why everything is harder

I’ve been drawn into several conversations recently where the theme was something like: “our results are down” or “the economy is finally hurting us” or “we just have to settle for this new reality.” (The “new reality” was some measure of poor results — cultivation or acquisition or whatever.)

Turns out there’s often a systemic issue to work on once we talk more.

But it occurs to me that one of the underlying issues behind these conversations is how significantly the world has changed (I know, that’s a “duh,” but stick with me).

In the good ole days, competition for attention wasn’t so stiff.

In the good ole days, the number of channels for messaging wasn’t so daunting.

In the good ole days, your donors weren’t bombarded with the tens of thousands messages per day (or per hour).

In the good ole days, your donors weren’t seeing or hearing from so many different, new, eager, exciting, efficient (and cool) small organizations occupying niches near you. Or bigger organizations who’ve turned up the volume and are everywhere.

Well you get the idea. Maybe you’ve been in these conversations or had them with yourself.

And “the good ole days” I’m talking about really could be as little as a few months ago. The rapid rate of change these days will take your breath away.

What worked before, doesn’t work as well now . . . or doesn’t work the same way.

I believe we have to acknowledge that what worked in the “good ole days” isn’t working today because today average isn’t average. And sadly, there’s been a lot of average work . . . that now fails.

Average strategies that used to deliver average results now deliver sub-par results.

Average creative used to deliver average results now fails.

Average performance by team members produces nothing.

Average isn’t average any more. The only thing that will stand out in this world of ours is the very best.

Because of how crazy the world is now, average will fail.

“Pretty good” will fail.

Mechanistic strategies will fail.

What used to work . . . will fail.

What works?

Here’s what I think, see if you agree.

  • Relationships. Real relationships, not pretend relationships, are noticed. Relationship will cut through clutter and competition. No amount of frequency or intensity will replace relationships. In fact, I believe “it’s all about relationships”® (Yep, we believe it so much that we trademarked the phrase for our niche.)
  • Uniqueness. Your donors are unique. You’re unique. This time is unique. What worked for another organization may or may not work for you. What worked last year may or may not work today. This is why canned doesn’t produce the way it used to. This is why dusting off last year’s creative may not be a good plan.
  • Authenticity. Being real will get you noticed. Stop the corporate-speak. Talk to your donors like they are people and like you are a person (just try it). Real will get noticed.
  • Analytics. Strategy in a vacuum is just someone’s good idea. Don’t settle for that. Track, analyze, report, test . . . rinse and repeat. There is no substitute.

That’s what I’m thinking. Too obvious? Too simplistic? I love knowing what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: USDAgov)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

8 thoughts on “why everything is harder”

  1. Excellent post, Steve, although I suspect it leaves folks in small to mid-size organizations feeling even more stressed than when they got up this morning. Nurturing real relationships with donors takes time — lots of time — and in one or two person fundraising shops, time is in short supply.It’s one thing to know inidividualized messages are important, but that takes time. Coming up with a completely new message is an obvious must, but it takes time, so we dust off last year’s and move on. I am worried that small organizations are going to be left in the dust of better funded, better staffed, and bigger operations.

  2. @Rebekah–I really hadn’t thought of dismaying people…but you have an excellent point. I had hoped that the dialog would cause leaders at NPOs to think about the “why” and if they agreed with my thinking help them reexamine what they’re doing. I usually tell people at small organizations that they have the advantage over big organizations because they can build and maintain relationships with donors easier than big orgs. They can do authenticity easier. And many times, while short on resources, they are long in passion, again which donors respond to.

    Glad to have your prospective. It will be interesting to see who I’ve dismayed…I only like “dismaying” people if they need it .

  3. Even though I’m practicing in the for-profit world, the truths you present ring very true. I have often asked myself why world-class creative isn’t a higher priority when it comes to building relationships and raising friends and funds for great ministries. Great creative isn’t being flashy or clever. It’s honest, heart-felt story telling with an emphasis on what is important to you donor audience. The authenticity you talk about is a powerful connector. We need more authenticity in both the for-profit and non-profit worlds. We can’t be afraid to be much more transparent with our donors and our customers.

    While we can stress over how hard our jobs are these days, I have never worked in a time when measurement in the communications world has been so prevalent and so available. The web, Social Media and better fund-raising software provide near real-time tools for measuring and testing our abilities to connect with our audiences. These new media also provide the opportunities for our donors and customers to join the conversation and talk back to us. What a great opportunity as long as we can become very good listeners!

    No one need be dismayed by your truth-telling. We simply need to roll up our sleeves and work harder… and especially work smarter.

    It’s also time for some risk taking. No risk=No reward!

  4. @Al — world-class creative can be an intimidating thought for many of us (witness Rebekah’s thoughts above). But what’s the alternative, huh? Missing out or being over looked, neither are ideal to say the least.

    I love what you’re saying about being “listeners”, that’s easy to overlook and just do the talking.

    Keep on talking Al, love what you’re sayin’.

  5. Being real will get you noticed- Thank you for saying that – “real” works because the competition (aka being fake) is so prevalent and provides so many opportunities for “real” to stand out. Being fake is the default mode- consequently when you say something real even if it isnt brilliant it increases the likelihood of your idea breaking through the noise and getting heard. Being real is hard work and it does take courage but being fake is hard work as well and takes an equal amount of fear. Either way you’re going to work hard you just have to decide where you;re going to apply yourself

  6. Hi Steve. I found your post really interesting, and Rebekah’s comments equally so. As a direct marketeer for a small charity, it’s pretty impossible to wake up in the morning feeling more stressed out than I already do. Yes, there are benefits of working for small organisations, and they’re different from the benefits of working for a larger brand. But in my mind what makes the real difference isn’t the size of the organisation; it’s the extent to which senior management understand the need for fundraising excellence, and the investment required in order to gain it. Yes, the amount of data available to us today is baffling, but also provides us with massive opportunity. For me, it’s not about how big we are – it’s how wise we are with what we have.

  7. @Susie — I never anticipated how this would make some of our tribe feel. I missed that it would feel bad (or add to the over-whelmed feelings). Stress is what we all feel when we think we’re missing it or behind or whatever. I get that (I run a small business, I know stress and feeling overwhelmed).

    You are so right that size of the organization isn’t as important as senior management/leadership’s understanding of excellence and investment. Great point.
    I’ll take wise over big any day.

    I’d love to know how you and others stay sane in these moments.

    Thank you so much for your thoughts.

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