What nonprofits can learn from for-profit world

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To do advanced fundraising, nonprofits need to realize that a person may be inclined to give at a lower level through the mail than over the phone or want to participate in live events while communicating with friends about the organization online, according to a presentation by David Lawson, vice president of marketing and strategy at Kintera Inc.

"The way we siloed our operations in the past is one reason why retention is such a big problem today," Lawson said during the presentation, given Tuesday at the DMA 07 Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.

He added that people respond more to the experience they are having with an organization than to what that organization is about. So, if they are having a fragmented experience, they are giving below their potential or simply not coming back.

While industry research results indicate that nonprofits today are raising more money than in the past several years, with giving at the major donation level on the rise, there are other, more troubling numbers. For example, the number of major donors is down at a time when the number of wealthy people in the US is on the rise.

Lawson urged nonprofits to follow the lead of consumer businesses, which have discovered that, in order to remain profitable, they have had to learn how to communicate with consumers across multiple channels, coordinating the creative effort and any data analysis at the same time. By following suit, nonprofits can maximize the activity of their donors.

He pointed to the American Cancer Society as an example of a nonprofit that is learning to communicate in new ways. The organization recently launched its Relay for Life program in the online virtual world of Second Life and raised $750,000.

American Cancer Society made this move after seeing how many people came out to support newer cancer-related organizations like the Susan B. Komen organization and the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The ACS realized that it had become disconnected with its constituents, Lawson said.

Most nonprofits today reward call center representatives for taking a donation over the phone even if callers would prefer to give online and are therefore not giving donors the experience that they want, he continued.

According to Lawson, nonprofits "have to get their organizations to work as one," and begin sharing donor information equally across all divisions, or they won't be in a position to do advanced fundraising.

He said that the goal is to let donors move seamlessly within an organization, because some people want to make smaller gifts online and larger gifts offline. The inability to make this transition, he pointed out, is one reason why alumni participation has declined for the past seven years in a row.

The online channel, in particular, is one worth taking a close look at. More than 65% of donors research online before giving a gift online or offline and more than 90% of major donors visit an organization's Web site before making a donation, according to Kintera's research.

Another lesson Lawson felt could be learned from the for-profit world regards the timing of outreach efforts. For example, studies have shown that the first eight weeks after a consumer receives a new credit card is when they are the most receptive to adding on new services. After that, the credit card company has to work 10 times harder to get that customer to add on new services.

"We should be introducing higher level messaging very quickly," Lawson said. "The longer you let someone live at one level, the harder it is to get them to move up."

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