Inside Philanthropy

A blog on philanthropy and nonprofit news and issues. A publication of Philanthropy Journal.

September 12, 2011

Fundraising needs innovative strategies

By Todd Cohen

To continue to be effective, fundraising professionals in the U.S. no longer can rely only on their professionalism but must strive to be more innovative.

And with the economy leaving people anxious about giving, fundraisers need to be much more creative about how they approach donors, and to pay attention to the way charities in emerging markets have made innovative use of technology for fundraising in the face of limited organizational resources.

That is the view of Andrew Watt, the new president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, or AFP.

Watt, a native Scot who served as deputy chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising in Britain before joining AFP in 2006, says the 30,000-member organization aims to make information and resources about fundraising more accessible to professional fundraisers, and to offer more options for them to become AFP members.

“What we’re trying to do is provide platform that gives access to as much new thinking as possible to fundraisers,” he says. “And we’re constantly exploring the ways in which they wish to access information.”

In the eyes of the world, the U.S. has been “an exemplar for fundraising,” Watt says, “but not for innovative or lateral thinking.”

Because the scale of the domestic market in the U.S. is so much larger than those in the rest of the world, he says, achieving growth of 1 percent or 2 percent in fundraising required individual nonprofits to be professional more than creative.

But that has changed, he says, because of a generational shift “that is going to lead to a more discriminating audience” that “wants to be wooed,” and because the unstable economy will require a much more focused approach to donors.

Younger generations have a different sense of “community value” then previous generations, Watt says.

“So they need to have a case made to them,” he says. “They need to have a value statement that wasn’t necessarily required before.”

As a result, fundraisers will need “to understand what it is those people are looking for from us,” he says. “We can’t just assume they are going to buy the message we are giving them.”

Fundraisers increasingly “need to understand what motivates them, the environment they live in,” Watt says. “We need to understand much more about the way in which they connect than we have done in the past.”

That means that the “old tried-and-trusted mechanism – direct-marketing, cold mail, telemarketing campaigns – are not necessarily going to work the way they have in the past unless we truly understand the messages we’re putting out there and how they fit with those people,” Watt says.

With the economic collapse hurting nonprofits and donors alike, he says, fundraisers in the U.S. can learn a lot from fundraising outside North America.

Using text-messaging and other technologies for fundraising has been tried and tested for many years in Latin America, the Asia-Pacific region and Eastern Europe, Watt says, “because all those have been emerging markets where the need has become very great, and therefore the corresponding need for innovation has been critical.”

In the past, fundraisers have “relied on professionalism,” he says. “Professionalism is no longer enough to carry us through. What’s needed is the innovation and creativity that we see in emerging markets throughout the world.”

Thriving, not just surviving

Despite the fact that the U.S. economy has been in free-fall over the past three years, North Carolina-based Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County has pursued what at first glance might seem like the counter-intuitive strategy of looking for ways to grow.

To learn about steps nonprofits can take to thrive in tough times, please join the Philanthropy Journal on Sept. 21 for a webinar presented by Sylvia Oberle, executive director at Forsyth Habitat.

To register for the webinar, click here.


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