Money left on the table is one of my pet peeves. It’s really beyond a peeve.
I can’t stand it when organizations could be serving more people, or doing so more effectively, but they don’t because they’re too smug (“what we’re doing now works just fine, and don’t try to tell me otherwise”) … self-reportedly “too stressed” … or simply not open to the idea of trying out some new strategies.
This “resting on one’s laurels” modus operandi leads to status quo organizations that fail to evolve to meet the moment. They get stuck in the past and, too often, begin to wither and die. Or they become what I call a “boutique charity” appealing to a niche group of insiders, content with the status quo.
That’s “nice,” but if you’re dedicated to solving pressing societal problems, meeting insistent human needs, and creating transformational personal and societal change, you’ll need to connect with donors on a more direct, visceral level.
How to Stop Leaving Money on Your Table
Your best donors have linkage, interest and ability (LIA). Begin with those already linked to you by virtue of having made a previous donation, been a loyal volunteer, served on your staff or board, or been a repeat purchase of services or products. In other words, they’re hiding in plain sight in your database.
Consider how you might learn more about these folks to better connect with them and make the best use of limited resources. You can do this in one of two ways:
- Donor Analytics: Find out how wealthy they are (ability)
- Supporter Connection Survey: Find out what they care about most (interest)
It’s funny, but too many nonprofits start with the former and often completely ignore the latter. It’s a way to go (and I confess I’ve been there), but is it the best way? I no longer think so – which is why I’m writing this article.
CONSIDER THIS: You’re a local, third generation family-run business that makes and sells handmade, eco-friendly high-end mattresses that last 20 years. Do you promote them only to the ultra-wealthy? Or do you endeavor to find out who cares about buying products made sustainably? Or buying locally? Or getting a product that outlasts all the competition? Or just about the best night’s sleep possible? Once you find out who cares about any or all of these things, you might be able to sell your mattress to people who wouldn’t show up on your radar if you were prospecting by wealth alone.
The same holds true for donors. Knowing how wealthy folks are doesn’t help you unless you know what they care about.
So, ask yourself: Should we purchase donor analytics or launch a donor connection survey?
This may seem like an odd question, but not if you stop to think about it.
Both of these are tools designed to help you maximize the lifetime value of your donor base. I recommend them if, for nothing else, to get you thinking in a focused way about mining your own database for leads and dedicating yourself to never leave money on the table.
Analytics: Discover How Wealthy Your Supporters Are
This is good to know. I’ve purchased donor analytics on behalf of three different nonprofits where I led the development and marketing team. I did so largely to secure board investment in a major gifts program. This worked, and helped us prioritize approaches. But… not every nonprofit can afford this and the results are pretty broad brush. I used to say you must “take them with a shaker of salt.”
I would begin differently now.
Survey: Discover What Your Supporters Care About
Unless you have very few donors, you can’t get to know them all as well as you’d like to. Or should. Because without asking donors about themselves, you’re not really practicing donor care. Put another way, you’re not building a relationship. Your “relationship” is just one way. A monologue, not a dialogue.
Begin a Dialogue with a Supporter Connection Survey
I first heard this term used by the team at Moceanic, and it’s a little different than surveys with which you may be more familiar – all of which can be useful, but not for the purpose of building individual relationships.
The supporter connection survey is not:
- Quantitative research designed to give you a statistical high-level picture of your donor file, including overall demographics. These can help you shape campaigns.
- Aggregate customer feedback designed to garner opinions and experiences with your communications and donor service. These can help you discover and improve areas of dissatisfaction.
- Motivational survey designed to engage donors on your shared values, leading toward a donation. These can be effective fundraising tools.
The supporter connection survey is:
- Qualitative feedback to inform why each donor chooses to support your cause.
- Focused on individual donor responses to emotional questions that surface donor motivations.
- A qualifying and discovery tool to help you uncover those interested in building a stronger relationship with you.
Use a Supporter Connection Survey to Find “Hidden Gold” in Your File
Yesterday I wrote to you about why mid-level donors are a terrible thing to waste and suggested some ways to unlock giving from supporters who’ve been neglected. I hate to see you miss out on your potential!
Sending this survey is one remarkably effective way to begin to build many beautiful relationships by finding supporters ready to talk about:
- Increasing the size of their current commitment.
- Making a major gift.
- Leaving a legacy gift.
- Committing to monthly giving.
- Interest in board or committee service.
Just the fact they complete the survey can be significant engagement, and can start a two-way conversation.
Create Your Supporter Connection Survey
One way is simply to talk with the folks at Moceanic and have them help you (they aren’t paying me to suggest this; I just think it’s a good idea to work with experts when you can).
Another way is to build your own 12-14 question survey. Most of the questions should be qualitative, designed to uncover the donor’s passion for, and connection with, your organization. Once you uncover your donor’s motivations, you can reflect them back. People like it when you listen to them!
Warm Up Questions
- About donor’s connection to the organization.
- Why do you care about this project? Why do you think this is important? Choose the most important answer.
- Ask 3-4 questions about projects around which you plan to do fundraising. Don’t pick niche projects likely to be of interest to just a few folks.
- Legacy – have you left? Would you consider?
- Major gift – would you consider…?
- Monthly gift – would you consider…?
- Cross sell questions (e.g., events) – would this interest you?
In the choices of answers, don’t ever use “never.” Instead, choose “It’s not something I’m interested in right now. Thank you.”
Added Information and Choice
- Contact info
- Anything they’d like to add
- Let folks know “We will use your answers to communicate with you better.” You want to reassure them you won’t sell or share their information with others, and you are safe and secure.
The Moceanic team recommend it look and feel like a great direct mail package. You’ll get the best bang for your buck by mailing and emailing to your most loyal and engaged prospects.
- 4 pages
- Looks like a letter
- Includes photos/compelling visuals that draw the reader in and make them want to participate.
- Maybe inserts – these can boost response rates by triggering reciprocity, but it also adds to your expense. A lift letter can be helpful, and inexpensive.
Online it looks like a great e-appeal with a link to the survey. To keep expenses down, you can simply email to less engaged prospects.
When to Send
Send it annually. July/August is great so you can use the information for your year-end campaign. Or, if you have a capital or endowment campaign on the horizon, send it approximately four months before that. You’ll have time to harvest and use the information, and it will be fresh. The fact I told you two years ago I was interested in XYZ does not mean it remains my top priority today.
Send 3-7 emails
- Here’s the survey
- Last chance to complete
Before sending your survey, factor in the time for follow up. This is an extremely critical step! Don’t launch a survey if all your staff are going on retreat the following week. Good follow up is prompt. Nothing takes higher priority than finding and following up with major and legacy leads.
The more time that elapses, the less the person remembers they completed the survey. So strive for no later than within 3-4 weeks.
Boost your direct marketing by reflecting back what you learn. This is a true case of “use it or lose it.” You went to all the trouble of finding this useful information; don’t waste it!
- Hyper-personalization with major donors. Call them! “In the survey you told me you were interested in this program because you yourself were adopted.”
- With mid-level/major leads. Call them! Rather than have to develop a personalized specific project proposal to each, try a generic challenge grant pitch: “You indicated you might be willing to consider a special $1,000+ gift. Would you be willing to contribute to a fundraising challenge to help us leverage your support and enable us to grow our program to meet current/emerging needs?
- With monthly donor leads. Call them!
- With legacy leads. Call them!
- “Confirmed.” Say thank you. See if they’d like to complete a non-binding Letter of Intent. Include them in your bequest society so you can steward and build a strong ongoing relationship.
- “Intend.” Say thank you. Connect so you can make this happen. Give them options to make it so. (e.g., Givingdocs; Freewill; sample bequest language on your website for them to share with their attorney).
Used well, the Supporter Connection Survey has helped double revenue from individual donors for small and medium charities. Even larger organizations have seen increases of 20% or more, initially from following up on mid-level and major donor leads. And then there are the new bequest leads. They can lead to millions in long-term future revenue.
Speaking of Working with Experts to Stop Leaving Money on Your Table…
Please consider enrolling in the Certification Course in Mid-Level Fundraising. You’ll learn exactly what you need to do to find and work with the wonderful (1) upgradeable donors + (2) major donor prospects hiding in plain sight. Plus, you’ll have support along the way so you don’t procrastinate or push this to the back burner.
Within just a few months you’ll become certified as a Veritus Scholar, pick up 36 CFRE credits, and walk away with a detailed, actionable plan and skills you’ll use the rest of your career. Plus, it’s stimulating and will re-invigorate your work! Save $100 with my Special Discount Code: CA5. The upfront cost of this course evaporates with just a handful of upgraded gifts, or one new major donor identified. And after completing the first two modules, a full refund is available if you decide the course doesn’t meet your needs.
Registration closes soon, so don’t delay! Email me with any questions.
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.