Tom Belford, Co-Editor, The Agitator

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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.

Enjoy our blog … and push back!

Roger Craver, Co-Editor, The Agitator


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 anything less than face-to-face contact with donors and prospects.

That was 45 years ago.

Today, half way through my career, I’m more convinced than ever that direct response fundraising and marketing continues to enjoy 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 nonprofits 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.

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.

Nick Ellinger, VP Marketing Strategies, DonorVoice

The year was 2008—the year of the financial crash– so a lot of direct marketing programs, like the one I’d just taken over at  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), were significantly off budget.

Then it happened again a few years later. This time my faith in conventional wisdom, in budgeting projections, in the belief “they do this for a living and clearly they know more about this than I do” was shaken to its core.  It didn’t help that I was the first to notice the problem and had to persuade our consultants that we were headed for trouble.

Then and there I made a pledge to myself: the next time I missed a goal by even a penny, it would be the result of my own [expletive deleted] decisions.

Never again would I be any less the expert than anyone else in the room where plans and decisions are made. And never again would I trust the way things had always been done. All knowledge was now suspect– as it always should have been.

That’s also when I started writing about nonprofit marketing as a way to force myself to stretch. And in reading to support my writing habit, I saw cracks in conventional wisdom that I’d accepted on blind faith.

“Conventional wisdom” was replaced by new insights like:  Matches aren’t as good as overhead-covering lead giftsHighest previous contribution is a bad place to start an ask string… File size is a pretty bad way of measuring the size of your file…. More isn’t betterDonors can give valuable feedback… Pure emotion doesn’t always win (just most of the time).

I also discovered new and helpful vistas. Neuromarketing, behavioral psychology, the economics of ask strings, online targeting methodologies – things I’d not dreamed up when getting my MBA. There was always another rabbit hole to explore, another level up or down in our fractals of knowledge.

Pretty soon, I moved to DonorVoice because they were asking (and answering) the most important questions our industry faces about why donors give (beyond the simplified answer “because we ask”).

It was in this leveling-up process that I discovered The Agitator (and other luminaries too numerous to mention or list lest I forget). It scratched me where I itched. It asked “we may be doing this right… but what if we aren’t?” And there was an actual conversation going on. As a once and future debater, I loved this ethos of steel sharpening steel.

So it’s my honor to write for the Agitator and to be a part of the discussion and the community. I hope I can give you as much as you’ve given me.  I hope to spark a thought in your mind as you have in mine. I hope that together we can raise some money for some great causes.

And mostly, I hope you never say “I agree with Nick 100%.” Even I don’t do that.

Please disagree, using your outside voice.  We’ll make each other better.