What can you do when interest in your cause begins to wane?
It's a scary question, and one that many fundraisers and nonprofit marketers will face at some point.
Perhaps you're already familiar with this scenario: Your fundraising results are okay, but the number of individual donors making gifts to your organization is beginning to decline. Your biggest donors may be giving a little more, but you're left to wonder why many others are giving less — or aren't giving at all.
This kind of situation is usually the result of bigger, deeper problems. So, before you rush to launch your next big campaign or event, take a step back and think long and hard about whether any of the things below could be causing you to lose traction when it comes to generating awareness for your cause.
1. You've become too focused on internal stakeholders. I've run into several nonprofit organizations that had cultivated a highly professional mentality over the years, causing leadership to take a blinkered approach to their organization's relationship with its stakeholders. Often their strategy involves putting highly experienced staff to work on problems with little input from the community. Unfortunately, an all-too-common outcome of this approach is the loss of external engagement, which is critical to your long-term sustainability.
If the number of closed-door meetings at your shop is going up while public engagement in your services is declining, it may be because you and your colleagues are shutting out the community you're supposed to be supporting. The solution: Always make sure your staff is looking beyond the walls of the organization and involving your constituents and outside stakeholders in its work. The more voices you allow to be heard around the table, the stronger your organization will be.
2. You're preoccupied with results. For every donor, there is a story that resonates and drives her to make that initial gift to your organization. But as that donor becomes a regular supporter, our messaging tends to focus more on the next gift and less on engaging the emotions that caused her to donate in the first place.
3. You've never really had a public engagement strategy. Many organizations never really develop an effective public engagement strategy. Volunteer opportunities may exist, but it's typical for those opportunities to target individuals who are already invested in the cause. Lots of organizations also promote their programs, but too often those efforts are focused on the way the organization brands itself — rather than aimed at creating a platform designed to move people from interest to engagement to action. Advertising a program isn't a public engagement strategy.
4. Your donors aren't invested in your cause. If your organization is struggling to cultivate donors, maybe the issue is that your donors aren't all that interested in your cause. Maybe a lot of them responded to a social media campaign that went viral or were pressured to give by a friend, colleague, or family member. Whatever the reason, the real problem is that your current messaging is not giving them a compelling reason to give a second time — and probably needs to be retooled before those donors disappear for good.
5. You didn't stop the bus to fix the problem. When problems start to crop up around public engagement with your cause or participation in a campaign starts to fall off, it's hard to put on the brakes and take the time to figure out what has gone wrong. Sometimes, short-term fixes will appease a major donor, the board, and key staff, but at the expense of coming up with a solution to the fundamental problem.
Let's face it, it’s never easy to admit that the public is losing interest in your mission or cause. And that hurts. Your staff has spent countless hours working to design programs and craft messaging that appeals to potential supporters and moves them to action. So why don't they get it? And where do you go from here? Is there any hope?
The simple answer is yes. But for many organizations, the only medicine for this kind of deep-rooted pain is to be honest about what is happening and to be willing to do whatever is necessary to address the problem. You can start by looking at ways to bring the "outside" back in to the organization, and to encourage internal stakeholders to refocus their efforts on your constituents and external stakeholders. Connecting with the public almost always is the solution to what ails you. If you're not doing that, no fundraising Rx in the world will make you feel better.
Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve, a research and creative agency that works with nonprofits to increase their impact, and co-author of Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change, to be published in February by Wiley.