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The Digital Imperative

We were in a small cozy office. I sat across the desk from her. She sighed. “I’ve been in this business for 15 years. I know what we need to do to raise more money. I understand online fundraising and integrated campaigns. But the board won’t let me do it. They don’t want to take the risk. Our program department is hamstrung because they don’t have enough resources and I can’t help them.” She pressed her fingers to her temples and shook her head. The classic fundraising headache pose.

I have met many new fundraisers who need help getting started with integrated campaigns: learning what channels to focus on first, how to make the biggest impact with minimal resources, and how to grow from there. But many more, like my friend above, know exactly what to do. But they can’t. They are throttled by leadership who are risk-averse, lack trust in their staff, fail to understand fundraising tactics, are stymied by a micromanaging board, or are simply too busy to focus on these kinds of efforts.

Let’s face it: most nonprofits struggle. There are never enough resources for programs and operations to grow effectively. They might be saved momentarily by a large grant or a major gift that will help them inch along, but if you talk to most program folks, they could be doing so much more. I once visited a nonprofit that offered grief counseling. After waiting six weeks for an appointment, I met with the lovely, caring woman. She sadly explained that they only have enough funding to offer up to four appointments. Typical in nonprofits. There are never enough blankets at the shelter. There is never enough food for the hungry. Educational programs are packed to the gills. Animal rescue facilities are bursting at the seams. In the nonprofit world, we struggle.

So when I talk to development professionals who know exactly how to make more money for their organizations but can’t, my head explodes. Therefore, on to my soapbox I climb.

There are three main reasons why nonprofit organizations need to be crafting integrated campaigns and focusing on digital engagement. Now. And I mean, right now.

Cultivating Audiences

Organizations must be growing their online presence and connecting with audiences through digital channels. Why? Younger donors are online and our existing donors continue to age. On-air pledge drive contributors are over the age of 65. Major gifts donors are in the 50s range, direct mail audiences are over 40. When my 20-something daughter is ready to make donations to charity, how am I going to reach her? She doesn’t watch TV and she hardly checks her mailbox. She is online. All the time. If I engage her through an online channel now, my ability to cultivate her in the next few years increases dramatically.

Diversifying Revenue

But this doesn’t mean that traditional methods of fundraising stop. Just as a financial planner advises us to diversify our investment portfolio, so must fundraisers diversify their platforms. Avoid putting all those eggs into one basket! A healthy fundraising strategy involves major and planned gifts, direct mail, corporate support, online fundraising, events, grants and perhaps a selection of other efforts such as workplace campaigns, vehicle donations, telemarketing or canvassing.

Connection and Transparency

Even older audiences are utilizing the web to research the organizations they want to support. But a website is not enough. Having a presence on social platforms gives organizations the opportunity to tell their story in compelling and impactful ways. We can show how our mission makes a difference in the community or with the audiences we serve. It breathes life into our efforts. When holding an online campaign, we can connect immediately with audiences and let them know our progress to goal. When volunteers finish packing 200 meal bags or we get that delivery of 500 new blankets at the shelter, our supporters can celebrate with us. Every milestone can be documented in real time allowing for immediate connection and the transparency that donors appreciate.

Technology is a speeding train and as we begin the third decade of the 21st century, now is the time for nonprofits to start focusing on digital practices. We must build a strong online presence, connect with audiences through social channels, and create robust integrated campaigns that will provide a steady source of income for future generations. We have to meet audiences where they are. And they are online.

Print this article and give it to your boss. Let the fundraising begin.

Need more ammunition when talking to leadership?
Check out the 2019 Special Report on “Why Fundraisers are Fed Up” by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

And don’t miss my new book, coming out VERY soon AVAILABLE NOW!
The Insider’s Guide to Online Fundraising: Finding Success When Surrounded by Skeptics

More great resources every month!