Where Are You Building Your House (or why your list is so important)?

There is an ancient story about a man who build is house on a base of sand. The waters came in and the house was washed away. On the other hand, there was another man who built his house on a base made of rock. Again the waves came in, but this house stood firm.

This story was not written with fundraising in mind, but I do think it has implications for us. The question that we can ask ourselves is: what kind of base is your fundraising program built on? Do you have a group of dedicated supporters who will be there for you?

Traditionally, organizations were able to gain contributors fairly easily by sending out a direct mail piece or making several phone calls. However, fundraising is changing. That probably doesn’t surprise you. Things do change with time. So that brings us to a second question. Where are you finding new donors to provide that base of support?

The question that has been coming up in recent years among internet marketers is now creeping into nonprofits: “What size is your list?”

‘The list’ is key. That’s always been true in nonprofit circles. But now the question is referring more frequently to email lists rather than snail mail lists. Yes, it’s lovely to get ‘Likes’ on Facebook. And Twitter followers can be tremendous. But it’s difficult to make real connections with people if we don’t have a consistent way to communicate with them. Permission-based marketing, long a staple among internet marketers, has found its place in nonprofit communications and fundraising.

So how does this work? We engage people in conversations through in-person gatherings, social media and other existing places where we are interacting with the public. We invite people to receive additional information about the cause they are supporting (the cause in this case is your organization – but the message is more focused on what they are most interested in – that would be the cause rather than your organization).

And there is the new first level of the donor pyramid: people who have signed up to hear from you on a regular basis. Will everyone on that list become a donor? Absolutely not. But now you have the opportunity to provide some education and information about how your organization is bringing about change and positively impacting your organization. And occasionally, you will be able to invite people to become a financial supporter of the organization. In addition, this list is a great source of people to advocate on behalf of your organization – even if they don’t give financially.

Is this easy? No. Does it take time? Yes. Will you annoy people as you are learning how to communicate on this new platform? Probably. Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Those are some of my thoughts. Now what are yours? I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!


Where Are You Building Your House (or why your list is so important)? — 3 Comments

  1. I love your analogy about a fund development program built on rock, and fundraising strategies built on sand. Brilliant!

    Here’s two basic tenets of my growing donor theology.

    *Some donors will donate because they know you. Some will donate because they are interested in the work you do, and some will donate simply because they can.

    *The best donations happen when we leverage strong Connections, with Interested fans, who have the Ability to give. CIA. Stealthy, but helpful focus. 🙂

    As nonprofits, we have to focus on the work you mentioned above because it helps us withstand the economic storms.

    • Thanks Brian for your comments. My version of CIA is LIA – but I think the same idea – Linkage, Ability and Interest :-). Looking forward to interacting more!

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