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Which Came First, The Donor or The Gift?


Which Came First, The Donor or The Gift?

Last year, while completing my Master’s Degree at WVU, a classmate suggested a book to me, “With Charity for All” by Ken Sterns. It provided great insight as I was compiling information for my capstone project. In his book, Ken Sterns analyzes some of the key issues with nonprofits. I never finished that book. And it wasn’t until this month that I decided to start reading it again. It’s made me stop and do my own analysis of the nonprofits that I have worked for.

I’ve worked in the nonprofit arena for 8 going on 9 years now. I currently work for The Salvation Army in Nashville, TN. I’ve worked for two Christian publishers and for the global communications agency of the United Methodist Church. Each of these organizations has three similar issues; a lack of understanding of marketing; specifically its ever evolving landscape, a dwindling target audience and lastly, they suffer from a lack of a realistic marketing budget.

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Each of the nonprofits where I worked focused their marketing tactics primarily on current donors. Very little was geared towards finding new prospects. The few tactics that were executed focused on finding prospects that mirrored their current donor base; which in turn defined their target audience. Now this wrong? Well, not exactly. However, it left me wondering, which came first, the donor base or the target audience? Needless to say none of the organizations have a target audience definition (I am working on one for The Salvation Army – it’s more of a persona though).  Whoever gave funds to the organization defined the audience, which was and still is primarily baby boomers. Now, with the number of donors declining, all of them are scrambling to reach a younger demographic.

Every nonprofit has a mission, some call it a ministry, regardless of what it’s called it defines the nonprofit and it’s purpose. It’s a common myth among onprofits to think that if you “get the word out” people will buy into your cause. The key to addressing a declining audience is to adapt the message and the delivery of the message. Consumer’s that give to nonprofits share traits, values and characteristics that overshadow demographics. Yes, someone with a household income of $100k plus gives more money and more often but that doesn’t negate the usefulness of funds that come from someone with a household income of $50k or less. Nonprofits must uncover the psychographics of their current audience and find those same traits in prospects. Once those prospects are found the message must be taken to them where they are and in a way they will receive. In order to deliver that message there must also be a budget available. But that is another discussion.

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