The Agitator’s Week in Review. No question that the seemingly endless chain of bad financial and economic news has created a heightened sense of foreboding in our community that the fundraising sky is falling.

Meanwhile, the last of the presidential debates took place on Wednesday as the campaigns headed into the homestretch to Novemember 4th with partisans on both sides noting that the sky would surely fall if the other guy were elected. If ever there was a week where some perspective, both short and long term, was needed this was it.

So we turned our backs on Chicken Little and reported on two recent surveys that indicate consumers don’t believe the sky is falling … that there are lessons in this political year that may benefit cause and advocacy fundraisers down the line … and that in the long-term all this bad financial news may make little difference to philanthropy in the long-term.

WEEK OF OCTOBER 13, 2008

MONDAY: Does Generation Jones Know You. Generation Jones is the demographically "lost" generation nestled between the bulk of Boomers and Gen Xers. The pundits say the Jonesers will be shaping political fashions for a long time to come. If true, that means their attitudes will also frame the issues and debates that animate the cause advocacy world.

So nonprofit communicators and fundraisers beware … are you keeping up with the Joneses?

Here is a website devoted to Gen Jones. It features a great video compilation of various political pundits and columnists expounding on how Gen Jones represents the swing segment in this year’s presidential election. Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are both Gen Jonesers.

TUESDAY: Biggest Online Fundraising Night in History. Tom predicts that October 29th should be the biggest online fundraising night in history … at least in political history.

As reported here, Barack Obama has bought thirty-minute program blocks at 8pm that night on CBS and NBC, and is in negotiations with ABC and Fox to make it a true "roadblock."Although fundraising won’t be highest priority of this broadcast Tom speculates there will be some kind of call-to-action featuring Obama’s web address and that online donation capture is what will make a record volume possible.

In the "old days" of 1-800# capture of pledges and credit card gifts, there was a physical limitation on how many calls could be captured in a short interval, in response to an over-the-air TV appeal. There just weren’t enough phone lines going into enough call centers.

Agitator reader Nancy Schwartz of GettingAttention.org wonders whether the Obama core supporters are network tv watchers, but acknowledges that this will be an event all non-profits should study.

WEDNESDAY: In Fundraising, Words Count. Fearing that our weekday readers might have overlooked a nugget posted on last weekend’s Agitator, Tom again calls attention to a marvelous rant by fundraiser Bob Levy.

Bob’s advice on copy is especially poignant given the potentially overpowering financial trauma for many donors. As Tom notes, "No matter how ‘well-off’ you think your donors might be (or at least the best ones), when they get your next letter, have no doubt, they will be hurtin’ psychologically."

Bob’s advice might help, now more than ever. He says things like communicate "intelligently" … use "messages that genuinely uplift" … be "truth-telling."And then he urges us to convey "something of substance, placing an organization’s mission within a real-life, 21st century context … talking without hyperventilating or fear mongering."

If you didn’t read Bob’s piece last weekend or during the week here’s your third chance!

THURSDAY: Americans Surprisingly Confident. According to the latest survey conducted by Pew Research Center (just last weekend, Oct 9-12), Americans are confident about the economy and their own financial condition. Here is Pew’s core observation:

"… there is little indication that the nation’s financial crisis has triggered public panic or despair. Most Americans express confidence that the government still possesses the power to fix the economy, though that belief has lost adherents since July. There has been no decline in people’s perceptions of their own financial situations. Looking ahead to next year, Americans are more confident than they were in July about an improvement in the national economy and in their own personal finances. This is not to say that the public has been spared the effects of the financial crisis: Over the past three weeks, the percentages saying they plan to rein in spending in a number of areas have increased sharply."

Nonetheless consumers are tightening their belts. This chart shows you how they are doing that:

The Pew findings, while not surveying attitudes on contributions per se, are in line with a recent USA TODAY survey we reported in the Agitator on October 9 indicating that 77% of the respondents said they would continue making contributions at or above their current level in the year ahead.

FRIDAY: More On Public Perceptions and the Economy. As stock markets rocketed up and down, speculation about what all this means to year-end fundraising ran rampant. In an effort to bring more light than heat to the subject we reported for the third time this week on the public’s perceptions of the economy and their personal situation.

In another poll , this one from Discover Financial, the findings point to what seems to be a consistent trend that may be of interest to fundraisers: people seem to be much more pessimistic about the broad economic outlook than they are about their own personal finances. And so their response as consumers is to remain relatively optimistic, but to temper that optimism with more cautious personal spending.

The Agitator’s take on all this? Don’t despair. It doesn’t appear to us that donors will be locking their wallets in a vault. They will certainly be more restrained, and your appeal will need to be genuinely compelling.

"Same old, same old" will not work. Fundraising messages should be presented in today’s context, explaining how your need is important and timely enough to deserve the donors’ support even while they are tightening their belts. You might even want to explain how your nonprofit is indeed tightening its belt and saving money here and there … yet pressing needs remain … and you’ll stretch their dollars further.

Most importantly, don’t stop asking!

Your Weekend Bonus: In these times it’s so easy to fall victim to the myopia that comes from the hourly/daily bulletins of market crashes, financial panic and impending recession. For some much needed perspective check out "Resilient Philanthropy" a first rate article in the current edition of AFP’s "Advancing Philanthropy".

The author, Bradford Wm. Voigt, Director of Institutional Advancement for the Harvard University Art Museums, takes on the "Chicken Little" in all of us with a review of what really happened to giving following market crashes, recessions and other crises in the past 27 years.

This piece, even though written before the October 2008 round of crises, suggests that even a worst case scenario may not be as long-lasting nor as dramatic as many fear. Mr. Voigt notes, "While it is clear that the stock market provides donors with a greater ease and sense of confidence in making gifts to nonprofit organizations, the oppositie is not true. Down markets do not always foretell decreased philanthropy."

Have a great weekend.

Roger

 

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