The Non-Profit Sector: Top 5 Things I've Learned So Far

After years of working in multi-national agencies, I've now been working with non-profits for a little more than 3 years with Stephen Thomas Ltd. It really has been a fascinating experience because, arguably unlike the "commercial sector", there's so much opportunity to make positive change in the world when the planets align. Here are the Top 5 things I've learned about how to start aligning those planets.

  1. Young people need to be inspired to step up and become donors or fundraisers, not just supporters. I know it's hard when you're just starting out to put what little money you make where your mouth is. However, brave charities understand that a strategy to attract and convert young people (18 to 27 year olds) should be long-term and outline the endgame, which is always to convert them into active donors or fundraisers who can tap into their own network to raise money for the causes of their choice. Step 1 is engagement. Cool creative with a strong strategic foundation that gets their attention and inspires them to get involved. Just don’t let the creative overpower your message or your cause. Step 2. Inspire them to do something. Make them feel like they have control. Help them understand what’s in it for them. Don’t focus on long-term consequences, show them how they can have an impact today. Don’t be paternalistic. Start to build an emotional connection with your cause. Step 3, start the stewarding process to convert them into donors carefully and patiently, keeping them connected and making the ask manageable for them. Make them an offer they can’t refuse. (Smaller donations each month are more manageable than a lump sum donation once a year.) If you did a good job targeting them, and your message is relevant, you’ve set yourself up for success. Now just be responsive to what you’re learning as your campaign unfolds and be patient! The distance between each of the steps really depends on whether you’re in it for the long haul or not. If you want fast results from this hard-to-reach audience, you will be disappointed. It takes time but it can be worth the investment. 
  2. When Marketing & Fundraising Departments work together, it's magic. If the departments in charge of your message aren’t in sync, you’re simply not going to see the same kind of success. Coming from a world where Product and/or Sales aren’t always on the same page with the Marketing Department, I’m not surprised to discover that the most successful charities have figured out how to get the Marketing Department and Fundraising Department to work together for the best results.
  3. Pro-bono wins agencies awards, but does not necessarily win charities new donors. I'm biased, I admit it. But the old adage rings truer than ever here: you get what you pay for. Certainly, a cute or funny or super-emotional television spot can get you tons of awareness, but if you don’t think about how you’re going to translate that awareness into action -- and I mean real action, a donation or a real change in behaviour -- you will fail. You have to go beyond awareness and “tell me what you want me to do”. I can’t tell you how many times someone has told me how much they love a particular campaign (I’m not here to point fingers – it happens in the commercial world, too) but then can’t remember exactly which charity it was for. Enough said.
  4. People working in non-profit organizations really are trying to make the world a better place. Think about the television show The West Wing. It’s an idealized depiction of how government works. Based on what I’ve seen, the non-profit sector really does have its heart in the right place, too. When it’s done right, the donor and the beneficiary are at the forefront of everything. It’s the connection between those two points where you see real impact.
  5. Non-profit organizations that are willing to try new things, think big and take risks are the ones that will be around in 10 years. The landscape has changed. Just like almost every other sector, the competition is fierce. The committed, loyal donor is becoming more rare. This is exactly when the innovators need to come out to play.

The old ways of doing things aren’t working quite as well as they used to. New generations of donors require new approaches, new ideas, new offers and new fundraising products to capture their imagination. The question is, are you willing to do what it takes to win them?

Bryan Tenenhouse


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Tags: Not-for-Profit, Advertising, Community Affairs, Loyalty, Innovation