April 18, 2011

1,000 Donors?

I just heard part of an interview with Seth Godin, management trainer and author, in which he talks about the importance of an artist having 1,000 fans. He explains it this way.

It is one thing for a musical artist to fill a theater with 10,000 fans for a given performance. But that in itself will not sustain the artist for the long haul. What that artist needs to be able to do what he or she loves for a lifetime is “1,000 true fans.” These are people who will not only buy the music and come to a show, but who will spread the word about the artist and share the music with their friends. In fact, Mr. Godin goes on to say that the “1,000 fans” rule applies to any industry. If you believe you cannot sustain your work with only 1,000 fans, he argues, you need to redefine either your work or your industry.

Think about this in the context of nonprofit fund raising. To make it more applicable, let’s lower the number from 1,000 to 100. Now, ask yourself this question: do you have 100 donors whose support for your work is so strong and deep that they are willing to share your story with others?

I have heard numerous fund raising consultants say that the value of a major event is a function of what you do when it is over. So, you had 250 people show up for your golf outing or wine tasting event. And let’s say you netted $10,000. Was the event a success?

The more important question is this: Of the 250 people who attended on this given day, how many of them are “true fans”? In other words, who is likely to support your work throughout the year? Who is likely to spread the word about your organization to others who may be in a position to support you?

The reality is that not everyone who attends your event is a potential true fan. Especially for small, grassroots, niche-driven organization, the lesson of the 1,000 fans is tectonic in magnitude. Rather than broadening the scope of your marketing to “raise awareness” of your organization (on the belief that ‘if more people knew about us, surely they would support us’), your efforts should focus on identifying and engaging your true fans.

To circle back to Mr. Godin’s central point, if you believe that the key to your sustainability as a nonprofit is to have more donors, you need to confront the fact that not everyone is going to care about what you do. Your development and marketing resources are better spent deepening your relationship with those whose actions indicate that they are your most loyal fans, rather than simply trying to fill the arena for a one-night engagement.

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