For the past several months we’ve stressed the importance "messaging" and making the fundraising case for your organization as powerfully as possible in these troubled times.

Creative consultant and copywriter Bob Levy weighed in again over the Thanksgiving weekend with a piece titled Staying on Message. In it Bob sets forth ominous insights on structural barriers within many organizations that pose a real danger, especially in difficult times. This is an important sequel to Bob’s earlier Agitator piece, In Fundraising, The Words Count.

Bob warns: "Given these down times, a world spinning out of control and the desire of many people to turn inward in the face of it, there is some urgency to renewing the creative process of messaging if many non-profits hope to survive." In a nutshell, here are the elements of the problem:


  • Creative consultants and copywriters once had access to the leaders of non-profits and were viewed as "channelers" for the organization’s message to key constituents.
  • This is no longer the case. The ‘professionalization’ of non-profits has resulted in isolating fundraisers and copywriters from those who determine mission and message.
  • The result is that the creation of the "Message," has fallen into the hands of divergent departments. And the copywriter has to rely increasingly on a "titled" employee who may not have a clue as to the direction their organization is taking.
  • This is especially true in organizations that depend heavily on direct mail. According to Bob, direct mail fundraisers have become "country cousins" to in-house "communication" people and intimidated by the arrival of website gurus.
  • Too often direct response managers, although charged with running a fundraising "campaign," are not informed of the organizational strategies and programs in play to win the frontline battle for donor loyalty and commitment.

The result? Donors are short changed on the information they receive. And ultimately the organization pays the price as its mission is lost or diluted somewhere down the organizational food chain.

Bob makes clear: "There are no villains here. Mid-level managers, particularly in a down economy, are charged with raising enormous budget numbers beyond any reasonable expectation. And these folks have to carry the water for many organizations that simply expect the money to be there when they need it."

Alas, I fear that Bob has hit the nail on the head where many organizations are concerned. It’s axiomatic in fundraising that "money follows program." Consequently, whatever barriers stand in the way of the effective positioning and communication of an organization’s vision and programs need to be eliminated. Tough times require every organization to take out the mirror and see if any of Bob’s points are reflected in it.

Bob, you deserve a raise!


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This article was posted in: Communications, Copywriting / creative, Direct mail, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Nonprofit management.
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