Tom and I aren't in the crystal ball business, but we do take some pride in spotting significant trends with the potential to help or harm our readers and the causes they serve.

Here are our top five trend picks for 2008:

1. Donor acquisition and retention will continue on a downward spiral.

An uncertain economy, diminishing consumer confidence, U.S. presidential election year fundraising and politics, and the inexorable exit of the World War II donor generation from the giving stage will all combine to make '08 a tough, tough year for acquisition and retention – particularly for those who continue doing the same/old, same/old hoping for a different result. Here at The Agitator we'll be watching and warning on this subject again this year as we did in 2007.

2. Active donors will give more but to fewer organizations.

This trend, underway for several years, will accelerate in '08:

partly due to demographic changes (Boomers and Gen Xers more skeptical and demanding than WWII generation) [ Download your free copy of the CMS/DonorTrends Boomer White Paper to see why. ]

partly to more readily accessible online information about causes (from organizations themselves, from rating and watchdog services, and greater involvement by donors themselves in rating and judging nonprofits. Click here to see the latest example of what the Chronicle of Philanthropy calls a Zagat's for Charities, a donor participation/evaluation site called Great Non-Profits.

and partly because of increasing sophistication and skill of fundraisers and nonprofit executives who understand what it takes to build donor loyalty and commitment, and who have the guts and foresight to make the long-term investment required.

3. New media, until now mostly hype and buzz, will become increasingly bankable.

Not only is more and more money being raised online through social networking, e-appeals, and the conversion of advocacy activists into donors, the really important trend is that fundraisers, not webmasters and other assorted techies, are gaining more control of the online world successful organizations must master.

And most important of all is that realistic expectations and integrated plans are becoming increasingly apparent. Older donors (the best kind) have been online for years (often in the form of their online activism and advocacy), but few organizations have shown the skill or determination to discriminate in how they deal with different segments of their online audiences– something no competent off-line fundraiser would dream of.

In short, more and more organizations are becoming comfortable with marketing online WITHOUT expectations of immediate financial returns, understanding that platforms like You Tube, Second Life, Facebook and Flickr may help them to educate and attract the next generation of donors down the line.

At the same time, fundraisers are also beginning to understand the financial value of social network/peer-to-peer fundraising, realizing that user generated content also means user generated money. And, in what is likely to be the next and more sophisticated use of social network fundraising, some organizations have discovered that there can also be a high dollar or middle donor component in social network fundraising.

As an illustration of what's possible even with donors who are NOT regular netizens, look at a campaign developed by HJC New Media called The NO GO GALA of Canada's Crohn's and Colitis Foundation. Here, high dollar donors have their own personal pages and personal goals of $20,000, $40,000 and more. Not only did these high rollers make their own personal pages, but others, not feeling technically savvy enough, had the organization create pages for them and provided copy and addresses for the emails to their friends.

4. Back to the future.

The move to better integration, more fundraising-oriented thought, and less infatuation with techniques that glow in the dark that we're seeing in the online world is also occurring off-line as well. Of course there will always be the fashionable new, new thing of the moment – data mining, modeling, video emails, YouTube, My Space, you name it- but, mercifully, the year ahead will see more focus on the basics of good fundraising and donor communications.

And it's about time. With donor retention in big trouble, and donor skepticism and the desire to be involved on the rise, and with competition increasing at warp speed, we're long overdue for a back-to-basics correction.

Basics as in effective and prompt acknowledgement of gifts, detailed reporting on results and accomplishments to the donors, and real and effective ways to evolve them. In one of the early pieces on The Agitator I recalled the good manners and mighty effective communication skills of Helen Keller with her donors.

What was good in the first half of the last century it's even better -and more important – in 2008.

5. Transparency and Involvement: The new, new things you can bank.

Last but certainly not least is the trend toward more transparency and involvement for donors. I'm not talking about scandal and cover-ups (although there is likely to be more than the usual amount of those in '08). I'm focused on making clear to donors how their money is being effectively spent, the results you're getting for their contributions.

Just giving donors online access to your organization's Form 990 won't cut it. And pay particular attention to creating opportunities for involvement. Not just an occasional survey, but also perhaps an occasional conference call and briefing where they can ask questions and commune with other donors. Or, a visit to your office and a brown bag lunch with you and some program folks. Or better yet some meaningful and actual hands on involvement in your mission.

Survey after survey tells us that more and more potential and actual donors are test driving the organizations they intend to invest more in. Make sure your nonprofit gives the donor the opportunity to get behind the wheel.

So, jump on board these trends – and prosper. Ignore them at your peril.

And if you're wondering what trends I've left out you should also consider: the importance of focusing on women as donors and leadersthe importance and urgency of launching an aggressive legacy marketing campaign…the rise of new methods of giving like minimum contribution donor advised fundsthe 1001 uses you can make of Google Mapsmergers and acquisitions in the non-profit sector and on and on.

Should be a fascinating 2008!

Roger Craver

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This article was posted in: Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, DonorTrends / DonorVoice, Nonprofit management.
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