The future of philanthropy belongs to a certain structure of nonprofit, and the shape and goal of that nonprofit structure will forever change the way fundraising is conceived and executed.
It is the most basic of structures:
- An individual embraces a cause and grows to comprehensive maturity in it
- The individual gathers around herself a community of practice and trains them to grow to comprehensive maturity in the cause
- Members of that community of practice gather communities of practice around themselves and train those communities to grow to comprehensive maturity in the cause
Growing to comprehensive maturity in a cause entails learning how to impact that cause both directly and in concert with others seeking to impact the cause. The nonprofit organization is nothing other than everything that occurs after the “and” in the previous sentence, i.e.:
A nonprofit organization is a community of practice acting in concert to impact the cause.
Fundraising, then, is nothing other than the coordinated giving that occurs as a community of practice acts in concert to impact the cause.
Enter Carolyn Hook on her Acronym blog, who was listening to a sermon recently where a pastor opined, “Marketing is what happens when relationship fails”.
That sentiment is eminently sensible in light of this understanding of nonprofits and fundraising. Marketing becomes a (poor) substitute for an individual gathering a community of practice around her as a result of having been a part of a community of practice where she learned to grow to full maturity in a cause that engaged her.
Marketing, in other words, is the price nonprofits pay for having donors instead of cause champions.
Donors are largely inert. They don’t reproduce. Cause champions reproduce by nature because they are taught that such reproduction is essential to achieving that to which the cause aspires.
Carolyn sharpens the question up for us nicely:
How can we form and multiply relationships that matter and inspire members instead of relationships that have a goal of developing and maintaining a membership base in order to generate profit for our organizations?
- Read our recent three-part series about sustainable fundraising, starting here.
- Thank and disband your donor file. They’re a luxury that will distract you wholesale from creating a community of practice.
- Gather around yourself a community of practice whom you train to be as mature in the cause as yourself. (You might find some candidates in that donor file you just disbanded under point 2.)
- Train them to gather around themselves a community of practice whom they train to be as mature in the cause as you enabled them to be.
- Embrace the reality that your nonprofit is nothing more or other than the vehicle for the shared action of the communities of practice you’ve initiated.
Or, as David Armano advocates in HBR, Fire Your Marketing Manager and Hire A Community Manager.