Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nonprofit Lessons from the Campaigns

Nonprofits are in a good position to learn from the outreach and fundraising experiments set in motion in this campaign. Regardless of your political leanings, you have to give credit to one particular campaign for developing innovative approaches to raising money and building relationships. In a recent meeting of the Qm2 development directors’ roundtable there was considerable interest in some emerging methods for on-line fundraising and donor engagement.

On-line fundraising may sound one-sided and impersonal, but the Obama campaign has used strategies employed at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and earlier in Hillary Clinton’s campaign to connect to voters in ways that are personal and that could prove long-lasting. One of the simplest innovations is the use of a comment box for on-line contributions.

Penn has used the effectively in the form of a pop-up box that surfaces as soon as an on-line gift is made. It asks the donor why they made the gift. Higher education is one segment of the social sector that knows the importance of discovering a donor’s intentions and interests. The very act of presenting this option sends the message that there is an interest in what the donor thinks and feels. Nonprofits can then link donor comments their giving history. They can use these insights to focus on shared values and turn that into targeted special interest appeals and messages.

For museums of all sizes, understanding donor motivation and what philanthropists at all levels admire about an institution is invaluable. The information can be turned into donor-focused snapshots or full length articles for publication in newsletters, magazines, as well as background material for future solicitations. The compelling stories of why donors make gifts is also useful in motivating staff and trustees. It helps the orgnaization grasp all of the way your mission driven work is perceived.

Another instrument used by the Obama campaign is the instant matching gift. Make an on-line contribution and you will be notified in short order that your gift has been matched by a named individual—not a nameless company or special interest group, but an individual donor just like you. Donors are then invited to do the same--match someone else’s contribution. When they sign on to become a matching donor, they feel good that their gift has been matched, and then they are offered the opportunity to do the same for another donor. A cycle of giving is initiated that seems to be part of a disciplined approach to fundraising that is groundbreaking. And this all happens within minutes. The technique builds momentum.
The campaign website also offers a variety of opportunities to get involved –some without leaving your home. You can participate in a phone bank from your own home by simply, download a list, using the on-line instructions and wedging in calls when it is convenient for you.

The use of You-Tube by the general public to create independent testimonials for the candidate is another vehicle for communicating all the things that the candidate wants people to know without the expense or hype of campaign advertisements. Testimonials from your board chair and your CEO may not strike someone as objective, but there may be other volunteers and amateur videographers who would consider featuring your museum on You-Tube. This is another way of getting messages across and conveying value.

Along with these high tech approaches are the bloggers that are hard at work for their candidates…and reaching countless citizens of all ages. These are just some of the fundraising gems from this campaign season. They have been effective in expanding visibility and making connections that matter, and they could be useful to museums and other nonprofits. Qm2 would like to hear from you about your innovative approaches to the fundraising process.