Jeff Bezos has been on my mind lately. Of course, he is the 49-year-old owner of Amazon.com, and this internet pioneer recently purchased one of the iconic old media newspapers — The Washington Post — for $250 million. It was no more than a few days after this announcement that I was talking to a non-profit board volunteer about fundraising when I was reminded of this famous Jeff Bazos quotation: “A company shouldn’t get addicted to being shiny, because shiny doesn’t last.”
Here is how the fundraising conversation with the board member went:
- Board member: “Erik, I am so happy with our agency’s foray into online fundraising. I especially LOVE these ‘personal pages’ where I set-up my online page and email a link to everyone in my email address book.”
- Erik: “Why do you like this new fundraising strategy so much?“
- Board member: “For starters, it is so easy and doesn’t take much time. Who has time to do fundraising the way we used to do it? Chasing down friends — who also don’t have time — and ask them for money when they don’t really want to be asked.”
- Erik: “Ummmm … well, hopefully there wasn’t a lot of ‘chasing’ and ‘forcing’ going on. Fundraising should be more about connecting people’s philanthropic wishes with opportunities. We’re not stalking people and stealing their money.“
- Board member: “Well, I just hated sitting down with my friends. It was so uncomfortable. Now, with these new ‘personal pages,’ I don’t have to do that anymore.”
- Erik: “Ummmm … that can’t be entirely true, right? I mean you should still be sitting down with large donors because it isn’t very respectful to ask donors of a certain size to simply ‘click and give,’ right?“
- Board member: “I guess, but I’m not really focused on ‘those donors’. Staff can take care of those individuals.”
- Erik: “How do you ask donors to consider making a specific sized contribution that is commensurate with their capacity and willingness to give to your agency?“
- Board member: “I really don’t worry about that either. I just ask them to give whatever they feel like donating, and the contributions rolled in! I can’t believe it, but my response rate has been approximately 30%. Many people are giving $25 and $50. A few people even donated more than $100. The biggest contribution was $200. I just can’t believe it!“
- Erik: “I have some concerns about taking the personal touch out of your organization’s resource development program. Hopefully, these personal pages are simply one small strategy focused on the very bottom rung or two of your range of gifts chart. Or is it your agency’s new ‘donor acquisition’ strategy… like direct mail?“
- Board member: “Oh Erik … this is the future of fundraising!“
I’m not going to provide too much commentary in today’s post because I suspect you can read between the lines.
I am a huge proponent of using technology and integrating it into your non-profit organization’s fundraising program, but it shouldn’t be introduced in a way that undercuts the other best practices embedded in your resource development plan.
If your board members are ultra-reluctant fundraisers and you can’t introduce something like “personal pages” into your fundraising tool box without killing your annual campaign, then I suggest taking a pass on those opportunities for now. Timing is everything. Right?
Moreover, the Jeff Bezos quotation reminds us that shiny objects don’t remain shiny forever. So, what happens when those personal pages (or whatever the new online fundraising tool you’re using) become burdensome to volunteers and they resist using it?
My suggestion is that you fix the underlying problems and stop trying to deal with symptoms. If your volunteers are reluctant fundraisers, then help them overcome their fears or recruit additional board members who aren’t reluctant. Don’t just paper over their fears or blind them with shiny objects.
Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am not opposed to online giving. I am not against peer-to-peer web-based personal pages. I am concerned about misuse and unintended consequences.
Has your agency started using personal pages to support board volunteer’s peer-to-peer solicitation with their circle of influence? If so, what has been the result? Have individual board members raised more, less or about the same in year-to-year comparisons? Have you seen any ill effects of introducing a shiny new object into your fundraising tool box?
Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC