What if the Board of Directors and digital fundraising were not distant planets?

What if the Board and digital fundraising were not distant planets?

by Alberto Cuttica

What if the Board and digital fundraising were not distant planets?

When talking about the Board of Directors of not-for-profit organisations, there is often an implicit assumption: that it is – in fact, or in attitude – resistant to change and, in regards to fundraising, more often an adversary to be beaten than an ally to be won. 

This assumption, of course, stems from the fact that there is much more talk about how to correct something that is wrong, and less about the things that are already working.

There are some Board of Directors out there that work hard and are committed to innovating & investing in fundraising, by listening, showing curiosity and sharing their expertise. These boards show that investing in digital fundraising is often easier than it looks.

Today fundraising and digital fundraising go hand in hand. It no longer makes sense to consider them separate things.

When those in an organisation who are leading and making decisions about the plan of action say, “Digital is not for us, it doesn’t suit our supporters, it costs money, etc.,” the response should be, “Wait, let’s take an hour to talk about it.”

And in 60 minutes these are 3 key arguments to put on the table and discuss with your board:

1: Digital is for everyone

The Third Sector must, willingly or unwillingly, take part in the process of digital transformation. Indeed, it must seize the opportunities that innovation offers to live its 4.0 phase and strengthen its presence through digital.

Digital transformation is a compelling fact. It has affected, affects and will eventually affect every individual and therefore every organisation. And, even more so, it affects and will affect the skills needed in all sectors, not just not-for-profits.

More or less consciously and proactively, everyone experiences it on a daily basis in almost everything they do – professionally, publicly and privately. Because, apart from rare exceptions, everyone experiences daily the use of digital technologies, mobile devices, forms of connection, online communications and interactions, sending or at least receiving stimuli from digital channels, and even technological solutions to manage formerly “non-digital” processes. Everyday we are connected for hours on various digital channels, reading news, buying online, talking with others. So, it would be illogical – even more so after the boost created by the two years of the pandemic – to claim to be exempt from this new norm. The limit would be “false resistance”, contradicted by the facts:

What if the Board and digital fundraising were not distant planets?
  • the need to be more visible and to oversee communication and information processes, in an open, inclusive, interactive way.
  • the need to widen the network of relationships in a goal-oriented way, generate new contacts and manage them for the purposes you have (including conversion into support & donations)
  • to simplify the integration processes between different departments of the organisation (communication, fundraising and sustainability, administrative management, etc.) and to make them easier to manage.

If all these premises are true, the statement ‘digital is not for us or our audience’ is not justifiable. Because it would mean denying the reality of the facts and our own strategic objectives.

So, first of all, let’s overcome a prejudicial question and try to answer the right question to ask: “Given that in fact our organisation and the people in it are also digitised and living the process of digital transformation, how aware are we of it? How well do we use the current level of digitisation and how could we improve it, to communicate, to interact, to acquire, to cultivate, to raise funds? 

Do we have a digital transformation strategy, a direction for improvement?

These are the right questions that the board of a not-for profit organisation should ask itself, and to which it should give an objective answer. 

What if the Board and digital fundraising were not distant planets?

2: Investing and spending are not the same thing.

The answer to the questions above brings up another issue, which the board is obviously sensitive to, and to which a step forward in maturity is sometimes required.

When looking at ‘traditional’ fundraising, the ‘average’ board sees it as a solution to a need for resources. And it often struggles to understand that in order to grow in reputation, increase consensus and raise money, and do it well, it is almost always necessary to invest resources in people, tools and materials

And the same reasoning applies to digital fundraising, because ‘digital’ does not mean free (even if it is a fact nowadays that for the same returns, digital investment costs less anyway).

But a mature board knows, or should know, the difference between spending and investing.  

Spending typically identifies a “dead” cost that does not produce a return through the added value created by that specific expenditure.

On the other hand, investing always represents a real opportunity (though not a certainty) to increase and improve one’s productivity, and therefore can lead to a higher return.

In other words, every board member should be clear that “saving and not spending” may represent in the end a higher cost than a well made investment.

A check-up of one’s own “digital” status and digital fundraising potential should lead the organisation’s leaders to an informed investment decision: i.e. to understand on which tools and channels it is appropriate to invest and with which priorities, with the aim of obtaining a result that would otherwise not be achievable (or with unreasonable costs in terms of time and quality).

3: It makes no sense not to do digital fundraising in 2022.

Priorities and objectives are obviously “board things” and are fundamental because digital fundraising is also a wide world and it is necessary to set a course to follow, between tools and channels for visibility, acquisition and engagement, as well as direct fundraising vehicles. 

In any case, what has been said, faced with the exponential growth of digital as a channel of cultivation and fundraising (especially from mobile), consolidated by the experiences made in the pandemic period, leads to a conclusion that the Board cannot ignore: not setting up a strategy of engagement and digital management of one’s own audience and of conscious (therefore proactive) digital fundraising is a great risk in terms of competitiveness for the organisation. 

It is no secret that the third sector is also a competitive market, as is fundraising.

In addition, a central concept has been developed for some time: what must be put at the centre of decisions is not the experience and point of view of the organisation’s boards, staff and volunteers, but the opinion, point of view, preferences and behaviour of it’s supporters, acquired and potential ones. Their experience of interacting, listening, informing and giving must be easy, straightforward, even pleasant. And adapted to the channels and methods most used today. Indeed, digital transformation does not imply the abandonment of old channels, but at most an integration, an addition, an improvement.

What if the Board and digital fundraising were not distant planets?

If the ultimate goal of fundraising is precisely the creation of gratifying relationships and experiences with and for the donor, in 2022 it is no longer possible to ignore this channel: digital fundraising skills and tools must be used to complement traditional and “offline” ones (events, banquets, direct mailing, etc.).

In conclusion, a memo: digital transformation is not a technological process, but a human one. And it is in fact always important to talk about a combination of skills and tools because it is only through this union that it is possible to move from fear of expenditure to confidence in an investment for the growth of the organisation and thus a transformation, maturation, and improvement.

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