To Succeed Nonprofits Must Live in Past, Present & Future

Note: I've published this post somewhat annually since 2012. It seems as timely as ever. If you celebrate the day, Merry Christmas! If you don't, enjoy the day off!

There's a famous scene in A Christmas Carol after Ebenezer Scrooge has been visited by the three ghosts. Much to his surprise, he awakes in his bed and realizes he survived the night. Relieved, Scrooge pledges to "Live in the past, the present and the future."

It's a lesson we could all learn from. Yes, each and everyone of us.

While it seems like many nonprofits are stuck in the past, they're there with good reason. The past has glories, predictability and comfortable models for success. The past has much to teach. But we can't succeed with just history lessons. We need a more complete education.

Despite a wonderful veneer of innovation, the nonprofit field is still dominated by traditional tactics. If you've ever been asked to donate at a register, or bought a product or service that supported a cause, you know what I'm talking about.

These fundraisers, which have been around for decades, have served nonprofits well. Nonprofits have raised hundreds of millions of dollars with these battle-tested promotions.

But the world is changing. These programs are looking outdated and overly self-serving and the present offers new ideas and opportunities. Our supporters want us to be more present.

But we can't just meet their expectations. We have to reach out ahead of them. In cause marketing this means embracing technology, which promises to reinvent the field by connecting company and cause by conviction, not commerce. For instance, mobile technology takes giving out of the big box stores and brings it to where the donor is, where he or she is engaged and moved.

"Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only? ...If the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me."

Past, present, future. Like Scooge, nonprofits need to change their ways, or else.


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