One of the most interesting and timeless types of sharing is charitable giving. I’ve been fortunate to correspond with Joe Waters, director of cause and event marketing at Boston Medical Center (BMC), about how he thinks new technologies have impacted fundraising and development. Before reading on, I suggest you check out his blog, Selfish Giving.
At what point did you become an adopter? When did you realize that communications channels were undergoing an irrevocable “e-shift”?
For me it’s really not about a shift, but what’s effective. And there is clear movement out there to new forms of media, whether it is blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I’m interested in staying effective and that’s where I need to be.
Of all the technologies you employ, which has yield the most response?
I think my blog has been a great tool to educate potential sponsors about cause marketing and to position myself as an expert in the field. It’s almost an online resume/notebook that I’m constantly updating with new ideas, accomplishments, and projects.
Asking donors to share their time, talents, and money is as old as the Catholic church, and probably older. But fundraising has typically been based on the idea of relationship building, and many would argue that online relationships tend to be inherently less personal than face to face cultivations. Has the internet helped or hurt (or both)?
Fundraising exclusively online is not a development strategy; it’s a tactic. To be successful raising money you need a comprehensive strategy that involves many different types of communication, including online. Online can be very efficient and effective, but it’s not a standalone. Just like cause marketing shouldn’t be a standalone. It needs to be done within the full suite of development activities (events, major gifts, foundations, etc.). The Internet can help nonprofits so long as they recognize they can’t stop doing all the other things they’re doing. Unfortunately, it won’t replace many of the things they are already doing. But it will enhance the success of those efforts.
Building on this question, you said: “Some people have asked why I gave my blog the rather irreverent name of Selfish Giving. I meant it as no offense to the practice of cause marketing or philanthropy, both of which I hold in high regard. But cause marketing is giving with an agenda, so why not call it what it is?” I agree that frankness is the way of the online and blog worlds. But probably not everyone in your industry does. Any backlash stemming from this conflict by people who don’t get it?
No one has ever said anything negative about my blog’s name. Of course, now that I say that I’ll probably have ten negative comments tonight! But really, people usually laugh when they hear the name. I think it also fits with my no-nonsense approach and witty tone on the blog. People know when you’re being sincere and anyone who reads my blog knows that I admire companies that give. I should add that there is plenty of unselfish corporate behavior that the press just doesn’t want to see right now.
So, BMC gala invites are distributed online this year. Interesting…
Necessity is the mother of invention, right? It was the tight economy this year that prompted us to rethink how we spent our money, especially for a big event like the Gala that involves 1,300 guests. One of the great things about a recession is that it makes you really question everything you’re doing, and when we looked at how most people heard about the Gala it wasn’t from the invite. We also cut the save-the-date card and the gala program (which I always thought was a big waste anyway). And we’ll save $15k by not having flower centerpieces at the event. Flowers are beautiful and great, but we think it sends the right message to our donors that our patients come before petunias.
The Rabbi Chaim story, to me, is one of depth vs. width. One of the comments on you blog makes valid point: “My guess is that the Rabbi’s SM is an active community with much participation in conversations. You need to build a similar community, now that you see how effective one can be. It is not about the cause, it is about the community around the cause.” Do you have advice for cause marketers in making their online sharing efforts authentic and community-based?
I think you have to try to make the online experience just as real as you can for donors. For example, we have a Boston Marathon team and while these folks raise tens of thousands of dollars for BMC, many just don’t have the time to visit the hospital to see firsthand the work we do. So instead we bring the hospital to them. Using a Flip video camera that cost us a couple hundred dollars, we’ve taped a series of interviews on our food pantry, cancer care, etc and then shared them with our runners via a weekly email newsletter. While we would still love to have them visit, we’ve tapped technology for a second option that is easy, cheap but effective in delivering our message of hope, health, and inclusiveness.
**Special thanks to Joe Waters and to Jessica for helping me coordiante this interview.**