In her comment on Monday’s Agitator post, 40 Nonprofit Trends, Gayle Gifford made a provocative point, which I hope might stir up some debate …

“The overwhelming majority of US public charities, those small and medium sized organizations, simply don’t have the funds to compete for talented fund development staff or new technology to keep up …

What if we stopped blaming the small guys and started talking more publicly about the severity of the disadvantage under which they operate? No, I’m not letting small organizations totally off the hook for improving their fundraising practices. But they are being overwhelmingly outspent, out big-data-ed and out-performed by those at the tippy top.”

I’ll throw some petrol on her issue.

I support scale — very large scale — when it comes to fighting the high stakes fights over national policy and meeting needs that are national or global in scale.

In those cases, we’re talking about moving mountains, which we can’t do with teaspoons and tin cups. So in those situations, personally I’d like to see fewer, bigger nonprofits and charities. Not that they’re inherently smarter about what they do (some are lumbering dinosaurs and hopefully would be replaced by others with better genes and adaptive instincts), but because they should be, and resources do matter.

On the other hand, we have no shortage of advocacy and social needs to be met at a local level. And the nonprofits working at that level have the huge advantage (or at least certainly the opportunity) of being inherently closer to their donors. Maybe it’s harder to recruit the fundraising talent, but nevertheless, these organisations should be able to forge much closer bonds with their supporters. The basics of building donor trust and commitment and enduring relationships (= retention) are not exactly rocket science, and the ‘know how’ is readily available in plenty of books and blogs.

As I see it, the big organisations (assuming they want to remain big, and indeed grow) will struggle more and more to retain donors — even if they do everything we ‘experts’ advise them to do — for social/cultural reasons beyond their control. But they must try, because the economic case for trying is undeniable.

On the other hand, a local organization supporting the arts, the environment, or the homeless should and could have retention rates that make the big guys weep … copiously.

Size or sustainability … what’s your call?

Tom

This article was posted in: Donor acquisition, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Fundraising philosophy/profession, Nonprofit management.
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