How Fundraising for Nonprofits is Changing (and How It’s Still the Same)

Randy McCabe September 15, 2016 Nonprofits

A Review of The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s New Fundraising Report

The Chronicle of Philanthropy just released a new study titled “Fundraising in the Multi-Channel World”. This study is built on a survey taken by nearly 500 Development and Executive Directors of nonprofit organizations in the winter of 2016. The most important conclusion is not about identifying the hottest new fundraising channel, but rather, as the title might suggest, how organizations are recognizing the importance of multiple channels and building their strategies around a comprehensive approach to fundraising.


Some Historical Fundraising Context

Twenty years ago, many nonprofit organizations were built through a siloed fundraising strategy. A department or development individual would use one main strategy in which they were highly skilled to do most of the fundraising. Their approach was often determined by the organization’s mission, their location, how broad their reach, whether or not they were public facing, or even who their Executive Director was. These approaches varied from an annual telethon/radiothon to a direct mail campaign; from annual events like an auction or golf tournament all the way to a major donor approach.

For many organizations, this single approach to fundraising worked just fine. For others, it was enough to survive, but not thrive.

Fast-forward to 2016. The “Fundraising in a Multi-Channel World” study shows that: regardless of an organization’s past fundraising strategy, the modern nonprofit is taking a broad-based and holistic approach to the way they are branding in the marketplace, attracting new donors, soliciting gifts, and retaining current donors. Even with the help of modern fundraising software that lets far-reaching fundraising efforts tie back into one home base, the person helming those efforts needs to have a firm grasp on all that’s occurring. No longer can a Development Director run a program in isolation by being just an Event Planner, a Major Donor Representative, or a Direct Mail Expert. Instead, nonprofits need people who are well rounded; have skills in many different areas; and, perhaps most importantly, have a holistic view of life, work, civic duty, generosity, art, and religion. Said another way, today’s Development Director needs a Liberal Arts Degree.


Multi-Channel = Liberal Arts


This study shows that today’s organizations are not shifting from one old fundraising approach to a shiny new fundraising approach. Rather, they are growing their channels and broadening their approaches in an effort to meet the market and their donors where they are. This broader based approach requires a person who won’t get lost in the noise. A Liberal Arts Degree arms an individual with the essential tools to effectively communicate an organization’s message. This kind of solid multi-channel strategy requires storytelling, personalization, and consistency to be a success.

The study shows that while there is more focus placed on digital channels (online, social media, and mobile), many organizations are increasing their investment in seemingly old school fundraising channels like Direct Mail. Whereas almost 60% of respondents said they would invest the same amount in direct mail this year as last year, a significant 33% of respondents claimed they would be increasing their investment in direct mail this year versus last year.

Another surprising finding from the study was the increased number of departments within an organization who are becoming involved in managing the various “fundraising” channels. According to the study, while traditional areas of fundraising still fall squarely within the Development Office around 90% of the time, other newer channels like email and events are being managed by multiple departments within at least 25% of organizations. This requires the Development Director to be efficient at communicating across departments to meet an organization’s goals. This means that there is a dual challenge to the modern Development Director to be well rounded enough to communicate effectively with donors via multiple channels, and winsome enough to coordinate your development goals across your organization. This is where a Liberal Arts Degree is useful.


In the End, It’s a Personal Ask That Matters

While there is certainly a lot of hype around “new” channels like social media and mobile, the core value goes back to the basics of motivation – a personal connection. Regardless of what channels organizations are using, a full 90% of survey respondents replied that a personal ask is the most important part of their fundraising approach. Historically, this approach happens mostly in personal meetings, via telephone, or in personalized direct mail. Today, a personal ask can also happen via text, email, and even social media. Perfecting the personal ask is crucial for fundraising success. This insight requires the Development Director to put campaign goals and strategies on the back burner so that they can focus on connecting with a person in a deep and meaningful way. This personal touch leads to the most good for an organization, the donor, and for our world.