Last week I gave you my top priorities for nonprofit success in 2017: “Seven is Heaven.” I suggested you focus on each of these with written plans in the year ahead, and that you persist in improving your mastery in each area.
If you embrace these priorities, I’ve little doubt you’ll see greater success in generating the contributions your nonprofit needs to fulfill your mission this year — and in the years to come.
- Create Compelling Annual Giving Offers
- Master Integrated Online Social Fundraising
- Master Major & Legacy Giving
- Master Donor Retention
- Master Donor-Centered Content Marketing
- Embrace Sustainable Business Leadership
- Shift to an Organization-wide Culture of Philanthropy
Last week, in Part 1, we covered the first four priority areas. Today we focus on the final three areas.
5. Master Donor-Centered Content Marketing With Purpose
- “Content” means what you have to offer folks that connects them to your mission.
- “Marketing” is how you deliver content.
- “Purpose” is what you hope both you and your audience will reap as a result of your communications efforts.
Content marketing should be oriented to create and keep customers (buyers, subscribers, donors, volunteers, etc.) by meeting them where they are and taking them to the next level.
There are two types of content that are important to your supporters.
- The first is stuff they can use.
- The second is stuff that shows donors they made an impact that was appreciated.
Do more helping, less selling.
Commit to being useful. Give folks something they really want or need; solve their problems. Otherwise, they won’t give a fig.
Ever hear about the concept of “youtility?” It’s the very essence of donor-centered content marketing. It means centering your content around what your consumers’ desires. If it’s a sweater they want, and they need it to stay warm, that’s what you give them. If they want the sweater to be stylish and fashion-forward, that’s what you give them. But… you gotta know what folks need and want before you can give it to them!
Get inside their heads. Do research. Ask them? Ask folks who know them? What would they have an interest in? Be aware that your mission likely has space for a lot of different types of content. Your donor, however, may only have space in their heart for one aspect of your mission. Speak to their heart.
Don’t make it about what you want.
You may want to raise unrestricted money for your annual campaign. Your donor probably would care a lot more about a specific problem they can fix with a specific action. Your board may have elevated fundraising for your senior services program to the top of your strategic plan. Your donor might give a larger gift if you asked her to support your children’s services.
Give folks the good stuff. The stuff they want. Stuff that helps them. Stuff that resonates with their interests, preferences and values. White papers. “How to’s.” Reading lists. Recommendations. Solutions to problems. Actions they can take to feel good about themselves, and to express their personal values.
It may seem counter-intuitive to not make your marketing about your organization’s needs, but in the end you’re partners. Your relationship with your donors must be reciprocal. Otherwise, no one really gets what they want.
You also can’t keep your constituents connected to you if you don’t celebrate them, woo them and continue to give them what they want. There’s just too much competition for folks’ attention for you to appear boring or self-promotional. Ego-centric content won’t get you where you want to go.
Show your donors how they’re heroes.
First, demonstrate something specific and real that their philanthropy made possible.
Something related to what your donor intended to accomplish with their voluntary actions for the public good. These are your donors’ victories!
Remember, impact isn’t something you establish once in a while. It must be continual if your goal is to sustain donor loyalty. Take a look at the websites of the ACLU or for examples of how to frame content in a way that clearly demonstrates donor impact. Make all your communications about impact, not programs and services.
Second, be sure to flatter, recognize and shower your donors with gratitude.
Yes, wooing is a form of content marketing. You won’t keep donors connected to you for long if you don’t celebrate them, woo them and continue to make them feel important. There’s just too much competition for folks’ attention for you to appear apathetic, boring or self-promotional. Ego-centric content won’t get you where you want to go.
Finally, commit – really, truly, — to making your donors feel good.
Your messages should not only be replete with highlights of what your donors have helped to accomplish, they should also seek feedback.
Balance your appeals and useful content with interactive stuff that shows your donors you care about what they think, believe and feel.
When it comes to marketing, make sure you promote content on multiple channels.
To a large extent, content marketing has already become the primary way many folks will become aware of you and stay connected to you. This trend will solidify in 2017 and beyond. But there’s got to be a purpose underlying your communications efforts.
There’s a name for this purposeful content marketing, and it’s called “brandraising.”
It’s the growing trend toward building awareness of an organization to lift its fundraising performance. I hope you appreciate the subtle shift in thinking here. You don’t build awareness for the sake of building awareness. You build awareness to kick start your fundraising. [Recommended reading: Sarah Durham has written a book on the topic, specifically for nonprofits.]
Brandraising is done by a multi-channel strategy designed to break through the clutter of millions of charitable organizations to make yours top-of-mind when donors are prepared to give.
A brilliant example is Charity: water, which went from virtual obscurity to one of the most highly applauded and emulated online fundraising organizations in the world. Other organizations that do a good job are St. Jude’s and the ASPCA, among many others. What they do is remind donors and potential donors not only of what their organizations stand for (brand), but they also put themselves in front of prospective supporters constantly, in multiple ways (awareness), while making it clear how those messages link to giving (fundraising).
In our digitally revolutionized world, your content can no longer be delivered only offline.
Hard-copy letters, newsletters, brochures and annual reports have a place. But if that’s all you use, you’re not being donor-centered. You’re not meeting many of your donors where they are – which is online. You need to integrate offline marketing with a robust online (email, the Internet and social media) strategy (discussed in #2 in Part 1 of this article).
Make your content shareable.
As already discussed, for this to happen you must give folks something they really need or want. Solve their problems. Tickle their fancy. Make them look smart. Or hip. Or connected. Or generous. Or just like a really good person.
Create customers who create other customers (advocates, ambassadors and influencers).
That’s the way you’ll ultimately build your supporter base.
Stories are a terrific way to pack your content into a shareable package. Humans are wired for storytelling; we love and embrace them. And stories demand to be retold. In the digital age, it’s imperative to learn to tell compelling stories quickly; you only have a few seconds to capture someone’s attention.This means leading with emotion and keeping it human. Find ways to capture first-hand accounts (from staff, volunteers and clients) you can upload to video and share.
Beyond this, you must make it easy for folks to share your content with others. Include share links on your home page, other website pages, blog posts and social media.
6. Embrace Sustainable Business Leadership
Truly invest in leadership at all levels – board, staff and infrastructure. Plan ahead. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Strengthen your board.
If it’s too small, or doesn’t have term limits, change your bylaws to ensure you have a steady stream of fresh talent. If you don’t have a board development and/or nominating committee, create one. Assure your board members understand their roles and responsibilities and are passionately engaged with your mission.
Recruit, hire and train the best staff.
If you’ve recently recruited, you’ll know that demand for skilled fundraisers is fast outstripping the available supply. Turnover is rampant (average stay duration is 16 months per Penelope Burk’s study), partly because it’s the only way folks can get paid what they’re worth. The direct and indirect costs of finding a replacement: $127,650. If money is tight, consider outsourcing, flexible work options, performance bonuses, additional vacation days and so forth. Recent research reveals that every additional training in which you invest yields $37,000! So, no need to be stingy. Why not hire a coach for your executive director or development director this year? If every hour they spend with a guide and mentor results in significantly more money down the line, what have you got to lose?
Put in place the infrastructure you need to fulfill your mission.
This is the year to take stock of your systems and software and reevaluate. It may be time to migrate to new platforms. It’s no secret that in the past nonprofit database integration has been dauntingly expensive and labor-intensive. You may have separate systems for your fundraising database, finance and accounting and customers/clients, not to mention additional software for CRM, social media, email marketing, volunteer management, crowdfunding, events and other needs. Today there are many more cutting-edge technology holistic platforms, built for the cloud, which can streamline operations, improve donor targeting and reduce costs. There are also software solutions designed to work seamlessly with one another, so if you don’t find everything you need in one place you should ask providers who they integrate with.
Don’t starve yourself.
Resist the starvation cycle perpetuated by the overhead myth. Stop telling people, with pride, that only 10% of your resources goes to “overhead.” What’s so great about that? Does it mean you’re losing staff who can make more money elsewhere? Does it mean you have to cut back on programs that might otherwise help more people?
For too long donors have learned to “reward” nonprofits who spend as little as possible on operation costs, leading to a “starvation cycle” that deprives organizations of necessary funds for research, development, recruitment, staff development and retention and capacity building.
Learn to talk about the positive impact of overhead on results, instead of just apologizing for it. Explain the importance of investing in infrastructure in a way that makes sense to donors by demonstrating how essential operations are to impact. Lead the charge to spend what you need to get the job done.
Of course, there are limits. You’ve got to be reasonable. But… starvation is not a reasonable or sustainable business practice.
7. Shift to an Organization-Wide Culture of Philanthropy
You need to become a philanthropy team! Fundraising must stop being seen as a “necessary evil.” It must be seen as a good thing—for everyone. After all, the meaning of the word ‘philanthropy’ is ‘love of humankind.’ That’s how you should act toward your current and potential supporters.
Philanthropy makes donors feel good, and it makes good things happen. And not just for the development staff.
Shift your thinking—and the culture of your organization—in the direction of gratitude, rather than greediness, toward your donors. “Culture of philanthropy” is the meme du jour, but I find it helpful to think of it as a “customer service” or a “gratitude culture” because it makes it a bit more actionable. Your organizational culture should fairly burst with gratitude, philanthropy and service.
Get everyone — all your stakeholders — to come together around your shared values. The values you enact on a daily basis, and the values your donors cherish.
That’s how you’ll create matches made in heaven.
Ready to get on the pathway to passionate philanthropy this year? Embrace these “seven is heaven” principles and you’ll achieve true fundraising success in 2017.