Philanthropy; Not Fundraising: How Inbound Marketing Enhances Opportunity for Human Connection

Dylan Lyrics to Times they are a changin'In my last post I channeled Bob Dylan, calling for a change in the way we do fundraising. Because the times truly are a changin’…

Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly agin’…

When I grew up in fundraising I had a shoe box as my database.  I wrote grant proposals on yellow legal pads.  When we got our first FAX machine I complained that now folks expected us to mail and FAX them (so double the work).  When email came on the scene I complained that now folks wanted us to mail and FAX and email (so triple the work). But it was still the same old road of outbound marketing.  At least I understood what it was all about.

Now we’re on a new road entirely.  Because folks are coming to us.  They’re telling us what they want.  They’re defining our brand.  And they’re doing so in real time via a multitude of online channels and using a multitude of Web-connected devices. Opportunity is knocking.

Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a-changin’…

Let’s consider some innovative organizations that are transporting themselves – and their supporters – down this new road of opportunity (You may also want to check The Future of Nonprofits: Innovate and Thrive in the Digital Age by David Neff and Randal Moss for a number of case examples highlighting success and failures):

  • Heifer International got an early start at the turn of the century and by 2005 was already raising $8 million annually through its website.  They hired an online specialist and, two years later, donations through the website were $30 million.
  • Charity: Water was founded in 2006 by a 28-year-old club promoter living a life of excess when he realized, in his words, “what a selfish scumbag” he was being. Though they were not the only organization fighting for clean water, they were able to attract top-tier influencers — Adrian Grenier, Adam Lambert, and Jessica Biel — to leverage their brand.  In five years, five million people in 19 countries now have access to clean water because of projects paid for by Charity: Water.
  • Khan Academy is a nonprofit educational organization and website founded in 2006 to provide world-class education to anyone, anywhere, any time. It is a testimony to the potential for using video in our digital age. The site offers an extensive video library with more than 2,400 video resources. The site doesn’t generate revenue; it has received philanthropic backing from some prestigious groups, including The Gates Foundation and Google.
  • Upwell  is a marine conservation organization that really understands the concept of transformation. They’ve done an astounding job with their blog and other social media.  So astounding in fact, that they’ve written a post to share their success with all of us. Check it out for a behind-the-scenes look at how to craft, implement and evaluate a tremendously engaging online campaign. It’s a testimonial to the opportunities awaiting truly networked nonprofits.

And don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’…

The battle to stay sane in this fast-paced, rapidly accelerating environment is a tough one. Truly, it can make your head spin. How to manage it all? This is something we all struggle with. It’s tempting to say if we’re going to adopt something new we have to let go of something old. I’ve said this to my bosses many times!  Yet the truth is less black and white.

We used to talk about work/life balance. Today I believe we’re grappling with work/work balance. The old work and the new work. What yielded results in the past and what has potential to yield results in the future.  And they’re not mutually exclusive. Just because old strategies are no longer yielding the same results as they once did (when I entered the profession a 2% return was standard for direct mail; now we’re over-the-moon delighted with .05%) is not a reason to ditch them. Yes, direct mail is less cost-effective than in the past.  Frankly, everything is. I wish there was an easy solution.

The truth is that folks want to hear from us every which way, wherever they happen to be. At their desk. On the phone. In bed on their laptops. What used to be mail, FAX and email has exploded exponentially to encompass Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+ and a host of others.

What’s undeniable is there’s been a shift from ‘push’ to ‘pull.’ We can no longer force our message on folks. For a discussion about this shift see 5 Reasons Why Nonprofit Marketing Must Change from Inside/Out to Outside/In. We’ve got to create and join communities, inspire people to engage with us, and motivate them to share their good feelings about us with their networks. We can’t wait for them to come to us.

For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled, there’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’

The web-enabled media train has left the station and development (by which I mean integrated fundraising and marketing– see MARCHing to a Different Drum: Who’s in Charge of the Brand Experience – Development, Marketing or… ? )) must get on board now – or be left behind. This means understanding the nature of new opportunities and acquiring the requisite expertise to make it happen. As explained in How Social Media and Empathy Can Combine to Change the World: A Darwinian Tale, to survive we must adapt.

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls, for the times they are a-changin’…

If there’s one thing I find comforting, it’s that it’s still people on board the train. Never lose sight of this.  Within any organization development professionals, more than anyone else, are the ones who must blow their horns whenever it appears that technology is turning the organization into a disconnected robot. We can’t get shaken or rattled by the emergence of newer technological tools.  They’re tools. Humankind has advanced greatly since the invention of tools.  Let’s use them to innovate to our advantage. But let’s not forget that truly transformational, sustainable fundraising has always been, and will always be, about engaging in, building and nurturing vital human connections.

Don’t, however, use ‘people’ as an excuse to avoid ‘technology’. If you’ve ever spoken with a six-year-old you’ll know that trying to separate people from technology is a false dichotomy in today’s world.  Kids breathe the technology with which we struggle. Frankly, so do millenials (roughly ages 21 – 35).  And just about every demographic is embracing technology – and social giving — at a rate unimaginable just a few years ago. In fact, a study by MDG Advertising of the social media trends of nonprofits in 2012 found that those organizations who learned to take advantage of online tools and effectively mobilize social networks were much more successful in ramping up their fundraising efforts.

At the end of the day, people give to what they value. That’s the essence of philanthropy. People value relationships. People value doing unto others as they would be done unto. People value someone – YOU – telling them specifically how they can be the change they want to see in the world.  People value being able to accomplish their goals as easily as possible. It’s the same principle that drives so many people do pay their bills online. It gets the job done effectively. Help people be philanthropists. People give to people who help people.

For some tools to position yourself as a social, transformational business –becoming a philanthropy enabler – check out the SPECIAL GUIDE:  7 CLAIRIFICATION KEYS TO UNLOCK YOUR NONPROFIT’S FUNDRAISING POTENTIAL. It’s super affordable, chock-full of worksheets and exercises, and comes with a money-back guarantee if you don’t find it helpful.

This post is part of the 2013 Philanthropy, Not Fundraising series.

Photo: Flickr by A Geek Mom

Opt In Image
Get Clairification via email and receive free fundraising and nonprofit marketing coaching you can use!

As an added BONUS, you’ll get my popular “Donor Thank Calls E-Book + Script” for free.

About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Claire, I am a BIG Dylan fan and I can well imagine how some of his wisdom seeps in to the thinking we do about community and connection.

    • He does kind of grow on a person… kind of like gravel (or a rolling stone). :-)
      Go back a read the previous post if you missed it. There’s an opportunity to hear him sing.
      Thanks for joining Clairification!

Speak Your Mind


CommentLuv badge