In part 10 of our ongoing blog series, Financing Not Fundraising, we are discussing moving nonprofits away from “push” fundraising and marketing efforts that force their message on innocent bystanders (like acquisition direct mail appeals) and towards “pull” activities that allow interested prospects to opt in to the organization (like social media, friend-raising events, partnerships). In times of increasing competition for supporters, nonprofits can no longer engage in ineffective, non-strategic efforts to get people in the door. Rather, nonprofits must attract people through engaging content, events and activities that encourage people to raise their hand and become part of the organization.
If you are new to this ongoing series, our Financing Not Fundraising blog series demonstrates that fundraising holds the nonprofit sector back by keeping nonprofits in the starvation cycle of trying to do more and more with less and less. To overcome this, nonprofits have to break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities. Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. You can read the entire series here.
First, let’s define Push versus Pull marketing activities:
- Push efforts are traditional marketing activities where you create marketing or fundraising “messages” and distribute them through various channels and hope that someone sees them and responds to your call to action. Some examples of Push efforts are: direct mail letters to prospective donors, a brochure-like web site where you talk about your work and hope people hit the “donate” button, ads or articles in the local newspaper.
- Pull efforts are when you engage and build relationships outside the organization, join communities and give people reasons to voluntarily draw your organization into their personal experiences. You’re not interrupting them, you’re not controlling the message or the channel. People are getting to know you, liking what they see and opting in to getting to know you and your organization better.
“Push” efforts are controlling and controlled, time and resource-intensive and yield low returns (direct mailings that get a 2% response rate are considered successful). “Pull” efforts are open and inviting and yield much better and longer-term donors because these efforts allow prospects to self-identify.
Key to the whole idea of Pull activities is that you want to find prospective donors who share your values as an organization and believe in the change you are trying to create. So many nonprofit organizations think that they need to mass market their organization. To the contrary, your message will not resonate with the general public. You need to find prospects whose values intersect with a community need that your organization is uniquely positioned (because of your core competencies) to solve, like this:
Pull marketing makes your job easier because you no longer have to look for a needle in a haystack, but rather you simply must be yourself, demonstrate your values and your work and join communities where like-minded people hang out. Introduce yourself and start building relationships. Social media is a fabulous and inexpensive tool for doing just this. And Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s book The Networked Nonprofit is an excellent primer on how nonprofits can and should completely rethink how they operate in the community.
So how does Pull vs Push marketing look in a nonprofit’s annual revenue plan:
- Instead of pushing your fundraising appeals out to mass audiences through direct mail campaigns sent to people who have never demonstrated an interest in your nonprofit, start a blog that engages people who share an interest in your work to read, comment and become part of a community engaged in social change.
- Instead of sending out invitations for a big gala to a bunch of people who are more interested in the food and entertainment than your work, start holding smaller, more intimate, mission-focused occasions for current supporters to bring friends to learn about the organization, volunteer and get involved.
- Instead of just posting static articles about your nonprofit on your Facebook page, start asking questions and initiating conversations with your fans. Start getting to know them and start encouraging them to drive content, suggest activities, lead efforts.
- Instead of putting up walls and engaging and collaborating only with a small group of advisors and partners, open your organization up to vast networks, partners, supporters and others who share your values and your work. Constantly seek out opportunities to find new friends and organizations in high and low places.
- Instead of focusing only on what supporters can do for you, get to know them and figure out what you can offer them (opportunities to change the word, meet like-minded friends, engage in a broader community).
- Instead of asking supporters simply to give money and volunteer, encourage and empower them to lead their networks of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors to get engaged with your organization as well. Make it easy and attractive for them to do that by asking them what they need, giving it to them, and then getting out of their way.
Pull activities require a complete shift in mindset. The messages and activities are not up to you anymore. You can’t control the outcome. Rather be yourself, build relationships, join communities and engage people in compelling, inspiring and interesting ways. Pretty soon you’ll have more friends and supporters than you know what to do with.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book.
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