What your fundraising can learn about being relevant from Adele

What do big-name celebrities have that we don’t have?

Why does someone like Adele seemingly succeed by just “being herself,” while fundraisers have to figure out donors and become relevant to them.

Adele_-_Live_2016 _Glasgow_SSE_Hydro_03

Are we missing something?

What can we learn from Adele?

Culture for Hire has some thoughts, at Egocentric marketing: Why pop stars get a free pass, and how to avoid it.

The “egocentric marketing” of pop starts looks effortless, like all they have to do is show up and display as much of themselves as possible, and people will pay attention.

That’s an illusion. As Culture for Hire notes, the pop star works hard it being relevant to their audience:

… pop artists and movie stars work incredibly hard at being relevant. In fact, staying relevant requires a full entourage on call at all times: fashion stylist, fitness coach, nutritionist, makeup artist, hair stylist, PR team.

The result? An artist like Adele IS the brand, head to toe. It’s a carefully crafted persona, which fans “hire” to help them signal their own personal identity. She appears everywhere in mainstream and social media. Even her song titles and lyrics create relevance, drawing fans who seek to unlock deep emotion and process their own relational struggles.

As a nonprofit, you are here to fulfill your mission. And you probably aren’t doing so by being a person with great hair, interesting clothes, and strong voice, and songs that express the inner lives of your donors.

But you can be relevant to donors in ways that matter:

  • We can show them how their giving puts their values in action. Not ask them to fund our awesomeness.
  • We can connect with them in their way of communicating, not our internal jargon.
  • We can show them they are appreciated by thanking them and reporting back on the impact of their giving.
  • We can seek to understand them — as a group, through demographic and psychographic research. And as individuals, through surveys, phone calls, and invitations for them to talk.

Adele has something else to teach us too: She is not for everyone, and she knows it. She’s for a specific group of people. (Until I wrote this post, I had literally never heard of her. I’m not in her target audience. She shouldn’t — and I assume hasn’t — spent one dime or one second thinking about how she could reach me!)

Every nonprofit is also not for everyone.

You might feel that “everyone” should support your cause. But they don’t. Focus on the people who get it. Those who share your values, your world-view, your faith tradition, your community (geographic or otherwise). Shape your message for them. Don’t worry about the others.

Adele isn’t just showing up and being herself and somehow succeeding because of that. She’s purposely being relevant to a well-defined audience.

That’s how we fundraisers can succeed too.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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About the blogger

Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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