If you work in the technology sector today, especially for an up and coming brand, the chances are you’ve heard of ‘growth hacking’ (GH). It’s even possible someone in your organisation has taken on the formal title of ‘growth hacker’. This single tech’ sector phrase describes a complex fusion of traditional techniques like business development, stakeholder engagement and channel management, together with new tools like word-of-mouth communication, social media and agile development.
Ultimately in this fast-moving sector, it’s about marketing on the cheap, sales on the fly and growth at all costs.
Specifically, the GH concept was developed for fast-moving startups, companies with very few rules and so few staff that they needed an “all hands on deck”, relationship-based approach to their sales and communication. The net result was an explicit hacker-style agenda to turn every single customer encounter into a repeat-sales opportunity, bringing together the full digital mix of Touch, Engagement, Activation and Motivation to sell, upsell, resell and onsell their ‘product’ – in a continual cycle…
Now, at first sight, a lean, fast-moving startup may seem to have little in common with a governance-ridden, social-purpose venture like a charity. But in practice both are cash strapped; both need to use social marketing techniques to build sales; and both have unreliable revenue streams that require opportunistic sales thinking.
In short it’s well worth the effort for charity fundraisers to become growth hackers.
The not for profit equivalent – development-hacking – often working directly to a Chief Development Officer, is likely to be the way forward in an ever more intensified world, but it will require some major cultural adjustments. Here are Five cultural adjustments to make as you move from conventional planned fundraising to agile development-hacking:
1. Marketing is an experiment
Recognise that marketing can only ever be an experiment in a world of uncertainty. To pretend otherwise is delusion. Fundraisers need to embrace the full suite of scientific tools like segmentation, targeting and testing, not just to reduce risk and improve targeting, but most importantly, to learn. A scientific approach treats all marketing plans as hypotheses and all tactics as experiments. The outcome-hacker’s goal is to have clear assumptions and aims for every activity and to learn something from every experiment.
2. Think revenue, as well as relationships and reputation
Too many charities still find it embarrassing to ask for money to deliver their social purpose. By contrast You won’t find many technology entrepreneurs who are shy about their product benefits, or their need for cash. Simultaneously, there can be few charities where fundraising teams do not find themselves in conflict with delivery teams at some point. The fundraiser often wants to say something bolder, simpler and brighter than the nuanced approach of the operational staff, who want to tell it ‘like it really is – complicated, and slightly depressing!’. The lesson of development hacking is to get past this self-censorship, and let the fundraising team have its way more often – while telling the operational story like it is. So “Yes we are cash strapped; no we are not perfectly efficient, but YES WE CAN still beat this disease/illness/problem with your help…”.
3. Every contact is an opportunity
The traditional logic of fundraising – when well-practised – is to construct donor and fundraiser journeys which move the donor through a sequence of tailored touchpoints and experiences to gradually trade them up from vague awareness into a deep regular donation or bequest. The reality though, is that this process has always been far less linear and far more iterative than control-freak marketers would like to believe. Where a traditional fundraiser sees revenue as the result of an idealised and predictable ‘wave’ of brand interest, the development hacker sees brand interest as diffused particles of donor-attention. The development hacking challenge is to attract as much interest into as small an encounter as possible. Practically, this means seeing every touch-point – every single mobile screen – as an opportunity to deepen the relationship…
4. Collaborate closely with funders
Today, too many marketers -and too many fundraisers – spend time selling what they have, rather than entering into a strategic conversation about what they could have, or should have, to offer. Instead of requesting a donation to effect very general purpose, most charities followed Oxfam’s example in ‘productising’ their fundraising – helping donors to envision themselves as part of the charitable solution. But even this is not the whole story. Development-hacker logic suggests that products are actually co-created with customers. So hacking your way forward as a fundraiser implies equally strongly that fundraising solutions should be co-created with friends (supporters, volunteers and donors) of the charity. As a committed development-hacker you should be working constantly to understand what and how your ‘friends’ and ‘friends of friends’ would like to support your charity, and give them what they want.
5. Raise the fun-level
Show me a depressed startup entrepreneur and I’ll show you one that will fail. But show me one with perfectly happy customers and I’ll also show you one that’s not evolving. It’s the same for charities.
Development-hacking is about challenging yourself to build intimacy – especially with your ‘mostly disatisfied’ supporters – and then establishing both shared intent and common process with them. That intent should be inspiring and the process should be empowering. Together, they should be fun.
A key part of the development-hacker’s job is ‘fun-raising’ among the charity’s friends community. Between them, I hope these five trends give some early hints as to how a market-embedded, growth-hacking logic translates into the not-for-profit sector. If you want to explore how your social purpose organisation can take on board growth-hacking principles in a concerted way, do get in touch via the Copper contact page.
Tim Kitchin is client service director and director of consulting at Copper, the digital marketing agency.