By Todd Cohen
[Note: This article is from a report written for Blackbaud, which asked me to look at fundraising strategies that nonprofits have found to be effective.]
In the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, donors increasingly expect international relief charities to show “your work is actually accomplishing something,” says Bob Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy in Washington, D.C.
Helping to fuel that expectation of seeing the impact of a charity is the fact that the tough economy has made money tighter.
“We’re still down about $25 billion from where we were at the peak in philanthropic giving in 2007,” says Ottenhoff, former president and CEO of GuideStar, which publishes online financial and tax data on nonprofits. “There’s less money, also less government money going into nonprofit activities. At the same time, there’s increasing demand for services.”
International nonprofits, along with all nonprofits, also have seen an increasing number of donors making gifts that are restricted to particular programs or to addressing particular needs, he says.
Donors’ growing expectation to see the impact of their giving and to restrict the use of their gifts has prompted nonprofits to try to do a better job measuring the results of their work and making those metrics available.
“Nonprofits first of all need to demonstrate that they’re aware of this issue, and demonstrate they’re a data-driven organization,” Ottenhoff says, a goal that also helps the organization improve the way it operates and the programs it delivers.
If a nonprofit maintains a “dashboard” of major metrics about its operations and impact, for example, it should make that dashboard available to its board and make elements of it available to the public, he says.
“These are signs of a data-driven organization committed to measuring impact,” he says.
A growing number of international organizations also are making greater use of technology to “engage program or service recipients in the field, where they can collect data, share that data with others, and then respond with changes in their programs based on the analysis of that data,” Ottenhoff says.
“Knowledge workers” armed with a cellphone might gather information from farmers about the seeds they are using and diseases and other challenges to crop growth they are facing, for example. That data would be collected, analyzed, organized and then returned to the farmers to help them answer questions, change their behavior or try new techniques.
“Technology is now helping nonprofit organizations to improve their performance,” Ottenhoff says. “It’s a way of answering donors’ questions: Are you a learning organization? Are you improving? Are you measuring impact? Are you better this year than last year?”
To address donors’ growing interest in making restricted gifts, he says, nonprofits need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all case statement.
“What you need is a case statement and a business or philanthropic strategy for each one of your programs, and each one of those programs is going to have its own set of donors,” he says.
“What fundraisers have to understand,” he says, “is that different donors come to the organization with different interests and priorities, and you have to organize your fundraising strategies around those different types of donors.”
Equally important, he says, is branding.
With over one million charities in the U.S., nonprofits need to recognize that “your organization is not the center of the universe,” he says. “There are too many organizations doing too many big things. To think everyone knows what you do and why you do it is totally unrealistic.”
Branding, he says, “is your promise to your potential donors. It says, ‘This is what we stand for, this is how we’re going to to do work.'”
A nonprofit’s brand, Ottenhoff says, “is what gives a donor understanding of why you’re unique and distinctive and worthy of support.”
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