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Screw the Golden Rule: It Doesn’t Work in Digital Philanthropy

We’re taught that in order to be a good person, we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Don’t get me wrong – being a good person is a worthy goal. However, following the Golden Rule can make you an ineffective (and eventually unemployed) fundraiser.

Why? Because we are not our donors. We can’t assume that what we like is what a donor wants.

Our donors come in many different flavors, with their own distinct motivations and identities. And they don’t think like professional fundraisers…they think like themselves.

I’ve sat in far too many meetings lately where I’ve heard, “Let’s create a campaign around [X]. That’s what would motivate me.” Stop. Right. There.

First of all, what you like or dislike is not a strategy. It’s a lazy way out of doing the hard work of making decisions based on actual data. Feel free to start with a hunch, but take the time to test and verify it.

This has become a mantra of mine that my colleagues have heard countless times now: I am a data point of one. And in the world of statistical significance, a singular data point is not enough on which to build a successful fundraising campaign.

Perhaps our nonprofits would be better if we adopted the Fundraising Platinum Rule – suggested by Tony Alessandra and then Michael Rosen – which is more donor-centered: Know thy donor through data and treat them how they want to be treated.

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How to Motivate Donors: The Donor Persuasion Model

As I speak with nonprofit leaders, one key question continues to emerge: Why do our donors give? On the surface, the answer may seem obvious, but the question persists because it’s truly difficult to answer. We all give for different reasons and with different motivations. Yet, the question of “Why?” follows the challenge of “How?”: How do we motivate giving of all types: money, time, talent, and energy? As The NonProfit Times wrote in a recent blogpost: “There is no denying that you can’t force someone to give if they don’t want to.”

To help answer both questions of Why and How, I’ve started constructing a model called the Donor Persuasion Model. It’s based on the work of Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, and his Fogg Behavior Model. Fogg’s research shows that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.”

This model attempts to address motivations for giving, as well as how to encourage our donors to take action on those motivations. At a high level, here are the basic components of the Donor Persuasion Model:

Motivation

There are three core motivators that we all share as part of the human experience:

1. Sensation: Pleasure/Pain
Will our giving lead us to greater pleasure or diminish pain – either for ourselves or for others?

2. Anticipation: Hope/Fear
Will our giving help us provide hope or reduce pain, suffering, or fear in the world?

3. Social Cohesion: Acceptance/Rejection
Will our giving help us to feel more accepted by others or keep us from being rejected from social groups?

Ability

Each ability is focused on the notion of simplicity.
1. Time
2. Money
3. Physical Effort
4. Mental Effort

As nonprofit leaders, we must constantly focus on making actions as easy and simple as possible, particularly when it comes to online fundraising. Fogg advises us to think of the relationship between Ability and Simplicity like this:

Simplicity is a function of your scarcest resource at that moment. Think about time as a resource, If you don’t have 10 minutes to spend, and the target behavior requires 10 minutes, then it’s not simple. Money is another resource. If you don’t have $1, and the behavior requires $1, then it’s not simple.

Trigger

Think of Triggers as recipes for spurring action depending on levels of Motivation and Ability.

1. Facilitator: High Motivation/Low Ability
A supporter has just read an amazing story or watched an impactful video about our organization’s work. They’re primed to give, but don’t have the time to complete a lengthy donation form or can’t easily get their credit card. This Trigger is about finding ways to make the donation process simple. Think of Amazon’s One-Click Shopping button as an example.

2. Spark: Low Motivation/High Ability
Another scenario is where we’ve made the donation process easy…now we have to know which message will best motivate and mobilize our donors. This is the most challenging trigger because it demands that we have consistent, current, and deep data on our donors. We don’t just have basic contact data, response rates, and giving history; we also have an understanding of what each of our donors believes is important about our organization’s work. This Trigger urges us to provide an emotional Spark to ignite action and complete the ask.

3. Signal: High Motivation/High Ability
All of our nonprofits have true believers who champion our cause. But life can get busy and they just need a little nudge every once in a while to continue their role as champion.

Here’s where I need your help. This Model is currently in version 1.0 and I welcome your input. I’d love to get your feedback on what works for you as a fundraiser and how the model can be improved. You can download a PDF of the model below. I truly look forward to the conversations to come.

Nonprofit Donor Persuasion Model (695 downloads)
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The Easy Way To Drive Away Online Supporters: Email Flooding

This is a short post, but one that I believe is important. I receive emails from other nonprofits – many of which I support and want to hear from. I also want to see if I can “borrow” good ideas for my own work.

However, there is one thing that I’m seeing that simply is not a good idea…unless you really do want to drive away precious supporters, volunteers, and donors.

Simply put: Yes, it is possible to send too many emails to your constituents. If you’re sending out more than 2-3 emails per week, ask whether your efforts are yielding the desired results.

If you’re unsure of what results you desire, then you’ve definitely identified a problem: you lack a Call-to-Action.

If you’re unsure if other parts of your organization are sending out emails at the same time as you, you’ve also identified another problem: you lack coordination.

Don’t drive away your most vocal advocates by flooding them with your email messages. Before long, those messages will just be like much of the other flotsam and jetsam that floats in their inbox.

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Building Strong Donor Relationships

I recently got a card from my 85 year old grandmother. It was a cute card with a dog hanging in a rather precarious position and looking troubled. The message inside was: “Hang in there.” While things are going well for me, it was just her way of showing concern and also expressing a desire for me to give her a call more often (she’s not subtle when it comes to how much calling her will “make her happy”). How could I not feel compelled to pick up the phone and give her a call to make her happy?

It’s not like we don’t talk…she just doesn’t feel like she hears from me enough. She wants to know how I’m doing. She wants to know how my family is doing as we prepare to move to Atlanta. She wants to know that we’re safe and feeling good about all the great things taking shape in our life. She wants to know if there’s anything she can do to help.

And it’s really not about how many times we talk, it’s how we continue to build on a loving relationship.

Now while the relationship I have with my grandmother is not quite the same as we have with our donors, there is some relevance. It connects to an excellent question raised by Richard and Jeff at the Veritus Group blog: Are you asking too often or not enough? While they’re largely focusing on major gifts, the questions is applicable to individual donors, volunteers, and supporters at all levels.

We often get wrapped up by our own sense of myths and half-truths. In this case, we feel we shouldn’t bombard our donors with constant asks. Well, when stated like that, there’s some validity to the concern. It would be like me hitting my grandmother up for a few bucks every time we talked. Similarly, if those asks come from an organizational “me-centric” perspective which disregards the value and relationship to the donor, then constant asks will not just annoy them, it will drive them away to give their money and support elsewhere.

However, as Richard and Jeff write, if the messages speak from a place of “we” and “us”, if they’re not always about asking for money, if they’re about building stronger relationships, then those communications take on a new level of meaning and power. In their post, they offer an example of a successful nonprofit, which:

“most likely, was continually telling the donor that her past giving was making a difference, was excitedly talking about what “more we can do together,” and was not shy about talking about need at a variety of times and in a variety of forms. In other words, there were a lot of touches and quite a few points at which the donor could engage and give, i.e., a combination of soft and hard asks.”

Think of it this way. It’s less about frequency (too much or too little) of fundraising appeals. Instead, always ask: Will this communication help deepen our personal donor relationship?

If your answer is, “No” then reconsider why you’re possibly jeopardizing your relationship with someone who cares about your organization’s mission and their desire to be a part of it.

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Hit A Speed Bump But Regaining Speed

Ack. It’s happened again. I find myself with about four or five half-written posts in Draft stage but nothing published in over a month. This is not to say I haven’t been busy, but just needed to slow down a bit and handle a couple of neat grant writing and email marketing projects. In the meantime, I’ve still been busy posting interesting secondary content so if you haven’t subscribed to the RSS feed, you can find interesting ideas:
http://www.inspectiv.com/type/aside/

As well as excellent reads from other nonprofit blogs:
http://www.inspectiv.com/type/link/

And call me a tease, but I’m currently working on a donor behavior model, which I hope will provide some helpful insights into why people think about giving and how to create triggers that persuade them to take action.

So if you haven’t subscribed by RSS, find the subscribe via email option in the left navigation. You’ll be the first to know when the Donor Behavior and Action Map is ready for primetime.

photo credit: didbygraham (via flickr)

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4 Ways To Show Your New Volunteers The Love

Do your volunteers know how to most effectively support your organization? Sure, maybe those key individuals who have been with your nonprofit for a while know how to contribute to your cause. But what about new volunteers who are brimming with excitement and passion? Have you made it easy for them?

My majority of my professional background was spent in nonprofit association membership management. For my associations to be successful, we had to be adept at quickly engaging prospects and helping them go from curious prospect to new member to passionate advocate. The cost of not engaging these individuals at their first exposure to the association could have dire consequences for the long-term success of the organization. It’s very much the same for your nonprofit. If you want to create a welcoming environment that helps turn a curious potential volunteer into a passionately vocal advocate, here are a few ideas you can implement on your website and social media outposts:

Create a Volunteer 101 page. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to volunteer for a nonprofit or what they should expect from the experience. You’ll likely find that some folks are getting involved in supporting a nonprofit for the first time. Or at least your nonprofit. Go beyond the all-too-typical Be A Volunteer/How I Can Help web form and post information like…

  • a volunteer FAQ answering typical first-timer questions
  • descriptions of volunteer activities with anticipated time commitments
  • profiles of volunteers with their testimonials

Have your passionate volunteers serve as welcome committee. Go to almost any church and you’ll see a good model for how to welcome new folks to your nonprofit. As important as he or she is, it’s not the minister who does the bulk of the welcoming – its the passionately excited members of the congregation. Figure out who your most faithful and passionate are and prep them to reach out to prospects and new volunteers.

Show videos of other volunteers in action. Take away some of the mystery of volunteering by showing your volunteers at work. Create a brief series of videos highlighting your volunteers as they share their experiences, what works, what doesn’t work and why they feel their volunteering for your cause is so important to them.

Finally, be responsive to volunteer requests. I get it. We’re all overburdened with multiple demands on our time and attention. But if you have an online volunteer registration form, make it a core practice to respond within two business days. If it’s during a particularly busy time of year, send a brief message explaining the craziness and let the potential volunteer that you’ll get back to them within a certain period of time. By acknowledging their interest, you show your appreciation. But ignoring or not being responsive to volunteer requests only damages your brand in the eyes of the person who may become your organization’s greatest advocate and donor.

What other ideas have helped your nonprofit attract and retain volunteers?

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