As is my custom at the end of December, I have been reviewing my goals as well as my outcomes for the year. Since I also have a short attention-span, additionally I have been daydreaming and reviewing past years and decades. Yesterday my teenage son asked me ‘what some of my favorite TV shows were back when I was young.’ He then quickly corrected himself and said ‘when you were younger, but it was too late – the genie was out of the bottle. Fortunately I am okay with the fact that I am now “other than young.” Or perhaps “previously young.” Maybe “pre-old.” The question, however, caused me to think a bit.
I explained to KJ that when I was his age, I enjoyed watching shows such as Sanford and Son, the Cosby Show, the Andy Griffith Show, Good Times, etc. How times have changed. There are few shows on television today that can compare to some of the great ones from the old days. As I pondered further, I remembered another of my favorites – a show called ALF.
ALF was a show about an alien who crash-landed his spaceship on a family home in Southern California in the 1980s. His nickname, ALF, was an acronym for “Alien Life Form.” The sitcom was based on the interactions of ALF and his new family on Earth, and demonstrated how difficult it can be for someone to move to California and assimilate (We’ll discuss that issue on another day. I can say this because I was born and raised in California). Anyway, one of the idiosyncrasies about ALF was that he loved cats. Not in a ‘Crazy Cat Lady’ sense, but rather he enjoyed eating them. Perhaps with Sriracha sauce, but I can’t remember exactly.
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that this show would probably not go over well in 2013. If a major TV network put a show about eating cats on television it is likely that groups such as PETA would be picketing in the streets. There would be an apology, ALF would be suspended from the show for a week or two, there would be an apology and then corporate donations would be made to the ASPCA.
As my day dreaming continued, I then began to realize that ALF has a message for us today. That message is that ‘it is now almost 2014, we cannot do business the way we did it in 1987.” Things that were commonplace or generally accepted back when Ronald Reagan was President of the United States just would not work as well in today’s world.
For example, today it is common for even the smallest nonprofit organizations to have a CRM system to manage their donor files. It may be a small, non-networked database with limited features or even one of the online versions that you can get for less than $50 a month. I’ve seen small organizations with one development associate that have somehow managed to install Raiser’s Edge. The point is that the days of keeping your donor files on index cards in a box are over. Even using spreadsheets is very limiting in terms of what you can do compared to a CRM system. If your organization is not using a CRM system, you need to make it a priority to get one. If you need recommendations email me and I can help you.
Another way that things are different today is in the area of revenue generation. In the old days, it was not all that uncommon to have the majority of revenue come in via a mail appeal or an annual event. This is no longer a prudent model to use. Diversification is your friend. Many in the direct mail space will tell you that response rates are often down, and costs are up. The USPS is poised to temporarily raise the price of First Class postage again next month (hint- it is not temporary). Based on past experience, bulk rates are sure to follow with an increase soon. Additionally, with so many organizations planning fund raising events and the costs of production increasing, when you look at your true costs you might be surprised to find out what you are really gaining in net income. My recommendation is that you strategically move into online fund raising, major & planned gifts, corporate giving, and grants if you are not already doing those things. You cannot roll out everything at once but if you begin to strategically add these other revenue streams then you will not be as adversely impacted when your annual December event gets snowed out.
Finally, there was a time when organizational need was a more compelling ask. Donors would give because XYZ Charity really needed an influx of cash to run its programs. Periodically you will see remnants of those days in the newspaper. Have you seen a news headline like, “If ABC Charity doesn’t raise $97,000 by next Friday it will be forced to close its doors”? Nowadays, in most cases the charity ends up closing its doors. Why is that? It is because donors are not interested in staving off the inevitable. It is because today’s donor is less motivated by supporting a cause or an organization. Today’s donors want to see impact. They want to know that their donation is going to make a difference in the world. In fact, it is not uncommon for today’s donor to be onsite seeing those dollars put to use. Donors who are engaged with your charity, beyond just writing a check, are far more likely to support your work long-term and with more donations. These engaged donors do not have to wonder if they are making a difference – they can see the difference with their own eyes.
As we move into 2014, take a look at your organization. Do you have any systems from the 1980’s that need upgrading? If so, this is the time to do it. You can make it your New Year’s Resolution. And that reminds me, I need to pick up some Sriracha sauce.
Have a great week and Happy New Year,