Everything Old is New Again in Fundraising

Everything Old is New Again in the fundraising industry.  We appreciate the perspective that Jay Frost expresses in this article, as he strikes a rational balance between respect for our industry’s well-established best practices with the explosion and exuberance for fundraising with new social media techniques.

Everything Old  is New Again

by Jay Frost

New parents are rightly amazed by everything their babies do. The first laugh. The first word. The first step. It’s all magic.

But then there are those freshly minted parents who drive us all crazy.
Not only is everything their child does wonderful. It is also the first time any child has ever done it. All the other babies are nothing compared with this one. In fact, every baby from now on should be just like theirs since it’s the best baby ever.

At first, we put up with it. But at a certain point it becomes nearly intolerable.

Today, we have a new wave of advocates for doing “good.” And they have a bright shiny new toolkit they’ve discovered and they are completely convinced we all need to use it. It’s their baby. And they’re in love!

Just last week, I had a twitter exchange with a new vendor. He told me his new platform was a combination of “smart biz tools to enable profit and purpose–disruptive systems, big data, loyalty, payment enabling more good.”

I understood all the words, but when I added them up, they didn’t really mean anything. So I looked at their site. Over and over. I still had no idea what they plan to do besides collect a percentage of commercial transactions for designated charities.

This is a very smart guy. He’s undoubtedly doing something very important. But is it really the first platform enabling “good”? And does something so good need to be so mysterious?

Of course not.

That’s right, proud parents. Trying to do “good” is very good. We support you. But it’s not exactly “new.” And wrapping it in cool sounding names and wildly vague adjectives does not make it so.

But it’s not just the act of “doing good” that is is not novel. It is also the techniques for making positive change that are merely updates to approaches applied by nonprofits for many years.

Take crowdfunding. The word is exciting. The concept compelling. It sounds like a true change-agent’s approach to fundraising.

Fundamentally, however, crowdfunding is just about empowering your advocates to raise money on your behalf.

We used to do this by giving envelopes to donors to redistribute in their neighborhoods. Or by giving out UNICEF boxes for Halloween collection. Or holding a boot collection at the local intersection. Or providing pledge forms for walkathons.

Today, your supporters can share content about your organization and its fundraising effort on their favorite social networks. And instead of having a paper pledge sheet, they can recruit friends to give through an online form.

Today’s version is easier and better. It reaches a far greater number of people. And those it reaches are more likely to be responsive since they are being approached by a friend. We should all be doing it.

But once again, adoring parents, it’s not entirely new. And we don’t have to describe it in befuddling and imprecise ways just to differentiate ourselves from one another. Nor should we make it sound like everything that came before is outdated and outmoded.

What we do in fundraising today is a direct outgrowth of what we have been doing all along. The talents and people power behind traditional and contemporary approaches to fundraising are equally valuable. It’s all good and all for the good.

But if we blend people and approaches, bringing together the tried-and-true and new, we are more likely to be successful.

Take multi-channel fundraising approaches. They are far more successful in acquiring and sustaining donors than just online or offline campaigns alone.

In short, whatever we do in fundraising works better as part of a larger combination of donor interactions. And that is because fundraising is about people asking people for money for a cause that matters to them both. It’s not about the technology at all. Nor has it ever been.

The changes we are witnessing in fundraising, like the generational changes among our donors, are more evolutionary than revolutionary. They do not force us to take sides of new against old, digital vs. face-to-face. It all works. And it all works better together.