In my first job, in the founding days of Common Cause, we kept track of our members with perforated cards and activated them via phone trees!
Now of course we use sophisticated databases and online tools. But along the way, guess what, as a marketer of both issues and products, I’ve been reminded over and over of two lessons: fundamental principles of human motivation still apply, and the right solution begins with the right question.
Hopefully I’ve learned something about marketing causes and issues that you might find valuable. My checkered past includes the Carter White House, building Ted Turner’s first philanthropic organization, doing a ton of consulting for non-profits through Vanguard Communications and Craver, Mathews, Smith & Co., conceiving marketing programs for corporate clients from Time Warner Cable to Maker’s Mark bourbon to Discovery Communications, and running marketing for Environmental Defense.
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When I switched from being a major gifts and capital campaign fundraiser in favor of the path of direct response my colleagues thought I had gone mad. They simply couldn’t imagine why any serious fundraiser would resort to direct mail.
That was 35 years ago.
Today, half way through my career, I’m more convinced than ever that direct response fundraising and marketing has a spectacular future. Far brighter than I ever imagined in those early years when we upstarts at Craver, Mathews, Smith & Company used the direct response techniques of the day to help launch or build groups like Common Cause, The National Organization for Women, ACLU, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Amnesty International and dozens of other major organizations, both in the U.S. and in Europe.
A lawyer by training, a copywriter and strategist by trade, and a curious and optimistic guy by nature, I’m more convinced than ever that the best is yet to come where direct response fundraising is concerned. The only threats to our craft that truly worry me are complacency and conventional wisdom. Both jeopardize the best possible performance at a time when non-profits will be required to perform far more and far better than they have in the past. Ours is a trade that has grown prosperous and self-satisfied. Even for the inexperienced or just plain stupid, there is rapid advancement and substantial financial reward. Why? Because the number of available vacancies for “fundraising” positions far outstrips the available talent.
But even more worrisome in this era of rapid change is the unwillingness on the part of far too many fundraisers, CEOs and Boards to innovate, to take risks and to break new ground.
Fortunately, there is a wealth of new talent, technologies and techniques bursting on to the scene. These are the best antidotes to complacency and conventional wisdom. It’s my hope that in this space we can –together — shine the spotlight on the trends, talent, techniques and technologies that will make us all perform better tomorrow than we do today.
Afterall, the stakes for the causes and organizations we serve are simply too high to accept anything less.
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