What kind of experience do you provide your donors? You’d be surprised how many donors say they want to hear from organizations they care about more often. Or that the information being shared isn’t relevant to them. Or that they feel like a number, not an individual.
Our virtual conference, The Donor Love Revolution: Building a Donor-Centric Nonprofit takes a deep dive into the donor experience. Register today to join us as experts in the field share their secrets and advice for better donor engagement.
In this special online event, Beth Brodovsky (President, Iris Creative Group), Lisa Clark (Founder, Raising With Lisa Clark), Loree Lipstein (Founder and Principal, Thread Strategies), and Tracy Shaw (Principal, Thread Strategies) discuss their work with small nonprofits, how to create personal relationships with digital tools, and trends they’re seeing in nonprofit fundraising and marketing. We caught up with these four fabulous speakers recently for a roundtable discussion. We hope you enjoy it!
What attracts you to working with nonprofits?
Beth Brodovsky: I worked for a research and publishing nonprofit before starting Iris Creative. After launching my company, I realized that I was happiest working with people who really appreciated what I contributed to their work. We did an examination of our clients and discovered the ones we loved (and who loved us) were the schools, associations, hospitals, etc. What they all had in common was the need to get people to show up, stick around, and give back. The opportunity to make a difference in the work of people who are making a difference in the world is what makes my job delightful.
Lisa Clark: My parents instilled in me the value of getting involved and giving back. Growing up, my family was the recipient of a nonprofit’s services. Years later, to support that same organization, my parents regularly attended the annual dinner/dance fundraiser, which included a silent and live auction. My dad also participated in the annual golf tournament. As an adult, I got heavily involved in fundraising for my children’s elementary school. I chaired their annual fundraisers and golf tournament. I never realized that all my volunteering would lead to paid positions in fundraising. I loved the work so much I would have done it for free, but here I am doing it as a career!
Loree Lipstein: There are so many ways individuals can make a difference in the world, and even more importantly, in their communities. You can volunteer, be a donor, do a favor for someone, or dedicate your career to working to improve lives. I gravitated to being on the “front lines” by working in organizations that are delivering services and/or working for change.
Tracy Shaw: I felt that same pull. Each Thread team member has worked directly for a number of different nonprofits. We know first-hand how helpful additional support can be to achieving growth goals. In my role as a consultant, I love supporting people doing the work I once did as a nonprofit staffer.
Digital Donor Relations
How can nonprofits personalize relationships in the digital age?
Lisa Clark: A fundraising event is the best way to move volunteers and donors from the computer and digital world to face-to-face interaction. Use your digital presence to promote the event before, during, and even after. In addition to your email and hardcopy invitations, take steps to personalize the interaction by making phone calls to invite your donor base. I also make sure to include a “Programs and Services” element when designing the event program so that every attendee walks away from the event knowing the exact impact the organization has on the world. Otherwise, the fundraising event is just a party.
Tracy Shaw: Stewardship is so important. There is no short cut to building a genuine relationship, and no matter how digital our culture gets it will always be relationships that drive fundraising. However, using technology and smart digital tools can help us be more organized and efficient in how we build and manage relationships, therefore allowing each fundraiser to do more as an individual staff member.
Loree Lipstein: A strong fundraising software allows you to schedule multiple stewardship points for a donor without needing to carry the details around in your head. Not only does that mean there is less of a chance a relationship will drop off, but it also means that one person can use the same system and process to personalize similar interactions with a larger number of donors. Digital communication also speeds up these processes. Of course, even with the best system, interactions still need to be personal and genuine.
Beth Brodovsky: That’s so true. In my work in marketing, I think personal means real. Doing something trendy that isn’t right for you never works. If we all followed best practices every email would go out at 10 a.m. on Tuesday! I tried to be a blogger and build a community through writing, but I’m a talker. I obsess over every word when I’m writing. That’s no way to attract a tribe. So, five years ago I started a podcast. It fed my curiosity while creating something free and accessible to nonprofits who may never have the budget for outside help. I’ve learned so much and met so many people through the show. My audience feels they know me because they have listened to my voice for years. And I’ve learned so much about them. Through the show, speaking at conferences, and really looking at who is responding to my work, we’re better able to create content that is perfect for them.
What trends are you seeing in the nonprofit sector in 2019?
Tracy Shaw: It’s not a new trend, but I believe stewardship will be even more important in 2019 as the predicted recession looms ahead. It might not happen this year, but soon our economy is due for a recession. And when that happens, it will be strong stewardship that keeps donors loyal to their favorite organizations despite the need to dial back on spending. The donors that were well-stewarded over time will be the ones who will continue giving.
Loree Lipstein: Right. But waiting until we’re already in the recession to begin stewardship will be too late. That’s why it’s important to get a solid stewardship plan and process in place now.
Lisa Clark: Social media is definitely trending. While face to face communication is my favorite way to connect with donors, you can’t ignore that social media needs to be part of your communications strategy. I recommend nonprofits pick a platform or two, such as Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, and master it. Be consistent in your efforts to secure a social media fan base. Schedule out daily posts and go LIVE on Facebook every week. Create a system to move folks from your social sites to your donor database. Page likes and followers are great, but you must convert them into contacts with emails so you can begin to build a relationship with them. If Facebook ever shuts down, you’ll lose all your followers. You need to collect emails.
Beth Brodovsky: I’ve noticed an interesting trend of nonprofits asking more about marketing automation and what role it should play in their communications. Chatbots, tracking pixels, and responsive advertising are becoming more prevalent in the for profit sector, and I predict that will influence the nonprofit sector as well. Organizations now have to evaluate the balance of time savings to quality experience. It’s easy to dismiss the whole idea as too expensive, too complicated, or too impersonal, but that would be shortsighted. There are email systems, for example, that can be programmed to stop sending sales emails once a person has registered and automatically switch to reminders to attend an event. Automation, when used well, can make people feel more known than with standard “push” marketing tactics. It can help with the stewarding Tracy and Loree were talking about. It’s worth keeping an open mind and focusing on what problems you have that tech could solve. You don’t need to go full AI to gain some benefit from what’s out there.
Words of Wisdom
Many of the nonprofits we work with have very small staffs or are one-person shops. What is the main advice you’d give them to help create a donor-centric experience?
Lisa Clark: Reach out to local community organizations such as Rotary and Kiwanis and request a spot on their calendar to start building awareness about your organization. Attend local government meetings to mix and mingle if it’s applicable to the work you’re doing. Form a small board. Download Network for Good’s masterclass webinar on How to Create a Pipeline of New Donors from Low Cost Events. Don’t be afraid to organize a small fundraiser. You have to start somewhere. And grow your presence on social medial. There are close to two billion users on Facebook. Tap into that audience. It’s free and easy.
Beth Brodovsky: Know your audience. Find ways to actively listen. This can mean surveys, phone calls and focus groups, but it also means simply paying attention. What do your donors sign up for over and over? What feels easy? We often spend so much time trying to get people to do what we want that we don’t see how we can facilitate a great experience for them. It doesn’t take any money or time to notice what your donors really love and respond well to versus what feels like you are pushing a boulder uphill.
Loree Lipstein: Thread Strategies specializes in small fundraising shops. We know small teams have a lot to juggle, however, when strategic and organized, even a team of one can create a strong donor-centric experience. There are two key ingredients to being successful with a small team: strategy and operations.
Tracy Shaw: Set a specific strategy that lays out what tactics you’ll use throughout the year to reach goals and build year over year. This will ensure you’re using best practices and making the most of your capacity, no matter how small a team you are. For example, laying out the points of solicitation for the year allows the opportunity to identify key segments you’re talking to and then consistently speak to those segments across all appeals. This provides an opportunity for donors to feel the messages they receive are personal despite being part of group communication. On the operations side, you need strong tools, systems, and processes to support your strategy and stay organized and efficient with the small amount of time one person can devote. An all-in-one fundraising software is key to managing a high volume of donors in ways that still feel very personal to the donor.
Loree Lipstein: The good news is, neither of these are hard! They require that a nonprofit carve out time for strategy amidst hectic execution, but dedicating time to strategy will help lower the hectic feeling in the future!
For an even deeper dive with these talented advisors, register for The Donor Love Revolution: Building a Donor-Centric Nonprofit virtual conference today.