Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Has The Annual Report Become A Shrine To Transactions?

The fall is a great time of year, it's back to school, it's back to work from summer vacations, it's the start of annual fund season, football and it is the time of year the publication houses are excited about printing millions of annual reports. A google search reveals 768,000,000 results for annual reports less than %4 of that number for customized donor experiences.

What I find remarkable about this habit of producing annual reports is I can't quite tell if we do it because of the impact or because it is exactly what we have always done. If the AFP Fundraising Effectiveness (Ineffectiveness Really) is correct we are mere creatures of habit.

In many ways the annual report is our industries shrine to honoring the transaction. Our obsession with tying success in fundraising to simple measures around transactions has produced the lowest donor retention numbers our industry has ever seen. And please remember the annual report that describes how awesome the organization is is not at all about our most valued customers.

I ask you to consider if something else is at all possible? Do individuals wish to be funding a deficit? Or do they desire making a difference? Which would you value?

Might it be possible that the annual fund is actually an opportunity for people to become stewards of an
institution? What would your communications strategy look like if you were designing an opportunity for donors to have a sense of purpose and feel a level of responsibility in ensuring that the organization's mission could be maximized. Wouldn't that be more powerful than conversations such as: “doesn't really matter what you give as long as you participate.” That statement diminishes the organization, its purpose and trivializes individual investment and commitment.

I hope that you will consider that creating an opportunity with real purpose is what your donors and prospects desire. Here is a quick test to evaluate where your organization is:  write down on a sheet of paper the current average length of time your donors stay on the books, compare that with what that number was five years ago and then compare it to the same number of decade ago. If you don't know those three numbers it's highly possible that your organization has been building and maintaining a fundraising model that honors transactions.

It is remarkable that in an industry that suggests real success is about the quality of relationships that not a single national Association recognizes organizations that have had the longest relationships with financial supporters. There is also no recognition for those organizations that have dramatically improved the length of time they sustain their most important relationships. We do however award organizations that have turned their annual reports into beautiful works of art. Artfully honoring transactions appears to be valued.

Might it be time to honor something other than financial transactions? What does the data on your donors suggest, continuing 5 decades of similar strategy or creating something else? 

If you are interested in reviewing online tutorials on new ways to approach your Annual Fund click here

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