Funding the Unsexy

Last week, I took part in a meeting to talk about fundraising campaign messaging with a non-profit that’s gearing up to raise tens of millions of dollars over the course of the next few years. With this money, the organization will effect a grand master plan, fulfilling its mission on a larger scale and in a better way. The total dollars to be raised amount to several times more than the organization has ever attempted in the past.

Among the litany of familiar challenges we reviewed—a shrinking pool of donors with less to spend exacerbated by a tough economy—one in particular caught my attention: The first infusion of funds needs to go to some things that are decidedly unsexy for conventional funders: upgraded systems and infrastructure, along with a large-scale migration of data. Which can you more easily justify, Mr. Donor, putting your millions into buildings (solid, enduring, real and potentially beautiful) or bits (insubstantial, ephemeral, out of public view)? Which excites you more, Ms. Contributor?

And yet, increasingly, the bits are precisely the thing that will require large-scale priority funding in health and social welfare, culture and the arts. As marketers, we have our work cut out for us: How do we drive home the significance of these needs in visceral ways? What role can we play in cultivating a mindset that accepts, even prefers, to contribute to the infotech component of a major initiative over its buildings and spaces? How do we help funders eager to raise their civic profile to find compelling value in earmarking for “the digital plumbing”, as we like to think of it today? Let’s put our minds to it. (EL)

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