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2020 vision:

What might the future hold, for fundraisers?


Reactions to
Ken Burnett’s recent blog on
the future of fundraising
and how we might avoid donors defecting in droves.

In my opinion, the future of fundraising can’t come soon enough. Bring it on, I say. Bring it on.

Visit Lisa Sargent’s website.

‘The dwindling results of the old burn and churn hard sales tactics began long before the current economic meltdown and will continue to accelerate downward even as the economy improves. Tomorrow is upon us.’

from Roger Craver, see below.

Then visit
The Agitator


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Is direct mail dead?

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Contrary to the feedback you may have received thus far, Ken, I don’t see your thoughts as dark, negative or any number of other doom-and-gloom adjectives one might dream up. Far from it, in fact.

What I see is opportunity.

And I challenge other communicators and fundraisers to see the same. Here’s why.

If you’re right --- and boy oh boy, do I hope you are --- ‘most fundraisers will not able to make this leap’ and start using those thank-you-focused, quality-driven donor communications strategies you call ‘experience fundraising.’

But consider the flip, and far shinier, side of your 2020 coin: the tiny cadre of wise and smart fundraisers that do ‘make the leap’ will have less competition.

What's more, they'll also experience far greater success... advancing the work of forward-thinking nonprofits by mobilizing and engaging a squadron of dedicated donors (who are, quite frankly, wildly relieved to be treated like thinking human beings, at last).

Does this mean that said fundraising cadre will enjoy success because they tiptoe around donors, ever-hesitant to ask for... dare I say it... money?

No. And that brings me to the second reason your predictions, Ken, are packed with good news.

After all, the nonprofits that can concisely and consistently ‘package and present passion, anger and thrill’ by excelling at donor communications will have timely, relevant reasons to ask, and ask often.

The nonprofits that are transparent, that can openly and honestly show donors that their funds are wisely used will find it easy to ask for a second gift, sans manipulation.

The nonprofits that stop caving in to ego and opinion and start giving their communications professionals the elbow room to really communicate can bury forever phrases like ‘spray and pray’, and ‘churn and burn’.

I'll say it straight out: if you think Ken’s post is bleak and dark, maybe you’ve just picked the wrong profession.

Because I, for one, can think of nothing better than a career that promotes, as Ken said, joy, the warm glow, and even the meaning of life.

In my opinion, the future of fundraising can’t come soon enough. Bring it on, I say. Bring it on.

Lisa Sargent
Sargent Communications
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Voice: 860.851.9755
Skype: lisa.sargent96

The End Of An Era. Thank Heavens!
From The Agitator, November 5, 2009

A couple of days ago Tom relayed Ken Burnett’s view of what donors and fundraising will be like ten years from now.

In brief, technology will put donors more in control of the channels through which we communicate with them…donors will seek greater accountability, transparency and control of how their money is spent and what value it brings…the motivations for giving won’t change much, but the focus and skill of smart and successful fundraisers will have had to change a great deal.

Of course, as Ken would be the first to note, we don’t have to wait another 10 years. The dwindling results of the old burn and churn, “hard sales tactics”, as Ken calls them, began long before the current economic meltdown and will continue to accelerate downward even as the economy improves. Tomorrow is upon us.

For my part, I wish every direct response fundraiser would declare an end to “The Age of Donor Acquisition” and get onboard “The Age of Conservation.” Let me explain.

I spent several decades of my career during the full glory of the “Acquisition Age”—the era when new donors were plentiful and the only obstacle to success was the will to mail. While lip service was paid to retention and upgrading, the reality was that the acquisition mindset ruled the day.

The metrics used in that old-fashioned era say it all: percentage of response, average gifts, RFM, ‘file size growth.’ By those metrics direct mail may not yet be dead, but that mindset put it on a respirator.

Enter “The Age of Donor Conservation”. Fortunately, there are plenty of vibrant and growing fundraising programs rooted in direct mail and steered by folks who truly understand that donors are precious, not limitless.

Successful strategies in “The Age of Donor Conservation” focus on life-time value, solidly based on the long-term loyalty that comes from listening to and focusing on the donors themselves. This focus, aided by sophisticated screening and modeling technologies coupled with common sense and good manners, seamlessly moves donors from small and initial gift status on to mid-level giving, then major gifts and on to the final legacy gift.

Today’s reality is that the measure of a direct mail program is no longer the rate of growth in a file, but what we do with and how we communicate with the donors we have onboard today and will bring in tomorrow.

Of course, as Ken points out, operating in today’s and tomorrow’s environment will require considerable skill and no small measure of hard work. In the hard work department, I was struck by the comment of Stephen Best the other day in The Agitator. He noted that the hard work of preparing handwritten letters of thanks to donors of a “modest sized” animal protection organization in Toronto had not only stemmed attrition, but had probably contributed to growth.

A change of mindset and a dollop of hard work that puts the focus on your precious donors can help you realize the full potential of both your acquisition program and your existing base of donors in the months and years to come. That’s “Conservation Fundraising.”





Some comments from Twitter. Tweets don’t say a lot (how much incisive comment can you get into 140 characters?) but seem positive enough.

Ken’s reply:

Thanks to all for your feedback. I’m delighted that so many see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. And I’m particularly encouraged by Lisa Sargent’s optimistic take on my observations, opposite, and Roger Craver’s incisive insights, below.

Interestingly, no one yet has ventured to suggest that I’m being a bit hard on fundraisers. That, in itself, perhaps speaks volumes.

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My response to Roger’s post, opposite
November 5, 2009 at 5:42 am

Well said Roger,

The shift you talk about is long overdue, and a number of people have been saying so for some years now. We never should have been selling to our donors, it was always inadvisable to see fundraising as a sales paradigm. The arm we once wanted to twist up their backs would always have been better draped around our shoulder, in friendship.

But I remain perplexed, because I can’t quite see how we will bring this particular era to an end. People have been talking about being relationship fundraisers for two decades now. They fill the air with their good intentions at every conference I attend.

Then they return to work the following Monday, and it’s back to the same old, same old.

I like the term conservation fundraising. I’d like to see the emphasis in fundraising switch from marketing to communication. But I think maybe it’s up to the brightest and best of the new generation of young, energetic fundraisers to work out how this will happen, and to make it happen. A small percentage of bright fundraisers are now leading the way and we should focus on them and their endeavors now. We older fundraisers have clearly failed, not perhaps to make the point, but to make the change actually happen (which is the difficult bit).

All power to The Agitator for promoting this message.