My credit card company doesn’t have a phone number.  Neither does my preferred airline.  And neither does the hotel chain I frequent when I’m on the road.

Many businesses act as if they don’t have a phone number.

Instead, what they offer on printed materials, even on their websites, is a mix of numbers and letters that looks something like this:


Once, not so long ago, this approach probably was marketing gold.  Make a catchy phrase and anyone could call the business from any landline in the free world.  Every phone had the same alpha-numeric combination and the catchy phrase would stick in people’s minds for easy recall.  Genius.

But times change.  Trends emerge.  And people’s behavior changes.  Today, the 1-800-CallUsToday approach isn’t so helpful.  One of the key problems is that people no longer dial phones.  I don’t.  And I bet you don’t either.  Not only do I no longer dial phones.  I don’t even know any phone numbers.  Except my own.   Barely.   All the rest are logged on my cell phone.  I press a button and the other end starts ringing.

The bigger problem, though, is that every smart phone I’ve owned has the number keys integrated in with the alpha keypad.  There is no way to know from looking at my smart phone which numbers are connected to the letters in the catchy marketing phrase.

In other words, when I use my smart phone (which is almost always), I can’t call my credit card company based on their “phone number” because my smart phone doesn’t match numbers and letters like the traditional landline would.  The catchy marketing phrase is of no help to me.  I find myself trying to recreate the landline keypad in my head and dial the correct numbers on my smart phone.  It never works.  And I end up frustrated.

And people aren’t calling from landlines anymore.  The “phone numbers without numbers” concept will soon no longer work at all because – and I just read this researched statistic on another blog – every human being on the planet will own a smart phone by the end of next week.  And, thus, no one will know how to call their airline.

So, I’m having some fun with this.  But here is my more serious point:

There are trends out there that are impacting our donors.  Some of them are right under our noses (e.g. smart phones make calling alpha phone numbers difficult), others may be more subtle.  They may not even be technological.  They may be cultural (e.g., “we are looking for organizations that are ‘green’ in their operations, please don’t send us paper gift acknowledgements”).  Or they may be trends of expectations (e.g., how often donors want to hear from the charitable organizations they support or what kind of data donors want to see as evidence that their giving makes an impact).  Trends can come in many shapes and types.

When we do things as we’ve always done them (for whatever reason), we run the risk of missing important opportunities based on trends. Brainstorming as advancement teams and offering donors regular opportunities to feedback to us – either individually or in group settings –  so that we have a better understanding of how trends are impacting their thinking, expectations, and behaviors is vital data for a thriving institution.

The reality is that every day our donors are changing.  The best institutions are strengthening their capacity to understand these changes and are using that data to inform their work.


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