I always thought of myself as a Gen-X’er. I grew up watching He-Man cartoons and I could tell you who Screech was (Saved By The Bell, for all those born after I graduated High School), and I rocked out to Pearl Jam and Nirvana all the while wearing my flannel shirt and Doc Marten identifiers. Recently I read an article that more closely defined my side of the Gen-X timeline to a “micro-generation”. It states that I am firmly a “Xennial”. A xennial is someone born between 1977-1983, or those born during the first Star Wars movies. We bridge the gap between the grungy cynicism of Generation X and the overconfident optimism of the millennials. This statement shocked me a bit and made me think: xennials are people who experienced an analog childhood and a digital adulthood. This definitely describes me. I have conversations with kids today who never knew what a landline telephone was, much less the olive green rotary telephone that my grandparents had. I vividly remember the birth of consumer Internet service. Anyone who is a xennial will know within the first nanosecond the sound of a telephone modem booting up to connect you to AOL. I was alive when all this was born.
So how is any of this relevant to leading a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization? Let me tell you, it is VERY relevant. I find myself often watching social media more than participating in it. I sound old, but it moves too dang fast for me! I can’t keep up. There is a part of me that longs for the simplicity of the rotary phone I guess. All too often all of the commentary that passes our eyes each day seems to cloud true information in deference to what is “fantastic” or “buzz worthy”. How could anything I say really make an impact? Finally, my xennial shines through in the fact that when I am doing something cool or exciting, my inclination is to be there in the moment and not feel the need to record it for social media. All of these things feel like virtues to me, but when it comes to promoting a growing non-profit doing incredible work in its community, it is a hindrance.
In today’s market, regardless of for-profit or non-profit, you simply cannot have a marketing strategy that doesn’t include focused social media engagement. Look at the marketplace. When you think of those companies that are the “tastemakers”, they are the ones that have consistent and provocative content that invites users/viewers into the conversation. Giving people the proverbial “look behind the curtain” is entertaining, but how are we calling people into the mission of what we do? If you are like me, then you are passionate about your work and there are many moments throughout your week that would be worthy of a post. The trick is being cognizant enough to pull out the phone and document it. What I am learning is that pulling your phone out to document when it is genuine and not manufactured always translates and engages in a positive way.
Social media is revolutionizing the way the modern NPOs raise funds. Traditional development plans are based around donor pyramids that have the unengaged individuals on bottom and have them moving up the pyramid to be lifetime supporters of the NPO. Our world has shifted and we can no longer count on the large one-time or ongoing donation to be our meat and potatoes. The truth is, financial situations change, markets shift, or a catastrophic flood happens by way of a hurricane (This was our case this year with Harvey). Let’s face it, the non-profit landscape is VERY competitive. We are all fighting for relevance in the eyes of donors, organizations, and foundations. There is a direct correlation between a donor’s commitments and how we engage them in consistent stories for the purpose of education to our mission and how we accomplish it. An article on communityfunded.com makes this point:
Today’s philanthropists don’t want to be solicited by a centralized office whose primary job for the past 30+ years has been to convince people to donate money. Today’s philanthropists want to be told a story that’s relevant to their lives and in which they see an opportunity to create tangible impact.
The outcropping of stellar social engagement is hitting that nerve that moves an observer to action, thereby gaining a volunteers and/or donor to your cause.
At CFM I have been preaching how important it is to diversify and widen our funding base. When Harvey hit this year, we were damaged, but not by floodwaters. The unseen damage that so many NPOs in Houston faced was the redirection of funds to the recovery effort. For example, we were in the final vetting period for a foundation grant that would have been a $50,000 infusion of funds, but when Harvey hit, we received a call from the foundation saying that not only would they not be giving us the grant, but that due to Harvey, they gave their total allotment away to relief and would not be accepting applications until 2019. Many individual donors would follow suit. Hear me! I am glad that Houstonians jumped in the way they did to help people recover. It was inspirational and it reaffirmed my faith in humanity. I don’t disparage the organization or individual -I am frustrated that we had not done more to that point to widen our financial base. Social media affords us the ability to invite a multitude in by way of smaller ongoing support. One of the beautiful things about millennials is their desire to connect with the broken places and support worthy causes. Many millennials are just starting out and don’t have the income to write the big check, but they can give a little every month and not feel the pinch too much. You get 2000 millennials all giving in a small way each month, and all of a sudden you have a wide base that will not have the same volatility as a “big check” donor would. We cannot ignore this kind of giving. The only way you get people to make that kind of ongoing commitment is to show them what that money does. You have to educate people in 30-second increments through multiple sources. That may seem daunting, but I am convinced the juice is worth the squeeze.
At CFM, we have put some accountability in place that will remind us weekly to be capturing these moments. I hope you know that first and foremost, we believe in the work we do to reach out to low-income communities and work alongside the churches, schools, and individuals to effect change. We want to draw you in not because of some social media campaign, but rather by genuine stories. We want you to see the faces and see the impact. Without that, why would you care? We want to be more than just noise in an already crowded marketplace. We want to be intentional and real with our digital audience in the hopes that you will become a live participant in the work of CFM. To that end, follow us on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram and see what CFM is doing to put shoe leather on the gospel and intersect negative cycles so that hope grows into life. We hope you’ll be watching!