The DMA Nonprofit Federation, an organization within the Direct Marketing Association that specifically caters to the needs and concerns of nonprofit fundraisers held its Leadership Summit 2014 May 6-8th in beautiful South Carolina low country on Kiawah Island. The purpose of the Summit is to bring together a select group of senior-level nonprofit organization fundraisers and agencies who work on their behalf.
The theme was “Overcoming Barriers to Growth,” as set forth by the conference Co-Chairs, Joan Wheatley of Special Olympics International and Tom Harrison of Russ Reid. The event included 100 senior-level attendees. By design, the Summit event featured a unique format bringing in top speakers and then breaking into roundtable discussions to react to the speakers and discuss and offer up solutions to barriers among attendees.
Since it had been several years since the last Summit, the organization leaders were able to reconnect and jointly evaluate the key problems they face in fundraising—and not one mentioned the current USPS crisis! Instead it was all surrounding the donor experience and how to reach them to retain their support in this newly evolving landscape with limited time, new smart technologies and a new type of donor with differing communications needs and finding ways to help the donor to actually pick which channel to respond to.
Dr. Susan Raymond, Ph.D., Executive Vice President for Research and Analytics for Changing our World provided fascinating and insightful new data to the attendees vital to fundraising regarding the changing donor demographic landscape, changes in the nation’s economic recovery due to changes in the labor force, surprising new data on income levels among ethnic groups, and more.
Such changes are all pointing to a greater need for organizations to focus more outwardly to learn about the donor rather than focusing so much effort on educating the donor about their organizations. She focused on structural changes to the nation’s economy and a recovery that will take longer since this economic downturn has more to do with the nation’s labor pool and less to do with cyclical changes. There is some growth in new jobs but they are at a lower pay and at a lower skill level, while the higher paying jobs are concentrated within the high tech and engineering arenas with fewer candidates leading to a very different jobs recovery and long-term economic outlook for the nation. Dr. Raymond has worked at the New York Academy of Sciences where she founded the public policy program; she has held positions at the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development, among other esteemed positions.
Chuck Longfield, the Chief Scientist at Blackbaud, founder of Target Software and Target Analysis Group and a holder of a B.A. in Mathematics and M.Ed. from Harvard University, focused on key changes that organizations made to their practices that resulted in amazing fundraising results that he was able to study and define based on data. For example, he advocated that organizations make simple thank you calls in order to see a lift in their numbers and he was able to showcase the result with precision. Small fixes to their processes can result in great results and can be tracked via data. He underscored one of the common themes of the day—the need to make changes and overcome reluctance and/or fear to make such changes in order to move the organizations forward and keep support levels sustainable for years rather than focusing on doing the same thing each year.
Peggy Dyer, the Chief Marketing Officer of the American Red Cross, an organization with a 130 year legacy and 700 field units, provided the attendees with insights into her own challenges and innovations over the past several years as the Red Cross had to embrace change due to a severe revenue shortfall. Peggy outlined some of the newer terms used by the American Red Cross and outlined a consistent set of principles and values the organization uses for its own marketing approach. She also stressed the power of “grit,” and how valuable it is to have grit as a fundraiser—this takes time, strength, consistency, a long term view. She brings a unique strength to the organization from the commercial sphere, having worked as the Chief Marketing Officer for Citibank and at senior marketing roles at Sarah Lee Corporation’s Champions division, Quaker Oats’ Gatorade, and Ralston Purina. Prior to joining the American Red Cross, she was the VP of marketing Growth and Development for Allstate Insurance Company. Peggy also offered wise counsel on how to break down staff silos and how to keep everyone in tune and working towards goals together.
Roger Craver, the founder of the wildly popular blog The Agitator did his best to agitate and stimulate dialogue and debate among his longtime peers and colleagues. Roger is among the “best in breed” among fundraisers and pioneered fundraising methods in the 1960s and is now focusing on encouraging innovation and positive disruption. One of his insights regards his belief there is an overuse of attribution—he cautioned to be very careful in how this is viewed and utilized. Though marketers often believe everything they are doing affects response, it is much broader than that and can be as simple as taking a look at the customer service and the donor’s experience with the organization. Other key problems—data can be a real quagmire, no real lines between online and offline, too much testing by organizations when all they need to do sometimes is see that others are already having success and adopt a best solution rather than test it repeatedly.
The organizations were broken into 5 groups to discuss their key barriers to growth. These were then summarized and potential solutions were offered at the end of the event. Interestingly, the organizations began developing a new fundraising vocabulary: Acculterated; Crisis-tunity; Grit.
The planners and attendees are now being surveyed on the event and the next Leadership Summit is in the works—some attendees would like to bring their “next-in-command,” the leaders see the value of including up and coming superstars and leaders in-training at their organizations. Another universal theme of the event was how to retain and grow their future leaders and to ensure they do not leave their organization since the talent pool for direct marketing/fundraising is so slim. As much as they look forward, fundraisers understand the need to have a legacy. Organization leaders offered their own “succession planning” they are using to ensure the organization continues with strong leaders in place.
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The DMA Nonprofit Federation’s full-time staff is located in Washington, DC and is supplemented by the resources and professional staff of the DMA. For questions or comments, contact DMANF General Counsel Senny Boone at email@example.com, or Membership & Communications Director Alicia Osgood at firstname.lastname@example.org.