The Goldie Company

Parley: January 2015 - This is what a Vigilant Fundraiser looks like: John VanDuzer

Step 11: The ‘C’ Change: Making the Case for the Creative

As one of the most accomplished creative directors in Canada, John VanDuzer has worked on marketing campaigns from Ford and Pepsi to branding and advertising for SickKids Hospital and Sunnybrook. John thrives in complex situations where there are no easy outcomes and answers. He specializes in branding and website development, almost all of it for charitable foundations.

In addition to his passion of “creating the greater good,” John has helped people reconcile their faith and finances in his recently published book, LOONIE: Crazy Talk about Faith and Finances, which has received great acclaim.

What has changed the most in the not-for-profit sector?

Recently, I believe that the not-for-profit sector has been sidelined by the issue of ‘cost per dollar raised.’ This pertains to the percentage of money an organization spends on marketing as compared to the dollars it raises with those marketing dollars. The CRA has focused on keeping that percentage as low as possible. Why? If you donate $100, you don’t want $50 spent on marketing. I’m all for that level of accountability, but in reality, most charities are well under the threshold, spending 10-15 percent when they could go as high as 33 percent.

That said, charities are panicking about the ‘cost per dollar raised,’ as they spend a lot of time trying to make their numbers look good for prospective donors. Often times, instead of spending money on creative, they recycle what they’ve already done with untargeted messaging. They also cut back on production and printing, making their audience smaller and smaller, which results in less money being raised. This causes further anxiety as they seek to increase the percentage for marketing, but panic when the percentage appears too high.

For fledgling charities, it’s a bad spiral.

Ultimately, ‘cost per dollar raised’ has taken many charity’s eye off the ball. Their focus should be on meeting their mission by focusing on their vision. When all but a few charities are spending far below the generous limits CRA has set, I believe there’s little sense in focusing on the dollars and cents of spending when the real issue should be on the revenues, not the expenses; how much money will you raise and what good will it do to further the goals of your organization.

THAT’S what fundraisers need to concern themselves with first and foremost.

How should not-for-profits compete in the consumerized world?

I think charities think they are different than consumer products – and in many ways they are – but they’re fooling themselves if they think they’re unique. Charities need to accept that they are in a consumerized world, whether they like it or not. The 5 P’s of positioning (product, price, place, packaging and promotion) are now the 5 C’s of creative (consumer, clear, credible, competitive and consistent) and this will help charities move forward and raise more money so they can fulfill their mission. There is good intention and altruism at play in the charitable sector, but there are also 88,000 worthy charities competing for your attention. For better or worse, it is supply and demand; there is only so much money being donated. In reality, there is competition.

Yet, despite this competitiveness, I’m happy to say that there is camaraderie amongst organizations. Take, for instance, AFP’s Fundraising Day and Congress. These events allow for everyone to share tips on engaging donors and raising money.

We’re all in this together!

How do you specifically target a donor? What should you consider when targeting a donor?

This is what I call the ‘Cinderella Complex.’ The glass slipper can only fit one person. For instance, although the event is huge and massively popular, CIBC’s Run for the Cure encourages people to run for a single person, like a mom, daughter and so on; each runner is running for one person. Most charities don’t ask donors for anything but money, but if they asked donors something about themselves, they would then round out their donor profile and target them.

Although I’ve used this example before, it serves to make my point: if I were the SPCA, I’d ask donors whether they’re cat lovers or dog lovers and then target mailings accordingly. I have two cats and a dog but the dog wins hands down; no contest. It’s about personalization and charities can do a lot better in this regard.

How do you stand out amongst the noise and clutter?

It is really about the creative. Charities have so little to distinguish themselves from the others. You need to standout by making your message compelling, clear and ultimately creative. Also, as I mentioned earlier, they need to focus on the 5 C’s: the client/consumer, be clear, be credible, be competitive, and, above all, be consistent. If you haven’t communicated with a message that cuts through the clutter, you’re wasting your money!

What is the biggest mistake?

You can’t be in the middle of the road. If you’re in the middle of the road, you run the risk of getting hit by cars going in both directions. The biggest mistake is being too ‘vanilla,’ too boring or copying the creative of another organization and having no originality.

What is the biggest takeaway from your chapter, “The ‘C’ Change: Making the Case for the Creative?” in the book The Vigilant Fundraiser?

You need to think like Cinderella; your creative needs to fit one person.

What does it mean to be a ‘vigilant fundraiser’?

To be a ‘vigilant fundraiser’ is to really apply these lessons that have been taught and to reapply and relearn them so you can do better and better. When the 12 steps of The Vigilant Fundraiser are followed, vigilance is bound to happen.

Julie Dorsey is a writer for The Goldie Company. She interviewed John VanDuzer on the importance of being creative in the non-profit world.