What you've always done won't get you there next time

publication date: May 16, 2011
author/source: Janet Gadeski
Zak Bailey's article (On Boomers: their tribes, their values, their giving) introduces the "Disengaged Darwinists," one of the four Boomer tribes Michael Adams identifies in his new book, Stayin' Alive.

They're the Archie Bunkers of the world: clinging to the status quo, remaining disengaged from social issues, viewing charities as greedy institutions filled with overpaid CEOs, and very difficult to acquire as donors.
Janet Gadeski photo

Other tribes may not give strategically, or may examine your case stringently before giving. But only the Disengaged Darwinists actually resist giving. It's daunting and disappointing to read that they comprise nearly half of the Boomer demographic.

Archie really is different

Compare that with Penelope Burk's latest research. It reveals that committed donors, by contrast, view unnecessary appeals, not executive salaries, as the warning sign of inflated overhead. Here's a clear sign that non-donors aren't just neutral people waiting to be convinced and recruited. Rather, they're a different kind of person altogether - in Adams' language, members of a different tribe.

Those discoveries point to the growing value of applying research, both internal and external, to your fundraising strategy. Know your community. Know your donors, and know whether they're typical of your community or not.

Where to dig for the knowledge you need

The good news is that there has never been so much research available - census data, Environics research, Penelope Burk's work and the donor stewardship study from The Goldie Company and Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy - to name just a few sources.

And don't confine your reading to research focused on the nonprofit sector. Use marketing research and consumer surveys from the corporate sector to sharpen your insights into your community and your donors.

Internally, databases offer us more and more sophisticated ways to track, analyze and segment donors at little, if any extra cost. You may think you know what your donors prefer, what language motivates them, and how, when and why they're giving. But you'll never know until you use your database to its full potential.

Comb it for trends and insights, sharpen your appeals based on how different donors actually behave, and even test two different appeals on the same group of donors. You'll see a difference - and you'll be surprised at what you learn.

I am not my donor

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn as a fundraiser was that what moves or repels me doesn't necessarily move or repel a donor. Take a few minutes to recall your last visit to a shopping mall. Out of everything on sale there, how much of it appealed to you? How astonishing that so many stores can make a profit selling so much stuff that you wouldn't buy and don't even need!

That's how different you are from the broad range of people on whose support your charity depends.

So don't rely on "gut instinct," "everybody knows..." or even good old experience alone to guide your fundraising strategy. Do your homework. You'll raise more money as a result.

Send Letters to the Editor to janet@hilborn.com; follow Janet at http://twitter.com/CFPed

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