I saw a video report recently that had the headline “Groveland’s 21st Century PTO”. I write a blog on school fundraising (TopSchoolFundraisers.com), as well as this general fundraising blog here, so I was interested in viewing this video.

Basically, the report talked about one school district’s efforts to raise money for the tools that children will need to learn to compete in the 21st century. The PTO and the school principal specifically mentioned how iPads are being used to help students learn to read.

But we know all that. What I had hoped the article would have been about was how fundraising at the local level has changed in the 21st century and contrast the methods and outcomes from the last century.

So, that got me thinking: what are some of the things that have really changed in the past 11 years in fundraising? Are we much better off now than we were in the dark ages, long before the Internet started to dominate everything?

Well, let’s go back to 1999. The “Information Super Highway” was nothing like it is today, and only a small fraction of the general public was spending any significant time online. E-Commerce was still in its infancy. Personally, I was working for a non-profit summer camp, actively engaged in trying to raise money to support our program. We had a couple of computers, mainly for word processing and printing out mailing labels.

Even though that was a long time ago, I do remember that, as far as fundraising went, we had an annual auction, which was easily our largest fundraiser. We also mailed out donation envelopes at the end of each calendar year, and we always published a “wish list” of items the camp needed but couldn’t afford in our quarterly “snail mail” newsletter.

I remember that our director at the time regularly made a verbal appeal to the campers’ parents to contribute to our tuition assistance fund, when they showed up at the end of two weeks to pick up their kids. (You know, hit ‘em when they’re feeling all warm and fuzzy!) I also recall that our small alumni association (former campers and counselors) put together a yearly golf outing that generated a few thousand dollars after expenses.

Looking back on it, the only thing that sounds dated, really, is the “snail mail” newsletter, and some groups are still doing those.

Auctions and golf outings are still huge generators of cash, and verbal appeals are still one of the best ways to connect emotionally with donors. Every non-profit should have a wish list ready to be passed around, and alumni associations are still an essential part of an organization’s fundraising “team”.

So, what do we have today, that we didn’t back then?

One is better donor software to track donations and manage our various campaigns. Another is the advent of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. A nice-looking website or blog has also become standard-issue. We’ve also seen the rise of smart phones that can be used for texting one another. Most phones are also now equipped with video and digital cameras, so everyone can now be a “photo-journalist”. There are also very affordable high-definition webcams, which can easily be installed on a computer network. Some summer camps use these to let parents “peek in” at their kids while they are away.

One of the most important developments, however, has been the public’s growing willingness and trust to make financial transactions on secure websites. For non-profits, that has been a boon for online donations.

Overall, the technological advancements have been incredibly positive for non-profits, because they have made the task of creating a closer-knit community much easier.

If someone had walked into my office, back in 1999, and told me about how an invention called Facebook could bring a group of people closer together, I wouldn’t have thought such a thing were possible. It would have been too good to believe.

So, do you agree? Has this surge in technology been a good thing for non-profits? Do you miss the good old days before everyone’s pockets were constantly ringing and buzzing? Do you want to go back to a time when the only tweeting going on was by the birds?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share them in our comment section!


Posted on 09 May 2011

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