The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 49

Recognize Your Three Donor Types… or Leave Money on the Table, with Sybil Ackerman-Munson

In this Episode:

“If you approach the wrong donor the wrong way, then you will leave money on the table and you’ll lose them at hello.”

All your donors are not alike. They certainly have one thing in common: they want to support your work. But their motivations and interests may vary widely. Unlike actors, they’re not going to ask you “what’s my motivation?” Rather, that’s a question that you should be asking them.

Understanding why they support you and how they prefer to do so can make the difference between greater support and alienation.

Sybil Ackerman-Munson of Do Your Good has helped funders give away over $45 million to nonprofits whose work aligns with their own ethos. In the process, she identified three donor archetypes, based on their motivations for giving.

Sybil joins the show to explain how nonprofits can better understand and communicate with each type of donor to create better, more beneficial relationships for both sides.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:04.970] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcasting and podcast where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.070] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. As we do every week, we’re going to try to extract some value from one of our guests on how to help you create more heroes for your cause. Whether that’s through storytelling, technology, fundraising. Well, all of them apply to each other, really. And the data behind all of that.

[00:00:40.760] – Boris
Today we’ve got Sybil Ackerman-Munson, who is the President of Do Your Good. With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, Sybil taps into her vast experience and knowledge from working with donors whom she has helped to give away over $45 million in large and small donations to offer you step by step guides, through online courses, her podcast, and resources so that you can jump to the front of the line and waste no time in making a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms. That’s what Do Your Good is all about.

[00:01:14.430] – Boris
When I asked her for her superpower, Sybil says she helps nonprofits hone their pitch to connect with donors at a high level. I’m excited to have her on the show. Sybil, welcome. I want to learn all about all of those things and get as much value as we can for our audience so that they can turn your concepts into action and create more heroes for their cause. Before we get into all of that, though, I just read your bio. Give us your pitch, if you will. What’s your story? Why do you do what you do?

[00:01:45.010] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Thanks so much for having me on. First of all, I’m just really happy to be here. And the reason I do what I do is I think the first thing is I can’t help it. I come from a family of teachers. My parents are both academics. My brother is a professor. I love to teach, and I love to share my knowledge. And so I have, as you said, over two decades of experience working both, with nonprofits, and then in the last decade, it’s been working for donors, getting pitched every single day by nonprofits. And I feel like it’s my responsibility to then create courses and everything else to support nonprofits, to help them raise more money more effectively because of all the knowledge I’ve gained so I can’t help it but be a teacher.

[00:02:35.830] – Boris
Awesome. I love it. I love what you’re trying to do. I obviously have very similar goals, so I’m excited for our conversation today. Let me start as I do most stories with, what does the world look like today and what might be wrong with that world?

[00:02:52.630] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Oh, my gosh. We’re living in a post-truth society. It’s really hard. How do you figure out what’s right, correct in your own mind but that helps change the world, to help make a big difference? And what I notice in the nonprofit sector is that there are good people doing good work all the time, and how do they rise above the noise and make sure that people who want to donate money know the truth—the true truth to what those nonprofits are trying to do. And that’s what I want to help do. And hopefully we can talk about that today.

[00:03:33.560] – Boris
I hope so, because otherwise, what’s the point of doing any of this?

[00:03:38.150] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
No, that’s the whole point is to help all these amazing people do good works in the world.

[00:03:44.710] – Boris
So talk to me about that, then. What is happening when nonprofits are talking to donors? How are they currently talking to them and what’s working and what’s not?

[00:03:56.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yeah, let’s talk about that. So what’s not working? And then I’ll go into what’s working. What’s not working is when nonprofit folks come to donors and they say, “Because we’re doing such good work, you just should give us money.” Doesn’t work. It just doesn’t. What does work is when the nonprofits come to donors with a certain amount of empathy and understanding about where the donor is coming from.

[00:04:25.130] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
The donors that I work for want to give away money. They want to support you in the nonprofit world, and they want to make a difference with that money. The trick is, as a nonprofit person, to be able to come and talk to the people I work with and to me myself—because I’m wanting to give you support and approach me in a way that really addresses the kind of donor that I am. And in my many years of experience working with donors, I see that there’s three distinctive kinds of donors. And if you know the kind of donor you’re approaching, you can raise money. If you approach the wrong donor the wrong way, then you will leave money on the table and you’ll lose them at “hello.” So we can talk about those three different types of donors in a minute, if you’d like, but definitely ask me if I didn’t get into anything else first.

[00:05:16.510] – Boris
No, I think that’s absolutely critical. And talking to people like they’re people and getting to know them and what they’re all about, and really understanding what their capacity is and what their interests are, I definitely want to get into all that. You said that… You mentioned what’s not working and what is working today. So what is working? What is a positive thing that you’re seeing out there?

[00:05:42.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Well, what I’m really seeing, especially in this time of COVID and what’s really working well is that in the beginning when we had the shutdowns, a lot of the nonprofits were very worried about what would happen with their donors. And what worked really well and what is working really well is that a lot of the nonprofits that I’ve worked with, they’ve created and they have a really good reserve fund. And they were able to articulate the fact that they have that reserve fund to be able to support their staff and other folks, even in this time of adversity, they’ve been able to leverage that by saying, “look, we are still around and we’re still strong. So donors, you need to give us even more support in this time of adversity.” And they’re succeeding in ways I don’t think they ever thought they would.

[00:06:28.400] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
In the beginning with the folks I worked with or helped give contributions to, they were very worried. They were sort of scaling back a little bit. And then they started realizing, wow, we can do a lot of things on Zoom and on the internet, and we can really bring more people in. And if we’re a little bit more cautious and then use our reserve fund that this is the time that we do it, then we can show our donors how much stronger we are. And they’ve had amazing positive responses from the folks that I work with by approaching it that way. Nonprofits that don’t approach it that way, that instead came to me with doom and gloom messages and negative messages, and “I’m not sure how we’re going to keep it together.” They actually didn’t really keep it together. They weren’t able to raise those kind of—reap the windfalls that some of the other nonprofits were able to do by thinking positively, talking positively, and using their resources in a really good way.

[00:07:21.850] – Boris
So focusing on the potential and then asking for support to reach that potential works better—and I guess this makes sense—than saying, “Hey, everything is terrible. Can you save us?” basically.

[00:07:36.480] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Exactly. And I have a feeling your listeners are saying, “but of course, we never do that. We never talk about the negative, talk about the positive.” But it actually isn’t true. A lot of times, especially when it’s so dire and so hard, like with the COVID situation we’ve been in. It’s easy for executive directors and other folks to get into that negative mindset. And I just want to tell my folks that doesn’t work. But what has worked really well is when the nonprofits sort of leaned into their reserve fund, leaned into supporting their staff, and then said, “Okay, donors, you need to step up even more.” And because of the way COVID happened, though, too, because the markets are doing pretty well, a lot of folks who do have wealth are able to give, and so they want to. That’s the thing. That’s sort of an interesting thing. You’d think that it wouldn’t happen that way. But a lot of the folks I work with are doing even better than they were before and want to give back even more.

[00:08:30.230] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So, like at the end of last year, I can’t tell you how many of my clients called me up and said, “Sybil, I’ve got more money to give away than I thought.” Who should we give to now? So nonprofits are in this really amazing place where if they position themselves right, they can really get a lot more money than they ever thought they would if they think positively and act proactively at this moment. We have a moment to seize with the markets doing really well, even though we’re in a really challenging time, which is a weird juxtaposition, right?And it’s not pretty—it’s not normal. You’s think that everything would be going down, but that’s not really true. My clients want to give you money.

[00:09:08.770] – Boris
Sybil, I’m sure that makes you a very popular person at nonprofit events.

[00:09:15.890] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
That’s a whole other story.

[00:09:19.130] – Boris
So then let’s talk about, what is the problem with the way that nonprofits are approaching donors. And you did mention that you have three different types of donors that you like nonprofits to think about when they’re talking to donors. But what’s going on right now, basically, are you seeing from your perspective that organizations are treating everyone the same without really understanding what type of donor they might be? Is that what’s happening?

[00:09:51.410] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yes. So I’ve seen this for the entire time I’ve worked with donors. And when I was a nonprofit person, I wish someone had told me about the three different kinds of donors. What happens is that nonprofits tend to think that they’re in a competitive environment with other nonprofits that are doing similar things to what they’re doing. And that’s sort of where the mindset stays. And so a nonprofit will come to me and talk to me in a silo about an issue that they’re working on or an important thing that they’re working on. But me, as a person who works with donors, I’m probably funding five or six groups that are doing similar things to what they are. And I don’t think of it as a competitive thing. I think, “Oh, my gosh, the donor I work for cares about forests.” There’s eight groups working on forests. The market is booming. Let’s give all those groups working on forests or climate change or houselessness money and let’s support them all or work together. And one of those groups is not going to get all the money because the donor wants to support a community of organizations. So that is a common mistake that I see happen a lot of times where a nonprofit will talk to me in a silo and not bring—and not talk about the collaborations happening.

[00:11:08.800] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And if they do that, what happens is, I’ll start hearing different stories from different nonprofits. It’ll make that particular issue look like it’s small. People are petty. People usually are saying things that are different, that don’t make sense, and the donor wants to work in community. And there are a lot of cool things going on out there. They’ll just find a different thing where there’s a lot of nonprofits working well together in that different issue. So that’s an important thing I just wanted to bring up. And I know you want to…

[00:11:38.320] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Let’s get to the three different types of donors because there’s a real strategy, too. In addition to not thinking of yourself in the nonprofit world as a competitor with your other folks, but rather a collaborator, then let’s talk about how to leverage that ideal of being a collaborator with the different types of donors that are thinking about how to fund things in the world.

[00:11:58.500] – Boris
I’m in. Let’s do it.

[00:11:59.790] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
All right, cool. Okay.

[00:12:00.450] – Boris
What are these three types of donors and why does it matter?

[00:12:04.690] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Okay, so the three types of donors are, there’s a sustainer kind of donor, a campaigner kind of donor, and a launcher kind of donor. A sustainer donor is a donor who just loves your nonprofit. They want to fund you as a nonprofit year after year. They go on your outings or they’re on your board. They love the community. Their kids are volunteering for your organization. They’re in like Flynn. Every year they’re going to give you money. They’re going to sponsor a table at your big gala. They’re great, okay? Those are the kind of donors I find that nonprofits tend to think everybody should be and is.

[00:12:43.980] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So a lot of times a nonprofit will approach me in a way that a sustainer donor is. They’ll say, “Hey, you should come to my annual meeting, in our outings and do all these things with us. And aren’t we great?” Good to have a sustainer-donor base, okay?

[00:12:58.470] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But there’s two other kinds of donors that are equally important that you don’t want to lose. The campaigner donor is a donor that cares more about an issue, like houselessness or climate change, than they do about your nonprofit. And nonprofits, get over it. It’s okay that they don’t care about you as a nonprofit just because you’re there. That’s okay. Be okay with that. Instead, say, “Oh, my gosh, donor, you’re a campaigner type of donor. You care about moving the needle on climate change or houselessness. My nonprofit works on that. And this is the project we’re doing in that area so give us money to do that project.” And only talk to that campaigner donor about that project and how you’re moving the needle on that project.

[00:13:44.870] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And that’s where this collaboration thing is so cool, too, because you can say if you’re working on a project, I am so certain that you’re not doing it alone, that you’re probably working with six or seven other nonprofits that are experts in that particular area as well. But maybe you are really good at media. Maybe another partner that’s trying to move the needle on climate change in your area is really good at grassroots organizing. Maybe another group you’re working with is really good at the legal strategy, you name it. And so you talk to that campaigner donor about climate change and about how you’re fitting this particular niche, and you need money for this part.

[00:14:20.780] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then you bring up all the other groups, and then you maybe have a meeting with that donor. And then that donor says, “Oh, I’ve got friends that want to fund this, too.” And so what happens is you create this great thing that happens with all these different folks that come together. When that works well, and when the nonprofit knows how to use that and knows they’re talking to a campaigner donor, they can raise so much more money. If they don’t, they actually raise $0. They come in… So I’ve really seen it like that.

[00:14:47.020] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then I want to talk about the launcher donor, who is similar to a campaigner donor in the sense that a launcher donor cares about an issue more than they do the nonprofit itself. They care about moving the needle on the issue. But where they really get excited is they want to fill a gap in that issue. So they’re like the venture capitalists of the for-profit world. What they want is they want to talk to the nonprofit, “okay, you’re doing this, this and this. But what’s the thing that you don’t have yet that you really need in order to move the needle?” And most nonprofits know that. They’re like, “We’re really good at this and this, but darn if we just had more resources and money to do this thing, we could really make it happen.”

[00:15:30.230] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Too many times I’ve seen nonprofits focus so much on their own budgets and on what they can get done within a certain context that they fail to think about what’s that gap. And maybe there’s a launcher donor out there who wouldn’t fund all the regular work but would definitely fund the gap, and you could fiscally sponsor it as a nonprofit. You know you don’t have to have it as part of your overall budget, but it could really help you then move the needle and all the other things that you’re fundamentally doing at the nonprofit. So that’s why I divided it up into those three key areas.

[00:16:03.970] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And what I recommend to nonprofits that they do is first, they sort of survey their current donors to find out, sort of do an audit to find out what type of donor they are. Because you might find that there’s somebody who you thought was a sustainer donor, but actually also might be interested in moving the needle on a particular issue. So then you can actually approach them for a project, too, and you might even get more money and support from them. So those are the kind of things that are really fun. I love talking about this. I should stop and see if you have questions. It’s like you’re on a roll.

[00:16:40.650] – Boris
No, you’re clearly passionate about it, and I love it. Where did these terms come from? Are these terms that you created or are these some sort of…

[00:16:45.600] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
I created them.

[00:16:47.030] – Boris
You created them. Okay. Awesome. So I talk a lot about storytelling and about avatars specifically. Just, you know, every story needs a hero, and all heroes are not created equal, they’re not equal by design, not equal by intention. And oftentimes a nonprofit will think that they only have one avatar and that’s the donor. And what I like to break down for them is there’s a lot of avatars, not just donors. But there’s also within donors, different avatars, and you’re breaking them into categories that I actually hadn’t really thought about before. Although interestingly, I’ve had people on the show talking about some of these different avatars, including I’ve had a couple of episodes with Sarah Lee from New Story Charity and with Greg Harrell-Edge from CoachArt, where they’re talking about having funders that are interested in 10X-ing their mission. And when you’re talking about launchers, when you’re talking about the VC type in the nonprofit space, those are the folks that are excited by innovation, excited by creating something new, that’s going to change things, that’s going to fill a void, as you said, or in startup language, 10X the results. So that’s really interesting avatar for me to think about and to talk to clients about. And I’m glad that it’s coming up now.

[00:18:10.540] – Boris
The campaigner is someone I hadn’t thought about very much, but it makes sense—especially when you say it, because obviously you know what you’re talking about—but that folks want to see organizations working together a lot of times. And I do see, like you said, there’s this scarcity mindset that a lot of organizations have where, “either they’re going to give money to us or they’re going to give money to someone else. So we’ve got to frame our story and we’ve got to just give our pitch that we are the only ones that can do this.” And I do often come back to them and say, “Well, how are you different from every other organization that’s doing it?” And if you’re not the best, why aren’t you collaborating with the best or ceding that ground to them and working together, of course, as a bigger community? I didn’t know actually that there are donors that prefer that type of interaction, that type of organizational effort.

[00:19:02.510] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yes. And I love this conversation because the other thing that’s really… A nonprofit that does this well, they can really unlock quite a lot of funding and they also can support not only them but their partner nonprofit. So once the nonprofits, like a light bulb goes on and they realize that too, it supports them and working better together, too. And the other thing is that if you know that you are working with a campaigner or a launcher donor, especially a campaigner donor, the other thing that really works well is if you create—so let’s say you’re doing a campaign on something with a bunch of folks trying to move the needle on an issue you care about. You can proactively organize funder briefings and you in the nonprofit community can do that. But you talk with like two or three of the donors that you know are super into it and have the donors co-sponsor it with you.

[00:19:59.040] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
A lot of times as part of that limiting mindset, the nonprofits feel like, “oh, we have our donors, we sort of own our donors. We guard our lists so carefully.” This is a much more open way of doing it. But what happens when I’ve been engaged in this and I work in partnership with my nonprofits—I shouldn’t say mine. They’re not my nonprofits. I just have ownership over loving what they do.

[00:20:21.490] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
I literally was on the phone with one of my favorite grantees the other day, and we’re co-creating a funder nonprofit briefing, where I know my clients and the donors are going to want to come and just hear informally from two or three or four of the leading nonprofits working on a particular issue. And I’ve been really clear with everyone, let’s not make it like all these formal slideshows and things. Let’s have a conversation. That also gets donors… And donors know they’re in the room to give money. I mean, they know it and they’re okay with that. That’s what they want. That’s their role. But having those kind of conversations planned is really helpful. Donors shouldn’t be in the back room strategic meetings, that’s fine.

[00:21:04.530] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But you want to, proactively as a nonprofit if you’re doing a campaign, really when there’s going to be some major decisions, not only think about the major decision in the terms of grassroots or policy or other things, also say, okay, we know we’re going to have a major decision in June. So let’s plan a briefing and a conversation with the donors that are funding this campaign in July, right afterwards, and then maybe let’s plan one in September when there’s another decision that’s going to happen. And you’d be surprised how many times that doesn’t happen with the funders. I have to ask the nonprofits, when are these decisions, “should we do it?” I shouldn’t be asking. You all can think about it in the nonprofit world and have it as part of the conversation. I think it doesn’t happen unless, like, for example, I ask right now because of this competitive mindset, right? So if, like, one nonprofit says, let’s have a funder briefing, the others might say, oh, well, what are they just going to try to get all the money or blah, blah, blah. So sometimes a donor has to come in and say it. But I feel like I love this idealistic world in the future where I’m pushing the nonprofits to do that proactively, because then it puts it into their hands, not the donors hands about who they want to invite and where they want to go with it. But those are some little tips that I have for how to really engage donors in a way where you can magnify the amount of money you’re getting from them.

[00:22:22.160] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And again, donors are okay, they want to give money. They’re like, “We understand that we’re here because we can give you money.”

[00:22:32.490] – Boris
Right. Absolutely. And I like the concept of engaging with them and bringing them into the process, opening the curtain, or peeling back the curtain—whatever the expression is—and letting them see what’s going on underneath behind the scenes, how they’re making decisions and why. I actually think the more you can even give them some sort of agency and ask them for their input, the more committed they’re going to be, the more invested they’re going to be as well. I’ve talked about this on the show many times already, but the more someone gives of their opinion, the more ownership feel over something, the more invested they become and the more likely they are to keep supporting it because they are literally invested in the project at that point.

[00:23:21.890] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And Boris, I wanted to say something in addition to that, which is this is where it matters if it’s a sustainer, campaigner or launcher. If it’s a sustainer, what you just said is 110%, but let’s add some flourish if it’s a campaigner or a launcher. If it’s a campaigner or a launcher, those people who have money, if they’re campaigners or launchers oftentimes, but not always, they may actually have deep expertise in that particular issue, and they may have actually gotten wealthy from working on something. Like on climate change, let’s say there’s plenty of nonprofits working on it, but there’s also plenty of folks making money from innovative technologies that are based on renewable energy. And so you also might be able to tap not only that person’s wealth, but that person’s knowledge in helping move things forward. So that’s what’s also really cool is there could be some partnerships there on the campaigner and launcher side that could happen there.

[00:24:23.230] – Boris
Yeah. And you’re making them feel valued as more than just a source of money, but rather a source of expertise and direction and advice. Absolutely gets them fully invested in your work. So I love all of that. So how do we find out if someone is a donor or a campaigner? What was the first category?

[00:24:50.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Sustainer, campaigner, launcher.

[00:24:50.830] – Boris
Sustainer, campaigner or launcher. Obviously, they’re not going to know what those well, some might, but you might, right?

[00:24:55.790] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
You don’t need to use those words either. The general idea is there with the sustainer, campaigner or launcher. The first thing that I recommend you do at a nonprofit is survey your current donors. And you might want to use different terminology, because I think if you’re a nonprofit person, you’re like, oh, I know that donor is probably a sustainer. They’re on our board. They love our group. They just love what we do. This other one is always talking to me about this one particular issue. Oh, they’re a campaigner. So let’s just focus on that. And maybe there’s three other nonprofits that we can have to meet with them with us and that kind of thing.

[00:25:31.470] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But you want to survey your donors either maybe through a simple thing like a SurveyMonkey. Or if you’re somebody who’s really close to your donors or your executive director, you can go talk to them and say, “Hey, what kind of donor do you think you are with us? Do you love us year after year? Are you just thinking you’re going to keep giving us funding, or is there a particular issue you care about? Are there some gaps you’re worried about filling?”

[00:25:52.950] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And so then what you should probably do in the background is tag those people as leaning more towards sustainer, more towards campaigner, or more towards launcher. That’ll give you sort of some expertise and experience in being able to figure out what kind of donor you’re talking to. The other thing that that’s good with is like, for example, me… I don’t only talk to one person in an organization. And so it’s really important that everyone in your organization knows the kind of donor that they’re talking to because it really can go badly if an executive director gets the person dialed. But then a staffer will start talking to the person like they’re a sustainer donor when they actually just care about one issue or vice versa. You want to be careful about that.

[00:26:35.420] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So start getting used to sort of tagging your current donors in those three different categories. Once you get used to that, then when you start meeting new people that could potentially be prospective donors, you can talk to them. It’s actually so not rocket science, right? So if you’re talking to them, if you have a chance to really talk to them, you can say to them, “So do you love what we do because you have a deep understanding and love for planting trees or for watching birds or for any issue that you like? We do those things. Do you like that? Do you want to be a part of our board?” They’ll be pretty clear with you pretty quick. They’ll be like, no, they’ll either say, “Yes, we love that or no, no, no, I just care about this one particular piece. I’m attracted to you because you are working on X.” That is an indication that they’re a campaigner kind of donor.

[00:27:22.090] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And then you can keep digging in and say, “Well, here are the things we do. Here are the gaps that I see need to be filled.” And if they seem to gravitate towards those gaps, you know they’re more of a launcher donor. And so you can really start exploring those things through conversation. You don’t need to say, “Are you a sustainer, campaigner or a launcher?” They won’t know that, but you can talk to them and tease it out. And that helps you then figure out how to have real conversations with them for the future. So just getting in the habit first by looking at your own donors and then translating that into more of like your future looks for other donors.

[00:27:55.600] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
You can also do that with your… I love your—Boris, when you talk about avatars. So if you’re doing online work or other things like that, you can do quizzes or you can do special outreach, email line inquiries where you can ask questions that will get a donor to answer it in a way that will link them in more as a sustainer, campaigner or launcher. I actually am experimenting with that with my business right now to track donors and see, are you a sustainer, campaigner or launcher? And I’ve created a little quiz on that. So those are the kinds of things you can do that are creative online to then be able to make sure that when you’re approaching them through email and other things, you’re also approaching them in a way that will make them say, “Hello, we want to support you.” Rather than this group is planting a bunch of trees. I don’t care about—if you’re a campaigner, “I don’t care about that. I care about old growth forests or something.” I always use environmental examples because that’s where my expertise lies. But you name it.

[00:28:56.970] – Boris
Absolutely. So we’re ultimately talking about gathering information and data, really, but in a qualitative way, in a lot of ways. So surveys are wonderful, and I’m a big advocate of surveys. One of the most powerful things you could have on a survey, though, is this open-ended question. Why do you love what we do? What is it about our work, right? So you can say, are you most interested in this, this, this or this or rank our three. But you could also, just in addition to that, ask an open-ended question to get their input, not just their feedback.

[00:29:36.040] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So surveys are great for feedback, but you could get input as well, because that might open you up to realizing something you didn’t know about this particular donor or about the work you’re doing in general and how it resonates with people. And even if you’re collecting stories, which talk to me anytime about collecting stories and using them properly, but then you have the language that they use so that you can turn around and use it with more donors just like them and you can communicate with them more clearly. So you’re preaching to the choir here. I love everything that…

[00:30:08.000] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
So much fun. Love it.

[00:30:10.070] – Boris
So, okay, we are now going to segment our donors. We’re going to put them into three categories of the sustainer, the campaigner and the launcher. I’m glancing back at my notes because I want to get this right. We are now asking them what it is that they love about our work and how we can then segment them. And it might be through fun, interactive quizzes. Absolutely. I’ve deployed those for a few organizations, and it gives you so much data, and people don’t realize they’re giving you data. They’re not getting anything too personal or too private that they wouldn’t want to, of course. But you can then really use that and put that back into your database. As you’re saying, tag people. We have the concept in databases of taxonomy, which is different types of labels you could put on folks. But definitely you do want to track that kind of interest over time, especially so that if you do have a transition between people, one person is talking to the donor, one time one person is talking, and another time. I’ve had customer service experience where they don’t realize who I am from one point to the next. And that’s frustrating. I can only imagine if I’m giving money to a nonprofit and that happens to me how disconnected I’m going to feel, right? How impersonal and alienated I’m going to feel. “Oh, you don’t even know who you’re talking to.”

[00:31:23.830] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Yeah, especially Boris if there’s an executive director transition and then the new either interim or the new ED is approaching everyone from scratch. As a board, you should be worried about that because a lot of money could be lost in that transition if you’re not seamless in terms of helping the next person come into the scene talking to the donors in a way that you know that they want to be discussing the issues.

[00:31:54.330] – Boris
I guess, what should nonprofits do if they’re not already segmenting, how do they get into this? Where should they get started? We talked about surveys. What else could they be doing to get into this mindset? And actually, I think I’m going to ask for some calls to action from you. And I think you’ve got a great suggestion for folks. But I’m also going to add in. I think in this episode I’m going to link to my avatar worksheet because I think this could be perfectly laid out on there as well to get into what you’re talking about. But where should organizations begin if they haven’t done it yet? Should they go through their entire database and send everybody a survey, or is that too cold? What should they do?

[00:32:36.570] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Well, I think that they might want to send everybody a survey. I think that would be really helpful for them. It depends, though, on the nonprofit. There’s so many different kinds of nonprofits. It could be that the executive director of a nonprofit is listening to this right now and they’re like, oh, well, I have like ten top donors. I really need to hone in with them. That would mean coffees with them again. Or they might even know them well enough where they can actually go into their database and tag.

[00:33:04.630] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
To me, the most important thing is in your ultimate database, you have your donors tagged to one of those three. And so doing a survey and writing it in a way that works for you and your donors is key, just as long as you have in the back of your head the differences between the three. That’s I think really important. And Boris, I’m happy to talk to you offline more about your avatar worksheet and how maybe we can work this into that to support your folks in having them think more about that.

[00:33:34.520] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
The other thing that, and we’ll talk about this later, too, if you’d like. But I also have started a little mini course series called be R.E.A.L. It’s a little bit higher level, but it’s to help you as a nonprofit person really work through. There’s four different mini courses, and I talk a lot about how to think through these three different types of donors. And that way you can address it even more.

[00:33:57.650] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
But the number one thing, I think is to really get to know your donors in terms of if they’re one of those three. And I can tell you that almost none of even the grantees that I give to really have that segmented. They’re lucky—the ones that are really good fundraisers are lucky because the executive directors naturally know that. But there’s just a whole bunch of things there… For example, if you’re a sustainer donor, if you know you have a sustainer donor, sometimes they’re so hooked into your group, you can have the development director do most of the outreach to them, versus if it’s a campaigner donor, you as the executive director or the campaign director needs to be meeting with that campaigner. The development director, that’s bad news. Don’t do that. I love development directors, but they’re not the one the campaigner wants to talk to. Campaigner donor.

[00:34:50.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
There’s all of these tricks and tools and important things to think about as you tag them there. So, Boris, let’s work more on that together, because I just want to share.

[00:35:00.870] – Boris
I would love to. That sounds fantastic. And I am going to link to your course, the be R.E.A.L. mini course, so that anyone who is listening and wants to take action can sign up and get started with you on that. Any other calls to action? Is there any way that folks should follow you or get in touch with you if they’re interested?

[00:35:18.100] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Please, yeah, yeah. So my business is called Do Your Good for obvious reasons. And you can get on my website at But I’m also on Instagram and Facebook under Do Your Good and I also have my own weekly podcast, and that’s under Do Your Good. And it’s streaming on all the regular channels. And you can type in my name too Sybil Ackerman-Munson to find it as well. But on my website, I’ve got everything there.

[00:35:46.670] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
And I also have information there for donors. I have mini courses for donors, but as well, like how to think about project funding, how to decide what kind of donor you are, how to fund collaborations. I have templates on how to think through for nonprofits and donors to think through, good funding budget templates, all kinds of things like that. I think nonprofits would get a lot out of those things, too, even though they’re geared more towards donors. But I also have stuff just for you in the nonprofit world.

[00:36:19.230] – Boris
Awesome. It sounds like a great resource. I will check it out as well because I’m always interested to see what other folks are doing and maybe there is some great opportunity for collaboration. I would love that.

[00:36:28.360] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Oh, I know there is. I know there is. I’ve been watching your podcast and you have such great advice for folks. I was talking to myself while I was listening and like, “oh!” And your guest and I’m like, “yeah they’re right!” So everybody who’s listening to this keep listening to Boris’s podcast because he has got it all down.

[00:36:47.430] – Boris
Thank you so much, Sybil. Thank you for joining us today. Thank you for all the value that you’ve shared with our viewers and listeners to the show. I really appreciate everything you’re doing out there to help nonprofits similar to my own mission, activate more heroes for their cause.

[00:37:03.990] – Sybil Ackerman-Munson
Great. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

[00:37:07.240] – Boris
And thank you everybody for joining us today. I hope you enjoyed listening to my conversation with Sybil Ackerman-Munson and I hope you will tune in again next week. And if you do like what you are watching or listening, please go and give us a quick review, a rating on any of your favorite podcast platforms because that’s how more people discover us and more people get this kind of valuable insights from guests like ours today. Thank you, of course for doing everything you do to make the world a better place and we’ll see you next time.

[00:37:38.070] – Intro
Thank you all for watching and listening to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Some nonprofits take the fundraising approach of, “because we’re doing such good work, you just should give us money.” This just doesn’t work. What works is having an understanding of and an empathy towards your donors first. (3:56)
    • Know who your donors are, what they want to support and how.
    • Sybil classifies donors into three different types, based on what motivates them.
  • At the start of the pandemic, a lot of donors were worried about nonprofits shutting down. They were hesitant to give money to organizations that might not be able to deliver on their promise. The organizations that had strong reserve funds gave donors the confidence to keep supporting them and increase their giving. (5:42)
  • Focusing on the positive and potential in your messaging with donors is a lot more effective than focusing on the negative and fears. (7:21)
  • Even in really challenging times, wealthy donors might be making more money and looking for strong organizations to support. (8:30)
  • Nonprofits tend to look at funding from a scarcity mindset, in competition with other nonprofits for donations. The reality is that many donors want to support a community of nonprofits working on an important cause from multiple angles. (9:53)
  • Sybil has identified three types of donors, based on how they prefer to support a cause. Each of them will be motivated by different approaches for funding. (12:04)
    • Sustainer donors love your nonprofit and the work that you do. They want to become part of your community, supporting your work year after year.
    • Campaigner donors care more about an issue than the organizations working on it. They want to move the needle forward and will support any number of nonprofits they believe can do so. This is where being a collaborative organization is beneficial.
    • Launcher donors get excited about filling a gap on an issue. They can be compared to venture capitalists in the for-profit world. They respond to a need or an opportunity within an organization that will move the needle in their work, versus funding the work that you do on a regular basis.
  • The first thing nonprofits should do is to survey their donors to find out which of the three types they are, so that you can approach them about what they’ll be most likely to support. (16:04)
  • Every story needs a hero, but all heroes are not created equal. Within the Donor category of heros, there are multiple avatars. Understanding how to tell your story to each of them will create better connections and raise more money. (16:47)
  • The scarcity “us or them” mindset is detrimental to fundraising and to the issues that you’re trying to resolve in the world. Collaboration, leaning into the strengths of multiple nonprofits, can work better and unlock a lot more funding. (18:11)
  • When collaborating with other nonprofits, there are opportunities for additional sponsorship and through a joint funder briefing. Launcher and campaigner donors particularly respond well to this. These don’t have to be formal, they can just be a conversation that allows donors to feel involved. (19:25)
  • Donors know you want them to give you money, that’s why they’re there. The more you ask for their input and make them feel involved, the more invested they will be in your success. (22:22)
    • Campaigner and launcher donors may also have deep expertise on a particular issue that can move your work forward and make them feel valued for more than just their money.
  • Survey your donors either in person or through digital tools to determine what motivates them and what type of donor they are. Ask questions about why they support you, what they’re interested in supporting and how they prefer to be involved. Then tag (segment) those people for future fundraising and communications. (25:02)
  • Be sure to track your donor tags/segmentation in a way that others in your organization can understand and follow along with, even in times of staff transitions. You don’t want to have the alienating situation where one person is speaking to a donor as a sustainer and another is approaching them as a launcher. (30:48)
  • Knowing what type of donor each person is can also help you better allocate staff resources, delegating who on your team maintains certain relationships. (34:25)
  • Sybil has developed courses and other resources to help nonprofits and donors better understand themselves and each other. (See the Resource Spotlight and Call to Action for the links.) (35:18)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Boris’s Avatar Worksheet – Identify the ideal person who will step up and be a hero for your cause
    • Check out our previous episodes that talk about the VC donor type and how to fund innovation:

About this week’s guest

Sybil Ackerman-Munson

Sybil Ackerman-Munson

President, Do Your Good

With over 20 years of experience as a nonprofit professional and foundation advisor, I tap into my vast experience and knowledge from working with donors who I have helped to give away over $45 million in large and small donations to offer you step-by-step guides through online courses, a podcast, and resources so that you can jump to the front of the line and waste no time in making a true and lasting positive contribution to the world on your terms. This is what Do Your Good is all about.

Connect with Sybil Ackerman-Munson