Should You Be Following Fundraising Trends?

Wok stir fryOver the weekend I listened to a podcast on Chinese cooking from America’s Test Kitchen Radio (this may seem off topic but stick around and I will make the connection). After I heard from Fuchsia Dunlop, author of “Every Grain of Rice,” I decided I should go out and purchase this almost vegetarian Chinese cookbook. But, before I could get my keys, I realized the next segment of the podcast would focus on “fads” in cooking. I have been known to get caught up in the foodie hype from time to time so I was curious about the potential connection between kale, bottled water, Greek yogurt, and specialized crystal salt. It turns out that “they all have a good health rap,” have a “highly individual, specific taste,” and coincide with other trends in fashion. Think areas of the world that are en vogue or what Jennifer Anniston uses to get that glow.

It made me wonder if “fads” in fundraising were the same. Were they intended to be good for us and that is why they make such a splash? Do they require the unique aspect that allows for specialists to become experts in the field? Do they reflect popular culture? I think, on the whole, the answers are yes, yes and yes.

What are recent popular fundraising trends?
Most everyone in the philanthropic community is in the midst of trying to keep up with social media. Are you promoting yourself on Facebook? Instagram? Twitter? Some percentage of the (fundraising) population truly understands what they are, how best to use these media for a specific nonprofit.   The rest are trying to muddle through and keep and their bosses/board happy (and, hopefully their donors, as well.). To continue the comparison, it is like kale. Some people will keep using it in innovative and productive ways for years after the media shifts focus. The others, should consider using it enough so that they can decide if it is right for them.

What about the post-2008 Presidential election? We all learned that we should be asking many more donors for less money more often to raise more in the aggregate. I’m sure it works for some organizations but the 80/20 rule – 80% of the money is raised from 20% of the people has gone the other way and is now often referred to as the 90/10 rule.   I am going to liken it more to bottled, designer water. It was all the rage, but now we see that there are consequences that we had not previously considered.

Then, there was the rubber bracelet phase. It worked for Livestrong. Couldn’t we all raise millions by buying a few hundred dollars worth of branded accessories? I’m not sure how this compares to food trends, but the success rates were great if you were looking to profit a few hundred dollars or if you were hoping to create awareness. But, unless you were already marketing on a Livestrong scale, with a celebrity face, and were able to have distribution across the country, the bracelets were nothing more than costly marketing giveaways and not the answer to your organization’s financial problems.

What I see as a connection between these fundraising fads is actually that people think these ideas will be get rich quick schemes for their organizations. And for a very few, they may well be. But before you divert valuable resources, decide what you think the impact will be for you – not for the others who made the news. And, then ask, what are you not doing when you jump on the latest bandwagon.

Social media is not going away anytime soon. It has changed from a “fad” to a fact of life. But as for the rest? You don’t have to slavishly follow every fundraising fad. Step back and strategize about what you want to achieve. Then, you will know whether the next “big innovation” is the right move for you and your nonprofit.