The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 53

How Nonprofits Successfully Navigated the Pandemic, with Steven Shattuck

In this Episode:

How can nonprofits fundraise during a crisis without sounding opportunistic or worse, tone-deaf? Whether it’s disease, war or natural disaster, there always seems to be an emergency in the headlines.

One thing is clear: in times of crisis, people become more empathetic and generous—and not just to causes directly related to the emergency. Data from the pandemic now shows that people gave to a wide diversity of nonprofit organizations.

So why were some nonprofits able to expand while others felt sidelined and had to consolidate? A more nuanced look at the data delivered across the board revealed that those that did the best during the pandemic did two things: They asked for donations often, and they contextualized their appeals.

Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang, looks at the data they and others collected and shares the takeaways that nonprofits can apply to their development strategy.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:05.050] – 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!

[00:00:21.350] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to The Nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited today to talk to Steven Shattuck, the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Over the last several episodes, we’ve talked a lot about data. Really, since I started this podcast, I’ve talked about data and especially about the story in the data and how to apply storytelling to data.

[00:00:40.100] – Boris
Today, we’re going to dive deeper into one of the aspects that we’ve been focusing on recently, which is, what is the data saying about giving in the U.S. over the last couple of years? Previously, there have been a lot of studies that have purported to demonstrate that data—that the giving in the U.S. is on the decline, that individual giving is on the decline, and primarily it’s larger scale donors that are making up the difference. Over the last couple of years, through the pandemic, things seem to have shifted quite a bit. We recently had Tim from Neon One on the show talking about this.

[00:01:17.920] – Boris
Today we’re going to dive deeper with Steven Shattuck, who, as I said, is the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. Steven is also a prolific writer and speaker. He curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content and hosts their weekly webinar series which features the top thought leaders in the nonprofit sector. I am honored to have been one of those. Actually, no, I’m going to be one of those in a couple of months here. He is the author of “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers,” an awesome title, subtitled “How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age,” which was published by Bold and Bright Media in 2020. Steven describes his superpower as helping nonprofits humanize how they use technology to aid in their fundraising efforts. An awesome superpower that I’m excited to bring Steven on to demonstrate and help us all with today. Hey, Steven.

[00:02:06.750] – Steven Shattuck
Hey, Boris. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:08.470] – Boris
It is absolutely my pleasure. We’ve known each other for a little while now, and I’m excited every time I get to chat with you. It’s always a fun conversation. I learn things and we get to share more things with people out there who want to create more heroes for their cause.

[00:02:22.280] – Steven Shattuck
I feel the same way. We’re going to have you on the webinar series. We had you on The Kindful one, and I learned a lot from you. And yeah, this is awesome to be here. So thank you.

[00:02:30.340] – Boris
Awesome, Steven. So I’ve shared your bio and I’ve mentioned your superpower, which I’m excited to utilize today—to harness for all of us today. But I always like to ask people, since I do focus on storytelling so much, what’s your story? Why are you who you are today?

[00:02:44.840] – Steven Shattuck
Well, it’s funny, I was thinking about this because the story always kind of annoys my wife so now that we’re going to record it, she can relive it, I guess. But I met my wife in college, and she always aspired to be a nonprofit person. She wanted to work for nonprofits. She did that when she got out of school. She’s achieved that goal, but I sort of fell into it kind of backwards. I ended up working at a marketing agency that just so happened to serve nonprofits exclusively. So my first kind of gig out of school was producing videos like Gala videos. We were sending DVDs in the mail for Capital Campaign, if that kind of ages myself a little bit. So she’s always kind of annoyed that I get to do things like this. “You never wanted to work for nonprofits. I always did.” So that’s kind of how I fell into it.

[00:03:35.050] – Steven Shattuck
I was an English major, so it was basically work at a marketing agency or write the Great American Novel. And thankfully, I did the former because no one needs that novel from me. I’ve been doing that. And that’s kind of where I got my chops in fundraising and eventually made my way to Bloomerang when that company got started, and I get to talk to fundraisers, find out what’s working, what’s not working. Highlight their stories. Look at the data. That’s what I’ve been doing a lot over the last two years. Like you said, just to kind of help people meander, navigate through this new reality that we find ourselves in.

[00:04:14.930] – Boris
Awesome. Like so many of us, you came into it through the side door, to the nonprofit space, but you got to bring skills that nonprofits desperately need. And I’m sure they’re all grateful, the ones that get to work with you, for what you’ve been able to bring to the table and been able to bring to Bloomerang since then. Let’s go ahead then and dive in and see what is going on out there, Steven, what’s happening in that sector?

[00:04:41.430] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah. I mean, this is what we’ve been looking at. Not only what Bloomerang customers are doing, but all the studies. You talked to Tim last week, they did that great study over at Neon One, The Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Giving USA, the Blackbaud study. All of that seems to point to what you said, which is people really responded during the pandemic. I know we’re not quite out of it yet, but those giving levels have really kind of maintained that increase that occurred in 2020, which surprised a lot of us, right? We figured, dang, that was a tough economy. That was obviously a very severe pandemic and still is in a lot of ways.

[00:05:20.770] – Steven Shattuck
But when you look at what happened in terms of donor response, the generosity was there and the capacity was there, and it was those small dollar donors that led the way, right? It’s exactly what you said. It wasn’t just those billionaires kind of swooping in to save the day. It was people giving under $250 that was the biggest cohort of donors. So we were all surprised by that. Although I wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. Because if you look back on all of the past crises or difficult times, 2008, 2001, the dot-com bubble, like all the way back to savings and loan, the nonprofit sector really does kind of resist those outside forces. And I know there’s probably people listening and watching who maybe had a really hard couple of years. And I don’t mean to erase that experience. I mean it as an encouragement. The capacity is there. The generosity is there. And in times of crisis, whether it’s a big international pandemic or a tornado in your city, people respond.

[00:06:30.120] – Steven Shattuck
But what we found looking at our customer data was a little more nuanced. The people that asked and contextualized those appeals for how they were experiencing the pandemic specifically, those are the people that had some of their best fundraising years ever. And it wasn’t just things like food banks or the kind of causes that you hear about as being like COVID causes, which I don’t really like. I don’t think such a thing exists. But animal shelters, environmental organizations, other social services, some of those folks had their best years ever. And really what we found is it’s because they kept their foot on the gas. They didn’t put themselves on the sidelines. They didn’t allow themselves to be talked into this myth that we don’t matter or our cause doesn’t matter as much as maybe some other folks’ cause. So that’s really what I’ve been shouting from the rooftops, because there will be another crisis, right? Whether it’s local or global. And don’t decide for donors, because if you don’t ask, you’re not going to get it.

[00:07:37.670] – Boris
And that wraps up our episode for today.

[00:07:39.300] – Steven Shattuck
That’s it. See ya.

[00:07:42.050] – Boris
No, I’m kidding. But I’m also kind of serious because that is really, I think the key takeaway. Let’s dig a little deeper and get a little more out of you as long as we’ve got you here, Steven. So first of all, you say maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. And I don’t know if you saw me shaking my head vehemently. No, we should not have been. People respond to crisis. People respond to whatever gets that oxytocin flowing, whatever gets that empathy going, right? We naturally respond to it. We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about. And that realm expands significantly. I talk a lot in my storytelling workshops and online courses and whatever else about the greater the common villain, the more people it’s going to unite against it, the more people are going to understand the pain that that villain inflicts. And so the more people are going to rise up to try to combat it. So, absolutely. In a time of crisis, more people will give because they’re going to feel for their fellow humans suffering.

[00:08:51.300] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. And some people feel powerless, too. They want to feel like, Jeez, I’m stuck at home. I can’t do anything. Who knows when this is going to end? Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that they can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them. And that’s a real opportunity. That’s an advantage, right? There’s something you don’t hear very often that the nonprofit sector has an advantage over maybe the for-profit sector, for example, to generate that. But you mentioned the underlying data. The thing that I always think of is, we could see our customers that were moving up and to the right versus the ones that were kind of moving down and to the right. And among the people that were increasing, they were asking more, right? We saw people slow down the asks. Maybe they got caught into this trap of, we don’t matter, our cause doesn’t matter as much.

[00:09:48.740] – Steven Shattuck
But even among the people who kept asking, there was a nuanced difference. There were people that were asking but not sort of contextualizing their need or how they were affected by the pandemic like you said, versus the ones who were and the ones who were who sort of addressed that elephant in the room, they did much better. And maybe those people who didn’t truly weren’t impacted, although I kind of find that hard to believe. I think everyone was impacted in some way. But maybe they were concerned about, I don’t know, donor fatigue or talking about something that nobody wanted to think about. So that is a big takeaway, we found, is for sure, keep asking, don’t decide for the donor. But if you’re being impacted by some external force, that’s the rallying cry, that’s that common enemy, like you mentioned. That’s a perfect way of saying it. If that exists, tell people and allow them to rally around it. Because if they don’t know about it, they may not find that appeal to be as urgent or as necessary as the ones who do mention those things.

[00:10:55.590] – Boris
Right. In some cases, the organization is suffering from the very same thing, this pandemic, for example, that donors are suffering from, or that the recipients, the clients of various organizations are suffering from. So you can be in there and assuming you have a strong relationship with your donor base, they’re going to care about your survival, your work. They might think, okay, at the moment, putting on a play is not as relevant as producing more oxygen machines, what do they call them? Respirators in hospitals. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to switch their identity to now no longer say, “Oh, I don’t support theater. I now only support medical treatment.”

[00:11:47.330] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, you nailed it. It’s a scarcity mindset. It’s like, well, if they care about that cause, they can’t—they don’t have the bandwidth or the capacity to care about ours. And people are diverse, right? People give to multiple causes. But I also think what you said is really important that, hey, you want us to be around when this is over? Don’t you want plays and performances to resume? Don’t you want this YMCA to open back up and be able to have classes and things like that? That was a really strong sort of case for support that we saw work, specifically, this idea of you want us to be around when this is over. You can sort of protect our future by donating now. And the people that cared about those causes pre-pandemic didn’t suddenly stop caring about animals or the performing arts or whatever it is just because there’s a pandemic. There’s room for both, right? And I think we were talking about arts, performing arts before we hit record. Those are the folks that really kind of stood out from the crowd, if that’s the right metaphor, and survived and not only survived but thrived during such a difficult time.

[00:13:02.630] – Boris
I think some of them did and some of them didn’t, to be honest, without revealing any names, if you will. I spoke to a lot of arts organizations over the last couple of years that were really struggling. They didn’t want to appear tone deaf, which I totally understand and respect.

[00:13:18.510] – Steven Shattuck

[00:13:19.490] – Boris
But at the same time, they didn’t know how they could survive. And some of them shut their doors temporarily. Some of them may have shut their doors permanently because they didn’t feel like their cause was as important, as significant. I hate to use the word as sexy as some of the others out there in a time of crisis. Again, you and I were talking earlier. There’s always going to be a crisis.

[00:13:46.140] – Steven Shattuck

[00:13:46.600] – Boris
Right now there is certainly a crisis that’s eating up a lot of my mental capacity and my spare discretionary, giving money, trying to support the folks in Ukraine and trying to help end that situation in a positive way, as positive as possible. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t care about the other causes that I’ve been supporting all this time.

[00:14:08.210] – Steven Shattuck
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. That was the number one question we got over the past two years is should we fundraise right now? Does our cause matter as much? Will it appear tone deaf? And we said yes, and for sure it matters. But you can do that in such a way that it won’t appear tone deaf. Like maybe saying, hey, we want to be around because we want to be able to provide. People need entertainment, people need art, right? What more important time is there to have art in your life than these truly difficult times? So that case is there. And that’s where I think that contextualization is what made those appeals successful, rather than just saying, hey, it’s a pandemic you should give to our orchestra. It’s like, wait, why, do you mean? Go that level deeper and really tug on those heartstrings and unlock what it is those people have always kind of cared about you. But yeah, I can’t think of another cause that matters more in darker times than those performing arts folks. So my heart goes out to them. And I hope that so many of them will be able to stick around because we need you.

[00:15:19.980] – Boris
Absolutely. I’m a fan, of course, of the arts. But on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the arts might not be at the bottom, but they’re on there. They’re self actualization and they are education. They are force for good. I don’t have to sell people, especially those folks in the arts. But I found it honestly a little disheartening how a lot of arts organizations felt about themselves and their work.

[00:15:47.790] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the thing.

[00:15:49.150] – Boris
They didn’t know how to speak to their existing base and to try to grow their base during this time of upheaval.

[00:15:58.530] – Steven Shattuck
That’s the heartbreaking thing for me. You mentioned the webinar series. We were doing a webinar, probably March or April 2020. One of the attendees chatted in like, “Hey, we’re just a library foundation. We’re not saving lives.” And I kind of grabbed the microphone from my guest and I said, “No, my gosh, people need the arts.” They need books, right? I told the story of my kids. We love to go to the library every Saturday morning. It’s one of their favorite activities. We want that to be there when we can finally get back out of the house in a safe way. That’s the situation we find ourselves back in. So that to me is, don’t sell yourself short, right? Because there will be another crisis, like you said, Boris, and you will not only matter, but you may even be more critical, especially to the people that already care and hold that cause near and dear to your heart. So I hope people find this encouraging. That’s kind of how I think you mean it, too. And I definitely mean it because there will be something else that happens.

[00:17:00.710] – Boris
So we teased since the beginning of the episode, we teased that we’ve got data that we’ve got data on what’s going on, what was working, what wasn’t working. And I personally want to hear it because I haven’t gotten it yet. And I’ve read some of the reports out there. But talk to me, Steven. What happened during the pandemic, what’s going on now and what’s not working?

[00:17:24.940] – Steven Shattuck
Well, aside from asking and not putting ourselves on the sidelines, that was definitely a big one. But we also looked at those folks that were doing well and maybe even doing better than in past years. A couple of things stood out. The prevalence of phone calls. So we’re a donor database so we can see what kind of interactions people are making with their donors and in what format. And we saw phone calls not only shoot up, probably because we couldn’t do events and maybe even direct mail was harder, but not only were more phone calls being made to supporters, but we could really see that they were moving the needle on things like revenue and donor retention and things like that.

[00:18:09.700] – Steven Shattuck
And I think it’s because especially in 2020, we were isolated. We were social distanced. That phone call from a nonprofit to a supporter, that may have been one of the only few personal interactions that they encountered and probably the only one from a brand, right? From someone who wasn’t a friend or a family member or a co-worker. That not only made a big difference in 2020, but again, it continued to have efficacy through 2021. And I think for all the reasons I just said, but also because it’s so surprising to get a phone call that’s a pure thank you or is showing curiosity about why you support. And I sound kind of cynical and I hate to be surprised, but that’s kind of rare, right? I can count on maybe one hand how many times that’s happened to me from a nonprofit or anything that I’ve supported.

[00:19:04.490] – Steven Shattuck
Personal emails, same thing. So there’s mass emails where you set up an email blast to all the people in your database, all 2000 of them or whatever. We also saw people reaching out individually, you know, me literally opening up Gmail, writing an email to Boris, like, “Hey, Boris, thanks for having me on the show. You’re awesome. Let’s stay in touch.” The same thing not only increased, but also did have an effect on that year over year kind of revenue increases. So the last two years were this kind of re-emergence, at least from our view, of truly personal outreach. And again, what better time? And maybe that’s what spurred it on, because we couldn’t do things like events or in-person interactions or things like that. So that was the only alternative. But I think it opened a lot of people’s eyes to like, wow, maybe we should make this a normal thing that we do during any kind of climate or crisis, if there is one, because people give to people, right? And fundraising is very relationship driven, you know, this.

[00:20:10.550] – Steven Shattuck
But I feel like because of all this technology available to us, maybe those kind of analog or one to one or old school formats or mediums have kind of gone by the wayside but did come back because of pure necessity, right? Because that’s all there was out there. And I hope that that sticks around because there’s always been evidence that those things are impactful. But we really saw those things be even more impactful over the last two years. So another thing that I’ve been shouting from the rooftop: reach out to people, because it is very personal.

[00:20:45.410] – Boris
So there was a lot of great stuff in there that I want to touch on and really highlight. And I’m really glad that you said people give to people because earlier you had said nonprofits reaching out to individuals. It’s not nonprofits that are on the phone. You’re a person at your nonprofit. And you said how many brands do that. I don’t remember any time. I don’t know. I’m wearing a Banana Republic sweater; Banana Republic has never called me and asked, “Hey, Boris, how are you doing with this pandemic or with this crisis in Ukraine?

[00:21:19.560] – Steven Shattuck
Right. It would be weird.

[00:21:21.260] – Boris
Yeah, exactly. It would be weird. It might be interesting, but they don’t care. They care. “Hey, Boris, here’s a coupon, maybe come back and spend some more money.”

[00:21:30.560] – Steven Shattuck
Get the matching tie.

[00:21:31.940] – Boris
Yeah, exactly.

[00:21:33.240] – Boris
Whereas a nonprofit does care, hopefully does care about its constituents, about its supporters, certainly about its clients, has things to say and has questions to ask. You’ve got to ask, you’ve got to be curious. Not just, “Hey, why do you support us,” but also “how are you doing?” Reinforce that connection.

[00:21:53.100] – Steven Shattuck
And I would imagine that was the question behind a lot of that outreach, either by phone or by email. It’s like, “Hey, Boris, you’re a monthly donor. We want to say thanks, but also wanted to say, are you okay? This is a tough time. We just want to make sure you’re okay.” And you’re right. Like buying a shirt is not personal, but donating to a cancer charity because your grandmother passed away from that form of cancer, that’s very personal. So to be able to reach back out, acknowledge it, yeah, but learn that information. I love the word you used, showing curiosity. I think that’s something that we definitely suffer from as a fundraising sector is, why do these people support us? And there is most often than not a story behind that, maybe not as much as during times of crisis where you’re kind of driven by that urgent need and not necessarily care about that cause. And I know you and Tim talked about that, and that kind of giving definitely does happen. But a lot of the gifts, there’s probably a very personal reason behind it. If that can be the conversation starter, that’s a pretty darn powerful conversation.

[00:23:02.030] – Boris
So I do want to ask, though, you mentioned in your CRM you might have 2000 folks on your list. I don’t know which organization has the bandwidth to personally call 2000 people. How do you navigate that? It seems almost cold to prioritize certain people over others. Is there a strategy that you recommend that you’ve seen work or think is a good way to go?

[00:23:28.410] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I’m glad you asked, because it’s hard. And there’s tons of people like me who are saying, like, you’re not doing enough, and here are 20 things you should be doing. And I get it. It’s hard. And if you’ve got that big data set, I think there are a couple of low hanging fruit. I mentioned first-time donors. That’s one where we have the data and we’ll share and we can link it in the show notes, I suppose. But the phone calls really work. They really do seem to have an effect on not just retention rates, but the speed in which you received a second gift. That window really shortens if they’ve been called and they tend to give more. And I think it comes down again to curiosity, right? So you call them. “Hey, Boris, thanks so much for your first gift. Happy to have you join our community of donors. By the way, why did you give? What spurred that gift today?” And if you can learn or get that story, that will help you subsequently communicate to them, right? And sort of contextualize that reason for giving.

[00:24:30.620] – Steven Shattuck
So I love first-time donors as a priority. If you get a phone number, and you’re not always going to have a phone number and I don’t recommend you go out and try to find their phone number, like call their employer, that would be a little weird. But if you got a first-time gift and they gave you a phone number, if maybe it was not required on the form or they offered it up somehow, that’s almost an invitation. So that’s probably going to take that list of 2000 down to under ten because it may not happen very often. And maybe that’s doable in an hour or so on a Friday afternoon, call those people, say thanks, welcome them, maybe find out a little bit about that motivation. Monthly donors, that’s one that maybe flies a little under the radar because it’s happening automatically. Maybe the dollar amounts are small; $5 a month doesn’t seem like that much. Although over the lifetime, that’s a pretty significant lifetime value. “Hey, Boris, thanks for being a monthly donor. You’re keeping the lights on. Just want to say thanks, check in with you, make sure you’re doing okay. How’s the family?” Whatever it is, that kind of outreach.

[00:25:37.550] – Steven Shattuck
What are those segments? Get out the whiteboard and write down like, who are those people? First-time donors, monthly donors, lapsed donors. People who have been giving for a long time. Everybody will probably have those. But depending on your cause type, volunteers, alumni, former service recipients, people who have adopted animals from us, who are those types of people? And then you can kind of decide, okay, what do we want to say to these people? Can we automate some of these things? Should we ask for different things from these people? Go through that exercise and identify it.

[00:26:11.660] – Steven Shattuck
But to your original question, I think those first-time donors, I would probably start there. The retention rates are only like 20% on those folks. And I think it’s because they just kind of get thrown into whatever ongoing communications are already scheduled, and we don’t take the time to find out who they are, truly welcome them, and then they just kind of become another name in that giant bucket in that database. But I would start there. And, you know, there are other common sense things, dollar amount. If you can only call one donor and someone gave you $500 versus $5, I’d probably call the $500 donor, although I don’t think dollar amount is a great way to segment because you never know someone’s capacity, their true feelings about you.

[00:27:02.330] – Steven Shattuck
But there are some common sense things I think can guide your efforts. Do you have a phone number? That’s going to be part of your call list criteria for sure. But those new people, you really got me going on that curiosity thing. I think that that could be the lowest hanging fruit that I recommend people go to.

[00:27:20.280] – Boris
I’m going to add one more thing that is probably so common sense that it should go without saying. But if within your donor data, you can determine who is most impacted by whatever emergency or crisis is going on, if you’ve got elderly folks within your donor data, you’ve got that kind of segmentation or folks with Eastern European backgrounds right now.

[00:27:44.560] – Steven Shattuck

[00:27:45.270] – Boris
Right? Or whatever the situation might be. Maybe those are also top of the list in terms of whom to reach out to, to really show that you care and you understand their world.

[00:27:56.490] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. Just having that awareness, like, wow, something’s happening, it might be affecting our supporters. We should check in on them. I love that.

[00:28:04.800] – Boris
Yeah. And you could also similarly, assuming the conversation goes in that direction and people are open to it, you can get their stories so that you could share that out to your community and really help people feel like they’re a part of a community. And within that community, there are people that are being impacted, and here’s how they’re dealing and here’s how you’re helping. So not just the clients, but also donors.

[00:28:28.800] – Steven Shattuck
I love that. That’s another… Yet another byproduct of the curiosity is crowdsourcing that content, right? That’s always sort of a log jam for folks. How do we get the stories? Well, let them tell their own, right? Because that’s a goal. [crosstalk 00:28:42]

[00:28:45.990] – Boris
We are coming up real fast here…

[00:28:49.290] – Steven Shattuck
That went fast.

[00:28:49.600] – Boris
to the mark that I shoot for. But I do want to ask you a couple more questions. We are, of course, coming out of the pandemic, I hope. I say. Of course.

[00:28:57.660] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, right.

[00:28:58.260] – Boris
I’m really hoping that whatever next wave of Omicron or Deltacron or whatever they are does not come out of the woodwork and bite us in the collective butt, assuming for a minute that we are coming out of the pandemic, events are returning, people’s lives are getting back to some new normal. Can we make any sort of predictions as to what donor behavior is going to be like going forward?

[00:29:23.020] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, I think that the generosity is always there, right? That’s not the challenge, the capacity, because we live in a capitalistic society. It’s there. I think what’s going to change is how we sort of tap into it. But things are a lot better right now than certainly they were two years ago. But confidence is still kind of low. AFP puts out a confidence survey every quarter, and the last one came out, and people are still worried about things like donor fatigue and the pandemic uncertainty and all those things. And I would just tell people, be bold. You matter. Whatever happens in the world, we still do live in a pretty generous society where there is a lot of capacity, which is kind of a negative in a lot of ways, but that at least we can funnel that into the nonprofit sector and do some good. So I think that that will always be consistent, no matter what sort of changes we go through. Certainly the technology landscape has really changed and evolved. There are so many amazing tools out there that are available to nonprofits that two years ago, five years ago, certainly did not even exist or were not very affordable.

[00:30:44.370] – Steven Shattuck
But I would say, stay confident, don’t allow yourself to—you know, don’t put yourself on the sideline. That’s the real killer, right? And no matter what’s going to happen, there will be another crisis, whether it’s localized, a natural disaster, hopefully not another pandemic. But stay confident and you can weather whatever happens. If you just say we matter, our cause matters, what we do matters, and people care about it, even if they also may be temporarily care about something else that is very timely. They still want to come back to us.

[00:31:19.710] – Boris
You mentioned technology, and we were talking about talking to donors and prioritizing, and it actually occurred to me then. But I just remembered now something that technology can do is the folks that you can’t reach out to personally, directly, maybe offer them a way to reach back out to you. Say that your lines are open for them to talk to you, because not everybody is going to want to, might be a very small percentage, but even just putting that out there makes people feel like they matter, that you care about them and you’re there for them.

[00:31:49.400] – Steven Shattuck
Yeah, put the invitation out there. And even that small percentage, those are people that are kind of self selecting into a really engaged group. And you might want to know who that small group is of true believers, for lack of a better phrase. You can go back to those people during times of crisis. Certainly capital campaigns, planned giving. Don’t be discouraged by the small response rate because those small groups of people, those are your people and you want to hold them close and know who they are.

[00:32:20.860] – Boris
That’s your most inner circle in your community.

[00:32:23.640] – Steven Shattuck

[00:32:24.290] – Boris
Your truest fans and supporters and heroes.

[00:32:27.050] – Steven Shattuck
Those are your buds.

[00:32:29.790] – Boris
Awesome. Steven, thank you so much for delivering all of this valuable information and insights and suggestions to us. Do you have any tools or resources that you recommend the nonprofit heroes that are listening to this or watching this go check out?

[00:32:47.040] – Steven Shattuck
Well, if this is the first episode that you’ve heard, go back and listen to others because you’ve had some really awesome conversations with people, probably way more insightful than me. So I hope that they’ll do that. This is episode 50 something. So there’s a ton of great conversations they can listen to. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project. We kind of mentioned that. I’m sure Tim talked about that. Check that out. There is a lot of really good free reports there, free research. And then on Bloomerang’s website, we’ve got the webinar series that you mentioned. All kinds of templates and resources and guides and case studies there. Totally free. You don’t have to be a customer. In fact, more non customers consume those than customers. So that’s all there And yeah, we’d love to keep the conversation going. Connect with me on LinkedIn, because I’m always putting stuff out that I find that I think is interesting or cool trying to uncover those things. And you’ll get those if we’re connected.

[00:33:45.270] – Boris
Awesome. And you did mention during the episode a couple of different things that we’ll also link to, including the fundraising confidence survey and some other nuggets that you shared with us. And we’re looking forward to getting a link from you for some of that data that you were talking about so folks can go check it out for themselves and explore with that. And I do want to tell everybody that Steven did write a book, and I’m totally envious of him for getting a great book together, putting it out there. It’s “Robots Make Bad Fundraisers.” Of course, it’s available on Amazon, and I’m sure all fine booksellers, but we’ll point to that as well.

[00:34:19.660] – Steven Shattuck
Thank you.

[00:34:20.400] – Boris
And we’ll have Steven’s LinkedIn profile Linked up as well, so you could quickly and easily find him and connect with him, which I suggest you do. He’s a really great guy. And as I’m sure anyone who listened to this episode or watched this episode will know for themselves, he knows what he’s talking about. He’s got a lot of great value to share. So thank you for sharing that, Steven.

[00:34:38.410] – Steven Shattuck
Thanks for having me. And thanks for doing this. This is a really good service to the sector. So thanks for having these conversations.

[00:34:44.680] – Boris
Anytime. And we will have to have you back another time. And I’m looking forward to being on your webinar series really soon, just in a couple of months now.

[00:34:52.570] – Steven Shattuck

[00:34:53.290] – Boris
So that’s going to be fun and exciting. And I’m sure that folks on my email list, they’re going to hear all about that. So if you’re not on it, maybe get on it. I don’t know. But thank you all so much for joining us today, for listening to me and Steven talk about this topic. Hopefully you got a lot of great insights and ideas on how to create more heroes for your cause, because we need you to do that. We need you to activate the inner hero in every individual on this planet if we ever have a chance of making this world what it can and really deserves to be. So thank you for doing that work. Thank you for tuning in. And we’ll see you again next time on The Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:35:33.810] – 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:

  • People really responded to appeals for money during the pandemic, with small dollar donors leading the way. (4:58)
    • People giving under $250 was the largest cohort of donors.
  • Historically, data shows that the nonprofit sector resists outside crises. (5:48)
  • Organizations that contextualized their appeals and addressed the crisis did better than those who didn’t. (6:30) 
  • Organizations that got caught in the trap of thinking that during a crisis their cause didn’t matter as much (a scarcity mindset) lost out on the generosity of donors and were left behind. (7:09)
    • People who care about animals or the theater don’t stop caring about them because there is a need for more respirators in hospitals.
    • If an organization didn’t ask for money, they didn’t receive as much of it as those who did.
    • Don’t sell yourself short.
  • Once basic needs are fulfilled, humans need to belong to something, to feel important, to feel valued. (8:59)
    • We feel an obligation to our world, to our society, to the people we care about, to the causes we care about.
    • Donating to a nonprofit may be the only way that people can exercise some level of control over what’s going on around them.
  • Nonprofits with the best fundraising results placed the way that they were experiencing the pandemic into context in their messaging to donors. (9:48)
  • Conveying that a resource is at risk is seen as a strong case for giving, to protect the future with a donation today. (12:00)
  • The number one question Bloomerang received over the last two years was, “Should I fundraise now?” It may seem tone-deaf to do so, but it isn’t when you’re sensitive to context, taking a humanistic approach. (14:08)
  • Personal, human interaction is part of a humanistic approach to fundraising, and during a time of isolation, such as during the pandemic, this proved to be a key. (15:58)
    • An analysis of Bloomerang’s donor database showed phone calls to donors increased during the pandemic
    • It also showed that phone calls to supporters increased revenue and donor retention.
    • Personal emails also increased in number with beneficial results.
  • It is important to be curious about why people support the cause, as this curiosity will lead your personalized outreach. (21:33) 
    • More often than not, there is a story behind their support.
  • Balancing the need to personalize outreach with time and resource constraints is difficult, but strong demographic data that allows for segmentation is a good place to start. (23:28)
  • There are a number of ways to decide whom to reach out to personally. At the top of the list should be those people who are being affected by the current crisis, if you have that segment identified. (27:20)
    • If a supporter voluntarily provides their phone number, this is an invitation to call them. You can only call a supporter if you have their phone number.
    • You could use dollar amounts, reaching out, say, to the $500 donor before the $5 donor, which is pretty common. But you never know someone’s capacity to give.
    • If you are curious about, say, what motivates someone to give $2 a month, these are the people you should communicate with.
  • Technology is making fundraising easier. (30:30)
  • By offering people a way to reach out to you, you will give supporters the opportunity to self-select into the most engaged group of your truest fans. The number of people who do so may be small, but they are the people you can rely on—and you must give this inner circle attention. (31:19)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Steven Shattuck

Steven Shattuck

Chief Engagement Officer, Bloomerang

A prolific writer and speaker, he curates Bloomerang’s sector-leading educational content, and hosts our weekly webinar series which features the top thought-leaders in the nonprofit sector. He is the author of Robots Make Bad Fundraisers – How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age, published by Bold and Bright Media (2020).

Connect with Steven Shattuck