Make “donate” the default

The genius of the subscription marketing model lies in flipping the vast power of personal inertia from “don’t buy” to “buy.”  How can we in the nonprofit world convert many separate donation decisions into the one long-term commitment of subscription? How can we help our most loyal supporters make “donate” their default setting?

That’s what “Looking at Life as One Big Subscription” by Damon Darlin of the New York Times got us thinking about recently.

Magazines, gym memberships, cell phone plans, online computer backup services and cable TV all rely on variations of the subscription business model. Netflix has used this old model to transform the movie rental business. The details vary but the basic subscription model has the consumer pay (or at least commit to pay) up front for access to a product or service over a period of time.

Consumers get reliable and often privileged access to the offering, usually at a compelling discount. Providers get an assured revenue stream and reduced marketing costs. Even better, they get paid whether or not customers actually use their cell phones or gym memberships.

As Isaac Newton taught us, bodies at rest tend to stay at rest. Subscribers must get off the couch and take an action to cancel the agreement. As long as providers don’t anger them with bad service, most subscribers will sit back and let the revenues flow.

Does this powerful business model work for philanthropy? Well, symphony orchestras and museums already use the subscription model with season tickets or admission-based memberships. However, they actually provide goods and services over time directly to the consumer, more or less like a for-profit business.

What about the usual three-cornered nonprofit proposition where A gives money to B to deliver a service to C? Direct self-interest doesn’t operate here. Still, one category of non-profits have used the subscription model to support service to third parties since the 1930s with great success. Can you name that nonprofit sector? Have you adapted the subscription model to fundraising?

I’ll provide the answer and look at what that example could mean for other nonprofit fundraisers in a future post.

Leave a reply

Basic HTML is allowed. Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.