Five Marketplace Trends For Long Term Success by La Sridhar

Savvy non-profits don’t need crystal balls to predict their future.  They are always scanning the horizon and preparing their organization to weather numerous changes coming their way.  Are you prepared?  Here are five new rules of engagement that will impact the non-profit marketplace, 2011 and beyond.

1. Social media is here to stay: Non-profits of all sizes, by force or choice, have jumped into the social media revolution. This revolution has shaped donors into well-informed & socially engaged customers -Donor 2.0.  The immediate and constant access to information has dramatically shifted their decision-making.  They have friends, fans and followers, thus, creating a sea change in accessibility for donor engagement and loyalty.  But, this has also led to fragmentation and clutter for organizational visibility.

Organizations that can leverage Donor’s 2.0’s network to spread the mission-passion through relevant messaging will have every success.  Charity: water has become the poster child for successful use of social media in effective fundraising, by leveraging and mobilizing their donors.  Also, Kiva and Donorschoose.org highlight the power of social media on “borderless” fundraising.  New technology for online giving, mobile giving, crowdsourcing, and channel integration software will continue to enhance Donor 2.0.  Further, location based fundraising (Foursquare) and circle-centric fundraising as in Google+ will change the dynamics of their reach and communication.   Savvy organizations that have a clear overall marketing strategy (and specific online/offline strategies) will stay the course, and not jump into every technology fad that comes their way.

2. One size does not fit all: I am a big proponent of social media for its mass and rapid awareness and donor engagement.  But, long term loyalty and donor advocacy will still happen the old fashioned way.  It will evolve to a new dimension of generational and cause based customization.   Savvy non-profits look at their amassed donors, and build the “one-on-one” relationship through customized messaging, content, event programming and fundraising approaches.  No conference goes by without lectures on generational differences and how we need to target them better.  Be it Millennials, Boomers, Gen Xers, savvy non-profits take it to the next level.  “It’s all about moving from a database approach to focusing on a base of support”- Bill Tolliver of Matale Line at the 2011 AMANP.

It comes down to asking, listening and learning from your donors: being ALL ears!   It’s about what’s for them (It’s NOT about you).   Savvy organizations make it their cultural imperative to lead with their donors, who are passionate about the cause locally, but know how they are moving the needle of a broader social change.  With the explosion of social media, only the organization that has created authentic and collaborative donor connections will come ahead.

3. Give them something to talk about (and have fun):   It’s not about the buzz or chatter, but meaningful “talk value” and personal experience for the donors.  Donors want an experience on their terms, aligned with their values and interests.  There is a time and place for galas and sit-down dinners, but, there is an immediate need to energize, build humor, excitement & high interactive value.  It comes down to creating “strategic fun” aligned with the cause, and providing an innovative and memorable experience for each donor.

Other emerging trends that have caught my attention are building in practicality and fun to giving.  Voluntourism sponsored by Travelocity highlights a key trend that involves fun and charity. Members can vacation, while volunteering at specific charities.  Iconoculture, a trends company highlights two key trends impacting charities- pragmactivism (practical and realistic activism within donor boundaries and on their time) and cause rewards (e.g., Coke rewards supporting USO).  It is about impactful giving, but with a realistic and an experiential bent.  Of course, it starts with understanding your mission and your target donors.

4. Yes Virginia, there is competition:  In times of dwindling state funding, political and economic uncertainties, there is even more competition, both within the non-profit sector and from the corporate sector.  There is also a need to collaborate with your “competitors”.  Grantors are also expecting such synergies.  Savvy non-profits are active not just seeking out new donors, but also building synergies with other relevant organizations, and, even have executive directors of collaborative charities on their board.

Another critical competitive push is coming from the larger corporations and their foundations themselves.  They are launching their own cause programs, and engaging their customer base and grabbing a more than fair share of the consumer wallet toward their brands.  Small and medium non-profits will need to find avenues to engage and connect with corporations, to become ongoing beneficiaries vs. gain grants or sponsorships on a sporadic basis.  Further, Eric Overmann of Gizzard (at the AFP Conference in April) also warned about the proliferation of family foundations due to current transparency and taxation issues.  This may limit access to major gift donors, who are more involved in running their foundations, vs. engaging with charities.

The T-Factor:  Last, but not the least, the changes in the tax code, the growth of the “hybrid” non-profits and the ongoing deficit discussions will determine funding and dramatically impact donor contributions and involvement in the non-profit sector.  Given our current Washingtonian theatrics and political irresponsibility it’s even more important for organizations to be aware of their revenue sources.  Savvy organizations (small, medium, or large) build advocacy relationships and are always vigilant on the political breeze flowing their way.

Diana Aviv, President and CEO of Independent Sector, at a local conference in Chicago, summarized the risks and impact of these ongoing changes in the tax code and policies in the DC beltway.  She urges organizations to build their advocacy strategies and engage local governmental staff and speak up.  More details are can be obtained at:http://www.independentsector.org/blog/post.cfm/tax-policy-and-advocacy-expert-symposium

Savvy non-profit leaders are very apt at balancing day-to day mission relevant activities, while scanning the horizon and preparing their organization to be agile and nimble, for long term success and sustainability.  Hope these five “new” rules of engagement helps you do the same.

La Sridhar, a seasoned market research & strategy professional, started ResearchSense in 2008, with the altruistic motivation to provide non-profits the same superior business advantage that Fortune 500 companies enjoy, without breaking the bank.  She continues to deliver on this promise by helping multiple clients on a need basis-either pro-bono or at affordable pricing with the same dedication and personal interest. Before ResearchSense, since 1996, La worked at a market research consulting company in California, guiding and collaborating with multiple clients through proposal development, project planning, and implementation/evaluation phases.  She has also worked at Fortune 500 corporations in their market research, consumer insights, strategy and competitive analysis divisions. La’s credentials a include an MBA degree from Michigan State University and an MS degree in Food Science from University of Missouri.

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