For several years, my colleagues Jack Doyle, Lynn Edmonds, Geoff Peters, and I (now joined since 2017 by Dennis Meyer) have been honored to do a session on this topic at the annual NCDC conference.
I’m no soothsayer, but here are a few quick thoughts on what’s coming down the road:
Data will remain a hero and a villain.
Hero: As more and more data is available, our ability to talk to donors in unique ways will keep changing. What will it mean for our communications when we can know what our donors keep in their refrigerators or what they are watching or searching on the web or how much they drive or how often they do laundry? Among billions of data points, will any make a difference?
Villain: Privacy movements are more powerful than ever. GDPR in the EU could cut off direct marketing to large portions of society. California voters are likely to pass a ballot initiative in 2018 that will impose potential billion-dollar fines for data breaches like common data hackings. The potential for us to lose access to huge amounts of data is very real.
Unknown: Technologies like Blockchain (the power behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin) are starting to play a major role in digital marketing, monitoring which consumers view which ads and how advertisers are billed. Some of my colleagues at Infogroup believe this could lead to consumers controlling their own data and being paid directly for its use.
Media will change and keep changing.
The change: The rate of change for nearly everything is faster and accelerating. It’s not uncommon now for audiences of individual programs or channels in broadcast TV, cable, radio, and especially print to drop 20 percent or more in a year. Direct mail will slowly decline, or maybe blow up in a few years’ time. The generation coming up behind the baby boom isn’t just less interested in mail, they barely know it exists. The U.S. Postal Service can’t really be considered a predictable communication channel and will continue its decline.
The good news: Evolving media will be faster, cheaper, more flexible, and more easily personalized to our donors. The challenge, as always, will be creating and delivering messages that have real impact.
Check writing may end as a form of payment.
Is it the end of check writing?: Fewer than 10 percent of all transactions are done by check now, and that includes business-to-business, but 90 percent of direct response contributions by donors are made by check. The majority of consumers under 40 say they never write checks. A growing number of stores like coffee shops and deli’s in cities like New York no longer accept cash. It’s not that nonprofits haven’t tried to keep up; in fact, we’ve been promoting credit card options for decades, but donors insist on using checks. Will they change that behavior?
The good news: If donors move to electronic giving, they will likely give higher amounts and be more likely to give monthly.
“Churched” people were always the core of the giving public.
Now they are becoming a minority. I don’t think there’s any good news for Catholic groups in this reality. The number of Americans who identify as Catholic remains stable due to the growth of Hispanic communities, but these Catholics remain a small percentage of our direct response donors. Will they begin giving to our Catholic groups? What media will they use?
You will basically be doing the same thing tomorrow you are today — but differently.
Determining the best ways to talk to donors and prospects, segmenting individuals for specific appeals and asks, managing your budget for the greatest long-term return — these fundamental aspects of fundraising won’t change, but exactly how we do them will. And the change will be gradual, unless it’s sudden. I’m no Carnac, so I’ll find out at the same time you do.
Interested in learning more? Larry May will be co-presenting the session "What's Coming Next and How to Manage It Part V" at the 50th Annual NCDC Conference and Exposition, September 15-18 in Chicago.