Custom or Cooperative: What’s right for your fundraising program?

Custom or Cooperative
Date Published
Brett Jones

Have you ever looked at a snowflake? Each has its own unique qualities and characteristics that make it special.

Nonprofits are the same way. Every organization has unique goals, priorities, and resources that drive its fundraising decisions. Knowing this, when you decide you need outside help to support your direct response fundraising program, how can you decide when it makes sense to retain an agency for a customized program, or if an agency cooperative is a better fit?

Here are some pros and cons to consider about each option.

If you have a smaller donor base, the biggest potential advantage of a cooperative is the cost. When you participate in a cooperative, your program runs with other similar nonprofits, which means you benefit from the scale of the larger cooperative – and higher overall volumes could mean lower unit costs for you. If you have a mid-sized or large program, you may not attain substantial savings from a cooperative.

Staff Time
Who isn’t overloaded these days? One benefit of cooperatives is that they often offer turn-key solutions. Not that your staff won’t need to review copy and design, and make decisions related to your program, but the time required should be less for your staff with a cooperative versus a customized program, which means your team can focus more on other critical programs instead.

One of the things many nonprofits enjoy in a customized program compared to a cooperative is the ability to have tailored copy. Oftentimes, cooperatives don’t allow for much, if any, editing of the message/copy. However, with a customized program, you can edit the copy and personalize it as much as you would like so it is fully customized for your organization.

Flexibility with Schedule
Cooperatives usually require that campaigns all mail/deploy on certain days. The cost savings may be worth the loss of flexibility. However, if your program is bigger and more complex, you should consider how your other efforts will complement your direct response program, such as your major and planned giving efforts.

Typically, cooperatives follow best practices based on standards developed across different types of organizations and verticals. However, this can be limiting for some programs. If you have the budget to invest in testing and innovation is a priority for you, a custom program would likely be a better solution for your fundraising program.

As you consider the various options keep this in mind: Regardless of whether you choose a customized or cooperative solution, one thing you should always expect is exceptional customer service. This is one thing you should NEVER compromise!

About the Author:
Brett Jones
Vice President of Client Management, Agency Services

Role at the Company

I lead the Agency Services Client Management team. I challenge the team to continually improve our strategy, creative and service, and develop new ideas, so we can provide better solutions and outcomes to our clients.

What excites you about your work at AFG?

I love fundraising! In my career I have had the chance to work with many different organizations that are doing incredible work and really making a difference. I enjoy helping them meet and exceed their goals so they can advance their missions. 

If you weren’t at AFG, what would you be doing?

I have always wanted to work with non-profits and love fundraising. It’s my way of contributing to the greater good. I can’t imagine what else I would do!

What are your hobbies/interests outside AFG?

I love reading, ice skating, and going to the beach in the summer, but most of I love spending time with my daughter.

What’s something most people don’t know about you?

Brett is my middle name. I’m actually Sara Brett. But don’t call me Sara if you want me to answer!

What’s your favorite childhood memory?

I remember the first time I rode a bike without training wheels. I was so proud of myself. I was so excited to visit my neighborhood friends by myself.

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