Sometimes, It’s Old Methods That Work Best

Last summer, my mother had ostomy surgery.  In the following months, she developed an infection around the surgical site.  The medical professionals tried various pills, salves and lotions to get the infection to go away, but for months, their efforts were fruitless.

My 91 year old father got frustrated and decided to take matters into his own hands.  Dad grew up on a farm in Pittsville, Wisconsin, a small village in the center of the state, and when the dairy cows developed sores on their udders, he applied an over-the-counter medication called Bag Balm.  Within a few days, the sores on the cows healed up.

The medical professionals would not apply the balm themselves due to so-called legal restrictions, so Dad applied it to the infected area.  At the last visit to the specialty center where Mom was being treated, the nurses were amazed that the infection had cleared up.  When all the high tech and expensive pharmaceutical treatments failed, a simple treatment of Bag Balm did the trick.

It seems like I get an email or a tweet from some new tech company that has a sure fire way to increase income for nonprofits.  Usually, it’s some app that you add to your organization’s website that, when used, gives a portion of the individual’s purchase payment to your coffers.  A few years ago, I heard from text to give businesses, and before that, I got tweets and linked in advice about utilizing social media more, and all these methods were made to sound like the proverbial answer to every nonprofit’s fundraising need.  These are or can be effective tools, indeed, but not something I would base my fundraising plan on entirely.

In fact, I think I would return some basic “old school” methods to create a sustainable fundraising plan.  The problem with some of the new technology, as I see it, does little to enhance the relationship with the organization, except perhaps, make it easier to give.  In my philosophy, and that of many of my peers, development isn’t just separating money from donors, but in making the donors important members of the organization.  To make that happen successfully, high tech just doesn’t do it for me.

If you really want to retain and cultivate your supporters, donors and volunteers, you need to use old school methods.

First of all, you need to know about your donors.  Some organizations collect data about their supporters using social media sites, like Facebook or LinkedIn, Google and (hopefully) store that collected information in their private donor file.  However, some information you can only get from your donor, face to face.  You need to ask open ended questions about why they have supported your nonprofit for so long, what they like about it, what they believe can be improved, and what you’re doing right.  You need to listen to their responses, record what they say in your notes, digest them, and make sure you put them in your donor file.

Next, you need to use your telephone.  Call your donors every so often, whether to thank them for their generosity again, invite them to a meeting or event, or just to say “hello, how are you doing.”  Donors, like any other people, like to talk to other people who show interest in them.  My friend, Michael Rosen, recently posted a piece  that mentions statistics from a study that indicate a high percentage of donors would likely give again and give more to an organization that called them.  I don’t care if it is the smartest cellphone in the world or a dial up rotary phone hung on you wall, if you aren’t talking to your donors on the phone, you are losing out.

Finally, you need to think about your written communications.  Whether it is a letter, an appeal, your brochures and pamphlets, newsletter, website or email, are you emphasizing what important things you are doing or the important things your donors are enabling you to do?  Remember, you would not be doing important things without the help of your donors and volunteers.  Is what you are writing making your reader feel that he or she is the important partner that they are?  Are you writing for your reader’s understanding and avoiding nonprofit jargon and acronyms?

Don’t get me wrong.  Technology has improved the reach of our messages.  Text to give programs have proved very effective in times of natural disasters, and personal fundraising pages have helped organizations bring in more funding for events.  Charities use bidding technology for auctions at their fundraising events.  One could go on and on.

However, technology has been a convenience, and it does little to really build the relationships needed for a nonprofit development program.

Have you recently sat at a table of young people at a restaurant?  Conversation has been replaced by the group interacting with their  cell phone, texting and checking their Twitter and Facebook feeds.

I will use technology, but I will put the emphasis of my fundraising efforts on the old school methods.

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About greatergoodfundraising

Richard Freedlund has been active in the nonprofit sector in a number of ways, both professionally and as a volunteer. He is the founder of Greater Good Fundraising, a business that helps schools and organizations raise money for their programs while accomplishing something positive for the community. After living in Oregon for 27 years, he has returned to his hometown of Rockford, Illinois and hopes to make his mark on the nonprofit sector there. He is the father of a talented jazz musician and the son of philanthropic parents that continue to support multiple causes. To contact Richard for consulting, fundraising, or speaking opportunities, email greatergoodfundraising@gmail.com or reach him on Twitter.com @ggfundraise
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4 Responses to Sometimes, It’s Old Methods That Work Best

  1. Richard, thank you for a terrific post and for linking to my own post about the value of calling donors. As I was reading your article, I was reminded of a planned gift marketing seminar I led a few years ago. While advertised as a beginners’ session, I had a veteran fundraiser attend. Afterward, he approached me. He was frustrated and said, “You didn’t suggest anything that I didn’t already know about!” He was clearly agitated. So, I cheerfully asked him what his results were for the various tactics I had recommended. One by one, he said he didn’t have results because he wasn’t using the tactics I mentioned. Now, I became frustrated. I said, “I’ll tell you what. You may know about the tactics I’ve outlined, but maybe you actually need to try them. Once you do, get back to me and let me know how you did.” He didn’t appreciate my snarkiness. Oh well.

    I’m often invited to speak around the country. Frequently, my hosts want me to speak about the latest-greatest fundraising ideas. While I can certainly speak about the latest and greatest, I fully realize that most members of my audience would benefit enormously from more masterfully handling the fundamentals.

    Finally, I want to tip my hat to your father for taking matters into his own hands. As a cancer survivor, I know that we must be active consumers of healthcare. When it comes to health, being a passive consumer will get you killed.

  2. Nothing will ever replace real relationship-building. Nice post, Richard.

  3. I love it when people come together and share views.

    Great blog, continue the good work!

  4. Yes, I too like the old school methods. Technology has its place though. So-o-o-o-o.

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