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4 things that will shape nonprofit marketing and fundraising in 2023

This is a safe place—a place where I can be honest, right? I have no idea what is going to happen in 2023. I’ve learned to release it, and you should too.

Will people spend more money on digital than direct mail?
Sure. Some will. Some won’t.

Will we see results continue normalization to 2019 levels?
Maybe. For some. Depends on your strategy.

What about costs?
Well, I can tell you that postage is going up. Again. And again. And I anticipate hard costs to continue fluctuation in offline. But I don’t know for certain.

I can’t tell you about the future. No one can. I agree with my friend and mentor Tim Kersten, who said that the only constant is change and that long-term shifts in our industry are afoot.

And so, this post is not about trends. Because I’m over trends. Slightly weathered. Perhaps more jaded, or more seasoned, depending on how you want to characterize it. Just like you, I’m challenged and drained from the lingering effects of said long-term shifts that have come as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

More than ever, we have an opportunity to worry less about trends and worry more about what we can control. We are at an inflection point in philanthropy where trends matter least.

That is—now is the time to worry less about others and more about yourself.

Your focus
Your fundraising
Your benchmarks
Your organization’s floor
Your organization’s ceiling
Your organization’s potential

So, let’s get more personal. Here are four things that will shape our outlook on nonprofit marketing and fundraising in 2023:

1. Transparency.

Recently, a nonprofit CEO was sharing a fundraising experience with me. She’d sat down with a high-value prospect and gone into her normal pitch.

The major donor prospect changed the conversation—shifted it towards a seed project that the CEO had not yet received board approval for. The CEO had no idea how the prospect knew—but she did. The CEO leaned in and shared with her the prospectus on a completely new and transformative project. It was risky. It was also transparent. The CEO led with trust and honesty—even about the lack of approval on the project.

Well, we have to do whatever we can to help,” declared the prospect.

The transparency resulted in a pledge that will launch a silent phase on a now-approved capital campaign.

Transparency isn’t just a major-donor requirement. It should be a requirement in how you approach your teams and your donor communication. Because transparency can be transformative in building loyalty, just like Classy shared in this post.

2. Intentionality.

A great friend recently said to me, “I want to be present where my feet are.”

The impetus was to be intentional.

Better conversations matter, and this post from The Agitator includes data to back it up. There’s something about being intentional in a conversation that can be transformational. So yes, while we’ve been beating the drum to be better listeners—what we really mean is to be more intentional in your communication strategy (which includes listening, by the way).

Nonprofits who invest in the strategy and science of intentional communication will see better returns. How do you do that?

Surveys and focus groups are a start. But there’s also the untapped resource of your Donor Relations team. As a Development leader, you have the opportunity to work closely with your Donor Relations team on how they engage, what information they track, and how that data can be a feedback loop for your broader fundraising efforts.

3. Curiosity.

One of my favorite listens is Think Fast, Talk Smart. This podcast is produced by the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It is not nonprofit-specific, but it regularly delivers principles that are easily applied to fundraising, management and leadership in general.

In this episode—Matt Abrahams and Debra Schifrin share how curiosity and asking questions can impact what you receive in return.

This isn’t the same as questioning everything. No, be curious. Be curious in how you lead your teams—and in how you approach your fundraising and marketing.

For many nonprofits, 2022’s roller-coaster performance has led to difficult decisions on budgeting. Sadly, many times one of the first things to be eliminated is a dedicated budget for testing. As you think ahead of 2023—you must be flexible and curious. Test more. Segment differently. Try new messaging. Introduce payment options. Track everything and see what works. 2023 may be the year of curiosity, after all.

4. Agility.

Attention spans have declined. Again. The combination of multi-screen, social stacks and multi-tasking have resulted in a new era of UI for people’s consumer and philanthropic activity. Here’s what it means: You must be more agile.

The foundation for nonprofit fundraising agility is have good data, better KPIs and best processes to move on keen insights.

Let’s start from the process side.

As you start 2023—take a moment and rethink how your team engages and collaborates. In the software development world, there are a few schools of thought:

  • Waterfall models, which are linear and sequential. This is how many fundraising campaigns are approached and teams are managed.
  • Agile models, which are sprint-based and more about responding to change versus following a plan.

What would it look like if you chose the agile method in how you manage your direct marketing? How would your teams engage?

The agile method lends itself to more reflection and optimization—which is just what’s required from nonprofit marketers in 2023. If you want to learn more about the Agile approach—check out this post.

About those KPIs … if you’re going to use the Agile approach, you should also rethink what KPIs matter to you. Some KPIs that we are keener on than ever include:

  • Long-term net.
  • Net income per name.
  • Gifts per donor.
  • Direct Marketing ROI.
  • Engagements per donation.

Notice how none of these are channel-first. That’s intentional. If you want to know more about these KPIs, reach out to our team, and we’d be happy to share in more detail.

And lastly … data. You can’t be a good marketer in 2023 without being good with data. Data and technology are the fuel and vehicle to optimize your investment. Full stop.

Transparency. Intentionality. Curiosity. Agility.

As a leader, you have to do the self-work. You have to apply these to yourself, your team and your marketing strategy.

While 2022 may have drained many of us, I’m highly optimistic that 2023 will provide us with new opportunities for transformation and deeper connections—as an industry and with our loyal supporters.

Justin McCord

Justin McCord is the Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing at RKD Group, leading the sales and marketing teams. Justin oversees brand management, business development and content marketing for RKD, and he hosts the award-winning Groupthinkers podcast. He is also a regular speaker and contributor to nonprofit marketing events, helping shine a light on current issues and progressive strategies to align channels and improve connection.

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