, inspire people who have their own audience to tell your story. For a great example of how an individual’s YouTube content has exceeded 3 million views for the charity he fundraised for check out The power of ‘JustSharing’ stories.
The approach you need is not ‘how can we interrupt people and persuade them to give there and then?’. It should be ‘how can we attract the attention of people by building an audience and inspire them to share our story?’. The act of getting them to share your story will also build your audience. When you have people’s attention you can engage and ask them (or better still get your supporters to ask them for you).
Once you look back and understand how marketing has changed, the way forward for fundraising suddenly seems so much clearer. The time to start ensuring you take full advantage of this change is now! The good news is that you can start straight away by taking small steps in the right direction.
These are my recommendations:
- Find your core purpose, or mission, and tell it in a way that stirs emotion (not some wishy washy vision). This gives you a consistent story that ripples out, so your audience can share your story. If the people they connect with come back to you, they hear the same story that matches the one that prompted them to get in touch because it’s rooted in your mission.
- Identify the type of people who are likely to believe in what you believe. These people will be your natural champions.
- Focus on activities that engage your likely audiences. Think about how and where you can find them, and what is getting their attention. Get to know the ones whose attention you already have.
- When you find them, inspire them with your mission story – so much so, that they tell their friends. Determine the tools you can give them to help them spread your story. Find ways to encourage them so it becomes their story.
- Ensure that all your staff, trustees and volunteers are equipped to tell great stories that relate to your mission.
- When someone donates to you, make sure you ‘wow’ them, so much so that they talk about it.
- Make it easy for someone to contact you, and make sure you are able to be responsive at the time you have their attention. Remember attention is scarce, so don’t squander it when you have it. Those lovely people at SolarAid, even with their tiny team, have added a chat function to the website (and not a chat bot – a real person).
- Measure what you want to happen. for example, delivery on your mission, engaging people who believe in what you believe, people sharing your story, a ‘wow’ donor experience, response time. The very act of trying to measure these will force you into defining what they are.
- And finally most important of all, make sure you fully understand the change that has taken place (summarised at the top), and for more of an explanation see ‘how to apply the new rules of fundraising’. It is critical to take the time to do this. It will save you so much frustration! And it will give you the courage and drive to focus on 1-8.
The good news is, all these are basic building blocks of fundraising. Yet areas like donor care and developing your mission focus often get less attention compared to other parts of a fundraising programme, such as this years campaign, or the latest creative. These building blocks are the subject of budget cuts. They are often not prioritised over spending more to do more ‘interrupting’ – trying to make up for the fall in response from classic marketing and fundraising. In this new world, these basics (1-9 above) need to be your priority. They will enable you to make the most of the trends, and help you to apply new technology and opportunities, such as crowdfunding, in the right context. Your fundraising will be more effective as a result. It really is that simple. Not easy – but simple.
In future blogs I will go into more depth on each of these fundraising building blocks, and give practical examples and further recommendations on how to go about making them work for you.
So rather than just reading about the future, act on the change that has already taken place. And do it now.