Today, I’m sharing the first part of an interview I did with the folks behind the Money for Good study and nonprofit guidebook. You can find the full interview cross-posted today at GuideStar. I’ll post the second half of the interview here on the blog tomorrow.
Here’s the Q&A.
Q: Katya, thank you so much for your insights! As you know, in our guidebook, More Money for More Good, we discuss what information donors want, and how nonprofits can communicate that effectively. But in addition, we also recognize the importance of connecting with donors. Ultimately, information and messaging won’t get you far in the world of philanthropy if you can’t create a personal association. What techniques do you see nonprofits taking to build bonds with donors? Which organizations connect the best, and what are their strategies?
A: I am overjoyed you asked this question, because nonprofits too often fail to build bonds with donors. I’ll give you a statistic to show just how poor a job we’re doing: The average nonprofit loses about 60% of the donors it had the previous year.
The good news is that it’s not that hard to turn things around. Building bonds with donors is a matter of treating them as more than ATMs. We need to remember they are partners in our mission, and we should reflect that stance in how we connect with them. This means we are doing all we can to immerse them in our collective.
We simply need to spend as much time keeping donors as we do acquiring donors. That means we need a retention plan, not just a fundraising plan. It should include a goal (which I hope is better than keeping only 40% of our donors!), how we are going to profusely thank donors, how we are going to report back to donors on their impact in an inspiring way, how we will recognize donors for their support, and how we will regularly review and improve the donor experience over time.
This doesn’t need to be fancy. Yes, there are organizations like the oft-cited charity: water that is the Rolls Royce of donor connection, with maps and video of the wells you helped build in Africa. But there are also groups like A Wider Circle right here in the Washington, DC area that succeed in connecting via heartfelt email updates from the executive director.
Q: Loyalty is certainly critical in the sector. Do you see different techniques for fostering long-term relationships with donors?
A: I think it’s the same thing. The principles of good relationships are universal! They even extend beyond donors to your significant other. In fact, that’s a great way to think about how well you are connecting with donors. Are you treating them like you would a treasured partner? Think ample communication, respect, commitment and positive reinforcement – those are the grounds for loyalty and a long and happy shared history.
Q: I find that many nonprofits have a single, generic appeal that they send to all of their (potential) supporters, because it is simple and inexpensive. What do you think about these appeals?
A: I do not believe that this is a cost-effective means of messaging! Spray and pray messaging (the method of hitting everyone with identical, mass communication and hoping it works on someone) is a waste of resources. You won’t prove relevant, and you won’t get a good response. It might seem cheaper, but it’s not cheap if you get abysmal results.
Taking an extra few minutes to segment your donors and speak to them more personally will reap huge rewards. Donors are motivated to give for different reasons. They like different programs. They are moved by different stories. If you are a one-person development team, you can still do this on a modest scale. Group people by the appeals they supported and reference those causes in your next outreach. When you’re talking to major donors one on one, listen more than you talk – people will provide a lot of insights into why they support your organization!
It’s especially affordable and easy to customize online outreach. Add a sentence to your next email that reflects you know the donor attended your gala vs. participated in a volunteer day. Use an email service provider so you can track which emails people open and where they clicked. It’s a great window into their motivations. Group donors by their responses and tailor future outreach accordingly.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview tomorrow, when I’ll discuss the three ways nonprofits should illustrate impact – and how to follow up with donors.