The first maxim of fundraising and communications?

Connection.

Imagine this scenario: a mysterious, all-knowing benefactor calls up one lucky individual and informs them that they have been awarded $1 million.

Of course, there’s a catch: the individual has to donate the money to a nonprofit within 24 hours.

And not just any nonprofit. There’s only one BEST possible organization for the donation to go to, with the greatest potential impact and world-changing ability. And congratulations! In this scenario, that organization is your nonprofit.

But this mysterious benefactor is a strange beast: she’ll only donate the $1 million dollars to your organization if the donor himself can find your nonprofit and figure out that it’s the organization that qualifies.

The donor has only a few details, such as the kind of work you do and your programs, but no specific names or a location.

Will the donor be able to connect with you?

Will you get a million-dollar donation?

The Power of Connection

This benevolent Santa Claus of charity probably doesn’t exist. But millions of dollars ARE being donated to nonprofit organizations every day, by people who care about organizations like yours.

And if that first connection doesn’t happen, neither does the relationship.

Figuring out how to connect and communicate with others has been one of the biggest differences between a nonprofit that changes the world and one that vanishes.

But with the rise of online fundraising and digital communications, connection is easier than ever.

Your Old Set of Options

The biggest factor that limited our ability to make connections in the past: limited resources.

Start a nonprofit 20 years ago with no riches, and you quickly hit some walls on your ability to scale your impact: limited staff, limited money and limited geographic reach.

Sure, I could go knock on doors, hand out flyers, do man-on-the-street fundraising or make a presentation to my church. Those conversations are wonderful (don’t stop having them!), but difficult to scale.

Plus, there’s the problem of geography—if all 249 people in your hometown of Blackburn, Missouri support your cause and you still don’t have the resources to complete your mission, what can you do?

Here are the old methods:

  • Direct mail: Your best bet. Direct mail allows you to reliably connect with people living wherever, rapidly and on a personal level. But postage isn’t free and you have to find your donors—they can’t find you.
  • TV: Mass communication allows you to reach untold numbers of people—but most of them don’t care enough to become your donors. That’s a lot of money to spend to reach people who don’t care.
  • Telemarketing: How often do you hear this: “I love this nonprofit’s work. It all started when a stranger called to ask me for money, right when I sat down for family dinner…” Assuming caller ID allows you to get THAT far.
  • Word of mouth: Magical, but part of the magic is that it’s out of your control. And your donors probably can’t afford TV spots either—in other words, their ability to tell your story to others is just as limited with only this sets of options.

Thankfully, we have a new set of options for donor communications.

Your New Set of Options

The biggest factor that limits our ability to make connections: too many options.

Our new limitations aren’t money, postage stamps and geography. Our donors have limited time and attention, and too many options.

The other day, I was working on a tool to help organizations figure out their initial expenses in regards to starting a nonprofit. Turns out that the average nonprofit, with some thrift and attitude can get started with about $1500. (Can you save $4 a day for a year?)

If you lose the bells and whistles and truly bootstrap, you don’t even need that much. Set up your WordPress blog today and start writing. Cost: $0 and two hours of your time.

What’s limited is this: the willpower, courage and a willingness to try something that might not work.

Your new options:

  • Email: Direct mail’s hyperactive nephew. Even greater ability to reach your donors with anticipated, personalized attention. Except with less postage.
  • Your website: Educate your donors, get donations, nurture relationships and connect your constituents, even when no one’s in the office.
  • Social media: People want to give your nonprofit permission to communicate with them on a platform they spent 10 hours a week on.
  • Word of mouth: Just as magical, except now when someone says something nice about you, it reaches all five-hundred of their Facebook friends instantly, not just whomever they’re standing next to at the moment.

Just Start

I’d warn you about abusing your new, limitless power.

But unfortunately, many nonprofits haven’t even taken step one. They’re happy seeing the returns of direct mail and other traditional advertising.

Please, don’t abandon donor communications that are already working! But DO challenge yourself to adopt new strategies and embrace them before you’re forced to (and do it while these strategies are still advantages, instead of the minimum expectation).

There is no shortage of adequate nonprofit marketing: plenty of nonprofit organizations are happy doing the same thing they’ve always done, creating the same amount of change and poking the status quo just enough to be satisfied.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see more remarkable nonprofits.

Next time the nonprofit genie comes along, make sure your million-dollar donor can find you.