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3 ways I would disrupt the nonprofit sector

Nonprofit Email Marketing, Nonprofit Fundraising, Nonprofit Storytelling

There has been an interesting conversation over at the Agitator on starting over and what they would do differently in the nonprofit sector.

Sheena Greer from Colludo brought it to my attention when she asked me what I would do to disrupt the nonprofit sector.

What a great question!

If I had the power to overhaul the sector, what would I want nonprofits to do differently?

As it turns out there are three things about the way we operate as a sector that constantly make me want to pull my hair out (not that I have much left).

The first thing I would change is not going to sound very revolutionary. It is something that we’ve all heard and read about before…

Yet somehow rarely act on in the way we should.

We give this idea a lot of lip service, but do we ever really make it a foundation of our strategy, culture and decision making?

The second thing I would change is something that should be second nature to us as a sector.

We should be leading the way, setting the standard, yet somehow we’ve failed to capitalize on our greatest asset.

And the third thing I would change is something that has become so commonplace that the sector doesn’t even realize how bad it is and how much better it could be.

If I could completely overhaul and disrupt the nonprofit sector I would start with these three things…

Double your pennies

As I mentioned above, what I am about to say is not revolutionary.

It has been said many times before, but even though we’ve all heard it before and may even say it ourselves all the time it is still rarely ever fully implemented.

The first thing I would do if I were to overhaul the sector is center everything on genuine donor-centered marketing and fundraising.

For years now our donor retention has been abysmal.

Even though every nonprofit marketing and fundraising blog on the internet talks about the importance of being donor-centered and every nonprofit will give lip service to the need to be donor-centered, our implementation of donor-centered fundraising and decision making is not cutting it.

Why does this happen?

In short, because being donor-centered is not integrated into the culture, strategy, or decision making processes of nonprofits.

It needs to be embraced throughout the nonprofit – from the top to the bottom.

And here is where I think this breaks down most often: fundraising campaigns.

As a sector, we almost always choose to take $1 million over doubling our pennies.

Are you familiar with that mathematical riddle?

Which would you rather have? $1 million right now or a penny whose total value doubles every day for 30 days?

On the surface, a million dollars right now sounds great! Sign me up.

After all, how much could pennies doubled add up to in just 30 days anyway?

Well, it turns out to be quite a lot.

In fact it turns out that doubling your pennies makes ten times more money than just taking the million dollars up front.


And nonprofits make this mistake all the time.

Here’s an example…

A nonprofit asks the question:

“What can we do to improve donor retention?”

They almost always respond by saying we need to be more donor-centered.

Everyone agrees and things look good.

But then the next big fundraising campaign comes around the question changes.

Now the nonprofit asks:

“How can we raise as much money as possible during this fundraising campaign?”

And this, my good friends, is a very different question!

And the answer is NOT compatible with your donor-centered focus.

You want to know how to raise as much money as possible during this one campaign?

Send lots of asks in all directions over and over again until your deadline hits.

In short, badger the hell out of anyone that will listen until they give you their money.

This works. It’s a proven fact.

If you want to raise as much money as possible in your next fundraising campaign then this is the way to do it.

But this is extremely short sighted!

If you are truly committed to donor retention, if you are truly committed to trying to build genuine relationships with your community of support and turning them into lifelong fans and supporters of your organization…

…then this is NOT the right approach.

You are taking the $1 million dollars being offered to you right now instead of choosing to double your pennies.

Even though everyone knows doubling your pennies every day for 30 days will give you far more than $1 million.

As a sector, we need to stop implementing techniques that give us more money right now and start implementing a truly donor-centered fundraising program that will give us more money over time.

Taking back your turf

In my mind, the second thing I would focus on is an area where we, as a sector, should be leading the way. We should be known for this.

We should be better at it than any other sector because we have unfettered access to the necessary raw material.

Yet, somehow, we are rarely ever cutting edge or blazing the trail or setting the standard.

All too often we have let other sectors take the lead and use what should be our greatest advantage better then we use it ourselves.

I’m talking, of course, about storytelling.

Take a moment to watch this video. While you watch try to guess which nonprofit organization put it together…

So which nonprofit was it?

Oh, that’s right. It wasn’t a nonprofit at all! It was a for-profit company that sells tampons.

What on earth are they doing telling stories like this? Why are they creating such powerful, emotional videos?

I think it has something to do with their Facebook page…which has almost a half million likes at the time this post was published.

How many likes does your nonprofit’s Facebook page have?

Half a million? No?

A company that sells tampons has more Facebook likes than your nonprofit?!


Because they told a powerful, emotional story about female empowerment.

Female empowerment!!!! Is that a for-profit industry?

Why are they telling great stories and generating interest in female empowerment better than we are!?

This is our turf.

This is what WE do!

Why is Always doing it better than we are?

Doesn’t that make you angry?

It sure gets me fired up.

We need to stop letting for-profit companies play our game better than we do.

It is time we take the lead on telling powerful, emotional stories that move people to take action for good.

It’s time we take the stories we are exposed to every day we go to work and turn them into the powerful messages people need to hear.

CLICK HERE to learn how to tell Emotional Nonprofit Stories!

The nonprofit email marketing revolution

The third and final thing I would completely overhaul about the nonprofit sector is the nonprofit email newsletters.

If you’ve read any of my posts on nonprofit email marketing then you know I am not a fan of the nonprofit e-newsletter.

I think it is one of the most ineffective marketing practices in the nonprofit industry.

There is a better way to do it that will in fact help you be more donor centered and will give you a better way to tell your nonprofit stories.

Check out my Master Nonprofit Email Marketing page and subscribe to my email list to learn exactly what I would do if I was responsible for your nonprofit email marketing.

Keep doing good work,
Jeremy Signature



2 comments… add one
  • This a terrific Article – so close to my heart. Appreciate.

    Indian Scenario :

    1. Indian Government of India [ Federal ] and the GoI Ministry of Home Affairs have de-registered 14+K > 15 K NGO, CSO, Foundation, Trusts et al for non compliance of Foreign Exchange Regulations Act since Independence 65 years ago !

    2. That was needed as much as they should also seek an explanation from categories of vocations which get Gifts, Medals, Trophies, Vehicles, Monetary Benefits, International Award Winners [ I have yet to see any one of them return the award on grounds of the cause they espouse or not receive the gift – as in Climate Change [ 330,K lives are at risk in NCR India ], height of Dam raised , Child Labor , – when it comes to recognition – the Q from the social sector is like saliva flowing down – like there was facial paralysis due to photo op.

    My two paise :

    1. All NGO must be registered as Small Scale Industry;
    2. They must have a board of Investors and a Professional CEO who earns the least compared to the Team down the line.
    3. First commitment is not create Project Museum. Now Corporate drop puts have initiated as part of Tourism – Social Sector Tourism. This will catch up and all the anthropological support will be exploited for carnal pleasures.
    4. Second as a Company they cannot be called sick ! They are sick as there is exploitation of the causes they espouse. I have been given multiple KTA ! [ KHA].
    5 I have signed on vouchers which were the amount sanctioned by investor / donor and given in hand meager sum of 25 INR ! I did speak to the donors where is the money going they said your organization is a barrel without a bottom. Very true. So keep the poor under BPL . Make Hay.
    6. Adam Smith could have a treatise Wealth in Social Sector and Movements. They surpass the treatise of Adam Smith.
    7. I have yet to come across one Social Sector organization which has all the compliance done under laws, regulations and standards.

    The Greatest Neo Capitalist / Neo Exploiters are those in different categories :

    1. One who earn titles – Mahatma , Guruji , MahaManav, – these titles , statues , names on logistics and infrastructure including recreation is amazing .

    2. Why should Social Sector clamor for Civilian Awards / now Channel Event Awards / Have Commercial Films made – you ever do a ethical audit – i will plainly place the ………………

    3. Celebrity Photo Op – all are doing the cat walk ! Walk the talk is absent.

    4. Business Class travels for Conferences – I wonder if this a social sector mafia ?

    5. Net 65 yrs – infant/ maternal / allied disease mortality remains.

    6. After 65 yrs – none of the Award Winners have ver surrendered their prize monies / medals et – on deaths on a/c of undernourishment, ORT , in a hall where 100 young girls [ aborigines ] of which one is subjected to a carnal pleasure by 15 youth / Farmer suicides / Suicides by girls / boys / Missing on ground of ethnics – where are these stalwarts ? What pressure are they bringing on locals ? What People Mobilization ? Why should WB Fund Movements against Corruption is WB core value or they CIA / FBI agents of Power ?

    This is getting dicey. I see youth taking to the street is no mean thing. S.Korea, Turkey beginning with Arab Spring – Need a safe world stop these feudal titular majesties.

    Speaking for myself all awards received in service from external agencies have been handed over to the organization that I worked. Free Gifts were part of the organization. None came home. No Compliments too. God Bless those vendors / friends who send or bring or feed because of my poverty – I am hated because I write this and I do not sell my soul though a thorough rationalist.

    Last is stop all the “middlemen” who write proposals et al. The Leaders who can lead will have to be nurtured by the social sector for that group and give itself a time span and move on . It is not a Family Run Organization minting money ! The malaise in my books is not Corporate – it is these fundamental pampered institution which are well networked with the Vatican of Corporate in all domains !

    • Jeremy

      Hi Suhas,
      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on how the sector could be improved. You have clearly put a lot of thought into this and I hope you are able to see progress towards an improved nonprofit sector.

      Keep doing good work.

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