What digital marketers and fundraisers should keep in mind when pushing for organizations to "update."

Last week, I wrote a piece for Aleteia about workplace issues surrounding young people. 20-somethings are often surprised when their complaints about work practices aren’t immediately channeled into fixes. An excerpt:

“Change doesn’t necessarily mean innovation; variety doesn’t necessarily mean improvement. When “reformers” (be they political mavericks, religious progressives, or just an unhappy employee) want to make a change, they need to recognize it’s up to them to demonstrate, rather than assume, that the new way is better. Sometimes change turns out to be unequivocally worse. Sometimes it improves the immediate situation but has damaging long-term effects.”

I think this is true with digital media people as well, at least in the nonprofit sector and political campaigns. The fact is that there isn’t too much data yet on precisely how digital strategies translate to better fundraising results. There’s certainly some, and some tremendous success stories, but few if any are common knowledge at this point.

And in the nonprofit world, it’s not just about what an executive director or board knows—it’s about what they’re forced to act on. Keeping things running the same way is enough work as it is, and major change is a huge headache (it can even feel impossible). As I said in an essay in The Statesman on Monday, for most organizations, there has (as yet) been no financial pressure to even move away from direct mail-only donor prospecting, let alone graduate all the way through email and great websites to social media. 70% of donors are over age 50; for plenty of organizations the percentage (and the age) is even higher.

Sometimes those of us who work with these newer strategies and tools forget that not everyone has seen the research, the data, the insights into human psychology, let alone the success stories, that we’ve seen.

When we’re tempted to complain about backwards nonprofits (or bosses), we should keep these things in mind. It’s up to us to know not only a particular technology, but also the hard facts about how it means results for nonprofits—and that means things techies and marketers often don’t work with much, like actual fundraising, strategy change in tough times, and institutional continuity. If we can’t communicate not only an indisputable picture of WHY an organization should go from A to B, but also how they can get there without a major loss of what they already have, we have no business telling them to change their ways.

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