Involve, Impact and Trust: New Donors and the Annual Fundraising Campaign

GiveBy Joe Brown Leer

In the world of fundraising, there are many types of campaigns: capital campaigns, annual campaigns, High Holidays campaigns, mini-campaigns, legacy campaigns, online campaigns – the list seems endless. While some of these seem easier to address, the hardest of these to maintain is the annual campaign.

Of course, when compared to flashy events or to asset-building capital (“brick and mortar”) campaigns, one can easily assume that these ongoing campaigns which provide support for the basic activities of the organization will be slower, and may seem less exciting. The promises of a new, shiny building where young people will flourish, or the chance of rubbing elbows with a prominent singer or politician, outshine funding the salary of a social worker any day of the week.

In addition, if the surveys have taught us anything about the new generation of donors, it is that they want to be more Involved, have real Impact in the field and do not Trust the established organizations as much as their parents did. And yet, as eJP reported in July 2014: “The organizations with a formal annual fund drive were 20 percentage points more likely to be on track to meet their fund raising goals.” In other words, fundraising campaigns are a must for success.

So where does this leave us as fundraisers?

For me, this means going back to the basics, in three ways:

  1. Explaining where the money goes;
  2. Explaining why the organization believes donors’ money should go there;
  3. Engaging the next generation.

The first “basic,” of explaining where the money goes, should already be in place for most nonprofits. The annual, ongoing fundraising campaign should support core budgetary items, without which the organization would lose its raison d’être, clearly identifiable to any respectable organization. In an era of Guidestar, Charity Navigator and websites which make financial information metrics accessible to the general public, it is only a question of when information is released, not whether.

The more pressing question, is how the information is positioned in the public sphere – the second “basic” – of explaining why donors’ money should fund these items. This means going back to the core values of the organization and linking them to those core projects.

Many organizations have taken steps in this direction. For instance, the Girl Scouts of the USA, helps “girls reach their fullest potential and build a better world”, and presents the impact of donations as ‘benefits for donors’ and the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland says that “We believe that no child should go to bed hungry. That every senior has the right to live with dignity,” and follows up with real life examples.

While these two steps are necessary conditions for engaging new donors, they are not sufficient for it to happen. The new generation of Jews around the world has been brought up in terms of social action, of Tikkun Olam, and of discourse rooted in Jewish values. They want to be agents of change, to play an active role in molding society. For this purpose, organizations have to change the language they employ, and use language the new donors are familiar with. Such a process will allow the new generation to identify with the organization through shared values and provide an opportunity to participate in meaningful ways.

To summarize, in order to engage the new generation of new donors, we need to be transparent to gain Trust; we need to tie our values to the real Impact our actions have, and we need to get them actively Involved – in their own language.

Joe Brown Leer is the Director of the Fundraising Division at World WIZO and currently serves as the chairperson of the accreditation committee of the Israeli Association of Professional Fundraisers.