No Constituent is an Island | npENGAGE

No Constituent is an Island

By on Jan 22, 2008


(originally posted on BlogBaud)

I am in London this week visiting some Blackbaud Europe clients and presenting at the 2008 Digital Communications for Charities Conference. The event is being hosted by Professional Fundraising magazine. The main presentation is all around integrated communication and how working in silos within charities means that digital media is currently set adrift.

I have used quotations in presentations for as long as I can remember, and I usually try and put in something relevant to the audience. For this presentation (and blog entry) I’m putting a new spin on the English poet John Donne’s famous phrase:

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were…”
John Donne, Meditation XVII (1623)

Many nonprofits find themselves awash in an island chain of programs and data silos. Every program has its own goals and objectives that often result in a fragmented landscape. Major giving programs guard their constituent information, the annual fund staff does the same, membership keeps different records, volunteer information exists in spreadsheets, and anything online is set adrift with the Web people. To build successful relationships you can’t maroon constituents on any of these islands. No constituent is an island.

No Constituent is an Island

Relationships between people and organizations are multi-faceted. We interact across multiple channels that often intersect in very unpredictable ways. Nonprofits have used traditional channels such as events, direct mail, person-to-person meetings, telephone, and many more for a long time. The Internet adds an entirely new and often different set of channels. Web, email, RSS, person-to-person fundraising, social networks, and other online capabilities continue to transform how nonprofits can interact with constituents.

A key change is to stop thinking in terms of online vs. offline, but instead you should start thinking of them as simply different channels. For the most part, people no longer see the spatial differences between online and offline. The two are blurred in most interactions and the expectation by constituents is that they are properly recognized no matter the channel they choose. Imagine if you deposited a check at the bank but the online banking website had no record of it. Imagine if you purchased concert tickets online but the box office didn’t know about it when you arrived to pick them up. Now just imagine what your constituents are thinking about their interactions with you.

People only come in units of one. (Or at least that true in 99.99% of cases.) Splitting them up or having lots of duplicates can have dire consequences. (Ever seen the movie Multiplicity?) A channel driven approach allows you to personalize interaction across programs, but still keeps people in one piece. This allows organizations to make more strategic decisions because they can look at all the touch points with a constituent. And running an event, sending a mailing, or personalizing content on the website is always more successful using this approach.

You can’t think strategically or act tactically if your constituents live on islands. It will only take one or two bad interactions before they build a raft and sail off to more friendly surroundings. Don’t let that happen.


Steve MacLaughlin is the Vice President of Data & Analytics at Blackbaud and bestselling author of Data Driven Nonprofits.

MacLaughlin has been featured as a fundraising and nonprofit expert in many mainstream publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, USA Today, The NonProfit Times, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Bloomberg, and has appeared on NPR.

He is a frequent speaker at events including the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP), American Marketing Association (AMA), Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association (DMFA), Giving Institute Summer Symposium, National Association of Independent School (NAIS), Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC), Institute of Fundraising National Convention (United Kingdom), Civil Society Conference (Netherlands), International Fundraising Congress (Netherlands), Ask Direct Fundraising Summer School (Ireland), and a keynote speaker at several conferences across the social good sector.

Steve previously served on the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN) Board of Directors and is currently an adjunct faculty member at Columbia University.

He is a frequent blogger, published author of a chapter in the book People to People Fundraising: Social Networking and Web 2.0 for Charities, and is a co-editor of the book Internet Management for Nonprofits: Strategies, Tools & Trade Secrets. His latest book, Data Driven Nonprofits, became a bestseller in 2016.

Steve earned both his undergraduate degree and a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Indiana University.

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