When it comes to marketing, bullshit has seen better days. The evidence is coming in fast and furious that a new emphasis on authenticity is coming to dominate the public landscape — from reality shows to Youtube to anti-brands.

In the fundraising realm, declining donor loyalty may be a sign of revolt against much of the technique-driven garbage that is sent out in the name of small-dollar fundraising.

There is nothing about the Internet that makes communications inherently more authentic than TV or direct mail. There is no shortage of bullshit online. But the Internet does offer new opportunities to humanize fundraising in a genuine way.

Following is the first chapter to the whitepaper Sea Change just released (download beta version here), ostensibly on year-end fundraising. But what it’s really about — what Sea Change hopes to become known for — is changing the conversation with donors for the better.

[And by the way, authentic doesn’t mean boring, just as bullshit doesn’t necessarily mean fun.]

Much more on this in the coming weeks…

From “A Procrastinator’s Guide to Year-End Fundraising:”
1. Inspire Your Donors Every Day – A Brief Rant

We have a theory — that if fundraisers spent half as much time re-connecting donors with the passion and vision that inspired them to give in the first place as we do trying to get them to give again and again, we’d all raise more money and keep more of our donors for life.

Instead though, we tend to treat our email lists as faceless money trees, and give it a good shake as often as we dare. There’s anecdotal evidence that aggressive email fundraising – and by this I mean sending e-appeals more than once a month – can produce more income in the short run. But it also generates undeniable anger and frustration, possibly diminishes your brand, and alienates many potential supporters.

Online Fundraising 1.0 – which is where we are today — looks a lot like direct mail. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Every communication is an ask. Every ask is an emergency. Email lists are black boxes, into which we pour email appeals, and from which we extract money and data.

This is not a sustainable model. A November 2006 Chronicle of Philanthropy article sets out growing evidence that a donor backlash against “database fundraising” is under way. It’s taking the form of falling renewals and declining donor rolls.

If you’ve spent the past year pushing your email lists to the fundraising limit, it will affect your year-end giving, and there’s not much you can do about it.

Conversely, if you made an effort to inspire your donors and to really build passion, chances are you’ll do well even if your website breaks every usability rule.

People give in large measure because it feels good. Recent neurobiology studies show that the act of giving actually generates endorphins in the brain – the same happy-making chemicals responsible for post-exercise “highs.” We don’t need the researchers to tell us that emotion, more than reason, is the driver behind most charitable gifts.

The Sea Change Passion Principle holds that online giving is a function of both donor passion or intent on one hand, and good usability and website strategy on the other. But passion counts more. So our passion principle formula is 2P x 1U = $$$ — where P represents donor passion and enthusiasm and U represents best practices for website, landing page, and forms usability.

How do you build passion? Here are some concrete ideas:

• Tell your organization’s founding story once a year. Communications guru Andy Goodman calls this one of the “sacred bundle” of stories – a profound reminder of the deep values and moral struggle that gave rise to your organization’s existence.

• Have a genuine cultivation strategy and calendar. Send emails to donors that thank them, that report back on how you’ve spent their money, and that offer an inspiring anecdote or factoid. You can’t thank donors enough, and chances are, you don’t. Make it a point not to ask for donations in these communications.

• Ask your donors for their feedback and opinions on a regular basis. Remind them that you know there are people behind those email addresses.

• Offer periodic live chats or phone-in briefings with your CEO. This is a staple of major donor fundraising, inexplicably absent from the online giving scene.

• Offer real-life glimpses into the life of your organization. We are entering an era when authenticity is arguably the paramount value in marketing communications – a potentially massive shift from the fakey-fake formula that still guides most direct mail. One recent example: a brief affecting and heart-felt thank you video by Amnesty International staff.