Here’s a simple fact: Like us, our donors live in a fast-paced world where every second counts and attention spans are shrinking. That’s why brevity is especially important in donor communications. With individuals being bombarded with messages from all directions, short, direct, and compelling messages stand out. Let’s delve deeper into the rationale behind this and touch upon some insights from recent research.
1. The Busy Donor's Dilemma
Your donor is swamped. Between personal commitments, professional tasks, and the constant ping of notifications, it's not just their money that's valuable—it's their time. Sending lengthy, wordy communications can quickly deter an otherwise eager donor. If they need to sift through paragraphs to understand the essence of your message, they might skip reading it altogether.
2. The Power of Brevity: Research Insights
A recent study published in the Journal of Marketing Research (accessible here) sheds light on the impact of message length in the context of donor communications. The findings underline that:
3. Brevity as an Art and Skill
As noted above, being concise doesn't mean stripping your message of emotion or impact. It’s about trimming the excess and focusing on what truly matters. Aim for:
4. Tailored Messaging
While brevity is crucial, personalization shouldn't be overlooked. In addition to tailoring messages to individual donor interests, a shorter, personalized message makes the donor feel seen and appreciated. This leads to a more profound connection.
Not only are concise messages more effective in delivering the desired message to a donor, but there is also a knock-on effect related to trust. When an organization respects a donor’s time and delivers information in a concise manner, it instills the sense that the organization values their time, strengthening the relationship and opening the door to continued engagement. Be one of the organizations that demonstrates you value your donors' time and reap the rewards!
Fundraisers play an indispensable role within any nonprofit organization. We don't just bring in monetary resources; we foster relationships, build trust within communities, and elevate the public image of the organization. By grasping the full spectrum of our worth, fundraisers can move beyond transactional interactions and engage in more profound, transformative connections with both our supporters and our partners, both inside our institutions and beyond.
What follows are two examinations of how we bring broader value to our institutions, strengthening them through the questions we ask and the collaborations we can spur.
#1: Asking the Right Questions to Build a Stronger Organization
Not only do effective fundraisers respond to questions posed by our donors, but the best among us also proactively anticipate what our donors will want to know and work with internal partners to generate inspiring answers to these questions. Through this activity we have a unique role to play as a catalyst for all-encompassing organizational growth, seeking answers to the essential questions that should compel the entire institution to think critically and spurring it towards operational excellence and holistic strength. What are these questions and how do they serve to strengthen operations?
A central question that fundraising teams probe is: "What is our compelling narrative?" The answer doesn't merely serve the purpose of securing funding. Instead, it challenges the organization to identify, hone, and articulate its core purpose, values, and mission. In this way, it can streamline strategic planning and decision-making across all operations. Done well, this distinctive narrative resonates with stakeholders, boosting engagement, morale, and overall organizational cohesion.
Another question is: "How can we effectively demonstrate our impact?" This incentivizes the organization to develop robust evaluation and reporting systems, ensuring that the work performed truly aligns with its mission and goals. It also compels departments to assess their outcomes critically and continuously, promoting accountability and transparency.
Equally vital is the question, "How can we diversify our funding sources?" This query propels organizations to innovate, explore new revenue streams, and form strategic alliances, partnerships, and collaborations, each of which can expand the organization’s reach and influence. Such an approach not only ensures financial sustainability but also fosters resilience in the face of economic fluctuations.
The question, "Who are our key stakeholders, and how can we effectively communicate with them?" is also pivotal. This pushes the organization to map and understand its diverse stakeholder ecosystem and devise effective communication strategies. This leads to stronger relationships, increased stakeholder satisfaction, and broadened support for the organization.
Lastly, "How can we attract, engage, and retain top talent?" is a question that forces organizations to focus on human resource strategies, promoting a work culture of growth, development, and satisfaction. It not only increases productivity but also amplifies the organization's ability to fulfill its mission effectively.
By helping the organization be able to explain its “why” in both sufficient and inspiring ways, we can act as a catalyst for strengthening operations. By providing voice to the questions of some of our most important partners, we push the organization to continuously introspect, innovate, and optimize its programs, thereby driving growth, sustainability, and durability. For these reasons, and more, it is essential for organizations to value fundraisers as strategic partners in their journey towards excellence.
#2: Driving Collaboration to Reach Our Ambitious Goals
We live in a world of ever-increasing complexity and with challenges that call for a collective and collaborative effort from all sectors of society. But who will build this necessary collaboration? While by its very nature collaboration invites contributions from a variety of teams, fundraising units—whose roles often encompass donor relations, marketing, event planning, and relationship-building—are uniquely positioned to serve as linchpins in fostering inter-institutional collaboration. Here are several ways we can accomplish this goal:
Just because we can foster collaboration doesn’t mean we do, or that we do it well. Below are a few strategies fundraising teams can deploy to enhance institutional collaboration:
While it’s true that development teams hold immense potential in strengthening institutional collaboration, it requires strategic planning, constant communication, and, most importantly, a shared vision of achieving greater good for society. Fortunately, these are skills and worldviews that are abundant in the fundraising community and I know we will make great things happen. As we navigate through the complexities of today's world, the collaborative efforts we catalyze will undoubtedly serve as beacons of hope and drivers of impact. I look forward to hearing about the collaborations you hope to undertake!
Throughout the nonprofit sector, philanthropy experts have been raising the alarm that while the total amount given to charitable causes is growing at a very modest pace, the number of donors is shrinking with each passing year. This begs the question: what changes need to be made to reverse this trend and attract donors back to our many worthy causes?
One source for inspiration should be crowdfunding platforms such as GoFundMe, Indiegogo, and FundRazr, which are in many ways reshaping the philanthropic landscape. This has been achieved not only through democratizing the philanthropy field and fostering global community bonds but, perhaps most importantly, by redefining donor expectations.
In this article we’ll dig into what monetary impact crowdfunding has had on nonprofit bottom lines, explore other ways these platforms are changing the philanthropic landscape, and take a look at a few practical tips on changes nonprofits need to be making right now to remain relevant to donors.
Act One: Crowdfunding by the Numbers
Crowdfunding is a complicated term because it encompasses all sorts of financial arrangements, including gifts to individuals, organizations, and registered charitable institutions as well as financing for start-ups, support of artists, and bringing new products to market. While funding for start-ups usually receives all the press, it turns out that most money in this space is dedicated to more charitable endeavors.
So, what’s at stake here? Being a largely unregulated space, it’s nearly impossible to get an exact sense for the financial implications of crowdfunding platforms on philanthropic giving. However, Giving USA takes into account the roughly 22 percent of giving to nonprofit organizations through crowdfunding platforms when arriving at its estimate of $484 billion in total philanthropic giving in 2021. One estimate from the previous year for money raised by crowdfunding platforms is $34 billion, which would mean that approximately $26.5 billion of that total did not go to registered charitable organizations. Such numbers would also square with research by the Pew Charitable Trusts which indicated that “68 percent of crowdfunding users report having contributed to a project to help an individual facing some sort of hardship or financial challenge.”
Does this mean that crowdfunding campaigns are diverting money that might otherwise go to nonprofits to do their work? Yes and no. To begin with, according to an Indiana University survey, 4 out of 5 people who give via crowdfunding platforms “also give to charity through more traditional means.” People have given directly to family, friends, and those in need for generations, so in many ways online crowdfunding is just a new means of achieving a longstanding goal. At the same time, the estimates in philanthropic giving, combined with recent trends of a diminishing donor base, indicate that there are likely fewer dollars flowing to nonprofits than there otherwise might be. And let’s not forget those 1 in 5 people who are only giving through crowdfunding campaigns, many of whom are younger and people of color. Clearly, crowdfunding is proving both a complement and an alternative to traditional fundraising.
Act Two: A Changing Paradigm
While the money matters, the biggest impact of crowdfunding has been on donor expectations and the donor experience. More often than not, philanthropy has been a largely impersonal endeavor, with well-meaning people giving to organizations with the belief that the funds would make a difference. In return, organizations have tended to communicate back to their donors in broad strokes and with limited detail. This paradigm has been turned on its head with the rise of crowdfunding. The instantaneous, transparent, and personalized nature of platforms like GoFundMe has shifted donor behavior and reset their expectations.
Crowdfunding platforms offer an immediacy and personal connection that is largely absent from traditional philanthropy. Donors can give directly to specific causes or individuals, often in real-time, and see the impact of their contribution almost instantly. They can follow progress updates, witness the direct effects of their generosity, and see exactly where and how their funds are being utilized. This provides donors with a gratifying sense of direct impact, which has significantly reset expectations regarding giving.
Moreover, these platforms have instilled a desire within donors for increased transparency. As mentioned above, donors would give without necessarily knowing the specifics of how their contributions were being used. With crowdfunding, they often see the entire process unfold. They know who they're helping, why they're helping, and how their assistance is making a difference. This transparency is fast becoming a prerequisite for modern-day philanthropy, challenging traditional charitable institutions to become more transparent and accountable.
Furthermore, crowdfunding has brought about a demand for personal connection in philanthropy. Donors now expect to feel a sense of emotional investment and personal involvement in the causes they support. This shift towards a more emotional and empathetic form of giving can be largely credited to the storytelling aspect inherent in crowdfunding campaigns, which effectively humanizes the recipients of aid and creates a deep, personal bond between donors and beneficiaries.
Act Three: Practical Tips for Nonprofits
At its core, the traditional donor engagement model is based on a top-down approach in which the nonprofit communicates its priorities in broad and generally impersonal ways. It also tends to be solicitation-heavy and stewardship light. This model is no longer effective. Donors are more skeptical than ever before, and if they are going to donate to a nonprofit, they’re more likely to give to organizations to which they feel connected.
To successfully pivot to this emerging paradigm and attract—and retain—this new generation of donors, nonprofits need to change their donor engagement model to be more bottom-up. This means better responding to donor interest and being more thoughtful in articulating how their donations are making a difference. Nonprofits can do this by:
While the advent of crowdfunding has introduced new challenges, such as the potential for fraud and the risk of popularity-driven giving, the impact it has had on donor expectations cannot be understated. As we move further into the digital age, crowdfunding will likely continue to grow, evolve, and challenge traditional philanthropic norms, driving the sector towards greater immediacy, transparency, and personal connection. In doing so, crowdfunding is not just changing how we give, but fundamentally reshaping our expectations of what the experience of giving should be.