Nonprofit: Does it Take Money to Raise Money?

Posted: September 29, 2010 in Fund Raising, Leadership, Marketing, Nonprofit Social Media
Tags: , ,

The current economic climate has all businesses and organizations under unprecedented scrutiny.  Nonprofits are not immune to scrutiny, organizations known for doing more with less are now often expected to do much more with much less.  Sure beats being a bank or firm on Wall Street…maybe.

Does it take money to raise money?
Kind of.  There is nothing worse for any business or organization to be referred to as “the best kept secret in town” — ouch!  Building awareness is a key objective of any nonprofit.  I’ve worked with nonprofits that are more well known to those needing their services than to the local philanthropic community — interesting how we can be viral with the community that needs us and not exist to the community that we need.  Awareness campaigns are not easy and they can cost money.

Everyone’s a critic
A well designed marketing or awareness campaign can certainly bring out the critics.  “Such a fancy event, mailer, flier, brochure, etc. that money should go to those in need!”  And don’t dare try to  upgrade your website — “how can you cry poverty (critic-speak for request donations) when spending on such extravagances?!?”  I have seen television ads for banks that received TARP funds, I see ads for bailed out corporations, yet people will quickly criticize and scrutinize a small nonprofit and its efficiencies long before they mouth off to a corporate behemoth.  Bailed out companies can surely have advertising, sales and marketing be 10% or much more of their operating budget, but a nonprofit is expected to keep theirs at 1% or less?

Damned if you do, lost if your don’t?
Building a relationship is a journey, a journey of trust and not to be taken lightly.  Call me arrogant, but if you are unable to bear witness to the impact my organization is having on the families in our community, we probably won’t make good partners (or my message was somehow lost).  I’m looking for shareholders that measure our results by depth of impact, not how we build awareness.  If you’re focused on the quality of a piece of paper I may need to work on my content.

Awareness to relationship
Nonprofits must focus on building relationships with those that embrace their mission and impact.  Relationship building is an art.  We move from casual (we are aware of each other), connected (you’ve donated or attended an event), to committed (you are at the table with us).  Too often we embroil ourselves with our critics and waste precious energy responding to their challenges.  I believe if we dug a little deeper into the mindset of the critic, they are simply justifying their “no” (unfortunately out loud).  Focus on those who are connected, for they will serve as a platform of growth.

I challenge the critics — put your money where your mouth is — underwrite or sponsor design, billboards, ad placements, direct mailings, call campaigns, text giving campaign, website upgrades, online giving programs, and other marketing/awareness activities — display your committed belief in the cause and those in need, THEN come share your thoughts on efficiencies.  Until then, a simple “no” is acceptable, thanks for your consideration.

We must avoid the tendency to plan and execute awareness campaigns based on what the critics may say — it is a recipe for disaster.  It’s not a nonprofit, but when was the last time Apple sought the approval of critics?  Create masterful content that inspires and motivates supporters and prospective supporters to act.

Thoughts?  It’s OK to call me crazy.

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