As the year comes to a close, I have been thinking about “why.” Why is donor acquisition less effective than it was in the past? Why are so many first-time donors failing to give again? And why are once-faithful donors no longer giving?
On the one hand, we have so many more ways to communicate with our donors than we did even 15 years ago. E-mail has made communication much less expensive, and reporting back to donors can be almost instantaneous and filled with photos to “prove” our words.
On the other hand, there are now more than 1.5 million nonprofits in the United States, all going after the same discretionary dollars from donors. The country has been back and forth in terms of the economy for several years. (Whether we’re still in a recession, heading for a recession or out of the recession, unemployment is still high and consumer confidence is only slowly inching upward.)
Once you catch your breath this year-end, I encourage you to think about how you can help your nonprofit stand out in 2013 and increase fundraising results — and therefore, the great work being done. Some fodder to help jump-start your thinking follows.
As an instructor of fundraising, I have listened in the course of an evening to a couple dozen students present a 90-second “elevator speech” on nonprofits of their choice. And frankly, other than the names, too many of them sound just alike.
Take, for example, nonprofits working with the homeless in a large city. One may have more beds, and one may be the oldest, while a third works with more teenagers than the others. But other than those nuances, they all sound alike to me. And my cynical side says, “Do we really need all these nonprofits doing the same thing? And with so many working on it, why haven’t they ‘fixed’ the problem?”
How are you going to set yourself apart from other nonprofits doing similar work? Rather than just copying with a slight variation, do you have a truly unique “secret sauce” that is obvious to the potential donor who isn’t willing to spend hours researching your uniqueness?
When a person is overwhelmed with choices, he or she often selects what is familiar. And the biggest is often the most well-known. (That’s my excuse for eating Cheerios every morning for the last decade. Sure, there are dozens of other cereals at my store. But I don’t want to invest the time to research the nutritional benefits and taste, so I stick with my familiar brand.)
My challenge to you is this: Figure out what you can say about your nonprofit that will set you apart from all the rest. Forget for a minute that you’re not the biggest or that you have a limited budget, and concentrate on figuring out what the one significant thing is that is truly unique. If you can’t do that, why do you expect donors to select you over the others?
Promote your ‘secret sauce’ and deliver on it over and over
Too often, nonprofits are hanging on, waiting for the next natural disaster, political misstep or local news headline to propel them into the public eye. It’s time to figure out how to take hold of your nonprofit’s destiny and become a force to be reckoned with all on your own.
That means you have to decide what it is that makes you unique (and better), communicate that to your donors, and prove it to them over and over again. All the taglines in the world can’t make up for poor performance or failed programs.
That’s why I urge you to keep your point of differentiation manageable. That doesn’t mean insignificant, and it doesn’t limit vision. But it has to be believable, and you have to be able to demonstrate progress.
I realize there aren’t any answers in this article. The bottom line is that when it comes to being the nonprofit that truly stands out because it is the one that delivers on its unique promise, there isn’t a simple formula to follow.
But it seems to me that if we don’t figure out how to differentiate ourselves in the minds of our donors, and then prove to them over and over again that their confidence is not misplaced, we’re on a collision course with failure.
I’d love to hear your comments below. How are you going to stand out from the other 1,565,496 nonprofits out there?
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.