The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 52

Nonprofit Supporter Communities with ROI for All, with Louis Diez

In this Episode:

The word “community” is frequently thrown around in nonprofit communications. But what does it actually mean, and what does it take to form a true community that provides value and drives increased repeat giving?

At a time when nonprofits struggle with donor retention, efforts to tap into identity, increase value to donors, make them feel more invested, and retain them year after year, have to be a top priority for every nonprofit development, marketing and communications professional.

Louis Diez, Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College believes describes
his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise donor participation and major gifts—and he has the numbers to prove it.

Louis joins The Nonprofit Hero Factory to share how he builds communities that deliver ROI both to donors and to the organization, and how other nonprofits can do the same.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:05.110] – Intro
Welcome to The Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast 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!

[00:00:21.470] – Boris
Welcome, everybody, to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited to have a new type of guest on the show, someone talking about an issue that I think is totally important, absolutely relevant to the work that we do, but hasn’t really been discussed enough. And it’s something I’m passionate about. So I’m really excited to learn from our guest today.

[00:00:41.700] – Boris
He is Louis Diez. He is the Executive Director of The Muhlenberg Fund at Muhlenberg College and is the host of the Donor Participation Project, which we’re going to learn from today. He’s an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies. Prior to Muhlenberg, Louis was leading Annual Fund development at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at Johns Hopkins SAIS and at Maryville College in Tennessee. Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, both in Spain, and an MM in Music Performance from the University of Tennessee. Louis describes his superpower as building communities of purpose that energize donors and raise both donor participation and major gifts. Topics that are incredibly important, I think, to every organization out there today. And I’m excited to bring Louis onto the show to talk about that. Hey, Louis.

[00:01:40.070] – Louis Diez
Hi, Boris. Thanks so much for having me here.

[00:01:42.960] – Boris
Thanks so much for being here. As I said, I’m really excited to have you on. I am a huge proponent, advocate, if you will, on the topic of building communities. I think they are absolutely critical. Social media is often thought of as a community, but rarely used as one. People throw that term around and then don’t really know what that means or how to back it up or much less activate it. So I’m excited to learn from you today. But before we dive into all that, I read your bio. Love your superpower. Give me a bit of your story. Why do you do the things that you do today?

[00:02:18.290] – Louis Diez
So it’s so funny. I was graduating from my masters. I was thinking I was going to be a musician, and I worked as that for a little while. But I was doing a really interesting internship in New York at the Lincoln Center. You know I was actually putting stands… You can’t put stands on stage, but preparing coffee for the orchestra. There are lots of rules.

[00:02:43.810] – Louis Diez
And I discovered our CEO at the time was a fantastic fundraiser. And I kind of discovered the fundraising development, advancement, whatever you call it, as kind of a wonderful place because it’s mission oriented. It can be very technical if you want it to. It can be very humanistic or it should be humanistic. It kind of just has everything. If you’re a people person, then there’s a place for you. If you’re a data person, there’s a place for you. So I felt really like it all came together for me in this work. So the mission and the data and the people, it’s kind of beautiful.

[00:03:23.130] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you kind of came into the nonprofit space through a side door, if you will, hoping to do something else—I think arts are absolutely necessary for humanity and do a lot of good for humanity. And I think a lot of artists do find their way to nonprofit because it’s a different way to serve humanity and also maybe not necessarily starve.

[00:03:49.150] – Louis Diez
It’s really tough being a musician. Yes. So I was playing with the Knoxville Symphony for a while and had a day job in fundraising at Maryville College, as you mentioned, and having a son. And it’s tough, especially classical musicians.

[00:04:08.290] – Boris
I can only imagine, coming from the world of theater and acting and film. I have friends who are on TV shows. You would recognize them, and they’re still working in restaurants.

[00:04:23.440] – Louis Diez

[00:04:24.290] – Boris
Yeah. It’s a tough, tough thing. So I’m glad you found your way to nonprofit, though. And I’m glad that you were able to combine your various interests, as you said, into doing the things that you do. So let’s talk about that. What is it that you’re doing out there? Tell me about the work that you do today.

[00:04:44.170] – Louis Diez
So right now, I’m the Director of the Annual Fund at Muhlenberg College, which is a fantastic institution in Eastern Pennsylvania. I manage a team of seven fantastic professionals, and we raise money for unrestricted accounts at the college. So basically, donations that go to work right away have an impact immediately.

[00:05:15.430] – Louis Diez
On the side, about a year and a half ago, I started getting together with a group of fundraisers in what has turned into a kind of a community. And maybe we can talk about what that even means, right? As you pointed out, Boris. But essentially, we just started getting together to discuss how we could support each other and how we could learn about increasing donor participation, which, as I’m sure you’ve talked about, and folks that listen to your show know there are less and less donors every year giving to nonprofits. Definitely doesn’t mean that people are less generous in any way or that giving through Facebook is a bad thing, right? But giving to nonprofits itself has been on the decline for the last decade or two decades. And we were thinking, well, nobody can solve this. And maybe it’s up to us now.

[00:06:09.070] – Boris
So it definitely is up to nonprofits and up to nonprofit development and communications staff, people passionate about the subject to solve this problem. I will say there’s a new report out. Last week I had a guest on, Tim from Neon One, and they just released a report that actually says that during the pandemic, individual giving did go back up. And so it’s a positive trend. The issue is and I think today’s episode is going to play right into that. So for those of you at home, go back and listen to the previous one right after you listen to this one.

[00:06:41.600] – Boris
But the issue is that communications is not capable—or not currently, effectively maintaining relationships, establishing strong relationships and tying into identity in order to keep donors donating after they’ve given the first time, which is often in response to a particular cause, like right now, Ukraine or the pandemic over the last couple of years. So people will give and then they’ll disappear. And from an individual nonprofit’s perspective, there’s going to be a lot of decline. So community, I think, can definitely help solve that problem. If not 100%, then get us a lot of the way there. Let’s talk about that. What does that mean, community when it comes to donors?

[00:07:25.550] – Louis Diez
Absolutely. So I’ll give you a little bit more background about how I came into this philosophy. At Muhlenberg I was working a lot with folks that maybe are more familiar with academic fundraising classes and looking at other schools who are doing well. And then at the same time, in the donor participation project, we were having people like a Harvard researcher from the Harvard Divinity School talk to us about how communities, how millennials were flocking to some types of organizations. And it wasn’t necessarily nonprofits: things like CrossFit, Peloton, just organizations that were really capitalizing on this community. Some churches. So even though overall religious participation is also on the decline, there are really successful cases out there.

[00:08:23.670] – Louis Diez
And a quote that she shared with us that really stuck with me was “I came for the whatever—workout, dinner, conversation—but I stayed for the community.” So community is one of those things that’s kind of a stickiness factor, right? It’s what makes people stick around. And that’s the whole problem is what probably Tim was sharing with you. And the research that he’s involved with is amazing. But it’s keeping people around that we struggle with, right?

[00:08:52.000] – Louis Diez
And I started to develop a theory and started to also read a lot. And I have a book here. I don’t know if I’m supposed to do this on the show, but Get Together, really good book for people and kind of came on the definition. It’s a working definition. So if folks, if you Boris you even have improvements, I’d love to talk about it. But it’s community is when people get together in ways that are participatory. So it’s two-ways, right? Purposeful. So it’s about a purpose. So sometimes there are communities that kind of get together.

[00:09:23.550] – Louis Diez
There’s a very famous book, The Influencers, something about people getting together just to make dinner. And that’s cool. But what’s the purpose, especially for nonprofits. Recurring. So that’s a really big one. So it’s these people that get together on a recurring basis in a way that creates an expectation and a habit. So I’m a part of this. And I get together every month, every week, every time I open my phone and I scroll through my Facebook feed. So that’s an element.

[00:09:53.380] – Louis Diez
And then the fourth one is it identifies leaders. So no nonprofit staff, no community host is going to be able to do all the work that needs to get done. So they’re going to have to ask for help and support others in achieving those goals. So I turned that into an acronym, which is PPRI, it’s not great, but what we have.

[00:10:15.070] – Boris
We’ll work on some fancy backronym for it where we’ll first pick a word and then we’ll reverse engineer it to match what you’re trying to say. Because I really like everything you just laid out there, starting with this concept of CrossFit, which— CrossFit really is community. It thrives on that. I’ve never been part of a CrossFit, but I do know a lot of people who were, at least for a while, I don’t know how it is right now through and post pandemic. They were fanatical about it, right? It becomes a part of your identity. You are someone who does CrossFit. You belong to a chapter in CrossFit. And I know that I have friends who told me about this. They would sign up, and then if they didn’t show up for a couple of days, somebody would call them and say, “Hey, we haven’t seen you, where are you?” And then they might even take it to the next level and reach out to you other ways to get you back in the door, keep you going. And it works, despite the fact that a lot of people get injured doing CrossFit. But I’m not going to….

[00:11:17.810] – Louis Diez
I don’t know about that. So definitely not endorsing injuries. But it’s a very weird thing where I started to apply some of this that we were finding to our little group, the Donor Participation Project. And it started those same things you’re talking about. I never kind of reflected on them, but it started to happen to me. So we had sessions. And when I forgot to schedule a session, people would say, “Hey, I thought we were doing this this coming Wednesday.” Because it’s like what we always do and they were calling me to task. So it’s something like human. It’s based on human nature. It does work.

[00:11:49.400] – Boris
So I’m kind of going to flip the script a little bit here. Usually I want to know, all right, well, how do we make this work? And then what are the results? But in this case, I want to flip it around. I want to say, all right, what results have you seen from building these types of communities? Because I really want people to understand. I’m sure my audience is pretty intelligent in the first place, but I just want to highlight what is the benefit of doing this. And then let’s talk about what’s the work involved to get it done.

[00:12:15.710] – Louis Diez
Okay. And in development, sometimes we get stuck on what’s the ROI of this specific thing, right? I’m going to send this one letter; how many dollars came out of it? I’ll give you the big picture. At Muhlenberg, last year in the ranking of alumni participation, so as a percentage, how many students alumni gave to the school, we climbed into the top 100 for the first time. So we’ve been climbing and we’ve been able to reverse that declining trend. So that’s really good. Was it 100% this? Did we not solicit people? No. I mean, yes, we did solicit people. So don’t think that… Sometimes people say, “Louis, does that mean that we just stop asking people for money?” No, absolutely. As I can see Boris, they know… [crosstalk 00:13:04]

[00:13:04.370] – Boris
It’s not a panacea. Nobody should expect that this actually replaces everything else that you do. But there are benefits to it, right?

[00:13:12.560] – Louis Diez
Exactly. I’m just kind of sharing things I noticed. Did we have the largest fundraising year for our annual fund in the history of the organization? Yes. Was that, again, 100%? No. Was there a pandemic and lots of people were making big gifts? Yes. Was the largest donor in the history of the college part of one of the communities that is just the best one we have? When we talk about this in a bit, I’ll share that we organize these communities by classes, right? And that’s the best one that we have and kind of the model for the others. Well, that’s also true. Is there a one-to-one of what exactly caused that gift? I think it’s kind of like a preponderance of evidence thing. It looks like a duck. Smells like a duck. Sounds like a duck. It feels like that’s the right direction.

[00:14:02.710] – Boris
Okay. So it helped the school get to its highest participation, highest donation levels so far in its history. We don’t have a direct causal connection, but there is a lot of corollary evidence is basically what you’re saying, right?

[00:14:23.070] – Louis Diez
Yes. And especially if you’re working it. So what I love about it is that it also really kind of changed a little bit of the dynamic. And we did tie it in with switching our model to asking for monthly gifts first. But when you’re in that model, kind of the feedback that you get is so totally different because you’re not always just the face that shows up to ask for a gift and then get the angry kind of response. It feels more like you’re a part of something. So that was an added benefit as well. We applied all of this to our fundraiser community, and that has been growing very well. And again, the qualitative feedback is fantastic. People post love messages on LinkedIn about what we are and what we mean, which is great.

[00:15:13.010] – Boris
Why do you think that works? Why do you think building community… I mean, you talked about, of course, the CrossFit and the kind of elements of community. But what are the benefits of community? Why do people want to be part of your alumni network for their given class or something, what do they get out of it?

[00:15:30.670] – Louis Diez
So there’s the benefits for the person that’s in the community, and then there are benefits for the organization. For the person that’s in the community, well, I would say that we have a very deep need for that. There used to be civic organizations. There used to be… And there’s this book, right? Bowling Alone, I think, that talks about how all of that, like, social fabric has gone away. People still need it. It speaks to kind of like a very basic human need, essentially it just feels good for people.

[00:16:02.570] – Louis Diez
For the organization, it makes people retain so they stay around, which means that more of them stay around giving. It reduces your—I call them, like donor service, the customer service costs. So instead of having to be staff always one-on-one being the interface with the donor, you have a group of people, and they can answer their own questions or create their own content and support each other in that way and stay connected in that way. And then, if you’re aligned with the purpose and it’s clear that this group is there to support each other but also support the cause, it creates an environment that’s very helpful for kind of major gift conversation. That sort of thing just starts to kind of surface.

[00:16:55.530] – Boris
I really appreciate and I like how you think that you broke down what’s good for the actual members of the community and what’s good for the organization as a whole. Because when it comes to marketing, when it comes to promoting anything that you’re doing, I go through this with students, with organizations that I’m working with all the time. They focus on what it’s going to do for them rather than what it’s going to do for the actual people involved. And you can’t sell it on the features, and you can’t sell it on what it’s going to do for you. You have to basically sell it on what it’s going to do for them. And they can network. They can maintain some sort of connection to their past. They can maintain some sort of connection to the work. They could do more for you in other ways, right? So I would imagine that it’s easier to get volunteers out of the community than it is out of an email list that you just blast out to because they’re already connected and you keep at top of mind for them. So they are regularly thinking of you, not just once a year when you reach out to them at the end of the year or something.

[00:18:02.770] – Louis Diez
Yeah. Even if you look at… There was somebody posting on LinkedIn the other day who said, well, we probably… Somebody said, “I’m going to venture to say that we don’t send enough emails as a nonprofit.” And then I was thinking, well, what’s the quality and what type of email? I mean, it’s like the devil is in the details. So if you see the number of communications and emails that a community generates, and it’s all well received. It’s useful. People find it helpful, it’s value providing, but it does help you increase that very organically.

[00:18:33.750] – Boris
Awesome. So let’s get into it then. What does it take to build a community? First of all, what does the community even look like? I’m assuming at this point we’re talking technology, right? Digital platforms, although community should if it can bleed over into the real life IRL, as the kids call it. How do you define community and the systems that support it?

[00:19:01.430] – Louis Diez
That’s a really interesting question, Boris. I think for folks that have been involved in fundraising for a while, this isn’t really so new. I think of it more as taking that model of the experience that we provided to board members to maybe very small groups, to campaign advisory group, things like that, and extending that to more people. So as you said, it can be in real life. It can be digital, but people do need a place to get together. Can that be in an auditorium? Can that be a Discord channel? Can that be a Facebook chat? A LinkedIn group? I think you get the gist. It can really be anywhere. And that’s why I always sometimes feel a little bit—it’s not hesitant to recommend, but it’s like, well, it’s more of how you do it than exactly what it is. You just need a place for people to get together.

[00:20:00.070] – Boris
But how do you choose that place then? Because there are all those different channels that you just talked about with the Slack and Discord and Facebook and all kinds of groups out there that exist, right? And then there’s the independent platforms that you could spin up yourself, right?

[00:20:17.260] – Louis Diez
That’s really good. I would definitely call Boris and ask him for advice on this matter, because I’m not an expert. I would say I’ve been opportunistic. So I kind of went with what was either available or where I saw people were already. So some of our younger groups said we live in LinkedIn because we’re in that age in life where our career is everything. So I said, okay, let’s do a group. It gets really hard to manage, and maybe we can talk about it where you need to kind of think through, are you going to do one big community like your donor community, or are you going to have different groups, especially in larger nonprofits or more established nonprofits, will have people that are interested in sports or in this type of biomedical research, you know, so it can get hard to manage.

[00:21:05.370] – Boris
Yeah. All donors are not the same. They all have different interests, and they have different interests related to your cause. They have different reasons for supporting you in the first place. They might have different motivations. And so if you could give them a community of fairly like minded folks rather than you have a community around sports and a bunch of people talking bowling and I just want to talk about basketball. I’m not really going to want to stick around, right?

[00:21:28.230] – Louis Diez
Exactly. So that’s where we talk about kind of having a content. Well, the content strategy, content-first approach to building these things is really important and ties into the purpose, right? But just having a clear area that you have a group that’s large enough to make this worthwhile, but also that’s united by enough of a common theme. And it could be I mean, you can think very creatively. It can be according to things people do, like playing a sport. It can be according to their age if that works. But if they’re all interested in something like, I don’t know, providing scholarships to first generation students or something like that.

[00:22:13.650] – Boris
So we’re talking basically bucketing or segmenting based on either psychographics and interests or on demographics like age and other aspects like that, geography, perhaps, whatever is most natural, I guess, to the groups that you’re working with. I appreciate you said go ahead and call Boris and ask him which platform to use. But you kind of answered it yourself already. It is a much more extensive exercise to really go through it.

[00:22:39.360] – Boris
But the question is. Where are the majority of your people already congregating? Don’t make them adopt a new tool, think of checking in at a new place. That’s a very high barrier, high friction point for people to overcome. If they’re already mostly on Facebook, then maybe that’s the answer. If they’re mostly on LinkedIn or it feels more natural because it’s a professional kind of group to be on LinkedIn, great. Wherever they’re going to associate it, or if they’re younger kids and they’ve got a bunch of Discords already up, let’s throw them into another one. Let’s give them a new one to play in, if you will.

[00:23:13.580] – Louis Diez
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And then the next step is kind of, know that once you have that town hall platform or the place, that you’re going to have to feed the community with content. And I saw this with the Donor Participation Project. I would take the content from our sessions and from everything that we were learning. But then somebody has to be feeding that constantly back to the group out in the world. It’s also kind of your recruiting tool. And that’s something that I find that lots of nonprofits, maybe they start with a platform and then they think that’s going to magically create community. But it does take work.

[00:23:51.180] – Boris
Yeah. If you build it, they will come is not real or at least they won’t stick around, right? So there is this role that I know a lot of organizations have, nonprofits, for-profits, which is this community manager, and it’s their job to maintain this community. And it does take resources, right? It’s either somebody’s time or it’s a new person that you bring on just for that role. So there’s definitely some investment in there. But what should they be doing? What are the types of content that work when it comes to keeping a group interested and active?

[00:24:25.090] – Louis Diez
I guess there’s a lot of per group nuance here and lots of cultural—the culture of each specific group. I can speak from experience. You don’t think that this is something that has to go through your marketing department and be finessed to death, something as simple as photos of back in the day, and then that starts a thread and they start sharing photos and it goes on for 20 emails, just asking questions, surveys, letting everybody see the answers to the questions. So it’s a little bit of… Lots of the nonprofits that I’ve been at or worked with have this kind of marketing approach where everything has to be perfect on brand and 100% ready to go out in the world. This is more of kind of like a family chat feeling, and that tends to work, I found.

[00:25:21.070] – Boris
And you’re saying things like, let people see the results of surveys that they’re taking, make it a two-way conversation, but also make it feel like everybody’s getting to know everybody. It’s not just they’re giving your organization information about themselves that you could later use for marketing, right? It’s actually which, by the way, you could be doing that at the same time. But it’s actually them getting to know each other and feeling more comfortable and confident with each other and getting value from each other at the same time, right?

[00:25:52.300] – Louis Diez
So another of the great benefits, and this is for both the people who participate and the organization, is that communities build trust. And I’ve read some research that it’s actually one of the better ways to do it. It’s really hard to get somebody to trust you based on ads or brochures or letters that you’re sending them. But when people get together to do something around the common purpose, it’s much easier to turn minds and hearts around.

[00:26:17.470] – Boris
They get emotionally invested. They get financially invested. They get—what do you call it when they invest their own time into it, right? They feel like they’re getting more value and they’re investing more of themselves into it. So they have more ownership, more stake at the table when it comes to your organization’s work and success.

[00:26:35.790] – Louis Diez
That’s totally it, Boris. And you described it. That sounds like your ideal donor. I mean, doesn’t it? Somebody who’s invested. So you’re kind of like creating the environment, too. So that doesn’t mean that you don’t need major gift officers. In fact, your content leaders and your thought lead, internal thought leaders and your gift officers ideally should be a part of these communities kind of embedded in them.

[00:26:59.170] – Boris
So there’s one particular aspect, and we’re coming up on time here, but I really want to get into and see what you have to share, which is, is there a way to actually solicit donations without feeling like you’re just asking for money within a community?

[00:27:15.740] – Louis Diez
Okay, I’m going to tell you a secret. Everybody hates to be solicited, but everybody loves to be recognized. So just do that. When I work with volunteers and they say, “I never want to ask somebody for money.” I said, “I promise you won’t have to.” But you can elevate people. You can publish lists of donors. I mean, what is Facebook but one long list of who liked what you know or who did what, and it works. So that’s an easy kind of evolution, right?

[00:27:51.010] – Boris
So what does that do? Do you put out let’s say you’re a community on Facebook? Do you put a post up that says, “Hey, thank you so and so for the amazing donation. And here’s what it will help us do.”

[00:28:01.680] – Louis Diez
So one of our most successful efforts was (our fiscal year closes on June 30) our communities are organized—and we didn’t cover this, Boris—on Google Groups, so which is kind of low tech, really; it’s basically listservs. We shared the honor role, which is what we call the donor list for each specific community for each class on it and the gifts. And then we said, “Well, thank you so much to all of those.” This was a thank you message. If you haven’t given no, you still have time, head over here and we’ll update this. And they did, in droves. So that was really powerful. And then people say, well, you put out this donor list and it doesn’t work in this way. Well, sometimes I find that they do this in the annual. The premise is that people recognize each other, that they feel part of the same group, not some random list of 500 names.

[00:28:56.710] – Boris
That is so important and powerful. If you are part of a community, you want to do what everyone else in the community is doing. There is a social contract of sorts that you feel you need to uphold your end of it, and you want to compete or match what others are doing, match the expectations upon you. So if you see this role, this honor role, this donor list of people in your class, and you see, oh, wait, most people or a lot of people in my class are giving. Well, I mean, I should, too. I can. It’s clearly important. I’ll do it.

[00:29:34.730] – Louis Diez
You hit it on the nail, Boris. I’d be interested to hear from you. Do you see applications for this model to other… of course, my background is in maybe the arts, is in one type of or a couple of types of nonprofits. Do you see this as applicable to other types of nonprofits?

[00:29:53.250] – Boris
Oh, absolutely. I mean, every organization should cultivate some sort of community for their clients, their donors, their volunteers, and crossing over between them, depending on how you define your segments, if you will. But even without the community, I mean, I always teach you want to be sharing stories, you want to be sharing success stories. You want to be sharing stories of donors. Hey, I did this and now I see this out in the world and I feel so much better. I can sleep better at night because I gave to this and I saw that it had some sort of an impact, right? What you’re doing when it’s inside of a community is really amplifying that within an echo chamber. An echo chamber for good, as opposed to so many of the ones that are currently happening right now online. So, yeah, every organization could be doing this.

[00:30:39.070] – Louis Diez
Totally. Yeah. Maybe a last point kind of for thought is and I haven’t figured this out, right, is: what is the metric for success? We look at our donor retention, obviously. But also, as you mentioned, there’s a community manager that does this. Please do give them ownership on a metric, on something, not just have it be kind of a random expendable role that you have in the shop.

[00:31:05.810] – Boris
Yeah. I do always like to focus on metrics. And I think donor retention would be a great one to measure and see how well is it working of the people who are in the community? How many of them are staying and giving regularly? Because again, it’s that identity thing, which is key. And then some of the other KPIs would be how many people per month or per whatever cycle you want to measure are actually adding content, how many people are checking in and reading content? That is an engagement metric that’s pretty straightforward to download from whatever app that you’re currently using, I think would be great to measure and track and give your community manager some goals. Hey, can we increase this? Can we bring in more people and have them engaging around more things? Hey, surveys seem to be doing really well. Or, hey, we put out a quiz and everybody shared it, right? Those are dynamite when they work.

[00:31:57.790] – Louis Diez
Exactly. Very helpful. Thanks, Boris.

[00:32:00.140] – Boris
I love all that. So I don’t want to take too much more of your time, but I do want to ask: You did say you’re on Google Groups, and I do like to ask everybody for some tools and resources. You also held up the book Get Together earlier. Who’s that by? How do we find that?

[00:32:17.480] – Louis Diez
Let’s find this out. It’s a group of folks. It’s published by Stripe Press, and I’m opening it right here. Okay. The authors are Bailey Richardson, Kevin Huynh, and Kai Elmer Sotto.

[00:32:31.310] – Boris
Awesome. We will definitely find that book and link to it in the show notes. We’ll also link to Google Groups so people can get started easily like you do. What’s your call to action for the folks that are listening, watching, or reading the transcript of this at home?

[00:32:46.630] – Louis Diez
So if you want to join a community of fundraisers who is really nice, smart, and we get together to solve a really big issue in our industry, head over to So one word And we’d love to have you and kind of if you bring even just a lot of what you learn here with Boris to these conversations, I think people will be thrilled and you’ll gain a lot too from that back and forth.

[00:33:21.590] – Boris
As you should in the community. Awesome. So we’re going to link to that, of course, too. If people want to follow up with you, where should they find you? What’s your preferred community?

[00:33:32.330] – Louis Diez
LinkedIn, for sure. And just look me up by name and title.

[00:33:37.850] – Boris
Fantastic. And we always link to guests’ LinkedIn profiles anyway. So that’s going to happen and when we publish this post on LinkedIn we’re going to tag you as well. So hopefully a lot of people are going to connect with you. I think this is really important and also really accessible content that people should be thinking about and tactics that people hopefully will start to implement if they haven’t or take the next step and level up if they’re already doing it.

[00:34:05.590] – Louis Diez
And it really works, which also helps.

[00:34:08.000] – Boris
That definitely also helps. Louis, thank you so much for joining us today. I really appreciate having you on. You came on. You dropped a whole lot of value on us today. I think that will hopefully get people thinking and working and I hope that people do go and check out the Donor Participation Project because the more you can contribute, the more you can learn, the more the rising tide lifts all boats.

[00:34:33.910] – Louis Diez
Well, thanks, Boris. Thank you for having me. I look forward to learning from you even more.

[00:34:38.350] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you, everybody for joining us at home. If you like this interview, do go ahead and share it with your friends. Leave us a review on iTunes on Spotify wherever you enjoy your content and we look forward to seeing you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:34:56.150] – 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:

  • Community is not simply “social media.” (1:55)
    • Engagement is more than “likes” and “shares.”
  • The Donor Participation Project convenes fundraising professionals to explore strategies, combine knowledge, and support each other in their mission to increase donor participation. (5:15)
  • Giving to nonprofits has been on the decline for the last two decades. This is a problem that nonprofit development and communications staff have to solve. (5:43)
    • A recent report found this trend has been reversing since March 2020, but it’s not guaranteed to last. (We explored this in episode 51).
  • Establishing and maintaining communication and relationships with donors is particularly challenging. (6:41)
  • Organizations, like CrossFit, Peloton, and some churches, have people (particularly millennials) flocking to them. (8:00)
    • People come to a group for one thing, but they stay for the community. The community is what is “sticky.”
  • Nonprofits struggle to retain donors that come in response to an emergency (like a pandemic or a war) after a cause is no longer “hot.” (8:48)
  • Louis shares four keys for successful communities. (9:11)
    • Community must be participatory, a two-way relationship.
    • Community must be purposeful and bring people together to achieve a certain goal.
    • Community must be recurring—maintain the expectation of activity and be regular enough to become a habit.
    • Community must identify leaders. Community managers have a mission: to make connections, to persist with outreach, but the members themselves build on the infrastructure and create their own content.
  • It is human nature to want to find a place where we belong. If we do this thing, then we belong in this thing, then this thing is part of who we are. (10:30)
  • What results can be seen through building these super-committed communities that connect people on a self-identity level? (12:16)
    • At Muhlenberg College, they had the largest fundraising year for the annual fund in the history of the organization.
    • The largest single donor in the history of the college was a member of the strongest community.
  • Though there may not be a direct causal connection between the new structured communities and fundraising successes, there is ample corollary evidence. (14:05)
  • Community creates an infrastructure, and like any infrastructure it works best when it is designed thoughtfully and maintained regularly. Working a community model creates the most successful fundraising. (14:23)
    • People want to be part of the community because they get something out of it.
    • When connection is maintained, supporters are regularly thinking of you.
    • Always provide value to the members.
  • There is a deep need for a connection in the social fabric. People need a place to get together, whether in real life (IRL) or virtually. There are many options, platforms and channels for that meeting. (20:03)
    • Communities can be most-easily started where people are already congregating.
    • Don’t make them adopt a new tool, because that is a very high barrier to participation.
  • Approach a community with a content strategy that ties into the purpose. (22:13)
    • All donors are not the same. Segment based on the aspect that is most natural to the group, whether it is demographics and geography, or psychographics and interests. Feed the community with content, as this is the recruiting tool.
  • Content that works to keep a group interested and active includes things like polls or surveys where everybody sees all responses, things that build trust and comfort. (25:03)
    • Content doesn’t need to be formal and built by the marketing department.
  • Acknowledging gifts and recognizing donors frequently, and inside their small groups is an effective way to encourage other members of the community to give. (28:29)
  • A social contract comes into play when success stories are amplified inside a community—when people see their peers doing something, they feel like they have to do it, too. (30:00)
  • Give the Community Manager a metric, a key performance indicator (KPI) for success, such as donor retention, how many people are staying and giving regularly, how many people add content in the community, or how many people are engaging with content. (31:05)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Louis Diez

Louis Diez

Exec. Director, The Muhlenberg Fund

Louis Diez is an expert in annual fund development, digital fundraising, and engagement strategies.

He currently serves as the Executive Director of Annual Giving at Muhlenberg College and hosts the Donor Participation Project (

Previously, he was Director of the Annual Fund and Development Business Operations at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Associate Director of Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS. In this last role, he led annual giving efforts and worked closely with the Latin-American Studies Program to fund major priorities. Prior to Hopkins, he was the annual fund director at a liberal arts college in TN.

Of varied interests, Louis holds an MBA from CUNEF, a PhD in Business Administration from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos (both in Spain), and an MM in Music Performance from the University of TN. His thesis applied neural networks to predict economic performance indicators. He has also published articles on the investment value of musical instruments, edited peer-reviewed papers exploring applications for economic theories of legitimacy, and been featured in the music business section of the College Music Society’s journal.

Connect with Louis Diez