EP53 - Steven Shattuck - Featured

Episode 53: How Nonprofits Successfully Navigated the Pandemic, with Steven Shattuck

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.

[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 @bloomerang.com. 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

EP52 - Louis Diez - Featured

Episode 52: Nonprofit Supporter Communities with ROI for All, with Louis Diez

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.

[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 joindpp.org. So one word joindpp.org. 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 (joindpp.org).

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

EP50 - Kathleen Murphy-Toms - Featured

Episode 50: Tenth-Year Takeaways and What’s Next for GivingTuesday, with Kathleen Murphy Toms

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 50

Tenth-Year Takeaways and What’s Next for GivingTuesday, with Kathleen Murphy Toms

In this Episode:

Whether you participated this year or not, the reach and impact of GivingTuesday is undeniable. Nonprofits in the U.S. alone raised $2.7 billion in 24 hours. Millions of people around the world gave money, time and voice to the causes they care about.

But it’s not as simple as saying it’s GivingTuesday and asking for money. We invited Kathleen Murphy-Toms, GivingTuesday’s Director of Digital Strategy, back on the show to talk about what works, what doesn’t, what to do now, and what’s next for the movement after 10 years.

Not surprisingly, we had a lot to talk about…

[00:00:04.310] – Intro Video
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!

[00:00:21.310] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today is a very cool and interesting episode for me. It is the first time we’ve got a guest coming back to the show. This guest has already been on once and while we were on the air the first time, I said we’ve got to have you back because we want to talk about what happens in the six months since we’ve had her last time.

[00:00:42.620] – Boris
She is Kathleen-Murphy Toms. We had her back in episode 26. Kathleen, for those of you that don’t know, didn’t catch that episode, you might want to go check it out. But she is the Director of Digital Strategy for a little organization called GivingTuesday. Also known as the biggest philanthropy movement in history, GivingTuesday leverages social media and a broad network of nonprofits, community activists, schools, brands, small businesses and individuals to ignite a movement and global call to action to give. It has seen record breaking engagement at every level of society, from some of the world’s biggest celebrities and influencers, to students, volunteers and everyday givers.

[00:01:20.110] – Boris
Kathleen studies the use of digital tools within social movements, particularly their use in shifting power, creating mass mobilization, instilling behavior change, and achieving global equity. Kathleen has coached thousands of social impact leaders and grassroots organizers from nearly every continent on how to not only generate funds for their cause, but to inspire and mobilize grounds for movements to create systemic change.

[00:01:43.700] – Boris
She is on the faculty at New York University Center for Global Affairs, where she teaches social changemakers how to develop innovative content marketing and digital strategies to activate and engage new audiences. Her class is actually coming up soon. If you’re listening to this and interested, you might still get a chance to sign up for a spot. It is limited.

[00:02:00.900] – Boris
And Kathleen describes her superpower as navigating the tools that are worth the time… Sorry, navigating the tools that are worth the time investment versus those that just aren’t. With that, let’s bring Kat onto the show. Hi, Kat.

[00:02:18.740] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Hey, it’s good to see you again.

[00:02:21.390] – Boris
It is always a pleasure to see you. We get to see each other not often enough, I’d say, but I do feel privileged I get to run into you in several circles at this point. And it’s always a pleasure to hear from you, to chat with you, to discuss what’s going on in the world with you. And I’m excited to have you back on to do just that, specifically from your little vantage point of expertise.

[00:02:45.370] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s a little vantage point of expertise. I’m humble. You know this.

[00:02:50.850] – Boris
I do know you are humble. And I do know that you also happen to be very knowledgeable and sitting on top of a pyramid of so much valuable information. And you are luckily very generous about sharing it with everybody. And so that’s exactly what we’re going to do again today.

[00:03:09.230] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Let’s do it. Let’s get into it.

[00:03:11.160] – Boris
All right. Catch me up. What’s happened in the last six months since you’ve been on here? There was this little event, GivingTuesday 2021, how’d that go?

[00:03:19.770] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It was a little thing. It happened. It wasn’t little. It never is. We say this every year, right? And we can never anticipate. We talked about this last time. We can never truly predict what’s going to happen. We don’t know. There’s literally no way for us to guess, and so we don’t. But every year it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. This is the 10th GivingTuesday, this past one. But now we’re in year ten. So this year is our ten-year anniversary. I can’t even… None of us can wrap our mind around it. We feel like this was just yesterday when we were trying to explain to people that, yes, it’s “pound” GivingTuesday. Yes, you type in the pound sign Giving Tuesday. That’s what a hashtag is. To now, having raised $2.7 billion in 24 hours for charities in the United States alone, it’s mind blowing every single time I say it. And I always—I have a sticky note on the corner of my laptop to make sure that I get the number right, because I get it wrong every single time. $2.7 billion in the US alone that we know about, right? The numbers that we put out are always conservative.

[00:04:30.730] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
What else do we know? Volunteerism was up. 35 million adults participated in GivingTuesday by raising their hand to volunteer in some way. A lot of it was micro-volunteering this year, right? And virtual volunteering. Things that I can do from the comfort of my own couch. Some of the things we were suggesting people do. If you’re a bilingual person, you can transcribe things for people. You can help the Smithsonian digitally transcribe stuff. I’ve done before. It’s cool. What else happened on GivingTuesday? Goods donated. Sorry, 13 million people gave their voice. So these are things like sharing a cause that’s meaningful to them, signing a petition, committing to get out there and create change locally in your community by raising your voice. It was a big day. It’s always a big day, but it doesn’t stop on just this one day, right?

[00:05:31.490] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So the rest of the year we spend trying to convince the whole world that GivingTuesday is actually every single Tuesday. And what happens if we wake up every Tuesday the same way we do on Mondays and go, “Oh, it’s Monday motivation day, or it’s Friday vibes day.” Whatever it is, today is Tuesday, it’s the day to give back in a little way or a big way. Because if we all do that and act together, that’s how we change our whole world.

[00:06:03.230] – Boris
I love that. And I think it’s a great philosophy, mantra, whatever you want to call it. About gratitude and about giving back. There’s certainly enough psychology studies done around the fact that when folks experience more gratitude, when they’re more aware of gratitude and they are doing things for others, they’re happier themselves. So it’s not even—if you’re an organization trying to instill this kind of concept of GivingTuesday on a regular basis—it’s not even selfish. It’s actually, in its own way, doing good for society to encourage that volunteerism, that kind of giving back in one way or another. I love that.

[00:06:42.380] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And that empathy for each other in our communities and being a more community-centric society. I think these past two years have shown us exactly the need for this sort of behavior change. So that’s the little thing that we’re working on over here at GivingTuesday.

[00:07:03.830] – Boris
Yeah. I feel like in the last few years, we’ve really as a world had something really large in common. And I’d like to talk a lot about heroes and villains. And certainly most people will see the pandemic COVID-19 as a villain, and it was big enough that it united an entire world against it. Unfortunately, there were also some major splits and differences within that of how we should go about it, what we should do about it. But I do think in almost every way, it did help form communities.

[00:07:39.470] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And when it comes down to it, we need to become a more generous humanity. I think we are inherently. But there’s always room to grow that, right? What does it look like if our whole world values generosity above all else? Do we become the more just equitable society and world? I think we do. I think that’s the path forward to anything, any of our crises at the moment.

[00:08:08.390] – Boris
Yeah, that sounds like a pretty good vision to me. Let’s talk then, I guess, about GivingTuesday and giving in terms of the numbers that you do have. I know that you guys measure giving not just on GivingTuesday. You measure it for the entire year-end period and year round. You’ve got partnerships with all kinds of CRMs, right? So can you talk to me a little bit, first of all, GivingTuesday was huge. Did it detract at all from the rest of the giving season? Do you know about those numbers yet?

[00:08:42.690] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So it never does. This has been an age old focus and an assumption about GivingTuesday since the early days., right? This incessant focus on the transaction and that it’s how it’s related to the scarcity mindset. And we think that’s severely limiting the social sector. So many organizations feeling like they’ve just hit their giving ceiling. And GivingTuesday itself is a perfect example of this. In the early days, there was this assumption that it couldn’t possibly be additive. Skeptics would tell us that giving is flat and you couldn’t increase it. There was just no way. All you could do is move money around and that if somebody gives today, then they’re inherently going to give less later on. And the reality is that that’s just not true.

[00:09:34.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Some of the earliest work that we did with the GivingTuesday data department was to examine the years of transactional-level data, and we found that the statistical impact of GivingTuesday is that it generates a spike. It’s always additive. This notion of cannibalization is just not something that happens. And if that’s like the number one thing that the data commons and our team wants to put out there, that this scarcity mindset is just not it guys. People are going to give and they’re going to give repeatedly to the causes that they care about. We have to adopt an abundance mentality if we’re going to move forward.

[00:10:18.510] – Boris
Absolutely. Couldn’t agree with you more on that. I find organizations in general have a scarcity mindset, and I kind of get it. Most start as scrappy, young nonprofits with not a lot of resources. But even as they get and hopefully grow into becoming midsize and even large organizations, there’s always this, “we’ve got to have as much as we can in order to do as much as we can,” which I get. But there’s a sense of competition where it doesn’t really need to be there. I agree with you. If we can activate more people and if we could show them the benefits of giving and the benefits of creating a positive impact in society, then we’re going to want to do more of that, right? As individuals, it’s going to feel good to us. We’re going to keep on doing it.

[00:11:02.960] – Boris
However, if we take someone’s money and then don’t communicate with them and then don’t ask them for their input and their feedback and to come along on the journey with us, then sure, it might create a negative association with giving, and we definitely want to avoid that. But assuming that we can tell our stories well, steward our donors. Even from the point of GivingTuesday to the very end of the year, we might be very surprised as to what happens with those same donors.

[00:11:33.300] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Absolutely. This is about how do you rally all your folks and build a movement for your cause? It’s not just about fundraising on one day of the year. The opportunity is to create mass mobilization for your cause, and we can do that if we all come together. We have a lot of coalition campaigns that happen on GivingTuesday. It’s one of the things that we’re most proud of. Nonprofits from various causes will all come together to work together on GivingTuesday. So there’s Giving Zoo Day, there’s a domestic violence coalition. There are Muslim organizations who all work together to uplift each other. It’s really beautiful.

[00:12:14.610] – Boris
Sort of the rising tide lifts all boats concept.

[00:12:19.530] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Absolutely. Absolutely. And we want to see more of these. So if you are listening and you are a part of a cause and you go to the GivingTuesday website, you don’t yet see a GivingTuesday cause coalition for you, contact us and let us know. We want to help you launch it.

[00:12:35.310] – Boris
So organizations are usually fearful that their donors will donate to someone else instead, right? If they enter a coalition like that. Do you have any data on what actually happens in these coalitions so that we could assuage some of those fears?

[00:12:48.930] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
What happens more often than not is that they’re giving to multiple organizations. So in certain age groups—and they tend to be the younger age groups, but this is happening a lot—folks will be really interested in giving to a cause, but not necessarily one individual organization. They might not care exactly which organization it goes to, just as long as they’re advancing the cause of hunger, poverty, whatever it is that is the cause of their heart. So these cause type of coalitions are a great thing to be a part of.

[00:13:23.850] – Boris
Do they then pool the money that comes in and split it among all of them? How does that work?

[00:13:30.350] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It depends on how each coalition is free to operate however it is that they want to operate. There’s a leader of each cause coalition. The infrastructure varies quite a bit. Sometimes they do these pooling strategies, but a lot of times they’ll just be all together on one website and some of the systems will show another nonprofit to you after you’ve given. They’ll say, “I see that you like this cause, what about this other one? They are also a hunger-related cause.” They might not necessarily be located in your city. They might be located across the country. Would you be interested in giving also to this organization? And so many folks press the yes and raise their hand and say, yes, I am also going to give to that organization, too.

[00:14:12.750] – Boris
That’s amazing.

[00:14:13.980] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
People give and they want to give.

[00:14:16.890] – Boris
Yeah. You could almost think about it like you care about a cause and you want to affect change. Almost like investing. So if you’re trying to invest in a certain outcome in the world, you might want to put a little bit of money here, a little bit of money there. Overall, you might put in more money because you see more ways that you could affect positive change rather than just on one organization’s small scale or large scale, whatever it might be.

[00:14:42.160] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yes. That’s a great way to think about it. It is. It’s an investment in the world that we want to live in.

[00:14:48.390] – Boris
So what else is working? What else worked, as far as you could tell for this past year, that organizations should be thinking about for next year in terms of GivingTuesday and year-round giving?

[00:15:00.550] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
A lot of things. I mean, one of the secret sauces to GivingTuesday is this sense of urgency, right? It’s the most important driver of donation behavior. If you’re a donor, you want to be in on that fun. It’s great to give on GivingTuesday, but it’s not a reason to give to your organization, right? These nonprofits still have to tell a compelling and emotionally-driven story of impact in order to tap into that heightened environment for giving. So it’s not just about GivingTuesday. You can create these moments all throughout the year.

[00:15:35.380] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s one of the reasons we created GivingEveryTuesday. What does it look like to create a mini-GivingTuesday every single Tuesday of the year? If you’re not tapped into that, please join us. You can find out more at givingtuesday.org. But you can do this in your own communities, too, to create these giving moments that create a sense of urgency and collective action all throughout the year. And keep those GivingTuesday donors and all of your donors engaged all throughout the year. We’ve seen folks give calls to action to not just donate. Maybe you have a volunteer day throughout the year. Maybe you have an advocacy year, but keep those folks engaged throughout the year.

[00:16:15.320] – Boris
So there are different resources that we could devote to organizations. You already actually covered them a couple of times in different ways. But it’s money, it’s time and it’s voice.

[00:16:24.880] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:16:25.730] – Boris
So advocacy would fall under voice and/or time, volunteering falls under time. And of course, money donating to a cause specifically. And I like that you’re saying stagger or don’t always just ask for one thing, show other ways that people could get involved, other things that they could do to feel like they’re part of the cause, like they’re giving of themselves and investing into you, because then they’ll be more invested in seeing a positive result.

[00:16:51.420] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And investing in their own communities, right? You have to frame it that way. It’s not necessarily investment in you and your specific work. It’s their investment in their own community or in that cause that they are so passionate about, all about that framing.

[00:17:06.250] – Boris
But when you say urgency and you mentioned that a couple of times, are you just saying “today is the day,” or are you saying on the sense of… like, I just got an email this morning from an organization that I support that’s worried about what’s going on in Ukraine. There’s definitely a sense of urgency there. We can’t manufacture that year round. And I actually have seen organizations try to say, every other day is seemingly… obviously I’m exaggerating, but now we need your support now more than ever. Every other day.

[00:17:37.490] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It can’t be fake. It can’t be fake, right? There are limits to your creation of urgency. I think it’s recognizing the moments that are going to work for your community, though, right?

[00:17:51.280] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
If you’re an organization that’s on the ground, doing refugee work, then there have been moments this past year that have been very obvious for you to do something. And I think there’s a lot of hand wringing about over-asking. We get this question a lot. Am I over-asking? And the answer is absolutely not. In fact, we are not asking nearly as much as we should be. Asking broadly, right? Now. We’re not advising that you ask for money every single day of the year and run weekly fundraising campaigns. That might be too much for your community. But asking in the sense of getting your folks involved in all of the different ways that we just mentioned.

[00:18:33.910] – Boris
I totally agree that organizations tend not to ask enough in different ways for different things. There is this fear of donor fatigue and asking too much of your donors. But if you’re trying to engage them as human beings, not as ATMs, and asking different things of them on a regular basis, then I definitely think that just gets them more involved and more invested, as we were saying before. But then how do we… GivingTuesday itself, let’s focus just on the one big day, right? The day after Cyber Monday or the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. How do you create a sense of urgency on that day? I mean, it’s a known day at this point. But is there…

[00:19:22.460] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yes, so you don’t have to. It’s already there, right? We are now known. We have the most brand awareness that we’ve ever had, right? And that’s just going to keep on growing globally. I don’t want to say everybody knows about what GivingTuesday is, but there are a lot of people who know what GivingTuesday is at this point. And your opportunity is to harness that energy that’s already happening. We know there are millions of people who participate in GivingTuesday. We saw it last year. We’re going to see it again next year. It’s an already existing urgent day that is happening with or without you, which sounds like a harsh thing to say. But use that. And whether you use it for fundraising or not… you don’t have to use it for fundraising. You can use it to mobilize your community in a different way. You can get them ready for your end-of-year campaign when you’re ready to launch that. But use that as a rallying cry for people who are already interested in giving.

[00:20:31.450] – Boris
Sort of as a springboard.

[00:20:33.850] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
But you can’t say it’s GivingTuesday so give to my organization, right? You can’t just fire off five emails throughout the day that say give because it’s GivingTuesday. You can say “it’s GivingTuesday and here’s all the impact that we are doing in our community. And if you’re new, here’s an overview of what we accomplished last year. And if you’ve been with us this whole time…” and you’re ideally sending those, you’re using your targeting.

[00:20:59.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We’ll talk about this in my NYU class about email, marketing and targeting. Ideally, you’re sending these emails to different folks, but you’re sending another email, “you’ve been with us all this year, thank you. A thousand times thank you. And here are a bunch of different ways you can give to us. And here’s why. And here’s the impact that we’re creating along with you.”

[00:21:19.400] – Boris
Right, you still …

[00:21:19.070] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
But never, “you’re just giving because it’s GivingTuesday.” That’s going to fail.

[00:21:24.730] – Boris
Right. Right. You still need that story.

[00:21:32.530] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And that’s almost always the answer that we get from folks when they’ll complain at us that well, GivingTuesday was a failure for us. Nine times out of ten, that’s what they end up saying to us. I sent an email that said it’s GivingTuesday, will you give to us? That’s not going to work. We know that’s not going to work.

[00:21:47.390] – Boris
Yeah. GivingTuesday is an opportunity to engage, but it’s not engagement in and of itself.

[00:21:53.700] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Right. Nailed it.

[00:21:56.920] – Boris
Absolutely valid point. So I’m glad we’re sharing that. Alright. So, if we want to have the best year of giving right this year and we want to have the best end-of-year campaign, starting with GivingTuesday in 2022… what are some of the trends, what are some of the things that we should be doing and looking at today to get ourselves in the best position to have the best results this year?

[00:22:23.280] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
So we are in the most volatile and uncertain market that we’ve ever been in, right? So thing number one to do is follow GivingTuesday, get on our newsletter because we are constantly putting out new data about what’s going on in the moment. Best thing to do is get on our newsletter. Second best thing that you can do is start working on your donor retention. Keep chugging along on that and work harder at it than you had in previous years because it’s been falling, right?

[00:23:01.450] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Folks are interested in giving to new organizations. And while that can also be great for you, still want to work on retaining those folks. So think about ways that you can create moments this coming year to engage your folks, to keep them moving and activated toward your cause. So they’re not just hearing from you once a year. It’s a little trickier to do. I know we’re not in-person in some places and out-of-person, however, we’re calling it in other places. But the thing that we’ve seen these past two years is that folks are creative and our sector is creative and resilient and innovative. And if you’re willing to experiment and we hope that you are, then you’re going to move farther, faster. And you’re going to retain more donors and you’re going to find new donors. I lost my train of thought, Boris. What were we talking about?

[00:23:58.170] – Boris
That’s okay. We’re talking about how to put ourselves in the best position for this year to have the best fundraising. We’re at the… when this episode is airing, it’s still the first quarter of the year. And so a lot of organizations are going through their processes. Hopefully, they’re looking at their new donors that they hopefully acquired starting the end of year last year, whether they picked them up during GivingTuesday or the rest of the end of your cycle. And I do agree, and I’ve had some other guests on the show talking about how donor retention is not nearly what it should be. And we need to be talking better—

[00:24:38.480] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We got to do better. We’ve got to do better.

[00:24:41.630] – Boris
We need to be engaging our donors on a more regular basis, giving them value. That idea that you said before of how putting out constantly calls for money and just saying, give me money, give me money, give me money, donate, donate, donate is going to burn donors out. But if you’re giving back to them, if you’re providing value on a regular basis to your donors, then they’re going to be much more engaged and willing to pay you back for the value that you’re giving them. And sometimes that value might just be the work that you’re doing in your community, which they’re seeing, or that you’re sharing stories with them about. That’s also valuable to them and makes them feel good about the money they’ve invested.

[00:25:21.450] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
And they feel a part of that. That’s critical to frame it in a way, because they are. They’re part of that. And you have to show them that or you’re going to lose them.

[00:25:29.190] – Boris
If you think—and I’m going to try not to beat this analogy to death, but if you think about it—in terms of investing, if you had invested in Amazon when it was just first IPOed, came out on the stock market and you saw how well it was performing, you would likely invest more. And you would invest more over time because you kept believing in the company. You kept seeing how the work it was doing was working, and it was making more and more money for the folks that were investing. You might keep investing in Amazon or pick any company. It doesn’t really matter.

[00:25:58.960] – Boris
Similarly, if you’re investing in a nonprofit, the return on investment, it’s not financial, but it is very much real. They can see it. They can feel it and feeling perhaps being the most important one. So if they are giving to you and then seeing the return on investment over and over and over again, they’re much more likely then to keep trusting you with their money to provide that return again and again.

[00:26:23.820] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Exactly. If you don’t have monthly giving set up as an option on your donation page, I encourage everybody listening to do that. Mobile giving. It’s really critical that you get mobile giving—like that’s your Apple Pay, your… I click two times real quick, and that’s all I have to do in order to give to that nonprofit. That’s what I want. That’s what everybody wants. If your donation platform doesn’t offer mobile giving, now it’s February, plenty of time before end of year to investigate what that might look like, to move over to making things easier for your folks.

[00:27:03.162] – Boris

[00:27:03.990] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Streamline the whole experience. You have to, especially the way what folks expect of you. We have to make things easier and more efficient and more streamlined.

[00:27:19.570] – Boris
Absolutely. Removing as much friction as possible along the way. The river will cut through the softest rock. If I have to come back later to try to enter my credit card information on a desktop while I’m actually receiving a message on mobile and I don’t feel like typing everything in, then it’s going to—

[00:27:38.750] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It’s 2022. We cannot be asking anybody to type their credit card number anywhere.

[00:27:43.750] – Boris
Absolutely fair.

[00:27:44.720] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
I have very high expectations, but it’s possible. It’s also 2022, and we live in a world where it’s not hard to set this stuff up.

[00:27:55.570] – Boris
Speaking of 2022 and making things easy and giving them choices, do you guys track crypto donations as well?

[00:28:03.730] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
We don’t, but our community, we have a whole data… folks who are working on what that looks like. As you can imagine, that was a trend. This year we had crypto. What do they call it? There’s Bitcoin Tuesday, and then there’s crypto.

[00:28:19.160] – Boris
It’s Crypto Giving Tuesday. Yeah.

[00:28:20.420] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
There’s a couple of different donations—

[00:28:22.450] – Boris
The guys from The Giving Block created Crypto Giving Tuesday and NFT Tuesday.

[00:28:27.190] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
I was going to say there’s NFT Tuesday.

[00:28:30.610] – Boris
And they had a banner year. And they’re not the only folks processing crypto donations for nonprofits. But it was pretty impressive. Like 10X from last year.

[00:28:40.120] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It was immense, which I think we anticipated, right? But who knows if that’s going to be 10X for next year? Could not even hazard a guess. I don’t know what to say about crypto. I mean, if you’re in a position to try it out, I’m always inclined to say try it out. Get yourself a profile on Giving Block’s website. They walk you through how to do it, especially for people who have no idea what it is or what we’re talking about. They help you, you get your profile set up on there so that the folks who have Bitcoin and they want to donate it. You want to be there. There’s no sense in not being there.

[00:29:20.160] – Boris
Right. You can’t— you can only lose if you’re not going to get in the game.

[00:29:26.470] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Exactly right. And there’s not all that many that are signed up on the platform. Get in at the ground level, as they say.

[00:29:34.450] – Boris
All right, Kat, what else should our folks know? We’re coming up on that half-hour mark, which is what I aim for with every episode. And I always tend to run over. Hopefully, folks are staying with it because they love the content that’s coming across. And hearing from you certainly is one of those times when I’m happy to keep going. But what else should people know? What else should they be thinking about? Is there anything I didn’t get to ask you that they should be focusing on today?

[00:30:02.950] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
You’ve got time. We’re in February right now. So while I’m not saying that you should be thinking about GivingTuesday at this moment in your life, you can be thinking about things like making your systems more efficient, thinking about your offerings to your donors and how you’re going to keep them engaged throughout the year so that you are able to have a gangbusters GivingTuesday for this coming year.

[00:30:28.930] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Keep in touch with us. Follow GivingTuesday for all of the latest. We are offering programming all throughout the year. We have a partnership with MailChimp that I’m really excited about. I think this is the first time that’s ever happened. We’re investigating email. We’re looking at what happens to GivingTuesday emails. What’s the click through rate? All kinds of things. Partnerships with companies, brands, all kinds of things so that you can learn from the best of the best.

[00:31:06.110] – Boris
That’s pretty awesome. A couple of years ago or last year was it, you had an additional GivingTuesday kind of banner day in May?

[00:31:13.690] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yeah, we did a bonus GivingTuesday in May, right at the early days of COVID.

[00:31:19.200] – Boris
Is that something that you guys are looking at doing again or that was just a one off?

[00:31:22.810] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
No, that’s a one off. I mean, GivingTuesday is an open-source movement, though. So if somebody wants to have a GivingTuesday in the spring, they can by all means organize one. But now we’re going to keep focusing on our EveryTuesday.

[00:31:41.270] – Boris
That’s really cool.

[00:31:42.040] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
It should be every Tuesday.

[00:31:43.280] – Boris
I look forward to seeing and hearing more about the EveryTuesday movement. It’s going to be called GivingTuesday, but just every Tuesday or are we starting a whole new hashtag?

[00:31:52.460] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:31:54.050] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:31:55.168] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms
Yep, GivingEveryTuesday.

[00:31:55.330] – Boris
Love it. Awesome. Kat, thank you so much for coming back on and debriefing us on what happened and giving us some tips and strategies for what to do going forward. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you and to learn from you.

[00:32:07.040] – Kathleen Murphy-Toms

[00:32:08.750] – Boris
Awesome. And I’m sure I’ll be seeing you again soon and I hope I’ll be seeing all the folks watching or listening to this episode again soon. We’ll be back again next week with more fantastic guests. If you like this episode, if you like any of our episodes, please do leave us a review. That’s how more folks like you find it and get to learn from people like Kathleen Murphy-Toms of GivingTuesday, and all the great guests that we bring onto the show. Thank you, everybody and we’ll see you next week.

[00:32:35.030] – Intro Video
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:

  • GivingTuesday is now over 10 years old and keeps growing. Here’s a snapshot of what happened in 24 hours this past year: (3:11)
    • U.S. organizations alone raised a combined $2.7 billion in 24 hours
    • 35 million people participated by volunteering in some way, including virtual volunteering and micro-volunteering (like transcribing or translating for organizations)
    • 13 million people gave their voice by sharing a cause, signing a petition or acting locally
  • GivingTuesday is working to make *every* Tuesday a day to give back year-round. (5:31)
  • The last few years have shown us the need for community-centric thought and action. COVID-19 was a powerful “villain” that united a lot of people around the world to overcome. (6:42)
  • Does GivingTuesday cannibalize year-end giving? The data clearly shows that it is additive. Organizations fear they hit a “giving ceiling” but that’s a false assumption. Giving is not flat, it can be increased. (8:10)
  • The scarcity mindset is counter-productive. (9:56)
    • “People are going to give and they’re going to give repeatedly to the causes that they care about. We have to adopt an abundance mentality if we’re going to move forward.”
    • This is not about fundraising one day of the year, it’s about how you rally your supporters and build a movement.
    • There were many successful coalition campaigns this year—nonprofits working towards similar goals uniting to fundraise together. GivingTuesday is looking to help more of those coalitions launch.
  • GivingTuesday creates a sense of urgency, but that’s not the reason people give. They still need a great, compelling story of impact. And you can create these moments all throughout the year. That’s why they created #GivingEveryTuesday. (15:00)
  • There are three types of resources that people can give: money, time and voice. Keep people engaged and helping you in different ways throughout the year. (16:15)
  • Organizations are overly worried about over-asking. The reality is that we’re not asking nearly enough, as long as it’s not just asking for donations each time. (18:11)
    • “If you’re trying to engage them as human beings, not as ATMs, and asking different things of them on a regular basis, then that just gets them more involved and more invested.”
  • You have to work harder at donor retention in an increasingly uncertain market. You have to work harder to keep them engaged and committed to your work. (22:48)
    • Make your donors feel good about the money they’ve invested and the change that they’re affecting in the world.
  • Think of the donations you get as investments in changing the world. You must show your investors—and make them feel—the returns on that investment in order to get them to keep investing in your work. (25:29)
  • Now is the time to start upgrading your giving systems. Remove all friction and make sure they’re as mobile friendly and easy as possible, including mobile payment options like Apple Pay. (26:23)
    • Consider accommodating Cryptocurrency donations as well.
  • GivingTuesday is an open-source movement. You can organize your own GivingTuesday day any season. (31:22)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    See Kathleen’s recommended resources from her first appearance:

    • Episode 26 – Kathleen Murphy-Toms talks about getting the most out of GivingTuesday

    Related episodes we recommend:

    • Episode 37 – Crypto-donations with Alex Wilson of The Giving Block
    • Episode 49 – Sybil Ackerman-Munson talks about types of donors and which ones prefer to give to nonprofit coalitions

About this week’s guest

Kathleen Murphy-Toms

Kathleen Murphy-Toms

Director, Digital Strategy, GivingTuesday

Kathleen Murphy Toms is the director of digital strategy for GivingTuesday. The biggest philanthropic movement in history, GivingTuesday leverages social media and a broad network of nonprofits, community activists, schools, brands, small businesses, and individuals to ignite a movement and global call to action to give. It has seen record-breaking engagement at every level of society – from some of the world’s biggest celebrities and influencers to students, volunteers, and everyday givers.

Kathleen studies the use of digital tools within social movements, particularly their use in shifting power, creating mass mobilization, instilling behavior change, and achieving global equity. Kathleen has coached thousands of social impact leaders and grassroots organizers from nearly every continent on how to not only generate funds for their causes but to inspire and mobilize groundswell movements to create systemic change. She is an adjunct instructor at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs where she teaches social changemakers how to develop innovative content marketing and digital strategies to activate and engage new audiences.

Connect with Kathleen Murphy-Toms

EP46 - Sean Kosofsky - Featured

Episode 46: Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 46

Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky

In this Episode:

Getting media attention for your nonprofit’s work is a powerful way to reach new people, build your authority, and shape the narrative around your mission. It’s not enough to put out a press release and hope it gets picked up by some new source. Today, nonprofits of all sizes need a media strategy built on relationships and the ability to provide value to both the reporter and their audience.

For better and worse, news media itself has been undergoing rapid change over the last 20 years. With newsrooms shrinking, news cycles accelerating, and news sources multiplying, the competition for attention presents both a challenge and an opportunity for media-savvy nonprofits to step in and make their voices heard.

Sean Kosofsky, founder and CEO of Mind The Gap Consulting has been working with nonprofits to develop their media strategy. He joins us this week to break down how any org can develop relationships with news media and to be part of the public conversation versus simply reacting to it.

[00:00:04.610] – Intro Video
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!

[00:00:21.910] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. As always, I am your host Boris Kievsky, and I am here today with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. I don’t know how many we go back. Maybe he can remember, but his name is Sean Kosofsky. Let me pronounce that right. And I love his moniker of the nonprofit fixer it says a lot right there. But he is a coach, consultant, trainer and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates, raise millions of dollars and transform nonprofit organizations and leaders.

[00:00:57.690] – Boris
Sean has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits from policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more. All really great, important issues. Sean’s work has been covered in media outlets—really relevant to today—internationally, and he has received numerous awards for his work. He’s an author and the owner of Mind The Gap Consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in New York with his husband and their dog, Harry.

[00:01:39.790] – Boris
Before I bring Sean on, let me just tell you that his superpower is pitching. He says that he’s very good at breaking things down and explaining them simply in a way that is easy for people to understand and I’m guessing very effective for hooking media attention, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We’re going to be talking about your PR and media strategy and training. With that, let’s bring Sean on to tell us more. Hey, Sean.

[00:02:03.190] – Sean Kosofsky
Hey. How are you?

[00:02:04.410] – Boris
I’m doing great today. I’m really happy to have you on the show. We, as I said, have known each other for a few years now. We’ve done a few things together. And finally, I get to have you on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:02:16.510] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here to talk about all things nonprofits.

[00:02:21.550] – Boris
Awesome. And I know you can talk about all things nonprofits, but we’re going to zone in and hone in, I should say, on one particular strength of yours, which you have several, and that is the media training thing. But before we dive into that, I read your bio and your superpower here. Clearly an impressive dude. 28 years. Hats off to you off of my bald head here. But real quick, why don’t you give the folks at home a little introduction? What’s your story? Why do you do what you do today?

[00:02:48.130] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that for me, nonprofit work has been a lifelong journey, as you said 28 years. I got my start at age 16, really stayed in the sector, had no idea in college what I wanted to do when I grew up. But when I fell into a really great job at a civil rights organization in that state at age 20, I was hooked and realized I could make a career out of doing this. And I have just been in the nonprofit space ever since. But I really think the experience as a gay man of being in the closet when I was a teenager, the painful experience of being in the closet and what that felt like has really driven so much of my advocacy and so much of my activism during my life because I really want to make sure that I can end suffering wherever I see suffering happening. And if I can get paid doing that, that’s amazing. So my journey has always taken me to organizations where I can specifically tackle people suffering or struggling or the world in some ways with climate organizations that I’m with now, the world sort of struggling.

[00:03:46.870] – Boris
That’s awesome. It’s interesting because a lot of nonprofit founders, I feel, get into the work because they personally have their own mission. Obviously, they have to be mission driven in some way or other. And a lot of it stems from what in the for-profit space might be called scratching your own itch, right? You have a problem and you want to solve it. I think most of us can resonate with that. And I really appreciate that you shared that bit with us today. So let’s then dive into what’s going on in the nonprofit sector, particularly when it comes to PR and media? What’s happening in terms of COVID? How is the world happening? How is the world working or not working these days for organizations?

[00:04:33.460] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think for a lot of people, they’ve realized that the news environment and the media environment has really, really changed. And especially for nonprofit organizations, it’s changing a lot because it’s getting harder and harder to break through. So some of the things we’ve noticed that are happening out there in the past 10 or 15 years is that newsrooms are shrinking. Not only… I mean, most of the newsrooms, the daily and local print and radio and broadcast publications across the country are getting smaller. It has to do with the fact that more and more news is available more and more freely for folks. And whether Huffington Post or all these different trends really started this idea or Facebook or whatever it is that people can get lots of their information now for free, that we are seeing a lot of individuals out there sharing news and sharing news around the country more freely. But it is causing news sources to kind of shrink. And that means that people’s sources of information are actually shrinking, too.

[00:05:34.430] – Sean Kosofsky
So many people around the country are getting more and more of their trusted news locally and that really can be a good thing for nonprofits since most nonprofits are small. But it also does mean that there’s more polarization. So this is one of the other problems that exist out there is that increasingly people are being pushed to one side or the other based on where their new source is from. You can look at this through a lot of demographic data, more than partisanship, more than almost anything else. Where you get your information from has a big indication of where you fall politically. And that has a lot to do with the fact that some news is getting shared and repeated across the country that is not being fact checked because newsrooms are shrinking and fact checkers are shrinking, right? So the problem in the news media for nonprofits, especially advocacy organizations or anyone trying to dispel myths or rumors or bad information, whether you’re working on mental health or you’re working on advocacy or civil rights, it’s really a problem that we are seeing across the media environment.

[00:06:33.970] – Boris
So that’s absolutely all spot on. And there’s a lot to unpack in there in terms of what’s happening in the world. Yeah, absolutely. Newsrooms are shrinking because anyone now has access to become their own media channel. Anyone can now become a news source in one way or another now, whether or not they are biased. I mean, it’s hard for any human being to not be biased in some way or another, but there are trained professionals who try to limit their bias when it comes to their reporting. And then there’s the rest of us who just want to present our point of view, our perspective. And now that anyone could be their own media network, right? Look, right now we’re on our own show. Even 15, 20 years ago, this was near impossible for us to do. Pre dotcom boom. It was completely impossible. So that’s definitely having a positive and negative effect. There’s more news to find and more individual personal stories that you could access. And at the same time, there’s less of what you’re referring to as fact checking and more of that echo chamber effect that when you get into it, the world looks one way as opposed to what everyone might be seeing on the other side.

[00:07:50.860] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:07:52.030] – Boris
So then how do we manage that? How do we navigate that as organizations? I guess we want to get our point of view out there. Hopefully, it’s a fairly accurate and neutral point of view. But of course, organizations have opinions, too, right? If you didn’t think… have an opinion that there’s something wrong with the world, you wouldn’t be starting an organization. So how do you differentiate and then let’s talk about how you get your point of view out there.

[00:08:21.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think one of the most important things is to not sit idly by and let the media or news environment happen to you. It has to be proactive engagement with newsrooms. It has to be actively putting out there to your email list, your website, social media and to your media list, your point of view, your perspective and the facts. I think that for a lot of organizations, this really does mean holding truth to power and making sure that when you see articles that come out, that you contact that reporter and say, “Hey, here’s this thing you just ran, or here’s this thing that’s actually problematic or wrong.” So we need to be correcting a lot of the things we see in the media. And that’s one of the ways you can get press attention. It’s simply watchdogging and policing it and making sure that it’s actually accurate.

[00:09:06.430] – Sean Kosofsky
And then you can do your own sort of work where it is packaging the work you do, the accomplishments you’ve had and pitching newsrooms or building relationships with reporters or publishers or in some cases influencers to get a larger audience for your organization.

[00:09:21.930] – Sean Kosofsky
But I do think one of the biggest things out there is getting the discipline down for organizations to understand what is my key message? What is the thing that I want to say and that I’m talking to the reader and to the viewer, not to the reporter, right? You’re trying to reach the actual public, not some conduit, not some journalists. They are helpful. They are important. But they are a means to getting the truth out to the public. That’s what journalism does, and that’s what the news media does. And successful organizations will know how to harness the media to get out its point of view and its perspective.

[00:09:54.250] – Boris
Okay, awesome. Let’s break all of that down. So first of all, you mentioned holding truth to power and watchdogging. Does that mean whenever you see something that you disagree with out in the media, it’s about putting out a statement? Is it trying to get in touch with the publication source, or is it just putting out your own thing somewhere else? How do you define watchdogging? What does that kind of look like for an organization?

[00:10:20.950] – Sean Kosofsky
I think if you… Let’s say you’re an organization in Metro Detroit, my hometown. And the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press is deciding to cover something in the news, like the recent shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan. There was this shooting there, right? If you’re an organization working on public safety or gun issues or gun safety, or if you’re a gun advocate, whatever the issue is. If there is an article or a series of articles covering something that is untrue or is based on a premise that you believe is untrue, you can contact that reporter and contact the different media outlets and use the coverage of what you’re seeing as part of what story it is you want to cover, right?

[00:10:59.500] – Sean Kosofsky
Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy. So when I say watchdog, I don’t mean being a pain in the butt, right? I just mean that folks can absolutely reach out to journalists or to the editorial page or to broadcasters or to independent journalists and bloggers and say, “Hey, here’s something I’m noticing happening and this needs to be corrected.” This is part of the whole issue environment that we’re traveling in right now that people keep referring to with this word or this term or with the wrong angle. And those are things you can do as a watchdog.

[00:11:33.750] – Sean Kosofsky
Or you can also put out your own statement, right? Responding to the events of the day with your own written statement through email, through press statements, through social media. All of that can have an echo effect for your followers to be saying the same thing that you are and elevating that perspective.

[00:11:50.050] – Boris
I love that because it’s empowering your supporters to really get your message out there more and feel like they are helping the cause at the same time. Like it’s an easy action that they could take to share your message in response to something to get more people looking at it from your point of view.

[00:12:07.010] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:12:08.110] – Boris
So then it seems like you’re talking about major news outlets, right? In this case, like the Detroit Free Press. What about these smaller or more independent outlets that you’re talking about, these smaller local news outlets or even some of these folks you mentioned influencers earlier. You’ve got… Right now, as we’re talking, there’s an ongoing I don’t know if it’s a scandal or debate about Joe Rogan and his influence on Spotify. I don’t think a lot of nonprofits are going to be able to reach out to Joe Rogan and say, “No, I want airtime on your show.” Right? So what is it that we can do when it’s not a major news outlet, but yet we want to respond to something or change the conversation around something?

[00:12:59.890] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, a lot of people are getting their news more locally. So obviously a ton of people are tuning into Rogan and they’re getting information from huge influencers, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow. They’re getting their information from huge sources, right? But I think the most important thing for most nonprofits is to focus locally, right? So if you notice… again, newsrooms are shrinking, so there’s fewer and fewer journalists. So these newspapers are subscribing to content around the country.

[00:13:26.790] – Sean Kosofsky
So if your company owns the Washington Post and like 30 other newspapers around the country, you’re going to recycle the same articles around the country to save money. So if you’re a local paper in the thumb of Michigan—folks from Michigan know there’s like a thumb in the shape there—there’s local papers there that might be just syndicating or copying or subscribing to the same misinformation that’s happening around the country.

[00:13:47.780] – Sean Kosofsky
A year ago, for example, a year ago maybe this week was the big freeze in Texas where they had this giant storm that froze the entire state or for vast swaths of the state. And there was a huge disinformation campaign about what was to blame, right? Was it the windmills which people were circulating images of windmills that were not in Texas and saying that this is the reason why this happened. So as someone who works on climate and clean energy, I know that that is a perfect moment to reach out to your local paper and say, “Look, we all know locally where our energy is actually coming from, especially in Texas.” It is gas and oil, right? So we know that it’s not the windmills causing this problem. So there are opportunities locally to have an impact. And then when people are doing fact checking or their Google searching, as they are right now around the one year anniversary of that thing that happened in Texas, they can see the truth, right?

[00:14:35.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So you might not be able to break through with the large folks who might have a commercial interest in actually spreading disinformation or misinformation. But locally you can have an impact. National nonprofits typically are a lot more sophisticated and have a larger press list and can actually go after a Joe Rogan or someone else and say, “You need to stop this.” And there’s a lot of advocacy right now around what’s happening with Spotify, misinformation about COVID-19 and artists pulling back their content from Spotify. So that’s an activism thing.

[00:15:03.800] – Sean Kosofsky
We’re seeing this opportunity of how do we confront misinformation and disinformation? And one of the creative tactics emerging is getting artists to take a stand in this area, not just on Spotify, pulling back their content until they correct things on the Joe Rogan show about these vaccines, but also in many, many other ways where we’re seeing people use artists to tackle these large platforms because the little guy might not be able to do that.

[00:15:29.510] – Boris
Right. So it’s leveraging someone else’s power who might believe in you and is hopefully already part of your community in one way or another to get them to draw attention to something because they have that bigger platform to speak from.

[00:15:43.670] – Sean Kosofsky
Right. Absolutely. Depending on your issue, depending on your locality, depending on the demographics you serve, you’re going to have different tactics available to you.

[00:15:51.860] – Boris
Very cool. And I like the statement you made about larger nonprofits will have a more national reach and have larger distribution lists, whereas local nonprofits, smaller nonprofits, whatever it might be, can still have an impact on a smaller or more local scale, but still a dramatic impact. I also think that it’s sometimes an opportunity for a smaller nonprofit to break out and get its voice heard on a much larger scale, sort of go viral, if you will, if they do take a great stance in opposition to something that’s going on and make their voice heard.

[00:16:28.270] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:16:29.830] – Boris
So then how do we develop these relationships with newsrooms? You mentioned that earlier. And when I think of developing a relationship, it’s communication, it’s getting on phone calls or going out to dinner with somebody, before COVID you’d take a client out to dinner or something like that. I don’t imagine that that’s how it happens necessarily with newsrooms. But what do you do? How do you get that going?

[00:16:56.770] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that the first and most important thing, if you’re a local organization, which most nonprofits are or even regional or statewide, the most important thing you need to do is create a media list. A media list can be really simple. It can be a one-page piece of paper or a spreadsheet or someplace or in your donor database, wherever you’re keeping track of contact information, to create a list of all of the outlets that you want to have a relationship with. These can be daily papers. These can be weekly alternative news magazines that tell you about concerts coming to town, all that stuff. If you’re in a rural area, it might be the local register that talks about like purse snatching or the price of agricultural products. I don’t mean to be dismissive of that, but like those smaller town rags, people gobble that information up, right? And the information is hyper, hyper local typically, right?

[00:17:47.490] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you’re working in a rural environment or a local environment, make a list of all of the outlets that you want to be in, including digital. So don’t just think of broadcast in print. Think about, does someone have a great blog? Does someone have an important Substack or Medium channel that they can, or even a Facebook following or Instagram following that you want to make sure that that person is on your list of people to build a relationship with. And then over time, if you have anyone focused on communications in your organization, have that person or the executive director be the main point of contact with that person. You want to be familiar with these folks. You want to be helpful to these folks.

[00:18:28.230] – Sean Kosofsky
Most journalists and writers, they have deadlines, they have facts, they have things they need to do. And if you can be a resource to them and make their job easier, they’re going to call you every single time. One of the most important things with media is to make it easy for the media to cover your issue. I send out a press release that has three quotes in it already from experts. I’ve made their job so much easier as a reporter, right? So they’re going to call me every single time an issue comes up on my topic because I make it easy for them.

[00:18:56.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So build a list of your outlets. Who’s the person there? Get their Twitter handle, all that different stuff, and then begin building that relationship regularly with them and make it easy. Then they start calling you. You don’t even have to do the pitching.

[00:19:10.930] – Boris
How does that work, though? How do you start building that relationship? Is there just a cold outreach that you do, a campaign where you just start either tweeting at them or you send them an email somehow. How do you begin that relationship?

[00:19:25.760] – Sean Kosofsky
Yes, it’s totally cold. If you have a warm connection, great. But unlike fundraising, where it’s a little trickier, right? You want to make sure you come in as a fundraiser in a way that warms them up or doesn’t look too salesy or whatever. But for a reporter, you want to help them do their job better. They want resources. They want people who are sources. They want people giving them information. So it’s actually a lot easier with journalists.

[00:19:47.840] – Sean Kosofsky
I would just reach right out to them with a phone call. People don’t make phone calls anymore. They text or they email. But I really strongly recommend when it comes to a reporter because they deal in facts and they deal with clarity. And sometimes getting a conversation on the phone is so much better than something over email or text. I would definitely reach out, even if it’s cold, and say, “Hi, this is my name. This is the organization I work with. We are experts in this. And whenever you cover this issue, we’d love to be considered as an expert source.”

[00:20:15.350] – Sean Kosofsky
And we do this all the time. My clients, we do this. We reach out to daily and regional outlets and say, “Please make sure we are on your short list of sources when you’re covering gun violence or when you’re covering climate.” So that you start getting calls. But yeah, it does start as a cold outreach. And it could be again, text, social media. But I always recommend a phone call if you can find their phone number.

[00:20:37.090] – Boris
So I’m really glad you said that you should just do a cold outreach and just introduce yourself and try to get on their list. I was wondering, should you wait until there’s an opportunity, until they’re actually talking about something that you can give input to and respond to?

[00:20:55.370] – Sean Kosofsky
No, I would say be a resource before your subject pops, right? When a reporter has… Reporters have deadlines, sometimes multiple per day. They have several stories that they need to get this topic or this 500 words or whatever it is to their editor by 01:00 p.m., right? They have very little time. It is like a very, very deadline-driven career. And so you want to be top of mind that they have things like on their desk or in their phone. They immediately can know who they can pull up, right? They do keyword searches and figure out who do I go call. And so you don’t want to wait until something breaks or something explodes or some topic erupts for you to get in front of them. Obviously, that’s a good time to start if you’re late. But you don’t want to wait for that moment, right? You definitely want to be an expert in their mind before they need a resource.

[00:21:44.290] – Boris
Really cool. And I just wanted to add, because you were saying earlier about local and regional publications for the smaller nonprofits. I think there’s another opportunity that today, because anyone can start their own media channel, there are certainly specialized media channels as well. So it might not be a publication or a news outlet of some sort that covers many different topics, but it might be a specialized blog or like you said, Substack or Medium that’s talking about something very specific that you really are an expert in.

[00:22:16.830] – Boris
And one of the things that I love about media outreach in general and the types of strategies that you’re outlining is, it really establishes your organization and individuals within it as thought leaders in the space. And every brand wants to be a thought leader. So this is an opportunity to put your nonprofit brand out there as one as well, right?

[00:22:39.790] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. I think that there are many, many places now where people are basically publishing. So in addition to blogs, in addition to social media, there are now Substacks and Medium. Medium was launched five or six years ago to be a new publishing platform for creators or anyone to help them to develop their own audience. Substack is the same way. I can create a newsletter and get paid for that newsletter for my own individual content. Individuals are now publishers, and increasingly people who are experts or just really opinionated are publishing their own stuff. And if it strikes a chord or it’s accurate or they uncover something really interesting, it just takes off or it goes viral.

[00:23:19.550] – Sean Kosofsky
I can’t tell you the power that is in that, simply being local makes you an expert. Someone nationally could just need a local take on something going on. For example, simply being a local person in a battleground state heading into a presidential election could make your voice really matter about what you’re seeing on the ads on TV, what you’re seeing about whether politicians are talking about your issue or not.

[00:23:41.550] – Sean Kosofsky
So lots of folks can use social media. You can begin just tweeting what you’re seeing happening live with police violence or something, anything at all, right? And people are going to start gravitating toward your platform, whether it’s your Twitter feed or whether it’s your Substack or whether it’s your Facebook group. You can start publishing anywhere where you can develop an audience.

[00:24:00.170] – Sean Kosofsky
So nonprofits have access to all of these platforms for free. Substack is free. All these things are free. Social media is largely free. Tik-Tok, all of these things. So don’t hesitate to use your platform and your topic as a reason for creating expertise. If you want to be a thought leader, begin putting out not just newsletters to your own members, but commentary and comment out to the public through a different channel. It’s an additional way to get noticed by the press.

[00:24:28.510] – Boris
One more channel I’d add to that is, well, it’s a combined channel of shows like this one where people are doing either video or podcasts, exclusively audio and they build up an audience, they build up a following. And like me, for example, they’re always looking for great guests. They’re always looking for people who can speak to something that may be topical or at least relevant to their audience. So it’s another opportunity to put yourself out there and to develop your thought leadership and branding out in the world.

[00:24:57.220] – Boris
I do want to ask if, let’s say your organization, a nonprofit, has the resources to have multiple people in these roles where they have a marketing—a dedicated marketing person, dedicated press person, or maybe they’re the same person, but whom should they be pitching? Should it just be anyone in the organization, or should they be trying to develop a relationship with, for example, the executive director or the head of a particular program that the organization is sponsoring?

[00:25:27.910] – Sean Kosofsky
So to make sure I understand your question correctly, who would be doing the pitching in this situation?

[00:25:33.320] – Boris
It’s not necessarily who would be doing the pitching, but you talked earlier about establishing relationships and saying, “Hey, we are in authority on this.” When it comes to a reporter calling for some sort of input or quoting someone, I would imagine usually it would go to someone who is on a senior level at the organization. Do you try to say, feel free to reach out to so and so at any time, or how do you structure that relationship?

[00:26:03.130] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the nonprofit itself, you usually have dedicated people who are the actual spokespeople for the organization. Usually it’s the executive director or senior level staff that have been given clearance to talk to reporters. So for the reporters out there to know who to talk to usually start with the executive director. They’re usually the biggest conduit, right?

[00:26:20.690] – Sean Kosofsky
And then internally in a nonprofit, you could dedicate someone on an issue to being a spokesperson based on their seniority or based on their closeness to the issue, right? So you could say, I have a frontline organizer who is involved in this local community where this horrible thing happened. And simply by being from that community makes them an expert. I deputized them sort of to become our reporter, to become our media spokesperson. So I’m not sure if that really answers your question, but I definitely think within organizations you should have a strategy for who can speak. And people should definitely get trained. You don’t want to put folks out there in front of a reporter without getting some kind of media training. It can go bad. And then for reporters and journalists out there, definitely they have a beat.

[00:27:01.420] – Sean Kosofsky
Normally, with newsroom shrinking, it’s harder to have just one beat. Sometimes one reporter is covering four beats now, so they need to know who inside an organization is their first point of contact because they are in a hurry. Reporters definitely want someone who can respond on the spot. A lot of folks are like, “Oh, let me think about this and get back with you.” Well, reporters aren’t going to call you back again if you constantly have to make them wait. If you’re able to get on the phone and immediately give comment because you are practiced, they’re going to call you way more frequently in the future. So that’s the person you want in your nonprofit basically taking these calls.

[00:27:33.170] – Boris
That’s exactly what I was trying to find out from you is, do you have within your organization folks who are deputized, as you just said, or really authorized to speak on behalf of the organization, to speak to media and hopefully are trained in doing so? That’s exactly on point. Thank you.

[00:27:51.250] – Boris
So then we’ve developed this relationship. We know who in our organization can speak to certain topics when they are called upon to do so. But there is this other angle of pitching, pitching your stories. I know that reporters are constantly and publications are constantly looking for content. And if you could give them something worth publishing that works for them, they’ll be happy to take it a lot of times. But what goes into a pitch and this is part of your superpower, so I’m going to really put you on the spot here. How do you structure a pitch? What goes into a pitch to a potential publication?

[00:28:33.280] – Sean Kosofsky
So different than fundraising, when you’re pitching a newsroom, you have to be thinking there’s two sides of this. There’s what do I know newsrooms want to hear? And then there’s what do I want to say as a source, right? So the first thing as a source, as an organization, I have to be thinking about what is actually newsworthy about this moment? Just because it’s not making headlines doesn’t mean it isn’t newsworthy. I’ve uncovered a new trend, a new piece of information, some new facts, some new report that came out that a reporter didn’t know about. What makes it new? What makes it newsworthy, right? So when I go to pitch a newsroom, I can’t just be like, “Hey, climate change is happening.” Yeah, we know. What’s new about this, right? So the first question is going to be, what do you have that makes this deadline-driven medium and this deadline-driven culture newsworthy?

[00:29:14.140] – Sean Kosofsky
So the first thing is, why is it new and why is it newsworthy? Did someone locally do something? So make it local. The more you can make anything local, the more interesting it is. You also have to be able to make something super like national. Not only is this thing happening here in Poughkeepsie, but it’s also a national problem, and here’s why. So make sure it’s new and newsworthy, but you can localize it and nationalize it, that goes into any kind of pitch.

[00:29:37.890] – Sean Kosofsky
What I need to be thinking about as I pitch is what’s on the other side of that pitch call, which is the reporter’s constraint, which is why should I care? Every news desk, every editor of every outlet out there is getting 500 people pitching them for news stories every single day. And every day they are throwing all of them in the trash saying, “Why do I care? Why do I care?” So if you can break through to them and say why this matters to your readers, to your constituency, to your stakeholders, that’s how you’re going to break through.

[00:30:05.750] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the reporter side, they have an editor that they need to get this through, right? And that you need to convince them why this matters now. So the case, the super succinct way that you can explain why this matters, human harm, suffering, violence, corruption, what is happening right there that you can prove that will break through because that’s the number one filter they’re using is, why do I care? In order to sift through the 500 different pitches they’re getting.

[00:30:31.810] – Boris
It sounds like what I teach in storytelling a lot. And what I learned in fourth grade, which is you want to really present the who, what, when, where, and most importantly, why, why it’s relevant, why it’s significant, why it deserves column inches in print or screen inches on digital.

[00:30:53.050] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:30:54.310] – Boris
Cool. All right, Sean, I want to be very conscious of your time, and we’re hitting the 30-minutes mark now. I know that when I asked you for resources, you had a whole bunch of them that you wanted to share with us. Give me the highlights, which… I’ll link to all of them in the show notes. They’ll all be there for folks to find. But what should people be looking at as they’re trying to develop their own idea of media strategy?

[00:31:16.850] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you have a little bit of a budget, I definitely would say folks could look into Cision. It’s a little tricky spelling. I think it’s C-I-S-I-O-N. Or some people might know one of their products as PR Newswire. If you don’t have an in-house communications capacity, you could pay for a subscription to disseminate your news releases everywhere. I will say that I don’t always think that just blasting news releases all over the country is the best use of your dollar. But it is a way for some organizations to get into newsrooms for sure. So Cision and PR Newswire is one way you can both pay to track news and also to distribute news.

[00:31:52.580] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way is Meltwater. Meltwater is just one of the many ones out there that does clipping service. So if you’re getting a lot of coverage and you want to track trends or your opposition is getting lots of coverage and you want to track trends, Meltwater could be an interesting tool. I don’t know the pricing right now, but I know that you can subscribe to Meltwater.

[00:32:09.860] – Sean Kosofsky
But for those on a budget, I think that Google Alerts is really powerful. You can set a Google Alert on anyone, any topic, any keyword, any event, and see what’s actually happening the minute something hits a blog or the news, you will get an email on that or get a daily digest on that. That’s a free option for you.

[00:32:26.980] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way to see whether something is popping in terms of a trend, to see whether something is newsworthy is to use Google Trends. Google Trends is free. Anyone can go to Google Trends right now and see what words are popping. Is it some popstar like Dua Lipa, or is it something about Ukraine right now? What issues are popping? How can your issue fit into that trending issue, right? See if you can figure out whether your topic matches something that’s in the national conversation right now.

[00:32:53.480] – Sean Kosofsky
If you have a Twitter account which is totally free, they have a trending section, right? See what’s actually popping on Twitter right now and see if your issue can sort of fit into there. Those are different ways for free or for cost that you can kind of track issues and then use that to capitalize on how to fit your issue into that stream, right? Another tool out there for folks… Can I mention the tools that I have or you want to check…

[00:33:16.440] – Boris
Sure. I usually ask anyway, what is your call to action? What do you want people to do? And I’m happy to have you promote any of your work that you think is relevant to this. So please go.

[00:33:27.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Excellent. Yeah. So folks, I think in the show notes you’ll be able to get these links and stuff. But I think that one of the things that’s really important is for nonprofits to learn how to create a unique value proposition. This is something created by marketers and the private sector to help understand how to sell products. But I think nonprofits could really benefit from learning how to take not just their case statement, but also take a new thing called a unique value proposition and really explain to people why my organization is the most suited to solve a particular social problem and what the call to action is.

[00:33:58.650] – Sean Kosofsky
I have a free guide on how to create a unique value proposition. I didn’t see anyone out there offering this particular tool, so I have a free resource for you to download on that. I also have a handout that you can grab for handling tough media questions. Some folks want to avoid the media because they don’t like being put on the spot and they’re afraid of getting really tough media questions. I have a free guide about handling tough media questions, rapid fire questions, trick questions, all that stuff.

[00:34:25.650] – Sean Kosofsky
And then also you can grab my full course, which is not very expensive at all. But I have a course training nonprofit leaders, how to do media engagement, how to write press releases, how to do editorials, how to actually craft your message. All of that is based in my course Media Skills Crash Course for Nonprofits, and I’ve been spending many, many years training people on how to do the media. And so you’ll get a link to that course there. So those are just some of the resources I have today.

[00:34:51.320] – Boris
I really appreciate all of them. The free ones I use all the time. Google News Alerts and Google Trends. Google Trends is interesting. You might find things that you weren’t really looking for there, but there’s definitely really great knowledge to be absorbed from it. I know I’ve worked with Cision before as well, and I know that you put out great stuff. So I’m actually going to check out some of those resources.

[00:35:14.150] – Boris
I talk about unique value proposition when I work out an organization’s storytelling plan. But as you just said, I’ve never actually seen just a tool to figure that out. So I’m really curious, actually, how you do it. And I encourage everyone to go check it out. We’re going to have all the links to all of the resources that Sean mentioned, whether they’re on his site or some others in our show notes. So I hope everybody will come and check those out. Any parting words for the folks at home, Sean?

[00:35:41.080] – Sean Kosofsky
No, just I really encourage folks to lean in, engage the public, engage the media. It’s your friend. You really can be more powerful and get a huge audience for your nonprofit and make a bigger impact faster by engaging the media. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Engage.

[00:35:56.110] – Boris
Absolutely. Thank you, Sean, for breaking all of that down. You didn’t hold back anything that I was asking. You broke it down as best as possible. And I hope that organizations—nonprofit leaders, because organizations don’t have ears, but nonprofit leaders do—who are listening to this really do follow up and take the actions to engage with media. Get your voices heard. Don’t let the story be controlled by the Joe Rogan’s. No offense. Not that he’s going to be listening, but no offense, if you’re a fan of his, don’t let them control the narrative. Take charge, take power back and hold truth to power or yes, hold truth to power like Sean said earlier.

[00:36:35.200] – Boris
Thank you, Sean, for joining us. Thank you, everybody for watching and listening today. I hope we have helped you create more heroes for your cause with these strategies. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please do leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more folks like you can consume this content, can find it, and can create more heroes for their cause, too. Have a great day, everybody.

[00:36:57.550] – Intro Video
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:

  • Sean’s story began as it has for so many others, feeling hardship in his own life and not wanting others to struggle in the same way. (2:48)
  • The news and media environment has changed significantly. Newsrooms are shrinking their staff as more news sources have become available. This makes it hard for nonprofits to compete for the attention of journalists at larger publications, but also more opportunities for attention at the local level. (4:45)
  • It also means that there’s a lot more polarization based on where people choose to get their news today. Nonprofits themselves have an opinion about the problem they want to solve in the world that others might not share. (5:41)
  • It’s critical that nonprofits try to get involved in making the news and shaping the narrative, rather than let it happen to them. Such as: (8:21)
    • Speaking truth to power, correcting or rebutting the mistruths or problematic stories that news media puts out.
    • Packaging the work you do and your accomplishments and developing relationships with reporters and publishers
  • Nonprofits first have to understand their own key message. What’s important for your audience to know? (9:21)
  • Watchdogging: “Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy.” (11:00)
  • Focusing media efforts on local issues and publications can actually have broader reach, as many of them syndicate content to affiliates around the country. (13:00)
  • It is difficult for a small nonprofit to compete with large influencers, but they may be able to find influencers on a similar level who can help them get their narrative across and to whom larger media will listen. (14:35)
  • Developing relationships with reporters starts with creating a media list of outlets and reporters with whom you want to have a relationship—both traditional and new media. (16:29)
  • If you can be a resource to journalists who are stretched thin in a way that makes their jobs easier, they will want to keep working with you again and again. So make it easy on them. (18:28)
  • Start building the relationship by reaching out to them directly, even if it’s a cold call. Sean recommends calling the reporter on the phone. (19:26)
    • Introduce yourself and the value that you offer to the reporter.
    • Ask to be on their shortlist of sources for covering your topic.
  • You don’t want to wait until a topic erupts before you get in front of reporters. You want to have a relationship by then so that they turn to you when it arises. (21:25)
  • Getting your message out in the media helps establish your organization’s expertise and authority on the subject. Sometimes being a local expert can catapult you on to a national stage. (22:18)
  • Anyone (or any organization) can become their own media company today with online tools for sharing your stories. Developing your own audiences on these channels is another way to get the established media to notice you and think of you for news stories. (22:40)
  • Who should be the point of contact for media at your organization? Nonprofits should have designated individuals on the team who are authorized to speak to the press on particular subjects. (24:57)
    • These people should be trained in dealing and speaking with media.
  • Newsrooms are constantly looking for great content. Your pitch has to present it to them in a clear value-driven way. (28:04)
    • What is newsworthy about this moment?
    • How does your local problem resonate on a national level?
    • Why should the reporter being pitched care about this story? You have to be able to relate it back to their readers, and why they’ll care about it.
  • Sean recommends free and paid tools that you can use to track what’s happening in the news around your cause, and what’s trending that you might be able to speak to? (30:54)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Substack – online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.
    • Medium – open platform where readers find dynamic thinking, and where expert and undiscovered voices can share their writing on any topic
    • CISION – PR and Marketing Tool that you can use to track and distribute news
    • Meltwater – Also a PR and Marketing Tool to track trends and news
    • Google Alerts and Google Trends – On a budget, this can also help you track trends and news about contents that you are interested in
    • You can also be active with Twitter and use the hashtags (#) to see what’s trending under their trending section.

About this week’s guest

Sean Kosofsky

Sean Kosofsky

Owner, Mind the Gap Consulting

Sean Kosofsky is the Nonprofit Fixer! He is a coach, consultant, trainer, and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates raise millions of dollars and transformed nonprofit organizations and leaders. He has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits (policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more.

His work has been covered in media outlets internationally and has received numerous awards. He is an author and the owner of Mind the Gap consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in NY with his husband and their dog, Harry.

Connect with Sean Kosofsky

EP45 - Rachel Bearbower - Featured

Episode 45: Email Sequences that Keep Donors Donating, with Rachel Bearbower

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 45

Email Sequences that Keep Donors Donating, with Rachel Bearbower

In this Episode:

Does it feel like your nonprofit running on a donor treadmill? You’re constantly expending your resources to attract new donors, hoping that you get them quicker than you lose the ones that you had before so that you can do more. It’s exhausting and often demoralizing… and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Improved donor engagement and retention starts with a great welcome experience. Using a combination of personalization and automation, an email welcome sequence can start a conversation and build a relationship that provides value to both sides and lasts for years.

Rachel Bearbower of Small Shop Strategies helps overwhelmed executive directors create simple, effective welcome sequences on autopilot. She joins us this week to share how they work, and the 5-email formula you can use to get started today.

[00:00:04.610] – Intro Video
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!

[00:00:20.790] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome to another episode of The Nonprofit Hero Factory. One of our recurring topics is storytelling for fundraising specifically and the different ways that you could tell your story to your funders, to your donors at different times. Today we’re going to focus specifically on what I hope is a pressing issue for you. So if the end of year went well for you, and I really do hope it did, you might have a lot of new donors coming on board, a lot of new supporters in various levels that have not had a lot of contact with you in the past. Maybe they don’t know your organization as well as you’d like them to, and you want to convert them into long-term donors.

[00:00:58.930] – Boris
So we’ve got an expert today that does just that. She helps organizations do that. Her name is Rachel Bearbower. She is the founder and CEO of Small Shop Strategies. Like many of you, Rachel is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded limited resource system-less organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause. I know we can all relate to that. That’s why Rachel is who folks turn to for systems, structure and a plan.

[00:01:29.870] – Boris
And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep your mission moving forward. Sounds pretty great. Rachel describes her superpower as being really good at seeing a big problem and then being able to drill down into the weeds to create an action plan. She’s also great under pressure and loves taking risks. And she is here with us today to help us with all of our strategies around donor retention. Rachel, welcome to the show.

[00:01:59.850] – Rachel Bearbower
Hey, Boris. It’s so good to be here. Happy New Year.

[00:02:04.480] – Boris
Thank you. Happy New Year. And it is a brand new year. And we’ve got hopefully all these new donors that have signed up wanting to hear from us, wanting to help us with our cause. And I’m really excited that now, I think is a great time, perfect time maybe, to have you on to talk about how to convert them into more sustaining donors. But before we do that, I want to get to know you. And I want the folks at home to get to know you a little bit more. So besides your impressive bio, very re-readable bio, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get to be who you are today? What’s your story?

[00:02:39.210] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Well, I feel like I’ve lived a lot of lives, but I think I can kind of sum it up with: I have moved across the country four times and I’ve tried to walk across the country once. So I’m a big fan of, like big, bold moves. But I really fell into the nonprofit industry. I was actually working in finance, and I didn’t love the corporate world. It was really not my jam. And so moved across the country. And it’s like, can’t be that hard to start a nonprofit. Famous last words.

[00:03:33.350] – Rachel Bearbower
I decided to jump into working with an animal welfare organization and then ended up founding my own organization and spent the greater part of a decade really just learning everything I could about this incredible sector. And when I did eventually decide to leave, there was another cross country move. I decided to move to the Midwest, went ahead and fell in love with a farmer. And we decided to move to the Midwest and become farmers. So—

[00:04:09.071] – Boris
As you do—

[00:04:10.070] – Rachel Bearbower
As you do, yes. So I’ve done every coast now. Now I got to do the Midwest. But I realized, you know, that as an Executive Director, I felt just so isolated in my role. And I would look at—I’d go to these networking events, I’d be like, “How do I be like that person? How do I sit at the big kids table?” And I didn’t know how to get there. And I felt like I was recreating the wheel. I was like, somebody else has done this before. I don’t know what this is, but somebody else has done this before.

[00:04:52.150] – Rachel Bearbower
And so when I finally left, I was like, I don’t know what I’m creating, but I’m creating a space for executive directors to not have to recreate the wheel. I’m just going to teach everything I know and just put in place a community where you don’t have to feel so alone. Here I am, middle of Iowa, driving tractors, hanging out with EDs. It’s what we’re doing. So that’s my journey.

[00:05:28.880] – Boris
That’s a pretty great journey. I can relate to a lot of that, including moving coast to coast. I call myself tri-coastal because I lived in LA. My family is in Miami. I’m up in the New York, New Jersey area.

[00:05:40.000] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it.

[00:05:42.350] – Boris
So I can totally relate. And I can totally relate to wanting to help others with the knowledge that you’ve accumulated. I think it’s wonderful what you’re doing. You and I have talked before about what you do and how you do it, and I’m very impressed and think it’s invaluable to all kinds of organizations, executive directors and other senior people in there.

[00:06:00.550] – Boris
Also, you were talking about how you thought, “Hey, how hard can it be to start a nonprofit?” A lot of nonprofit founders, and frankly, for-profit founders think it can’t be that hard. And naivety is a superpower because, without it, I don’t think anyone would ever do anything when it comes to starting anything worthwhile anyway. So the good news is there are folks like yourself and like me in certain situations that are there to help—once you start seeing those roadblocks, help you overcome them.

[00:06:32.540] – Rachel Bearbower
I said that I am so lucky that I was so naïve and so overly ambitious, because that is really how—if I would have had any idea how hard the work was that I was doing, I would have never even started. But you just keep putting one foot in front of the other one and day at a time, and you do it.

[00:06:59.060] – Boris
Yeah. And hope that when you’re putting one foot in front of the other, you do it in the right order and don’t trip. But if you do, you get back up and you keep going.

[00:07:06.260] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:07:07.790] – Boris
So, Rachel, let’s talk then about what’s going on in the nonprofit sector. You’re working with a lot of EDs. Based on your company name, Small Shop Strategies. I’m assuming it’s mostly smaller organizations, smaller shops. What are they experiencing right now? What are some of the issues that they’re facing?

[00:07:29.350] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah. So limited time. I did a survey. I’m always talking to my EDs. I’m surveying the people that are in my sphere. And I’m like, “What do you need? What’s going on?” Time. It always comes back to time. How do I manage my time? How do I find more time? What are time saving tips? Like always coming back to time. And so, when it comes to working with your donors and so much of what I’m seeing, especially with small shops, the focus is getting new donors. It’s all about getting new donors. Finding them, finding them, finding them. And then… what? And there’s no conversation about after that. There’s like “You should make sure to thank them.” We’ve got that. Okay, so that’s great.

[00:08:38.710] – Rachel Bearbower
But it is so much more than that. It is so much more than that. And that donor retention, there’s a statistic out there that 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization, and it’s probably higher than that. But I mean, that alone, why are you working so hard to get these donors if you’re just going to lose them? So when I heard that, I was like, okay, time out here. We got to be a little more efficient with our time here because we’ve just spent all this time trying to get our donors, and we’re trying to connect with them and do all the things we’re supposed to do. Let’s come up with some systems here. So what I’m seeing in the nonprofit sector right now is limited resources, not enough time, and not enough focus on retaining our donors.

[00:09:43.590] – Boris
That seems so self evident. There may be organizations, though, that still need to hear that, A, that you’re not alone, that you are having these kinds of issues, and B, that it is something that you can compensate for if not even completely overcome. We’ve talked before on this show, actually, you know Ephraim, he’s been on the show and he’s a big—the word advocate is not even enough. He’s a champion and a zealot of, “you’ve got to treat your donors well.” And you’ve got to really connect with them and keep the connection going so that you don’t spend all your time and money, time being the biggest limiting factor, as I think you correctly labeled. You don’t spend all of it just trying to acquire, acquire, acquire. There’s a customer acquisition cost in marketing, but then there’s also customer retention rates and retention costs. And in nonprofits’ case, that often refers to the donor. What does it take to keep them? How much does it cost you to keep them versus losing them and starting another one? I’m pretty sure the stats are clear that it costs a lot less to keep them than to acquire them, am I right there?

[00:10:59.630] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have a great example of this. So let’s talk about Starbucks. Okay? So the average person… I’m going to just like… Everyone’s going to cringe. So I just need you to all take a deep breath. Okay?

[00:11:21.610] – Boris
Right. I’m with you.

[00:11:21.610] – Rachel Bearbower
Take a deep breath. The average person spends $14,000 at Starbucks on average in their lifetime. $14,000. You’re doing the math in your head. Let’s break this down. So that is over a 20-year period. That’s about like 67 something. It basically works out to two drinks a week. Okay? So when you get down to that, like that’s not that much. Two drinks a week, over 20 years, $14,000. Okay. That’s a pretty good lifetime value for Starbucks. They spend about $1,000 on you…

[00:12:16.950] – Boris
To acquire you as a customer.

[00:12:18.560] – Rachel Bearbower
To acquire you as a customer, to get you on the app, to do the, you know, you get like, well, I guess they don’t really do the cards anymore. But the free drinks and the birthday drink and the things that Starbucks does, they spend about $1,000 on you.

[00:12:36.100] – Boris
So it’s a 14X return. Not bad. I’d invest.

[00:12:39.760] – Rachel Bearbower
Not bad. So let’s think about that with our donors. If you were to have a donor for 20 years and that donor gave, say, $1,000 a year over 20 years, and it cost you maybe because math on video is hard, cost you $1,000 to acquire…

[00:13:10.530] – Boris
Acquire, maintain, yeah.

[00:13:11.790] – Rachel Bearbower
Acquire, maintain, steward them over the lifetime of their time with your organization, $19,000. It’s a pretty good lifetime value, right?

[00:13:24.980] – Boris
Pretty good lifetime value.

[00:13:31.630] – Rachel Bearbower
I think it’s important to continue to find new donors. I think there is a lot of missed opportunity in retaining our donors. And I think one of her biggest mistakes. And I am raising my hand here because I did this. Remember, founder, Executive Director, person who did not know how to fundraise, did not know anything, guessed at everything. I’m a pretty personable person. But then I would go and talk to my donors and I would turn into a robot. An absolute robot. Like, my letters would turn so formal. Dear Sir or Madam, or To Whom It May Concern. And I think that we forget that humanizing this whole thing could make our lives so much easier.

[00:14:37.370] – Boris
Yeah, we do forget that our clients , our supporters they’re people. And that we need to treat them like people at every point possible. And oftentimes we think we are. We think, no, this is a person. So I’m going to send them this update. But it’s an update rather than a conversation, rather than something that a person would say to another person in person.

[00:15:00.770] – Rachel Bearbower
I will say one time I was trying to get some letters out, and I’ve got dogs, and I had a dog. And this is when I worked at the animal welfare organization. I was trying to get these letters out, and one of my dogs stepped on the letter and it was a muddy pot. It was what it was. And I was like, you know what, I’m just going to send this. And I made a little note. I was like, “haha, Grayson got to this. He says hi, too.” The donor loved it.

[00:15:37.930] – Boris

[00:15:39.050] – Rachel Bearbower
And I was like, next time I did notes, I was like, Grayson, come on, get muddy. And it was something that was completely by accident. But that little tiny thing made a big difference. It made that connection of like, oh, yeah. No, totally been there when my dog has gotten something muddy. That’s a human connection.

[00:16:02.870] – Boris

[00:16:03.660] – Rachel Bearbower
And something that we forget.

[00:16:05.810] – Boris
Absolutely. I love the dog print. And instantly, as soon as you said, I’m like, oh, I’m sure that donor loved it. And from now on, Grayson needs to step on a stamp pad and then walk across all your letters. Just lay them all out and then have stamp pads and Grayson, come on, let’s go.

[00:16:20.560] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:16:22.310] – Boris
So at this point, you’ve got us, first of all, reconsidering our Starbucks habits. But second of all, shaking our heads along of, yeah, that does make sense. Donor retention, of course, if we didn’t already know, which I’m sure most organizations did. But again, they’re strapped for time, and they don’t necessarily know how to apply that. Donors drop out for lots of different reasons, but none of them should be you. None of them should be because you didn’t do what you could and should to keep them engaged and happy with the work that you’re doing. So let’s talk about that. And let’s break down how you help organizations, what we can all do to improve our donor retention rates right now today, as we’re listening to this show.

[00:17:05.670] – Rachel Bearbower
I love it. Okay, so automation is one of those things I get very excited about. Now, I realize that this is not something that everyone gets excited about, but I do. So I want to talk to you about a welcome series because it is one of the most efficient and most effective ways to bring someone, whether that someone is a caregiver who is filling out a form looking for information from your organization, or is somebody who just gave a first-time gift. However they are coming into the sphere of your organization, there needs to be a conversation.

[00:17:49.630] – Rachel Bearbower
And actually, whether you’re a small organization or a large organization, having that one on one personal relationship with every single person is just not feasible. And so coming up with strategies to be able to do that in a way that feels one-on-one, but it’s actually an automated way. Okay? So a welcome series is the perfect way to do that. And the idea of a welcome series kind of makes people nervous because they’re like, oh, there’s tech, there’s like lots to do. But what it is, we’re just going to boil it down, is you’re providing value to whoever it is who just came in.

[00:18:41.230] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m going to use an example of a non-donor. Okay? So you have somebody who just signed up for your newsletter or a caregiver. Because I have an example for this from an organization, I’m going to tell you the story. It’s going to blow your mind. It’s awesome. But this organization, they’re an Alzheimer’s organization. They have caregivers that come into their organization. And, you know, it’s typically maybe young adults or people with aging parents who are looking for more information, looking for support. Okay? And they come in, they get the support, and then what? Okay? And mind you, you can do this with new donors, you can do this with anyone, but you want to provide value.

[00:19:38.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So what’s the first step in a relationship? Acknowledge that a connection was made. “Hey, I’m glad that you are here.” Okay? So the idea is that you provide value. What is it that my audience needs? What is it that my donor needs? What is it that this person needs? And you provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value. Said that four times.

[00:20:04.110] – Boris
You did.

[00:20:04.950] – Rachel Bearbower
And then make an ask. Okay? So it’s a five-email welcome series. Okay? I have a couple of tips. But first, I want to tell you about this organization, because this, I knew welcome series worked until I heard this story. So I just got this information yesterday because I knew that this was going to be important. So let me grab these numbers because I do not want to get any of them wrong.

[00:20:36.470] – Rachel Bearbower
So this organization, as I mentioned, it’s an Alzheimer’s organization. Okay? So they implemented a welcome series because they’re like, we have all these people coming in and they’re these caregivers, and we don’t quite know what to do, like how to have a personal relationship with them, how to have this one-on-one. And I was like, “Let’s get them into a welcome series.” Okay? So we created five emails, which I’ll go through those emails, and we automated it. So through their email providers. So whether you have MailChimp or Constant Contact or ConvertKit, all of those have that feature. Okay, the open rate on these emails, 53%. The average open rate, 53%.

[00:21:29.700] – Boris
Is that consistent from email one to email five?

[00:21:31.980] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes. That is the average of all five emails.

[00:21:34.980] – Boris
That’s pretty impressive.

[00:21:36.240] – Rachel Bearbower
53%. The average click rate, 11%. Now, to give you some perspective here, industry standards, like open rate is about 20%. Click rate is 2% to 3%. Okay? So these percentages are blowing it out of the water, like doing an incredible job. So here’s where it gets really, really cool. They started sending this welcome series in April. Okay? They started stewarding this group of people, and there was about 480 people that went through this welcome series, and about 16 of them donated to the yearend campaign, which is about a 3% ROI.

[00:22:40.530] – Rachel Bearbower
When you start thinking about stewarding a brand new group of people and then what can happen, I mean, and we talked about that lifetime value. You know, these people donated for the very first time. They’re starting to see the impact they’re feeling from your organization. And they decided to give a gift. Had they not felt like you were trying to make that connection, you weren’t going to get that gift. You might have gotten a gift, but maybe not. And the organization… they don’t do anything.

[00:23:34.550] – Boris
They just set it on autopilot.

[00:23:36.060] – Rachel Bearbower
It’s on autopilot.

[00:23:37.500] – Boris
Love it. That’s awesome. And good for them for getting that set up. I know lots of providers, email newsletter providers do have these sequences that you can create these automations. I know some organizations use their CRM also as their email platform, and I don’t think those are as good with automations in terms of sequences or drip campaigns as they’re sometimes called. So you might want to look if you are using a CRM into a supplementary system and MailChimp, I think still has their free tier. They certainly have discounts for nonprofits. But you could find free or low cost options to get people through that, even if you’re only sending your new donors through that and then keeping them in your CRM and taking them back out so that your email list and rates for subscription doesn’t go up too high what you’re paying monthly.

[00:24:30.960] – Boris
So I love that. I’m not one of those people who doesn’t like automation. I love automation and what technology can do and how technology can still be used to keep things personal. That’s awesome. When you’re talking about these email sequences and how you used to speak to people via letter or email. Today, we are much more used to an informal conversation in the first place. Think about, I would say if you are meeting someone on Zoom, a video meeting, you’re not going to start off with Dear Sir or Madam, and you’re not going to say, I’d like to tell you today about the numbers of people that we have, blah, blah, blah. You know, you’re going to start off with, hi, it’s so good to meet you. Thank you so much for joining me and for the time that you’ve spent, really means a lot to the organization. How are you today? Right? You want it to be more of a dialogue and then come into by the way, I really want to thank you for your gift. And here’s what it’s helping us do.

[00:25:27.520] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:25:28.260] – Boris

[00:25:30.750] – Rachel Bearbower
This is a great opportunity to share the stories of your organization. You are doing incredible work and impacting the lives of so many people or animals or whoever your beneficiary is. But tell the people in your organization. I think sometimes we hold those stories close, but this is a great opportunity to just be like, let me tell you something cool.

[00:26:04.810] – Boris
Yeah. You don’t have to sell me on storytelling.

[00:26:07.100] – Rachel Bearbower
Right. I do know this.

[00:26:10.270] – Boris
Yeah. No, I completely agree with you. So I do want to break down a little bit. And I want to be respectful of your time and folks at home because we are bombarded with so much media these days. I like to make these as packed with info as possible. So I’m just going to try to squeeze a little more out of you, Rachel.

[00:26:27.080] – Rachel Bearbower
Yes, of course.

[00:26:27.900] – Boris
You said five emails where it’s value, value, value, value, ask. Great. Love the sequence in those terms. How frequently are those emails sent? Because you said that one organization started in April. But are you talking about one a month? Are you talking about one a week or daily? How often do you send those out?

[00:26:48.650] – Rachel Bearbower
So it really depends on the frequency that you are sending emails. Like, if you’re an organization that’s only sending an email maybe once a month, then the frequency might be a little bit further apart. It really depends. But ideally, once a week, once every couple of days, that would be ideal.

[00:27:16.090] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay, let’s dig into these emails. I’ll quickly go through them. So the first email, first thing that you want to do when somebody enters into your sphere is align the value. So introduce you. When I say you, I mean you Executive Director, whoever is sending that email, you are a person. And while you do run an organization and we like to introduce ourselves as like, the face of the organization or whatever. But introduce yourself as a person. It’s okay to say, like, hey, I’m the person behind this organization. You’re talking to a real person. So introduce yourself and align values.

[00:28:05.050] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the second thing is, second email is to spark a conversation. So start with maybe sending some kind of article, podcast that’s interesting. I don’t know. Boris, do you have any recommendations for great podcasts? Send some podcasts that are interesting. Ask a thought-provoking question. Okay?

[00:28:32.060] – Rachel Bearbower
So then you want to move on to sharing a little bit more about what your nonprofit does. So a great, you know… do a show and tell. This might be sharing a story. Ask for the donor or whoever the audience is for their feedback. What do you think about that? Okay? Engagement, continuing that conversation. Okay?

[00:28:58.620] – Rachel Bearbower
So then the fourth one is to ask for feedback, get advice. So if you have an opportunity to do some sort of survey or get a little bit more information about who it is that you are talking with. So if it’s a donor, why did you give? And it doesn’t need to be a 20-question survey. This could be two questions like, why did you give and what’s your name? Very simple so that you can really understand why is it that people are coming into your sphere.

[00:29:35.250] – Rachel Bearbower
And then that last email, that’s where you have this opportunity to make an ask. So something you’ve probably heard on this podcast is that, the best time to make an ask, if you have steward your donors really, really well, the best time to make an ask is six to 12 weeks after the first ask. So do it. Time to make an ask. You’re like, hey, we’ve got this problem. This is what’s going on. You are clearly a supporter and you are interested in what we’re doing. Would you consider making a gift? Bam. So, five emails.

[00:30:22.030] – Boris
Love it. And thank you for bringing all those down. We’re going to have all that written out in the show notes as well as links to any additional resources which we’ll talk about in a second. But that 6-to-12-week-cycle, I think is great. The ask at the end of that is right on point. You got someone for the first time, chances are they’re dipping their toe in the water. They aren’t fully committed to your organization yet. So now you’ve stewarded them. You’ve provided them all that value, as you so eloquently and correctly said, four times at least you’ve provided that additional value to them. And then you’ve explained that there’s a bigger problem or a new problem or more that they can do in a way that is tangible to them or feasible for them to actually do. And then you ask them to please help you with that problem. I think that’s great. And I do agree that that six-to-twelve week period. I think you said eight to twelve. Sorry, I want to pick that right.

[00:31:22.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Six to twelve, eight to twelve somewhere in there. It kind of all depends.

[00:31:27.250] – Boris
I think that’s the longest you want to go with the sequence. I think regardless, and it’s totally fine if you and I don’t see this part of the strategy the exact same way. It is definitely subjective, but I don’t think it even matters how often your newsletters go out. This is something that’s separate from your newsletters and something that should feel personal and really establish that relationship. I know when I meet someone at an event, I might hit it off with them for a few minutes, but two weeks later I might not remember their name. I might not know who they are. So you really want to get that connection solid in their minds between their gift and what they’ve been able to do with their gift, how they become a hero and how your organization has helped them become that hero.

[00:32:14.600] – Rachel Bearbower
So really quick because I know that going and writing five emails. Right? Like just lifting them off is really hard. Something that you might want to try, especially as we’re in kind of first quarter after year-end giving, write one of those emails a week for the next four or five weeks, and then take each one of those emails and after you’ve written them, then turn them evergreen. So what I mean by that is make it sound like it could go out at any time and put those emails into that automated series. So then anyone after—that comes in after then receives those emails. So then you don’t feel that pressure of having to write all five of those emails right away. Great way to get it done.

[00:33:11.770] – Boris
I also did want to highlight that you said survey them, ask them some questions. You do want it to feel interactive. You don’t want them to feel like… And this should be the reality. You care about them and what their concerns are, the reasons why they gave. It’s not about you, the organization. It is about a human being. As you said, identify yourself in that first email. And it is about the person who is supporting you, why they’re supporting you, and what is it that they’re hoping to achieve. So hopefully you could deliver on their promise. I think later on it’s great to send a bigger survey asking for more information about them. I think quarterly is actually a good cadence for major donor surveys, especially to new donors, to update your own stats. But that initial couple of questions survey is a great idea to make them feel like you care.

[00:33:59.010] – Rachel Bearbower
Yeah, totally agree.

[00:34:01.000] – Boris
Alright, Rachel, I feel like I extracted some great stuff out of you, and now I want to help people take the next steps. So you’ve already told them how to get started. Write one email. This doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And then, by the way, when you’re finished with the fifth email the following week, go back and tweak maybe your first email because you’ll have some feedback. You’ll see how it’s working. So start playing with the copy, start playing with the headline, whatever it is that you want to start tweaking. Maybe if you’ve gotten some feedback, I’m going a little too far maybe now. But if you’ve gotten some feedback in those surveys, incorporate that into the email sequence to use their own language.

[00:34:36.680] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. Can I say one more thing that’s really cool. So that example…

[00:34:40.890] – Boris
No more value, Rachel! No more value!

[00:34:42.050] – Rachel Bearbower
I know. I’m sorry. I’m not sorry. This is awesome. So that first email, the example from the Alzheimer’s organization. So in the first email that they sent when the organization, the Executive Director was introducing herself and kind of aligning those values, she asked, “How can I best support you right now?” Because remember, it was going out to caregivers. So how can I best support you and provide you with the resources that you need? The responses—she couldn’t really quantify the responses that she received, but she received enough responses that she had to get another staff person involved in answering emails. Because that many people were responding to her emails. I think that is really powerful. Really, really powerful.

[00:35:36.990] – Boris
It’s connection and it’s investment. Someone is now not just giving you money or doing something, but they’re also investing their time in communicating with you, in giving you feedback, and in feeling like they’re actually talking to somebody like they’re having a conversation. That’s amazing. And taking on that extra person will pay for itself in multiples, I’m sure.

[00:35:59.620] – Rachel Bearbower
Absolutely. For sure.

[00:36:01.810] – Boris
Rachel, I always ask if people have any tools or resources that they’d like to share. And when I asked you this, you actually sent me a whole lot that I’m going to share on the show notes. Are there any that you kind of want to highlight specifically while we’re on the air and then we’ll share the rest in the show notes?

[00:36:18.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Okay. I have so many tools and resources, so please go and look in the show notes because it’s like my favorite thing. I think that my favorite… I’m going to just kind of put this all together. I think my favorite resources are the ones that can simplify my life. And I say that generally because I know that I tried MailChimp and then I tried Constant Contact and then I found ConvertKit, and ConvertKit worked with my brain. Some people love MailChimp, some people…

[00:36:56.940] – Rachel Bearbower
So I’m not going to recommend a specific email service or a certain social media scheduler because we all work a little bit different. But if you can find some tools that you can use to automate the system or automate the work that you are doing and create systems in your organization, it’s going to save you a lot of time and allow you to move away from doing that system work and allow you to focus on building relationships and raising more money. Okay? So finding those tools.

[00:37:41.510] – Rachel Bearbower
I also love, love, love, love Brene Brown. So anything by her, I think really getting into understanding just who you are as a leader. Dare to Lead is a great book. And then Essentialism is a fantastic book to just start shedding, like all the extra crap that we are all doing just because we’re doing it. You are too busy. You are too busy. So let’s eliminate that in this new year and just start doing the things that are most important and bring us the most joy.

[00:38:23.690] – Boris
I love all of it. I love some of the tools, specific tools that you did recommend that we could list. But I agree the tool that you’ve got at your disposal and can use quickly and comfortably is the best one. Can you later upgrade? Sure. But sometimes I have a problem of I’m looking for the perfect tool and I spend too much time doing that.

[00:38:42.940] – Rachel Bearbower
Those don’t exist.

[00:38:44.220] – Boris
They don’t exist and even just the perfect tool for you isn’t necessary. The perfect tool for you is the one that you can use right now, and then later you can upgrade or do whatever it is to transition to another one. I’ve also read three out of the four books that you listed in the notes, which we’ll share as well.

[00:39:00.380] – Rachel Bearbower
Which one didn’t you read?

[00:39:01.770] – Boris
Profit First.

[00:39:02.950] – Rachel Bearbower

[00:39:05.150] – Boris
Okay. Yes. Assigned and downloaded on Audible already.

[00:39:08.950] – Rachel Bearbower
Excellent. Excellent. It’s a good one, actually, every nonprofit should read that one because I think finances is one of our… I think if everyone read Profit First that the nonprofit industry would completely turn around. But that is a different podcast episode, so we will save that for next time.

[00:39:28.160] – Boris
We’ll have to do another one then. So thank you so much for all of the value and stories that you’ve shared with us today. What is your call to action for our heroes at home who are slaving away, working away at their nonprofits and need some help? What’s your call to action to them today?

[00:39:47.230] – Rachel Bearbower
Oh, my gosh. Okay, so gratitude. First step, you get that first donor, you got to thank them or just any donor. So I do have a thank you template that is like mad libs for nonprofit. So go and grab that. It’s on my website. It’s smallshopstrategies.com/freethankyou. I just had somebody reply back to me and she was like, “Wow, that was like powerhouse little template.” I was like, “Well, thank you.” So there you go. Random review, sending that out into the internet.

[00:40:26.770] – Boris
Social proof is invaluable. We talk about it all the time. If other people are enjoying it, then chances are you will, too. So thank you for sharing that little social proof right there. And of course, we will have that link linked up in our show notes so anyone can head on over to The Nonprofit Hero Factory at nphf.show and find Rachel’s episode right there and get all of the stuff that we talked about and more.

[00:40:52.520] – Boris
Rachel, thank you so much. I do actually hope to have you on again talking about some of the other things that you help organizations do, because frankly, if we could just keep extracting everything out of you, I think we’re going to help a whole lot of people really quickly.

[00:41:03.570] – Rachel Bearbower
Thank you. It was wonderful. I really appreciate being on, and I look forward to connecting with you soon.

[00:41:11.720] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, everybody, for joining us today. I’m sure you got some great value out of this conversation today. And Rachel’s insights and her five-email sequence for welcoming or onboarding new donors so that they become longer retained donors on your books. If you did, then please, please, please leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite podcast platform. And tell a friend, because chances are you’ve got friends who are also nonprofit and can learn about marketing, about communications, storytelling, technology, all of the things fundraising, of course, that we talk about on the show every single week. Thank you, everybody. We’ll talk to you soon.

[00:41:53.810] – Outro Video
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:

  • Sometimes, naivete is a superpower. If nonprofit founders new all of the work that goes into starting and running a nonprofit, many would never start. (6:00)
  • The biggest challenge small-shop nonprofits are facing today is limited time, and the focus tends to be on getting new donors. (7:30)
  • Statistically, 70% of new donors only give one time to an organization. It seems that not enough focus is being put on donor retention. (8:38)
  • It costs less to keep an existing donor than it does to acquire a new one. (9:48)
  • Starbucks spends an average of $1,000 on acquiring and keeping their customers. The average 20-year return on investment from those customers is $14,000. (11:00)
  • We forget that our donors are people, not abstract money-givers. We have to treat them like people at every point possible and engage them in conversation, not just one-way updates and requests for money. (13:41)
  • Rachel shares a story about a muddy dog print that changed her view of donor communications. Little things that make a human connection can make a big difference. (15:48)
  • Donors drop out for different reasons, but none of them should be you. (16:22)
  • One of the most effective tools for donor engagement and retention is an email welcome series, which can be automated. The key is to personalize and provide value. (17:05)
  • Rachel recommends a five-email welcome series. (19:38)
    • The first step in a relationship is acknowledging that a connection was made.
    • Then, “provide value, provide value, provide value, provide value… and then make an ask.”
  • Welcome series have much higher open and click rates than average email. More importantly, they nurture people to give again. And once they’re set, they can be put on autopilot in your email/newsletter system. (21:36)
  • Automation shouldn’t mean losing personal connection. Think of the emails as parts of a conversation, much like you’d have In a meeting. Connect personally and share stories. (24:31)
  • The frequency of your email sequence may vary depending on your other communications, but Rachel recommends one per week or so. (26:48)
  • Rachel’s 5-part donor welcome sequence: (27:17)
    • 1. Introduce yourself, as the executive director. Make a personal connection.
    • 2. Spark a conversation, share a story and ask a thought-provoking question.
    • 3. Share more about what your nonprofit does with a little show-and-tell and ask for feedback to continue the conversation.
    • 4. Ask for feedback. Send a short survey to learn more about them.
    • 5. This is your opportunity to make an ask.
  • You don’t have to feel overwhelmed at the thought of writing 5 emails. You can start by writing one per week, then turn them into evergreen elements of your welcome series. (32:14)
    • When you’ve completed the series, go back and tweak them as you get feedback and see how they’re working.
  • There’s no such thing as the perfect tool. Use what you can now, and upgrade later. (38:44)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Rachel Bearbower

Rachel Bearbower

Founder/CEO, Small Shop Strategies

Like you, Rachel Bearbower is a fundraiser, former ED, and founder. She has also been in the trenches of an underfunded, limited resource, systemless organization. And the stress, overwhelm and frustration it can cause.

This is why Rachel is the one you turn to for systems, structure and a plan. And when all of these are in place, she promises you’ll have more time to serve those who mean most to your organization and raise the funds needed to keep moving your mission forward.

Connect with Rachel Bearbower

EP35 - Boris Kievsky - Featured

Episode 35: What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 35

What Nonprofits Can Learn from IKEA to Increase Support & Impact, with Boris Kievsky

In this Episode:

Can asking your supporters for their help and input actually raise the amount they’re willing to support your nonprofit’s work?

There’s a phenomenon in psychology, studied and demonstrated by behavioral economists, in which people consider something they’ve taken part in creating to be worth more than the same thing made by a professional. This cognitive bias is called the IKEA Effect

In this episode, Boris discusses strategies for nonprofits to capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to form a stronger connection with supporters, increasing your perceived value and raising more money for your work.

[00:00:07.250] – Intro Video
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!

[00:00:24.210] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. On today’s show, I’m going to dig into a cognitive bias — a known, seemingly illogical bit of human psychology — that nonprofits have to understand and take advantage of if they want to grow their community and their support base. Many are already doing it, are taking advantage of it without realizing it (including probably your organization one way or another) but they’re not using it nearly to its potential. And today, I really want to dive into all the ways that you can do that to maximize your support base and create more heroes for your cause.

[00:01:02.730] – Boris
Before I do, though, I’d like to tell a little story — and bear with me for a couple of minutes — because I promise, it is actually relevant to what we want to talk about. This weekend, as most people in the U.S. were celebrating Halloween, I attempted to assemble and hang an IKEA set of cabinets for the fourth time. It’s the KALLAX, if you guys are familiar with all the different IKEA ones, where you could configure it into different, kind of, arrangements of drawers and shelves with doors and knock doors.

[00:01:33.570] – Boris
And I’ve assembled dozens probably, by now, of pieces of IKEA furniture over the years. This one didn’t seemingly present a challenge either, to put together at least. I put the two KALLAX boxes together, and then it was time to attach the mounting rails on the wall. If you’re familiar with the system and relates, okay. If you’re not, I’m not trying to advertise IKEA here, but they have these special metal rails that you attach to the wall, and then you can just hang the cabinets onto the rails.

[00:02:04.710] – Boris
Easy enough in theory. Of course, good practice says you should find studs to drill into and to screw the mounting rails into. And I did try to find those… but this wall, as it turns out, doesn’t seem to have studs, at least not in the area that I wanted to hang. The wall is actually adjacent to the garage, so the other side of the wall is inside our garage, the outside is leading towards our den. And it’s a long wall where we wanted to have two, kind of, cabinets on the bottom with large doors and drawers; and then up top, we wanted to have hanging, these additional cabinets to put stuff away out of view. Because, you know, when you have three kids in the house, there’s always things everywhere, and you want to find ways to stow them nicely and hopefully in an organized fashion.

[00:02:51.510] – Boris
Anyway, maybe because it’s the other side of the garage door — the garage wall – but this wall was clearly built differently somehow, and there were no studs for me to screw into. So, I went back out to the hardware store and bought toggle bolts. Which when you push into a wall, there’s a little butterfly thing, or a plastic thing that you could pull back, and it really presses against the back of the wall, keeping anything from pulling through or ripping down. I bought the bolts, drilled the hole, and pushed the toggle bolt in… and hit the garage wall instead.

[00:03:27.990] – Boris
So, apparently there’s a gap between our den wall and the garage wall, and it’s not long enough for the toggle bolt to actually go in and be able to spring open. I tried a couple of different types of bolts, none of them worked. Go back to the hardware store again. This time I buy plastic anchors and metal anchors to screw into the drywall that will hopefully hold a lot of weight. They’re rated 75 pounds each, there’s four per cabinet, two cabinets, but each one would then, theoretically, be able to support 300 pounds —which we have no intention of actually testing — but, should do.

[00:04:08.010] – Boris
So I got those in, and using them, was able to attach the rails to the wall about an inch lower than the ceiling, or actually, where the cabinets would hang about an inch lower than the ceiling. I got the cabinets up with a little bit of heft and some assistance. I was able to actually get them onto the rails and then noticed something a little odd again. Whereas the back of the cabinet was about an inch down from the ceiling, the front of the cabinet was actually literally touching — pressed up against — the ceiling.

[00:04:46.230] – Boris
Now, this would not have necessarily been a problem. I could have let it go, if not for the fact that we want doors on these cabinets and the doors swing out. Which I tried, just to confirm, but makes them actually bump into the ceiling and can’t even open. So unless I’m willing to cut open a section of ceiling, which I’m not prepared to do, I had to think of something else. Either lower the cabinets— which might make them look even stranger, hanging off the wall lower down — or find a way to, kind of, make them vertically level.

[00:05:19.170] – Boris
So I wound up coming up with a solution, which was to use washers. I put washers in as spacers between the wall and the railing, in order to try to get it flush, level with the… Well, 90 degrees to the floor and ceiling, and so the top of the cabinets will be more parallel with the ceiling. That meant, of course, going back out to the hardware store, buying longer screws, buying all kinds of washers because oh yeah, of course, the wall is not consistent to itself. I need a different number of washers in different parts of the wall… quality construction I live in. And after multiple experiments, was actually able to get the rail up relatively straight, relatively vertically straight, and mount the cabinets onto it, in such a way that they were parallel to the ceiling, and parallel and lined up with each other.

[00:06:15.510] – Boris
And the final test… was I able to put the doors on? And voila, hallelujah, they finally opened. Now, you might listen to this story and either think, “why in the world, A) is he telling this story? But B) why didn’t he just call a professional, either to put them up in the first place or when it didn’t work the first time, call someone who knows how to do these things… a handyman, a carpenter, a drywall person, I don’t know. Somebody who actually understands the principles of these types of construction and can do it quicker and probably better in the long run?”

[00:06:52.950] – Boris
Or you might be thinking of a similar experience that you had. Whether it was like me, putting together some piece of IKEA and maybe having extra parts at the end. Or having a Lego set that was incredibly challenging to put together, like the one that one of my kids loves to do. And the interesting thing is that whatever you undertook, as long as you were able to complete it, you’re probably looking back on it with pride. As I do, now every time I walk through that room, basically to the den, I look at those cabinets and I think “there’s something that I was able to do, there’s something that I achieved”.

[00:07:34.230] – Boris
And it actually makes me value them more than if I’d had someone else assemble them and put them up. Which is a little bit odd, but luckily, this is not evidence that I’m crazy (nor is it evidence to the contrary, of course). But luckily for me, this is a phenomenon that has been studied and actually aptly named The IKEA Effect, and this is the cognitive bias that I want to focus on today.

[00:08:03.750] – Boris
A litte over ten years ago, behavioral economists Michael I. Norton, Daniel Mochon, and Dan Ariely set out to examine this phenomenon that had actually been observed and used by marketers and companies, like IKEA, for decades. In their experiments, they had individuals who were not particularly skilled at assembling furniture or other tasks, to assemble IKEA furniture or build a Lego set that was complicated or fold origami for the first time. They were then asked how much they would pay for the resulting creation, the product of their efforts, and how much they would pay for the same item created by a professional.

[00:08:40.770] – Boris
So if you’ve got some work of origami that you created versus someone else created that is a professional that clearly looks better and more structured, more well-built, whatever it might be, in case of furniture. Overwhelmingly, the participants agreed to pay more — as much as 63% more — for the one that they created, even though their final product was not as well done as the professionally created one, and they were able to see that and admit it. Then they took people who were not part of the creation process and brought them in and asked them the same question about the value of the object. They were asked the value they would assign to someone, to an object, that was professionally assembled versus one that an amateur was assembling.

[00:09:30.750] – Boris
And guess what? They didn’t have the same bias, they preferred the professional one. It seemed to them worth more and more valuable. Well, this is perhaps a strange phenomenon, but if we think about it in a few different ways, we can actually understand it. And nonprofits can harness that same cognitive bias, as it’s called in behavioral science, to create stronger connections and raise more money. The fact is that once someone has participated, as the study shows, in the creation of something — and in your case, the furthering of your mission or the creation of a program — their personal narrative, their identity, expands to include that they are now someone who supports your cause.

[00:10:13.830] – Boris
And with that new identity, they’re more likely to keep supporting through volunteering, amplifying and donating, and raise their support level as they feel more invested and a stronger connection to the results. Positive changes that they want to see in the world. So the more you can make them a part of the process, the more you could involve them in helping you understand what people want and deliver on those things, the more they’re going to take ownership of it, the more — there’s another effect called The Endowment Effect — the more they’re going to endow your work with value and therefore feel it’s more valuable to support.

[00:10:54.450] – Boris
So here are a few ideas that I put together that will hopefully get you thinking about how you can capitalize on the power of the IKEA Effect to create more heroes for your cause. If you will, ways to engage your current and possible new supporters in the work that you’re doing and get them more and more invested in it. The first way is to simply offer more volunteer opportunities. Even in a time like a pandemic that we’re going through now, where not everybody is able to, or interested in, getting together to do something in person, to volunteer.

[00:11:27.630] – Boris
There are ways to get them to volunteer online, to do certain things on your behalf. It will somehow forward your mission. This is a good time to point out that next week, when we get back to our regular type of interview show, we’re going to have on the show Dana Litwin, who is a volunteer engagement expert and will be talking to us about some of the ways that we can activate more volunteers online to get them more connected with our work.

[00:11:56.010] – Boris
The second way is to create behind-the-curtain experiences. If you’ve ever gone to see a Broadway show or any kind of theater, really, and then gone backstage to see how it all works, there’s a certain level of mystery to it. But when you get back there, it doesn’t just go away. It’s not “oh, it’s a trick.” There are no illusions, per se. There are ways that we make things happen in theater and are actually fascinating to see. “Oh, wow. That’s how that puzzle came together. That’s how Mary Poppins was able to fly.” Right? Those are the behind-the-curtain experiences or meet the cast.

[00:12:31.230] – Boris
Well, in your world, you can invite them — physically or virtually — to see how their support is helping further the cause. Helping to create certain results in the world and let them participate in that feel-good moment of service delivery. There was an organization, it still exists — the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization — that I was a part of when I was in high school. And every year, they probably still do this, they have a Passover food drive where they will assemble care packages for folks who cannot go out and buy their own Passover goods, whether they are not able to leave their house or they can’t afford all of the different things that it takes to have a proper Seder, which is the celebratory meal on Passover.

[00:13:20.370] – Boris
So they would invite high school students, like myself and my friends, to come and put the packages together. And then for those of us that had cars, which in my last year of doing it I did, actually go out and drive these packages, deliver these packages to the folks who needed them. Let me tell you, that was an amazing experience that I will never forget. I still recall knocking on doors and elderly people opening the door and seeing this package and the gratitude in their eyes and in their voices was just so incredible for me to experience that, it probably laid a strong foundation for all the other volunteer work that I’ve done since then.

[00:14:04.230] – Boris
It is an incredibly powerful thing to be able to firsthand witness the accomplishment of a mission in some small way. Which, by the way, you could also do virtually. I didn’t have to necessarily go there to drive. If you are delivering goods like that, for example, maybe you can have a camera and have that moment captured on camera. When someone receives the benefit of a donation or some kind of support. Right? Then you could share that out with the people who helped make it happen.

[00:14:38.130] – Boris
The next thing that you could do is a variation on the behind-the-curtain experience, which is invite them to Town Halls. There, supporters can get an inside view and possibly the opportunity to play a part in anything, from the planning of a new program, to the direction of the entire organization. So if you think about your board, for example, they take part in a lot of the decision making and setting the direction for your organization.

[00:15:05.070] – Boris
They are also the most invested supporters for your cause and for your nonprofit. Well, what if you could offer, basically another level of that, to other supporters. To people who do care about the success of your mission. Maybe they’re part of the community, and you can poll them on what services they want, or how they want something delivered, or how something’s working for them, and let them then have that voice that gets incorporated. Now, the danger is, of course, ignoring them if you do ask for suggestions, because then they’ll feel disenfranchised. But this is essentially enfranchisement. Where you’re drawing them in, making them feel like part of the process and the solution. Again, more invested. They will be more likely to want to support it going forward.

[00:15:52.590] – Boris
The next idea is to help connect your supporters to beneficiaries. Now again, in the case of the deliveries that I was doing, it was a very direct experience where I could interact with one of the beneficiaries, and it doesn’t have to be that person-to-person. Although by the way, that could also be done online, where you could set up calls between beneficiaries and benefactors, where there could be some sort of interaction and some sort of personal connection.

[00:16:20.430] – Boris
There’s another organization that I volunteer with, where I get to work hands on with a beneficiary and see their transformation over time — which I can’t take full credit for, but I do feel a sense of pride in — and want to keep supporting. So whether it’s through in-person or indirect through digital means, connectivity, or just through great storytelling, where you could tell the story of the impact that my work or my support has been responsible for, in a way. Then you’re going to once again make me feel more invested in the work that you’re doing.

[00:16:59.070] – Boris
Similar to how every time I walk by the IKEA shelves or there’s a project in the basement where… required some creative plumbing after certain contractors left things, let’s just say, not done. It took me several trips to Home Depot, but I was able to get it done. And every time I go down to the basement, even though most people can’t see it, and to be honest, it’s crude and not pretty, I still feel a sense of pride and accomplishment every time I go down there. So connecting someone to the results of your work and in this case specifically to beneficiaries, forges a really strong bond and makes them want to keep supporting you and donating more.

[00:17:37.290] – Boris
The next one is to give people more agency. What do I mean by that? I like to say that good storytelling, especially on websites and in digital media in general, is a choose your own adventure. Not a linear novel or movie that you can’t touch. Similarly, when we’re talking about trying to engage our supporters, if we give them options of how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey with us and how they want to support the work that we’re doing, which might be, of course, asking them if they would prefer to volunteer or to donate or both.

[00:18:15.810] – Boris
And oftentimes we ask them to donate after they’ve volunteered and to volunteer after they’ve donated. Right? Both of those are, one can easily lead to, or trigger the other. So that’s one way to give them more agency. Another way is even when just asking for donations, which program do they want to support or which result do they want to see? One of the ways that you can really boost your donations is to just simply tie specific numbers, so $50, for example, to specific results. Like supply school supplies for an entire classroom of kids for a year, or a month, or whatever it might be. $50 might not be realistic for a whole year.

[00:18:59.890] – Boris
So if you can tie that, and then show me that my donation has had that impact. Hopefully even connect me in one way or another, and again, it doesn’t have to be direct one-to-one or in-person. It could just be through video or other types of content, storytelling. Connect me to the beneficiaries and the results that, the impact that it’s had on their lives. Well, now I feel like I decided what to do. I.E. Support this particular program or make this particular donation and it had this result, something that I could feel good about and creates reinforcement for me going forward.

[00:19:41.710] – Boris
The last one that I want to share today is, well, if you know me and this show, then I’m all about storytelling. And as I mentioned, the choose your own adventure stories. You have to tell the right kinds of stories, better. As much as possible, use stories to connect your supporters actions to visible, tangible (as much as possible), results in the world.

[00:20:04.210] – Boris
Tell them the stories of impact that their time, their money, their support, whatever way it came in helped make possible. And whatever you do, don’t say, “hey, we did this”. Don’t even just say, “we couldn’t have done it without you”. Be direct. Say, “you did this. You achieved this. You donated this and it created this result” as much as you possibly can. There is a caveat that I want to touch on real quick, which is, don’t ask for too much. Whether you’re creating a volunteer opportunity or you’re asking for a donation.

[00:20:37.870] – Boris
If you ask for too much and/or promise a result that won’t necessarily be achieved, then you’re going to have the opposite effect — the Disenfranchisement Effect — where I’m going to, let’s say I wasn’t able to put together those shelves and hang them, those cabinets. Then every time I walk by there, I’m going to feel like, “oh, this was a failure”. It’s a negative association with the entire process, with IKEA, with mounting things, with my house, whatever it might be. Right? All the opposite effects from what you want to have with your organization’s supporters.

[00:21:11.470] – Boris
So make sure that it’s a donor size problem or a volunteer size problem, that can be achieved. And then, of course, tell them how much their work was able to do, how much change it was able to create in the world. You don’t have to remember all of this and you don’t have to take extensive notes. Of course, we have show notes for everything that I’m talking about in this episode. I also have a blog post called The IKEA Effect on the dotOrg Strategy website that you could check out. Again, it’ll be linked in the show notes for this.

[00:21:46.270] – Boris
If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate behavioral science in your organization, in your work, I highly recommend that you check out Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin, where we talked about several different cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, behavioral economics that you can use and should be, at least, aware of in your communications and your work as an organization.

[00:22:13.870] – Boris
Be sure, of course, to check back next week where we’re going to have our interview with Dana Littwin, talking about the ways that you could do the first thing that I talked about today in terms of increasing supporter investment, which is more volunteer opportunities online during times of pandemic or all year round.

[00:22:32.590] – Boris
In the meantime, if you enjoyed this episode and I really hope you did, please be sure to subscribe to the show on YouTube or your favorite podcast app so you can know when new episodes come out and please leave a review on iTunes, so that more people can discover this program and we can help them activate more heroes for their cause as well. As always, thank you so much for all the work that you do to make the world a better place for all of us, and I look forward to seeing you again next week. Bye bye.

[00:23:02.410] – Outro Video
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:

  • Boris shares a recent personal example of the IKEA Effect. (1:12)
  • Placing a higher value and attachment on items that someone has built themselves is known as the IKEA Effect. (7:45)
  • Once someone has participated in the furthering of your mission, their narrative expands to include that they now support your cause. (9:56)
  • Invite your supporters to participate in the feel-good moment of seeing how their support is helping further the cause. (12:30)
  • It’s powerful to experience the accomplishment that comes from a mission being completed in some way. (14:04)
    • An example of this being seeing someone receive a donation, whether it’s in-person or digitally through a camera.
  • Allow your supporters to have a voice. Taking part in processes and solutions for your organization leads to greater investment. (14:45)
  • Connecting someone to the results of their work creates a bond and leads to continued support and donations. (16:20)
  • Provide supporters with options regarding how they want to proceed on their hero’s journey and how they want to support the work being done. (17:55)
  • Connect your supporters’ actions to visible and tangible results in the world using stories about the impact that their time, money and support made possible. (19:55)
  • Asking for too much or promising a result that is not likely to be achieved results in a negative effect. (20:37)
  • Cognitive biases and elements of behavioral science, psychology, and behavioral economics you should be aware of as an organization are discussed in Episode 19 with Dr. Beth Karlin. (21:56)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Boris Kievsky

Boris Kievsky

Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy

Boris is an entrepreneur, recovering filmmaker, and relapsed geek. As the the Chief Storyteller and Nerd for Good at dotOrgStrategy, Boris helps nonprofits harness the power of great stories amplified through the right technology to reach the right audiences, create meaningful connections, and activate the inner hero in each of them.

Connect with Boris Kievsky

EP32 - Heather Nelson - Featured

Episode 32: Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 32

Forming Win-Win Nonprofit Corporate Sponsorships, with Heather Nelson

In this Episode:

It may be surprising to learn that nonprofit corporate sponsorships actually increased throughout the pandemic. Even as many for-profit businesses and nonprofit orgs tightened their budgets, businesses have responded to the needs in their communities and leaned into partnerships with like-minded nonprofits in greater numbers than ever before.

For many nonprofits, however, creating successful corporate sponsorships is full of uncertainty. How does one identify good potential partners? Whom should they approach? What should they offer to make it a worthwhile endeavor? This overwhelm leads many to doubt or abandon the idea altogether, choosing instead to channel resources to more tried-and-true donor-based and grant-based sources.

Heather Nelson’s mission is to help more nonprofits and businesses form successful, win-win partnerships. That’s why she started BridgeRaise, a consultancy that focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. We invited her to The Nonprofit Hero Factory to demystify the process and break down her methodology into simple, actionable steps that anyone can use to start or scale their organization’s corporate fundraising.

[00:00:19.610] – Intro Video
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 word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:21.140] – Boris
Hi, everybody, welcome to another episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory. I love having experts on every single week to not only share information with you guys about how to do better marketing and communications and fundraising and make better use of technology. I also love it because a lot of times I get to learn from them what their ideas and their strategies are, and we have some great conversations around the subject. Today, it’s a particularly interesting episode for me because while I’ve been aware of this concept for many, many years now, of course, I have never actually personally delved into corporate sponsorships and how to set those up with corporations, perhaps in the area or national corporations for nonprofit.

[00:01:08.210] – Boris
I know how to market them. I’ve done that many times, but I’ve never actually been on the back end of things as the initial negotiations even happen. So today I’m excited to have Heather Nelson on the show. Heather is the President and lead consultant at BridgeRaise. She is an MBA and a CFRE. Heather is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise, as I just said, which focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for nonprofits. And Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships, which I think is key, and I’m sure we’re going to talk about a lot in the episode today.

[00:01:50.820] – Boris
Heather describes her superpower of building aligned relationshipbased partnerships between nonprofits and companies and really seeing and believing in the value that nonprofits can bring to those partnerships. With that, let me bring Heather onto the show.

[00:02:05.565] – Heather Nelson
Hello everyone. Hi.

[00:02:05.565] – Boris
How are you today?

[00:02:09.480] – Heather Nelson
I’m great. Thanks for having me today.

[00:02:11.760] – Boris
It’s awesome to have you on. I’m really excited to learn from you today. Before we do, though, you just heard me read off your bio and it is really impressive already. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about you? What’s your story? Other.

[00:02:25.930] – Heather Nelson
Well, I’ll start with saying I’m Canadian. I’m based in Canada, and I have been in the nonprofit sector my whole career, which I feel puts me in a bit of a unicorn position. I did start in programming and working on the programming side in international development organizations and a few other organizations. And then I went and got my business degree and came out of that really wanting to work on the revenue side, business development and fundraising. And so, I’ve been doing that ever since. And most recently, prior to starting my own consultancy, I worked at Food Banks Canada, which is the National Food Bank Association here, and we focused entirely on corporate partnerships.

[00:03:12.920] – Heather Nelson
So that was where I really got to flex that muscle and practice things I learned at business school and throughout my career. Which I’ve now applied to BridgeRaise, which has been around for five years. And we’ve been working with nonprofits of all sizes on their corporate programs.

[00:03:29.640] – Boris
That’s very cool. I, too, started out in programming, but mine was in C, C++, Lisp.

[00:03:38.710] – Heather Nelson
The other kind of programming.

[00:03:39.560] – Boris
The other kind of programming. It always catches me off guard for just a second. My brain has to turn… no, no, we’re talking about nonprofit programs.

[00:03:46.990] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Yeah.

[00:03:48.900] – Boris
Awesome. Heather, tell me, what are you seeing out there? What’s going on in the world of corporate sponsorships and nonprofit development? I know that things in finance in general have been changing a lot over the last couple of years, shifting alignments, shifting resources. What’s happening specifically from your point of view?

[00:04:10.580] – Heather Nelson
You know, I’m so happy you ask because… well, first, I’m going to start with I really like using the word partnership instead of sponsorship. And one of the reasons is to highlight one of the changes that we’re seeing that I believe, which is very good for nonprofits. We’re seeing the evolution away from either a very philanthropic and donation-based or a very transactional, purely marketing based scenario to this place in the middle. Right? So I like calling it—using the word partnership because it does have some elements of both of these things in it. And that is an emerging priority amongst this sector. We’re seeing that happen.

[00:04:51.590] – Heather Nelson
It’s becoming more and more pronounced that companies are looking for certain things from the nonprofit that extend beyond just doing good in the world, but include doing good in the world. We also have seen, obviously, with the move to remote working that we’ve seen happen over the last year, the influence of virtual marketing, virtual events, virtual connections between employees and their companies that has heavily influenced how corporate partnership looks. So that’s been a big shift that we’ve really had to adjust to in the space of corporate partnership.

[00:05:28.040] – Heather Nelson
And I think… the last one I would like to highlight is I think a lot of people felt that when the pandemic started, that maybe there wouldn’t be the funding that there had been. And we didn’t see that. We’ve seen actually companies be more and more generous recently than maybe ever before. They’ve leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. They’ve accessed employees in different ways. And so we’ve actually seen companies do at least as much as they had before, and many do more.

[00:06:02.760] – Heather Nelson
Of course, there is exceptions. There is companies that have not been able to do that, but where they have been able to we’ve seen them do it. And I think that has led to at least a certain amount of optimism around what is possible, which I really appreciate.

[00:06:18.100] – Boris
That’s wonderful to hear. I was actually going to ask you, has it been increasing or decreasing and it sounds like organizations…

[00:06:23.978] – Heather Nelson
Yeah… Some of each.

[00:06:24.691] – Boris

[00:06:24.762] – Heather Nelson
It’s not all bad.

[00:06:26.820] – Boris
So I wouldn’t be surprised if it mirrors the overall donor and donation landscape where some things have declined, but overall things have gone up. And I definitely want to get into all of the reasons why the organizations, the businesses are doing it. And especially at this time, there might be some additional reasons. But before we get there, I’m wondering, what does it look like? How how are nonprofits creating these corporate partnerships as it were? What does it look like when it’s successful, when it’s done right?

[00:07:03.440] – Heather Nelson
Well, I mean, I think from my point of view, I mean, there’s a bit of a personal question and a bit of a factual part, I think to that.

[00:07:11.468] – Boris
Tell me both.

[00:07:12.620] – Heather Nelson
From my point of view, when it’s done right, there’s a strong alignment on the reason for the partnership. Could be alignment on a value between the company and the nonprofit. It could be an impact that they both want to have. But there’s some really core reason why they’re partnered together. And then when it’s done well, that extends into there being benefits that the nonprofit provides and in return, an investment that is proportional to that relationship that is given by the company. Right?

[00:07:45.640] – Heather Nelson
And that’s when it really works. And sometimes they’re more consistent across a few. And sometimes they’re fully unique, depending on obviously, the amount of that investment. But I really like it to look proportional. So it needs to be… both sides need to be valued in a really good partnership. And that’s what it looks like inside. And then outside, we see stories being told. We see announcements being made. We see a connection between the two that is visible to their employees, maybe to their customers, maybe to the public at large.

[00:08:24.330] – Heather Nelson
The audience might depend on the situation, but it shouldn’t be a secret if it’s a good partnership, that’s really working.

[00:08:31.580] – Boris
Of course, yeah. So you’re kind of getting into this anyway, but I really want to dive further. Why do companies want to form partnerships with nonprofits? I mean, we kind of know, especially those of us in nonprofit, that—why a nonprofit might want to form a partnership. And I’m sure that maybe you could even talk to, not every company is going to be a good fit for a nonprofit in the first place. But what is it that a nonprofit can offer, is offering per se, from their side of the partnership that will entice the business to work with them?

[00:09:08.400] – Heather Nelson
Sure. Well, I think following up on that alignment piece, what we are seeing out in the world is companies really wanting to solve social problems. Some of them want to have an impact on certain social problems. Some of them want to stand for something in particular. And nonprofits provide them with knowledge in that space, provide them with expertise, authenticity around making that happen. So that’s the first thing. But there’s also other benefits we’ve talked about. We’ve seen in the world this disconnect between employees and their employers because of more people working remotely and employee engagement opportunities. To opportunities for employees to volunteer with the nonprofit is a really outstanding benefit that nonprofits can offer to companies.

[00:10:00.100] – Boris
They can also help provide some content for marketing. That could be stories that could be the impact that the company is helping them make in the world and sharing that with the public or with their employees. So there’s different benefits. And part of an overly good partnership is finding out the ones that the company values and that the employee and that the nonprofit can execute effectively against, and matching those together.

[00:10:27.050] – Heather Nelson
But we do see them fall into these buckets, most typically around employee engagement, some and authenticity and impact. Those are three buckets I would look at.

[00:10:38.640] – Boris
Yeah, I really love the part about the employee engagement. It’s hard to see the news and not hear about “the great resignation” that’s happening right now. Where, ever since the pandemic began, people are not excited to go, first of all into the office, never mind back. But people are being more selective. There’s actually a labor shortage in a lot of areas because people are much more selective about what they want to be doing. And I know that it’s popularized with the millennial generation, but I think I’m a lot older the millennial, and it still applies to me, obviously, because I’m doing this work.

[00:11:13.910] – Boris
We want to have alignment with the work that we’re doing. We don’t just want to work for a paycheck anymore. Most of us that are privileged enough, I should say, to have these choices and opportunities. So when a corporation can not only say, hey, we also care about these things, but actually devote dollars and time towards that, that helps with the employee retention and appeal. I’m sure too, right?

[00:11:38.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. I agree. It absolutely does help with those things. And I think I really believe that a company just saying it’s making a difference is insufficient, right? They need to prove it. And one of the ways they can do so is by giving their employees time. But providing incentives by giving the space and opportunities for employees to engage in this cause that this company cares about. So if it’s done well, it can be a real win-win because it can strengthen the tie between the company and the employee.

[00:12:18.240] – Heather Nelson
And it can also make the purpose or the community investment priority of the company more real for everybody. So that’s great. And I think, you know, to your point around, people aren’t looking forward to going into work. We also find that we’re connecting so much virtually around work. It’s really nice to have something else to be connecting about. And so we do find nonprofits offering lunch and learns and training sessions and, virtual tours and all these sorts of things just give, like, a different cooler conversation for people to have. And, you know, they need that. That helps with the connection for companies. So nonprofits have that to offer.

[00:13:05.230] – Boris
Absolutely. And there’s also on the other side of the millennial stereotype, which is a positive one. They want to be spending their money on organizations that they don’t consider evil or that they consider aligned with their own morals and values. So I think in that sense, it’s a marketing tool. Hopefully it’s a genuine endeavor by the organization, but it is a way to signal— virtue signal, in the true sense what their priorities are, right?

[00:13:35.020] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, for sure. For those companies that have a consumer facing brand, I mean, there’s so many other things that a nonprofit can do with them to demonstrate through sales and through how they interact with customers, that they are connected to a nonprofit. That does tend to sort of lie in the purview of more sophisticated nonprofits. And it’s a great vehicle, and it can be very lucrative for both sides if it’s working well.

[00:14:08.160] – Boris
So I know that in grants, for example, when an organization, a nonprofit gets a grant, there is a certain amount of reporting to do and a certain amount of perhaps even mile posts that they need to reach and metrics that they need to keep and report on. Is there anything like that with a corporate grant? What does a company want to see when they’re forming a partnership?

[00:14:32.120] – Heather Nelson
You know what there’s probably as many examples of what the company wants to see is there are arrangements. I would suggest that they do fall into a few categories. Within the context, there is corporate grants that are more heavily weighted on metrics related to the impact on the stakeholders, the beneficiaries of the organization. So some are designed that way, and they are, well, not exactly the same as other granting. There is more similarities with a fairly clear guidance around what kind of reporting you need to do.

[00:15:09.010] – Heather Nelson
Outside of those kinds of relationships, it does tend to be on a negotiated basis. There should always be some form of reporting. And I do actually recommend that fairly early on, you find out what it is they are measuring. Because sometimes they’ll be measuring a number of employees participating. Sometimes they’re measuring the number of Facebook likes they got. Sometimes it’s, you know, that you met the certain impact. So it’s an important part of working out a successful partnership to know that piece of information and to plan to report on it.

[00:15:43.950] – Heather Nelson
I do generally like to recommend, however, which is different than most foundation grants, that the report back is as succinct as possible. So you’re reporting on what you have promised to report on without a whole lot of extra, because generally it is being shared. So making sure that you can share a fairly tight story of success is perfect.

[00:16:12.440] – Boris
And making sure that the organization can share—the company, I should say, can share—a fairly succinct impact statement as well. Because it’s one thing to say, yeah, we care about something, and it’s another to say look at the change that we helped create with our consumers, with our employees, right?

[00:16:31.280] – Heather Nelson
I love that you bring that up, because one of my keys to success, actually, in corporate partnerships, is that you can boil the complexity of what you’re doing with the funds down to a sentence. And that can be very difficult, especially if they’re funding a very complex issue. And when you’re in the weeds of it to boil it down to “and we’re helping 100 kids exit poverty” or something very simple like that or serving 100 breakfast can feel like you’re oversimplifying very complicated social issues. However, companies need to be able to communicate fairly succinctly in annual reports and other places what their money went to do.

[00:17:15.130] – Heather Nelson
And so we do need to be able to do that. Somebody at the company is looking further into the detail to make sure it’s authentic and real and all those things, so there’s somebody that you can provide more detail to. But you need to be prepared that there are a lot of people at the company that are only going to know that headline and that headline is going to help you renew your money and get more.

[00:17:39.670] – Boris
You made me think about this concept where I’ve actually, with clients at times, aske them for a testimonial before we actually start the work. And I promise not to use it unless they still believe in it afterwards. But for me, it’s trying to get an understanding of their expectation. What do they value? What do they want to see at the end that’s going to make them super happy? So as you were talking, I thought, well… I wonder if you almost want to create a press release ahead of time. What will the press release in six months look like if this is successful, right?

[00:18:12.680] – Heather Nelson
I love that idea. That’s a great idea. Yeah, because it is like that sometimes. That’s when you see, “oh, that’s what they wanted to say. Why did they just tell us?” I mean, that’s another argument, honestly, for long term relationships. Because there’s only so much that a nonprofit and the company, there’s only so much information they can exchange the first go round. Right? Nobody has the time for everything to be shared. And therefore, if you commit to a relationship over time, then there’s always incremental gains each time.

[00:18:48.240] – Heather Nelson
Whether you do the same thing each year or you change aspects of it, you have time as two organizations to get to know each other, right? And improve on it. And that would be the kind of thing you’d be like, okay, we got the press release at the end of this year. Okay. Now what we want to say next year would be a really cool conversation?

[00:19:06.620] – Boris
You’re welcome to steal that idea.

[00:19:09.140] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, that’s right… it’s in my notes!

[00:19:10.790] – Heather Nelson
That’s all yours. You and everybody listening to this episode. Okay. I feel like so far, we’ve really established why a business might want to be in a partnership with a nonprofit. What they’re going to get out of it. And similarly, what nonprofit should be thinking about when they’re looking into partnerships. But let’s break it down to if we haven’t started any corporate sponsorships yet, or we’re looking to grow our partnership program, what do we need to do? How do we even identify the businesses out there that might be a good fit for partnership with a nonprofit?

[00:19:51.830] – Heather Nelson
Okay. Well, so the first thing I want to say is that if you haven’t started before, be looking to only find a few companies to start with. So I find that often what happens is we think, okay, let’s first get an exhaustive list of every possible company. And then once we’ve done that and got research on all of them, then we’ll go to the next step of having a conversation with some, and we’ll kind of go on. And I am really all about getting into the part where we’re having the conversations, we’re testing our ideas and we’re getting to partnership with somebody so that we have something to build on.

[00:20:25.740] – Heather Nelson
I ask to start with to try to find ten companies that you think you should start with. And usually we start by looking at people who’ve given in the past who are lapsed. Companies that are in our geography, so that can be a good place to look, companies that are in geography because then already you have one little piece of alignment.

[00:20:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then, I call it dream storming. Usually when people work at an organization, they already have thought to themselves, this is a company for XYZ reason I think should be giving to us. Right? You know, your organization, you know, the organized companies that are likely to align. So we start with a list like that, and we do… I recommend then doing a very specific kind of research. And it’s not about all the research… it’s about going to their social media. It’s going to their website. Going to a few places and really looking for the things that you need to know to show alignment between your organization and the company.

[00:21:22.660] – Heather Nelson
What are they talking about around employees? What are they giving to already? What’s important to them right now? Are they really focusing on a certain social issue? How do you speak to that social issue? So we’re looking for those kinds of bread crumbs in what they’re talking about. And social media is amazing for this. So this is like 100% where you spend your time to figure that out.

[00:21:45.980] – Heather Nelson
And then based on that, you move to outreach. And I build a little bit of internal knowledge around benefits and what we’re going to give to them before. But it’s not fancy. It’s not polished. It’s not all glossy. It really is more of a working document. So that then we can start having conversations and learning what they value before going further.

[00:22:09.290] – Boris
So as soon as you said, social media and all things digital, I don’t know if you saw my eyes light up and my grin come across my face, because obviously, that’s where I live and brief most of the time. What are some of the social media tools? I would think LinkedIn would be a big one for work like this.

[00:22:27.860] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:22:28.980] – Boris
Where do you tend to go?

[00:22:29.670] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. LinkedIn and Twitter are the two places that we tend to go to look. And we start with that list and then go to those two channels for more company information. And, of course, their website, too. They have media releases they’re putting sometimes that’s a good place to look. But yeah, LinkedIn for the people that are responsible for their community investment, for marketing and sometimes, sometimes even human resources. So you will usually see that those are the places that there tends to be relevant information. And Twitter, too.

[00:23:07.190] – Heather Nelson
That’s where companies tend to broadcast things they’re proud of. Right? So another place to look.

[00:23:13.270] – Boris
Now, do you approach them on LinkedIn or on Twitter? Where do you initiate? And then I want to get into how, but where do you initiate the conversation?

[00:23:22.040] – Heather Nelson
To the degree it’s possible we initiate the conversation in email. So that is the preference. If that’s not possible, then LinkedIn can sometimes be a choice. If the person is very active in LinkedIn and you can tell that they’re engaging there regularly, then that can be an option. But if they’re using it mostly as a broadcast channel, then it’s more appropriate to try to reach them at their work and through email. That’s my recommendation.

[00:23:54.580] – Boris
Ok. Great. Do you ever just do cold calls as well?

[00:23:59.920] – Heather Nelson
You know, that’s not my recommendation. Generally, I believe that… look, the email maybe may be cold, but we’re going to try to create warmth around it by following them on these social channels and communicating with them and showing appreciation before we reach out and then making sure the email is an aligned email that just very simply gets to the point about why they should call you back. If it doesn’t, then sometimes putting in it that you’re going to call to follow up is great. But I like to break the ice, especially now with people working remotely and different things, with an email to notify them and explain who I am before the first phone call.

[00:24:40.960] – Boris
That’s great. That’s great. Okay. So we know where we’re going to stalk them, pardon the term. We know what types of things that we’re looking for on these social media channels and where we’re going to first initiate contact. What do we actually say when we’re trying to initiate contact? Because, boy, those cover letters can be awkward. And I’ve seen people… I’ve personally fumbled for what the perfect intro to make in certain situations. How do you do it, Heather? What secret?

[00:25:09.400] – Heather Nelson
Right. Well, I think the most important key I always tell my clients this email is so short that it is painful. That’s how short it is. Because it really is the least amount of information you can give them to get them to call you back. And for many of the people we’re reaching out to, this is not an important email, so they’re likely reading it while they’re walking on their phone while they’re in the elevator. So, long with attachments is not going to work.

[00:25:39.420] – Heather Nelson
It should be short. It has one sentence explaining who you are and where you’re from. The next one is the alignment. That cool thing that you found. Hey, I saw your employee engagement is really important to you, and I have a cool opportunity I’d like to talk to you about. Hey, I see that this is important and I want to talk to you about that. And then what your next step is, can I have 15 minutes? I’m going to follow up with a phone call. Three sentences. That is it.

[00:26:05.480] – Heather Nelson
And if they don’t answer that, they don’t respond, then we can start thinking about what’s the next version? What’s the next next little bit of information that we try? Because they may not answer the first time. But holding back a bit of information, like, you know, we were in the news or this is a little bit more about what we’re offering, that will give you a chance for a follow up email. And we know that sometimes it can take a few tries to get a call back. So, you know, no point in, like, avalanche of information on the first go.

[00:26:35.970] – Boris
So I really appreciate that you don’t want to overwhelm them. So often when people are doing marketing, regardless of whether it’s nonprofit or for profit, they try to cram everything in there possible. Look at all the reasons why you should this and this. And there’s a lot of overwhelm versus telling a clean and concise story, something hopefully that teases that there’s more and that we’d love to talk and tell you more and that there’s an opportunity there. Right?

[00:27:04.220] – Heather Nelson
That’s it. And then again, the the more is a little bit more right. They don’t need to know everything about your organization to buy into this one thing. I think that this feeling that in order to give the money in order to create a partnership, they have to know everything right away is like a myth that trips people up. Just think about enough to have another conversation, enough to get to yes. If they want more information, honestly, they will ask you. If they want financials or HR structure or all the programs that you have available or all the events they will ask you. Generally, they’re not shy people.

[00:27:45.240] – Boris
And frankly, they could Google you, right? And you’d show up.

[00:27:47.340] – Heather Nelson
Right, they can go to your website. Well, that’s another thing I always say is that there is no such thing as a first impression. The second you’ve written an email, they have gone to your website. They may have already gone to your LinkedIn. So make sure that those things look corporate friendly… I call “open for business,” before you make the call. Because after it’s too late, you’ve already got “okay, now they don’t like companies,” or “I don’t see a company anywhere in any of their stuff. Why are they calling?”

[00:28:17.540] – Boris
Absolutely. And your website is a powerful tool in that regard. So are your social media profiles. Do you advise organizations to have specific corporate sponsorship and partnership pages on their site?

[00:28:32.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, there’s different ways to show that you are open for corporate partnership, and so it depends on the organization all day. But I do very, very heavily recommend that there’s some visibility of companies on your website and on your social. So how that looks? There’s lots of different ways that can work, but there definitely should be evidence that this is something you do, that you welcome companies to support you.

[00:28:58.490] – Boris
And if you already have had sponsorships, they should be on your home page. They should be on your sponsors page. They should be in several places as reinforcement for not only potential new partnerships, but also just individuals will say, oh, this company supports them. It gives you some sort of credibility social proof, which is great.

[00:29:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Right. So that’s for sure. That’s super important that that shows up somewhere.

[00:29:25.280] – Boris
So I don’t want to pull all your secret sauce out. But let me see if I could get just a little bit more from you, Heather. Once they have agreed to a call, what is it that you need to be prepared to deliver in that call? Because I’m assuming it’s not going to be a four hour call with the entire executive board of the business. What is it that you need to have prepared and what’s your goal for that first call?

[00:29:50.740] – Heather Nelson
Well, so what I say to have prepared is a brief description of what… expanding on the hook that you put in the email, expanding on the alignment. So, the key benefit. You need to have a little bit more about that, and then you have to have a series of questions. So I have a series of questions that I always look at and pick from, because by the end of that call, you should know what the proposal should look like or what more information you need to know in order to know what the proposal should look like.

[00:30:19.350] – Heather Nelson
You should not come to that call with the proposal. You should have the primary idea and maybe even a secondary idea that you’d like to tease them. If the first thing, like, drops like a rock. Like, they’re like, no, I’m not doing that. Then you’re like, sell, maybe there’s this be prepared to pivot, but in both cases, it’s like a paragraph description, a few bullets. It’s not the detail because you’re going to want to follow up with thoughtful details based on the answers they give you to the questions, after you talk for a little bit.

[00:30:50.830] – Heather Nelson
They’ll make you say something because they generally won’t just tell you the goods without knowing what you want to know. But if you tell them a little bit, then follow up with a few questions. That’s really an ideal first call. Then the next step is more, right? More of a proposal, a one page summary, whatever the next step might be. But again, you’re building right. You’re building the relationship. You’re building the partnership. You’re building a benefit that makes sense to them.

[00:31:21.690] – Boris
Absolutely. I appreciate that you think of it and advocate it as building a relationship. It’s not an exchange. It is a partnership. And those really grow over time. You don’t… I’m almost tired of saying this metaphor all the time, but you don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, or text them, “will you marry me?” after you just both swiped right. Whatever the new dating analogy might be. It takes time to build that trust, build that credibility with each other, that you’re both going to deliver on what you want, and that it’s a worthwhile investment for both of you in terms of time and funds, Right?

[00:31:59.080] – Heather Nelson

[00:32:00.420] – Boris
So if organizations that are listening to this haven’t started yet, haven’t gone down the path of corporate sponsorships, corporate partnerships, and now they’re looking to or maybe they’re looking to grow their program. What’s the first next first thing that they should be doing right now?

[00:32:19.860] – Heather Nelson
Well, let me start with answering it for newer organizations. They really need to answer the question, why is a company going to give to me? And for what? And that has to be from the company’s point of view, not from the nonprofit point of view. It’s not, “I want money to do this thing.” It’s this makes sense for a company because it helps them accomplish Y. So the why and the what. We have to answer that. After that, all other things can follow.

[00:32:46.970] – Heather Nelson
And if you’re a more sophisticated organization, I would be pushing the limits on that. So they can tackle more complicated whys and whats in terms of connecting audiences to their brand, that kind of thing. So it’s the next level of that same question. You need to understand that… what you have to offer in a corporate context before you can make a call.

[00:33:11.470] – Boris
Absolutely. Whenever I’m working with a client and we’re trying to whether it’s develop a website or some kind of campaign, we always start with the target avatar. And in that target avatar, the most important section is actually not even the demographics. It’s the psychographics, which focuses, in part on what are their morals and values, what are their concerns and what are their pain points? And how do we solve it? So I feel like for a corporate partner, maybe you fill out the head of HR or the head of whatever department it might be. But they are thinking on behalf of the company, what are their pain points? And how can we solve those pain points for them, right.

[00:33:51.980] – Heather Nelson
That’s right. Exactly. Yeah.

[00:33:53.450] – Boris
I love it. If they haven’t… Starting with a blank page for most things is pretty difficult. I know you have some resources and some templates. If nonprofits want to get started and want to kind of leap frog those first awkward moments of sitting in front of their keyboard, what can they do?

[00:34:12.740] – Heather Nelson
Yeah. So I have two things that I can offer to help. First, if you go to bridgraise.com slash gettingstarted, there’s a free download there that goes through the why and the what, and some of the key questions to ask yourself in that. And a few more things that you might want to do internally just to get ready before you start reaching out. So that’s free. You can download that. And then I also have a bundle at bridgebaise.com slash timesaving templates, and it’s a low price offer.

[00:34:43.520] – Heather Nelson
And I basically have, the research brief is in there, an outline for an introductory proposal, some email samples for that three-line email. So I have a bunch of things in there that are designed to just get away from starting from scratch. Of course, every organization will modify them slightly to meet their own personal needs.

[00:35:04.981] – Boris
You would hope so.

[00:35:05.230] – Heather Nelson
It really gets you past that, “Okay, how do I even structure this?” Because I tried it. And these ones work.

[00:35:11.880] – Boris
That’s brilliant. And I’m sure it’s a great resource for organizations. I know in marketing we have what’s called swipe files, where you literally take example copy and images and videos, whatever it might be from successful campaigns, and you modify them because if that works and there’s enough alignment, then chances are it’ll work for you, too. Or at least it’s worth a test. In this case, Heather, you’re clearly super knowledgeable on this subject. If someone wants to get started and wants to leap frog that whole initial stage of research, trial and failure, I’m sure they’re going to love the resources that you offer.

[00:35:50.110] – Boris
Is there another tool that maybe isn’t yours or resource that you recommend organizations that are looking to start or expand their corporate sponsorship program? Check out.

[00:36:03.700] – Heather Nelson
Absolutely. Honestly, I learned from other organizations all the time. One of my favorites is called Accelerist. They do some great research. They have a technology-based corporate partnership database that helps find alignment between your nonprofit and companies. It’s a great tool. I highly recommend going to their website and taking a look at some of their resources. So that’s what I love and turn too often.

[00:36:30.160] – Boris
I’m glad to hear that there is such a resource because I know for the foundations out there, there is the Foundation Database Online by Candid, and there’s other search tools out there, but I didn’t know that there was actually one for corporate sponsorship. That sounds great.

[00:36:47.700] – Heather Nelson
Yeah, absolutely. It is super great.

[00:36:50.170] – Boris
So, Heather, we’re going to have all these links in our show notes, obviously. So that it’s super easy for anyone to grab your tools or check out accelerist if people want to get in touch with you directly, what’s the best way that they can do that?

[00:37:02.620] – Heather Nelson
Of course you can reach me through my contact information on my website, but I love connecting with people on LinkedIn, so I know you’re sharing my link there. Follow me on LinkedIn. I drop videos in there. Tools, other… have conversations on articles that I think are relevant in this space, and I love being connected to more people there. I welcome new friends over there.

[00:37:24.150] – Boris
Awesome. As someone who has recently connected with you on LinkedIn, you share great content. So anybody who’s interested in this stuff really should connect with you as well.

[00:37:31.886] – Heather Nelson
Brilliant. Thank you so much.

[00:37:33.050] – Boris
Heather, thank you so much for being on the show today. I learned a lot. I love learning it’s one of my favorite things to do. That and teaching. So I really appreciate your time today and I’m sure everyone listening has enjoyed it as well. And if you have, folks at home, could you please please please subscribe? Leave us a review.

[00:37:50.300] – Boris
Share this with others so that more people can discover. Great experts like Heather learn more about the things that they can be doing both online and in storytelling to activate more heroes for their cause. Thank you and we’ll see you on the next episode of the nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:38:25.880] – Outro Video
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:

  • We’re seeing a move from marketing-based and philanthropy-based, to partnerships. (4:10)
  • Another big trend is the shift to virtual marketing, events and connections between employees and their companies. (4:51)
  • With the pandemic, more companies have leaned into their marketing to do good in the world. (5:28)
  • There are three factors to a corporate partnership done right: (7:12)
    1. Alignment on values between the company and nonprofit.
    2. Benefits that a nonprofit provides the corporation.
    3. An investment by the company that is proportional to that relationship.
  • Some of the benefits that a nonprofit partner provides a company are: authenticity and impact around their dedication to making a change, and marketing opportunities. (9:08)
  • Employee engagement and cause alignment are increasingly important as more people are looking for fulfillment beyond the paycheck, in what’s becoming known as “the Great Resignation.” (10:38)
  • It’s also beneficial for the company in terms of showing their values to consumers, who are also increasingly conscientious of the brands they give their money to. (13:05)
  • There are many different metrics or results reporting that companies might want to see from a sponsorship. You want to know that information in advance. Some are more concerned with outcomes and impact on beneficiaries. Others are concerned with employee engagement numbers. (14:32)
  • Unlike most foundation grants, or corporate grants, you want to keep the report as succinct as possible so that it’s as easy to share as possible across their media channels and annual reports. (15:43)
  • Most people at the company are only going to see the headline results and base future giving on that headline. (17:15)
  • When starting to look for companies to partner with, resist the temptation to cast a really wide net. Heather advises to start with finding 10 companies that would be a great fit. (19:10)
  • Start by looking for companies with a known alignment: those who may have given in the past, or those in your geographical area. Then try what Heather calls dream storming: brainstorm companies you think would align with your organization. (20:25)
  • Once you have your list, start researching those companies, which can be largely done on social media and websites. Your goal is to look for indicators that they’re going to align with your company. (20:25)
  • Once you have your researched list, you can move on to outreach. Have an idea of what benefits you’re going to give them, but the goal is to start a conversation in which you’re going to learn what they really value. (21:45)
  • LinkedIn, Twitter and company websites (press releases in particular) are the platforms that will be most helpful in identifying potential partners. (22:29)
  • You want to start the conversation on email, if possible. LinkedIn is a secondary option if the people you’re interested in are very active there. (23:22)
  • When initiating contact, it can be difficult to know what to say. Heather advises: Keep it short. Include the least amount of information to warrant a call back. (24:40)
  • Sometimes it can take a few tries to get the response you’d like. So hold back some additional interesting/relevant information for your subsequent attempts to get a reply. (26:05)
  • Potential corporate partners will likely check out your nonprofit before responding. So you want to be sure that your website and your LinkedIn showcase you as a great potential partner. There should be evidence that you welcome companies to support you. (27:45)
  • On your first call, be prepared to expand on your alignment and the key benefit, and have a series of questions ready to go. (29:50)
  • With each conversation, the goal is to deliver a little bit more and to build a relationship and the benefit(s) that make sense to them. (30:50)
  • For organizations new to corporate partnerships, start by answering the questions, why is a company going to give to us, and for what? (32:19)
  • More experienced organizations can be looking at more complicated versions of whys and whats, including specific items that will help connect audiences with the business brand. (32:46)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Heather Nelson

Heather Nelson

President/Lead Consultant, BridgeRaise

Heather Nelson MBA CFRE
Heather Nelson is a corporate partnership and sponsorship specialist who leads her own boutique consulting firm, BridgeRaise. BridgeRaise focuses exclusively on raising money from companies for non-profits and Heather has developed an extensive following of fundraisers who want to join her in raising money based on building relationships and impactful partnerships. To tap into Heather’s practical resources, check out www.bridgeraise.com or connect on LinkedIn

Connect with Heather Nelson

EP31 - Clay Buck - Featured

Episode 31: How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 31

How Nonprofits Are Re-Engaging Donors by Listening to Their Data, with T. Clay Buck

In this Episode:

Are nonprofit fundraisers forgetting that donors are people and alienating them in the process? When it comes to campaigns, donors are commonly segmented into convenient, pre-defined buckets, based on the amount of and time period since their last donation.

While that’s a good starting point, its assumptions and lack of nuance may be doing more harm than good. The truth is that nonprofit donors don’t see themselves in terms of your fiscal year, your budget or your segments. Segmenting and communicating with them based on their last gift or trackable trend reduces your relationship to “what have you done for me lately?”

T. Clay Buck, an individual giving consultant, has performed countless database audits and has witnessed this alienating segmentation trend too many times. Clay joins us this episode to share his approach to finding the story that donors are telling organizations, and challenging the standard segmentation processes, to make a more personal connection and increase donor engagement.

[00:00:18.050] – Intro Video
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 word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.540] – Boris
Hi Everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. That da-ding just makes me smile every time. I love it. We’ve got a great show lined up for you today. My guest is Clay Buck, and we’re going to be talking about storytelling and data and donors. And really, where the three intersect, so that you could better listen to the stories that your donors tell you so that you can respond and engage them accordingly. So let me tell you a little bit about Clay Buck. He is the founder and consultant at TCB Fundraising.

[00:00:51.550] – Boris
He is a 30 year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a frontline fundraiser as he has a consultant. Boy, that really makes him sound like he’s been down in the trenches of this fundraising war, which I kind of understand. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high-level results. He is the founder and lead consultant for TCB Fundraising an individual giving fundraising consulting firm. He has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.

[00:01:26.300] – Boris
Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia and MFA from Michigan State University and a certificate in professional writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a certificate in philanthropic psychology with distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP master trainer. That’s pretty impressive. Clay describes his superpower as “building the processes and systems that create strong individual giving programs.” And with that, let’s bring Clay on to talk to us about all of those things.

[00:01:57.760] – Clay Buck

[00:01:59.200] – Boris
Welcome to the show, my friend.

[00:02:01.650] – Clay Buck
Thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:02:03.440] – Boris
It’s exciting to have you on. I’m looking forward to hearing all of the wisdom that you’re ready to impart on us.

[00:02:09.524] – Clay Buck
Oh, gosh.

[00:02:10.550] – Boris
But first, I did read that you have your MFA.

[00:02:14.117] – Clay Buck
I do.

And I happen to know you’re a bit of a theater nerd like myself. No pressure Clay, but why don’t you tell us your story?

[00:02:24.450] – Clay Buck
Yeah. I started out to be an actor. I did… really, when I was an undergraduate, I did an internship at a smaller summer stock theater in North Carolina. And my internship was running the box office. And so, “You bought your ticket. You want to give $25? $50? $100 to support the theater?” with every ticket sale. And fast forward, finished my master’s degree, moved to Chicago and realized that A) I hated auditioning and B) the $300 that I had in my pocket was not going to be enough to sustain this lifestyle.

[00:03:00.020] – Clay Buck
So I wound up getting a job as a grant writer and sort of made the connection, “oh, this business of fundraising is the same thing that I was doing at this theater.” Okay. Made the connection. And as they always say, if you find something you love more and can do better, go do it. So I did. So that was 30 years ago. Then I started doing that. And then just through that process, developed… I’ve done somewhat everything from being a grant writer to special events to corporate foundation and really developed a love and an affinity for individual giving, particularly at the low and the mid range.

[00:03:37.210] – Clay Buck
So I have really zeroed in and focused on that as kind of of where the area of fundraising and I love the most and work in the most.

[00:03:44.920] – Boris
All right. Not bad. That’s a good story.

[00:03:47.370] – Clay Buck
Not bad.

[00:03:50.810] – Boris
I’m a theater snob, Clay, so not bad for me is one of the highest compliments you could possibly get.

[00:03:55.830] – Clay Buck
Okay. Well, there we go. There we go.

[00:03:58.070] – Boris
Yeah. No, but it had a good opening. Nice hook, middle, and I liked it. I like it. You’re a good storyteller, Clay.

[00:04:04.770] – Clay Buck
I try. I do try.

[00:04:07.230] – Boris
So that’s your story. Now you’re working in individual giving programs, helping organizations develop, optimize, do all of that kind of stuff. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re seeing out there in the trenches.

[00:04:19.300] – Clay Buck
Yeah. So when I started my own firm a couple of years ago and again, a chief development officer, I’ve been on the front lines. I also worked for a couple of different consulting firms, as well. So I’ve kind of seen both sides of the equation. Where I really focus is building strategy and the infrastructure and process for individual giving. And I’m— volatility is the wrong word because volatility implies some negativity. It implies… or at least it does to me. But I’m seeing a lot of volatility in individual giving.

[00:04:56.170] – Clay Buck
And there is a ton of great technology. There’s a ton of great strategy. There’s a ton of information and learning. And I am seeing a lot of “let’s try this. Let’s do this. Let’s adjust this. We can add this. We can do social media, we can do this streaming…” Right? So there’s a whole lot of noise. Where I’m seeing the real success is defining strategy and using data to tell us which way to go. Looking back at that historical data and historical donor behavior to tell us what’s the best strategy for us, which direction should we go? And where should we be implementing the most?

[00:05:38.510] – Clay Buck
And the way I frame it is—because we’re both actors we’re both theater people, we talk a lot about storytelling and the stories we tell our communities, the stories we tell our donors, how we’re telling the story of our case for support. I kind of frame this as “what’s the story the donors are telling us?” And they’re telling us those stories by what data they provide, how they behave, what their giving patterns look like.

They’re telling us their stories in a whole lot of different ways. It’s on us to really be listening to it and to be looking for what those stories, and how they’re informing how we work with and talk to our donors. Right?

[00:06:15.340] – Boris
Yeah. So first of all, I think it’s great that nonprofits are out there experimenting with all these different things, and I encourage them to do so. I do feel like—and maybe this is what you were implying—there’s a lot of “let’s just throw things at the wall and see what sticks” rather than a concerted strategy for their online engagement, for their efforts. So, a bit of a Catch 22. Good on them, but also now let’s take it to the next level and really sharpen our focus and actually use data to see what’s working and what’s not working. That’s a whole other level. That’s step three, let’s say, but we’ll all get there, I hope.

[00:07:00.860] – Boris
So with these stories that donors are telling us… first of all, what are you seeing? Are there any trends right now in data that you’re seeing? What kind of organization are you even working with at the moment to pick this up on?

[00:07:14.480] – Clay Buck
And I personally, I work with a wide range. So I have everything from large scale programs with hundreds of thousands of records to the small nonprofit with literally 250 records. The trend seems to be the same across the board. Here’s the fundamental thing. And especially if we look at giving over the last year: donors care. There’s a lot to care about. And in many ways, donors are trying—they are trying to exercise their philanthropy. They’re trying to exercise their caring by giving to us. They might, well, it’s not might… They aren’t following our rules.

[00:07:53.710] – Clay Buck
They’re not necessarily behaving and saying, I give year over year, so I fall into a clean retention rate analysis. They’re not following standard paths of upgrading, and they are definitely not following standard path of channel behavior. So they’re giving online. They give via check. They come to an event. They’re all kind of over the map. What donors are saying to us is, “I care about you doing it on my terms and in my ways. And in the way that makes the most sense for me and my family to do it.”

[00:08:26.040] – Clay Buck
One of the biggest trends that I see… so, one of the services that I offer and do, and I do a lot of them, is database audits, where we really dig into the data and look at the giving trends over as long a history as we can get. One of the biggest trends that I see in every single file that I look at is what I call “consistent, but not consecutive.” So a donor will make a couple of gifts in one year, and then they take a year off, and then they give another gift that’s higher than the last gift or lower than the last gift.

[00:08:55.160] – Clay Buck
And then they take 18 months off, and then they give three gifts right in row. So when we look at it over the history, they don’t necessarily behave in what our standard segmentation would would define. Right? We tend to think, right: current donor, lapsed donor, long lapse, LYBUNT, SYBUNT. And those have very strict definition, whether it’s a year or 18 months or so forth. When we look at it, historically, we see donors coming in and dropping off. And what happens if we standardize our approach, we’re treating them like you’re a current donor or you’re not.

[00:09:32.500] – Clay Buck
So they’re giving, and they’re actively engaged with us how they want to be engaged. But we keep shifting how we think about them because we’re not looking at them from a longitudinal perspective. And the biggest point there is in the testing and in the analysis that I’ve done and I’m seeing: those folks are out there walking around going, “of course I’m a supporter. Of course I’m a donor. I believe in taking care of…” whatever the mission is. In their minds, their loyal supporters in our minds, their lapsed donors.

[00:10:09.450] – Clay Buck
So how do we shift our approach to approach them the way they think of themselves?

[00:10:13.660] – Boris
So it sounds like even though you’re analyzing the data, you’re saying that they’re not points of data, they’re actual humans?

[00:10:19.870] – Clay Buck
That’s shocking, isn’t it, right?

[00:10:23.680] – Boris
Yeah. And so, as humans, I’m sure they’ve got their lives beyond our organizations. And they’ve got their concerns and their priorities beyond our organizations. Many priorities shifted over the last couple of years. A little pandemic swept through the world. Is still kind of here. And so I’m sure that shifted a lot of patterns as well. Is there any sort of consistency in terms of people went away and they’re coming back or is it really down to the individual?

[00:10:54.940] – Clay Buck
It’s really down to the individual. I mean, a lot of organizations, many organizations were very fortunate to see kind of an uptick during the pandemic. Right? Some crisis giving some “I need to feel agency. I need to feel control. I’m going to give to a thing.” So I think we’re still kind of evaluating what those kind of one-time donors look like and how they behave. But there’s always something. And I don’t mean to minimize the years of the pandemic, but there’s always something that might drive, right, this increase in one time gift or caring gifts or crisis giving, quote, unquote.

[00:11:31.630] – Clay Buck
The question that we really have to look at is, who are the donors that keep coming back to us in different ways? Who are the donors that are sticking around with us and through their behavior and through what they provide to us in terms of data, are telling us that they have a loyalty and an affinity that we might not necessarily see.

[00:11:53.640] – Clay Buck
And I will also add, it’s not just giving behavior. It’s actually what data they provide us, because it’s a whole lot easier now to just in drop my name in, right? I can drop my name in. I can fill out my credit card information. I can do this. I can do giving really quickly. There are a whole bunch of different ways that I can send a gift to super fast without giving you. But if a donor is taking the time to give us their name, their email address, their address, their contact information… they’re filling out forms. They’re responding to the surveys. Whatever it may be. If a donor is taking the time to share that information with us, what they’re essentially saying is, hey, Boris, I want to hear more, right?

[00:12:31.360] – Clay Buck
I’m trusting you with my information. I’m trusting you with my name, with my contact information and saying, Tell me more, and they’re waiting on us to respond to them.

[00:12:41.550] – Boris
Yeah. So, oftentimes the donor doesn’t receive a lot of consistent communication and engagement and might therefore drop off, become a lapsed donor. And it just looks like a data point that flipped off—a switch off—rather than trying to look at what the causality underneath that might be. I want to come back for a second to what you were saying in terms of COVID giving and how some organizations definitely saw upticks because of the need that was presented during the pandemic and the challenges that communities were facing.

[00:13:19.980] – Boris
I think. And maybe you could confirm or deny this in terms of the data you’re seeing. But to me, it feels like people who already care about specific organizations, those are the organizations they turned to—back to—to support and give more to, when they were worried either that the organization wasn’t going to have the funding that it needs. And I saw this a lot. Or when they thought, oh, this community needs help instantly. They associate giving that help with the organization that they already believe in and trust.

[00:13:53.220] – Boris
Does that sound about right?

[00:13:55.330] – Clay Buck
It sounds about right. I have no data to support this. So this is purely anecdotal kind of what I’ve seen from organizations that I work with, kind of what I’ve seen from the community that I live in. I think the overarching statement is that giving the act of giving gift donor agency, it gives us the ability to say I feel out of control. I acknowledge that this huge situation is happening. I want to do something about it, but I’m in lockdown. I’m five thousand miles away. I’m trying to deal with my own family in my own job, but I care and I’m concerned. I want to do something.

[00:14:36.370] – Clay Buck
So the act of giving gives us and gives donors some level of control to be able to say “I did something.” Right? And, “I feel good about myself.” More than likely donors that increased giving during the pandemic—and this is true of any crisis giving when you see a hurricane, a natural disaster, times of national tragedy and anything like that—people are giving to something that gets to their core identity and their core values. Who I am as a person. The things that I care about on a daily basis that I see myself as kind and thoughtful and caring and generous in these areas.

[00:15:13.160] – Clay Buck
For me and my family, that’s animal rescue. That is our go to when we feel we need to do something we go to. And then the organizations who told really good stories to donors who didn’t know about them or the work that they do in the midst of crisis in the midst of anything, give introductions to new ways to capitalize on that feeling. I do think donors tended most to go either to organizations they already cared about or to organizations and missions that have very, very, very clear, identifiable impact on the situation itself.

[00:15:51.320] – Boris
Absolutely. Absolutely. And I love that you brought up that donating makes them feel like they have some sort of agency. It’s something that they can actively do. Because that’s, talk about storytelling, that’s something I talk about all the time. You are—your organization is empowering somebody to become a hero who may or may not feel powerless without the work that you do. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t know that I could affect the food shortages in certain communities. Without being able to donate to you, I don’t have the ability while I’m in lockdown, as you just said, to make a positive change in the world. So you’re allowing me to be a hero under these circumstances.

[00:16:37.900] – Clay Buck
Do you know the starfish story? That old sort of anecdote. If I could let me just really quickly, right? A guy goes down to the beach at sunset. The tide has gone out, and there’s another man, an older man on the beach. And he’s walking down the beach. And all of these starfish have washed up. And as the tide washed out, it left him stranded on the beach. And this older man is walking along and he bends over and picks up a starfish, throws it back in the ocean so that it’s in the water. Otherwise it’s going to dry up.

[00:17:07.930] – Clay Buck
The guy watches him do this. And he’s doing the starfish one at a time, and he finally goes up to him and he says, look, why are you doing this? There are literally thousands of starfish on this beach. You cannot possibly make a difference for all of them. The guy bends over, picks up a starfish, throws it back into the ocean and says, “made a difference for that one.” And I think that’s what donors are telling us. And again, this is why I love the low in the mid range donors.

[00:17:34.830] – Clay Buck
I think these donors are saying to us, I’m out of control here. I can’t control this global situation. But you know what I can do? I can feed one person. I can rescue one dog, I can educate one child. And this is a place that I already care about, and I can exercise a little agency, a little control and make a difference for that one. I really believe that’s what donors are telling us. Our response, then, is how do we reinforce that feeling for them?

[00:18:12.110] – Boris
Go on, go on.

[00:18:13.350] – Clay Buck
Which, which again, I go to the patterns that donors give tell us a lot about how—see, I don’t think donors—I don’t think I know. Donors don’t care about our fiscal year. Our annual year donors give when they’re going to give. Our responsibility is to make sure they have the pathway to give they have the opportunity to give. I do not talk about asking donors. I talk about creating an offer. I talk about creating an invitation. That’s what we’re doing. Whatever platform, whatever channel, however we’re doing it, we are creating an offer for them to make a difference in the world, or we are inviting them to be a part of our mission, inviting them to be a part of our visions and creating pathways to make that easier for them.

[00:18:59.360] – Clay Buck
We’re very good at sending out multiple emails, multiple whatever platform we’re using. We’re very good about putting out multiple times and giving donors a lot of ways to say “no,” “not now,” “not yet.” They’re giving on their timeline. And again, when we look at their behavior—and I have done hundreds of these by now, if not thousands, which is terrifying—in every data file I look at, there is always a core group of donors, a smallish but significant percentage of donors who give multiple times per year, give every other year…

[00:19:38.220] – Clay Buck
They’re giving on their schedules because they’re not—in their minds, they just gave. In our data, it was 14 months ago, so now they’re a LYBUNT, right? I think if we start to construct some of our segmentations and some of our approaches in acknowledging that… “Boris, you’ve been one of our most loyal and generous supporters. We were just going through our records and seeing that you have been giving to Acme charities for seven years. Wow. That’s amazing. The difference that you have made over those seven years is almost immeasurable. Thank you for being a part of that.”

[00:20:14.560] – Clay Buck
Right? If we can take that in some very simple segmentation and some very simple messaging, and what I have found is that using that again, I call it consistently, not consecutive using that and treating them as a separate segment. They’re responding wildly to it, and they are actually also converting, quote, unquote to more regular giving, quarterly monthly making commitments. Right? Because I’ve been doing that anyway, so this is an easy step for me to do. Because we’re conveying the message that “you have done this, do you want to do a little more?” Because usually the answer is, “yeah. I fed one person. If I can feed five by just giving you my credit card number? Excellent. Let’s do it!” Right.

[00:20:59.780] – Boris
Yeah. So rather than treating them as someone who gave X months ago, you’re treating them as someone who has been an active supporter in one way or another for a certain number of years. So it’s not… I think the analogy here is it’s not just what have you done for me lately or you’re only as good as your last donation. It’s you’ve been supporting us. That this low period of time and helping the community that we’re serving.

[00:21:31.150] – Clay Buck
That’s it. The analogy that I will often use is, you know that friend that you look at their name in your contacts list, and you think, “I should call them. That’s been way too long.” And it feels like you just had lunch with them. But actually, it was two and a half years ago? And you pick up the call, you pick up the phone, you call them or you text them. And it’s like no time has passed at all. And then you do meet for lunch and you’re like, “I love this. You’re wonderful. Why don’t we do this more often?”

[00:21:58.200] – Clay Buck
That’s who these friends are.

[00:21:59.821] – Boris

[00:21:59.830] – Clay Buck
Because the reality is, they’re most likely fine with us. Because they’re thinking, “yeah, of course I support Acme. Of course. I feed hungry people. Of course I rescue pets.” They’re not thinking, “oh, I haven’t written a check in 14 months or 16 months or whatever it is.” They’re thinking, yes. They’re walking around with their capes on, going, “I feed hungry people.” And then when we do reopen it in their minds, we’ve always been present. We’ve always been there.

[00:22:27.100] – Clay Buck
Yes, there are some. Yes, there are some that go, they didn’t hear from us. They haven’t heard from us. They don’t know what’s happening. And they are a little ticked off, and they are a little harder to renew. Yes, absolutely true. But I’m also convinced that there is a group that is walking around going, “I love them. I love that organization. I love what they do. I’m a part of it.” And we go, “yeah, but you haven’t written a check in two years.” Right?

[00:22:48.080] – Clay Buck
So let’s shift our story to them based upon the story they’re telling us.

[00:22:54.380] – Boris
So what should the nonprofits be doing? How can we modify our current segmentation practices, data analysis practices, whatever they are, ultimately the way that we perceive people, how do we reevaluate it and do it better?

[00:23:12.360] – Clay Buck
I think the first step truly is acknowledge. Well, actually, the first step is committing to data literacy. Right? I’m an actor. There’s nothing except having done all those light plots in undergraduate, and we used to call it “torture and design” “torture and decor.” But there’s nothing in my background that makes me an excel person. There’s nothing in my background that makes me a data person. I took algebra twice—three times, for crying out loud. But I learned early on that we needed data, and so I forced myself to get good at it. So I don’t hold anybody accountable to something I haven’t done myself.

[00:23:52.470] – Clay Buck
I do think that data literacy and technological literacy are two of the greatest skills that fundraisers can invest in right now. So understanding and working to understand the different types of segmentation that’s number one—valuing it for yourself, valuing it for your staff.

[00:24:10.780] – Clay Buck
Then secondly, acknowledging that there are different types of segmentation than what our normal sort of binary lapsed, not lapsed, current lapsed, we’ll look at, and taking the time to invest in it. I know this sounds kind of highfalutin and a little high values.

[00:24:32.860] – Clay Buck
We are in a position as a profession where we are going to have to be the ears and the advocates for using data and technology and fundraising, because it is a governance issue. But our boards and our leadership are looking at bottom line. And they’re looking at how fast can we raise how much money, how quickly. It really does become incumbent upon us to take a kind of front line in the trenches leadership role, and stop and go, “look, here is the ROI and the value of investing in data here.”

[00:25:01.400] – Clay Buck
And bring to the table, “look, I took the time and here’s what I found. I found these thousand donors that over ten years have contributed over a million dollars, whatever the number may be. And we’re going to invest in this strategy. We’re going to test it and we’re going to find out exactly how they do respond.” So the short answer is taking the time to dig a little deeper and year end is a really good time to do it. I know, year end, processes are flying and we’re approaching fourth quarter at a mad pace, and so a lot of things. But taking the time to invest in how can I look a little deeper to find the things I haven’t traditionally seen?

[00:25:43.980] – Boris
So, are there any universal starting points for actually looking at the data? Like, I really like the example that you brought up of someone who hasn’t given in 14 months. That doesn’t mean that they’re not still a recurring or repeating donor, that they’re completely lapsed and you’ve lost them, and that you need a campaign to get them back, right? Because otherwise they’re gone for good. So are there, without those specific mile posts of one year, six months, two years, whatever it might be, how do we know where to start segmenting? Where to make that switch between one bucket or another? Or is it that everybody should be in multiple buckets, but then they might get different communication.

[00:26:37.500] – Clay Buck
I think segmentation is absolutely critical. I think we can get into over segmentation and make ourselves crazy. If you have a full time data person and you have the sophistication to do multiple layers of segmentation and then deliver messaging on that, bravo, you. You are the exception, not the norm.

[00:26:55.790] – Clay Buck
Quite honestly, one of the most simple things to do. And I’m kind of giving away the farm here a little bit because this is how I do it when I audit it. Most. If not all of our CRM platforms have roll up summary fields, first gift, first gift date, last gift, last gift date, second gift, right? Second gift date.

[00:27:15.180] – Clay Buck
If you can get those six fields, you can find these people. Because what you do is you look at their first gift and go show me everybody whose first gift was five or more years ago. And then you look at their last gift and go, show me everybody from this group who is five or more years ago was their first gift. Show me everybody whose last gift was in the last two to three years. And now you start to see this group of people. “Oh, wow. Boris first gave to us in 2010. His second gift was in 2014. His last gift was in 2021?”

[00:27:47.480] – Clay Buck
And we start to say, oh, okay, Boris looks like a lapsed person. And that’s a bad example, because I did say 2021. But even so, it looks like a lapsed person. But when we see… Or using a summary field like total number of gifts… look at a lapsed donor and you see a total number of gifts of ten. That’s a huge clue that. Oh, wait. He’s been far more active than just this last gift renewal.

[00:28:14.850] – Clay Buck
Because the other thing we do—if we are doing, and a little lot still aren’t, I know that—but if we are doing a lapsed renewal, so we’re sending a specific thank you letter to a lapsed renewal and treating them as somebody who lapsed but then came back. But we look at that behavior, they have lapsed and come back multiple times. We’re just re-treating… It’s going out to that friend that you’ve missed and saying, “okay, catch me up again. What’s been going on in your life?” And your friend’s like, “come on, we did this last year, right?”

[00:28:45.910] – Boris
Yeah. And that friend analogy that you made before. I never thought about it that way, but I absolutely love it because it’s instantly something that I think all of us can relate to, where we haven’t been able to catch up with friends, but we still view them as close friends that we may have been friends with since childhood, but we just don’t get to speak on a regular basis because life.

[00:29:08.100] – Clay Buck
They’re also that friend that we describe as, I haven’t talked to them in five years, but after I call them tomorrow and said I have an emergency, they’d be the one that would be there. That’s who these donors are. They want to sit and metaphorically have lunch with us. They want to know what’s going on, but because they care, and because they’ve shown that they care, they’ll still give us a gift if we ask directly and ask, right. But let’s take the time to take them out for a beer. Not literally. Maybe literally. Some of them might be literally, you know.

[00:29:39.300] – Boris
Yeah. Or send them some beer because they might be in a different part of the country. And you’re not traveling with COVID.

[00:29:45.480] – Clay Buck
Let’s not get into shipping alcohol and all of the ramifications of that, but yes!

[00:29:48.910] – Boris
There’s delivery service. There’re delivery services. I’m not advocating anything illegal here. Clay, this is great stuff. I’m sure we could talk about a whole lot more things, but I’d like that we’ve really zeroed in on one particular thing that I think nonprofits should be thinking about right now, especially as year-end giving season is upon us. If they haven’t started yet, what’s the first thing they should do? I feel like we kind of covered this actual data.

[00:30:20.070] – Clay Buck
Yeah, audit the data. Take a look. Take the time to invest in it. Either hire a firm to do it. Sorry, shameless plug for me and the many firms that do database audits. Or take the time to pull all the data out of the CRM and just run some quick analysis on it. Use those summary fields to take the time to look and see. And while you’re at it, take the time to look at your data quality. How many addresses do you have? How many emails, where are you missing phone numbers, etc., etc., etc. Because we can’t reach our donors then, right? It’s pointless.

[00:30:49.960] – Boris
Perfect. I think that’s a great place where everybody should be starting. Even if you think you’ve been looking at your data all this time, look again. Look for those people that neatly fit into the buckets that you’ve previously made and talk to them as a human being with their own life rather than someone who lapsed off your list for X months.

[00:31:10.840] – Clay Buck

[00:31:13.220] – Boris
What’s a tool or resource, Clay, that you recommend nonprofit leaders and fundraising professionals, I guess, specifically, should check out.

[00:31:21.200] – Clay Buck
I know you want to talk tech. I know “technology.” I know there’s tons of stuff out there and there’s all kinds of great resources… if it’s not on your bookshelf, if you haven’t read it, I think every fundraiser, everywhere, needs to once a year read Harold J. “Sy” Seymour’s “Designs for Fundraising.” Published in 1967, before we had technology and digital and whatever… all the things that we have. The principles in that book are the same principles today. We’re still using the same techniques. We’re still using the same strategies. And he’s absolutely right in the importance of relationship and the importance of donor behavior and how they tell us.

Sy Seymour isn’t it telling… Doesn’t say anything in the book that I haven’t said today to be perfectly honest. So that is always my go to resource, and I actually do reread it once a year just to refresh and keep myself focused.

[00:32:15.160] – Boris
And I’m sure if it’s that popular, they have a digital version, so you don’t have to—

[00:32:22.460] – Clay Buck
It was written in 1967. You’re going to get a beat up old copy from—

[00:32:24.490] – Boris
they don’t print anymore? There’s no new addition.

[00:32:26.921] – Clay Buck

[00:32:27.740] – Boris
Sounds like an opportunity to buy them all up and—

[00:32:30.240] – Clay Buck
No, don’t do that!

[00:32:31.970] – Boris
No, that would be bad. And donate them to nonprofits!

[00:32:35.480] – Clay Buck
There you go. Good. Good. That was a good recovery. It’s readily available. You can find it absolutely from your favorite book store, your favorite online source for books. But it really is just a phenomenal book. And just for perspective, Sy Seymour is who Jerry Panis learned from and developed his theories from. Right? So this is generational knowledge being passed down to it and to us all as fundraisers. I learned from people who learned from Jerry. So there’s a whole lot of generational approach there.

[00:33:10.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link to that in the show notes, as well as anything else that we touched on in this episode and some definitions of some of the terms that we talked around that might be helpful as well. If anyone wants to follow up with you directly, Clay, what’s the best way to do that? What should they do?

[00:33:28.200] – Clay Buck
LinkedIn is the easiest. You can pretty much find me anywhere online under T. Clay Buck. It’s usually @tclaybuck or some variation thereof. LinkedIn is a great place to find me. I am on Twitter, with an alarming frequency and my Twitter handle is @tclaybuck. But you can also visit my website at TCD fundraising.com.

[00:33:50.280] – Boris
We’ll have all those links as well as the show notes and takeaways for nonprofits to get started with all the awesome things that you were just recommending to do. Clay, thank you so much for joining us today and talking about this stuff.

[00:34:03.160] – Clay Buck
My pleasure! Thanks for having me.

[00:34:04.780] – Boris
Awesome and thank you everybody for joining us today for the nonprofit Hero Factory. If you like this type of content, talking about what nonprofit leaders can and should be doing to increase the number of supporters, to activate more heroes for their cause, with experts like Clay… please, please subscribe and leave us a review. Leave us a rating on your favorite platforms, on iTunes, wherever you might listen to us so that more people can discover this show and benefit from people like Clay and all of our other amazing guests.

[00:34:34.960] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. See you next week.

[00:34:56.500] – Outro Video
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:

  • There’s a lot of experimentation in nonprofit fundraising today. But success only comes when there is a strategy, informed by data. (4:53)
  • Donors are telling us their stories just by providing data, like giving patterns and other interactions that they have with a nonprofit. And the data show us that many seemingly lapsed donors care about what we’re doing, they just might not be showing it in ways that neatly fit into our preconceived notions of donor behavior. (5:51)
  • One of the biggest trends that Clay sees is the preponderance of “consistent-but-not-consecutive” donors. These are supporters who may not give in consecutive periods, or may give less one time and more another. Too often, they get mislabeled into lapsed or similar categories, and the communication with them becomes inconsistent with their views. (8:40)
  • Donors are human beings with changing priorities and life circumstances. In times of crisis, their patterns change, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to support the causes they care about. (10:13)
  • For donors, the act of giving is an act of agency. They are attempting to make a change in the world, to right some wrong and not feel powerless. Even in times of crisis, though, they are likely to increase support for the organizations that they care about, as well as those that have a clear connection to the current crisis. (14:07)
  • The Starfish parable: donors want to feel like they’re making a difference, even in the face of unfathomable odds. (16:37)
  • Donors don’t care about a nonprofit’s fiscal year. They give when they want to give, and our job is to make that as easy as possible. Don’t assume that, just because you haven’t heard (or received a donation) from a supporter in X months, that they no longer identify themselves with your organization and cause. (18:22)
  • Creating segments of donors who are consistent but not consecutive, and approaching them as long-time friends and collaborators rather than labels like lapsed/LYBUNT/SYBUNT, and giving them a reason and a way to increase their support has proven very effective in increasing giving. (19:50)
  • The first step to changing how you view and engage your donors is to commit to data literacy. You don’t have to be naturally great with math or an Excel pro, you just have to be willing to learn. (23:18)
  • The second step is to acknowledge that there are different possibilities for segmentation than the binary tests that are dominant. Consider what your donors’ data is actually telling you about them, and then treat them accordingly. (24:10)
  • There are six donor record fields that can be pulled from most any CRM platform that, when looked at the right way, can identify your consistent-but-not-consecutive donors. Don’t send them yet another reacquisition campaign that shows you don’t understand them. (26:55)

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

T. Clay Buck

T. Clay Buck

Founder/Consultant at TCB Fundraising

Clay is a thirty-year fundraising veteran, having spent an equal amount of time as a front-line fundraiser as he has as a consultant. He has experience in all aspects of fundraising, with particular expertise in individual giving and building the systems and infrastructure that support high level results. He is the Founder and Lead Consultant for TCB Fundraising, an Individual Giving fundraising consulting firm; he has held leadership roles at several nonprofits across the country and at major national fundraising consulting firms.

Clay holds a BA from the University of Georgia, an MFA from Michigan State University, and a Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of Chicago. He earned a Certificate in Philanthropic Psychology With Distinction from the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy and is an AFP Master Trainer.

Connect with T. Clay Buck

EP30 - Andrew Frank - Featured

Episode 30: A Systematic Approach to Asking for Money for Nonprofits, with Andrew Frank

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 30

A Systematic Approach to Asking for Money for Nonprofits, with Andrew Frank

In this Episode:

Whether you’re a nonprofit development professional, a staff member, or an individual with a passion for making the world a better place, asking for money is often a dreaded necessity. The only thing worse is the possibility of not being able to provide the service that your community needs.

How can we overcome our fears and roadblocks to ask for funding with confidence and increase the number of yeses we get?

Andrew Frank has been fundraising for projects and organizations his entire professional life. Now the Executive Director of NYC Children’s Theater and consultant to numerous organizations, Andrew teaches his step-by-step approach to nonprofit execs, development professionals, board members and even individual artists. He joins us to share his process for overcoming fears, approaching prospective donors, crafting a four-part pitch, and making the ask in a way that is most likely to get a “yes.”

[00:00:17.040] – Intro Video
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 word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.860] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today, I’ve got to give you a little bit of a full disclosure, if you will. Our guest today is one of my oldest and dearest friends. We’ve actually known each other for over 20 years now, because we are getting that old. Luckily, though, he also happens to be a nonprofit leader and a teacher. He teaches people how to actually ask people for money. A topic that I think is particularly critical at this time of year for organizations of all sizes, whether you have a large development staff or none at all, and you do everything yourself.

[00:00:55.870] – Boris
Really knowing how to talk to people, how to do that ask. How to properly seal the deal, if you will, or even start the conversation, I think it can be really intimidating to people. So I’m having my friend, Andrew Frank, on today to talk to us about all of that. Andrew is currently the Executive Director of the New York City Children’s Theater. I met him, like I said over 20 years ago in another theater company in another life. So previously, though, Andrew was the director of the Cultural Institutions Unit at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, where he oversaw relationships between the city and arts institutions.

[00:01:31.030] – Boris
He was also the Interim Executive Director of the Queen Symphony Orchestra and the President of TYA/USA, a national service organization that serves the field of theater for young audiences. And he now sits on the board of the Dramatic Question Theater Company, as well. As a commercial producer, in addition to a number of Off-Broadway projects, Andrew was an Associate Producer on Broadway with “Lombardi, a New American Play.” Andrew is also a personal coach with a certificate in coaching from NYU, and he describes his superpower as helping nonprofit fundraisers and artists remove obstacles, increase confidence, and increase success rates when asking for money.

[00:02:08.920] – Boris
With that, let’s bring Andrew on to tell us more of his story. Hey, Andrew.

[00:02:14.230] – Andrew Frank
Hey, Boris, good to see you.

[00:02:17.020] – Boris
Good to see you. We talk all the time, but we actually rarely get to talk on video like this.

[00:02:21.560] – Andrew Frank
No, very rarely. That’s right. We’re phone-people.

[00:02:25.690] – Boris
We are phone-people. We’re from that age. Oh, my goodness.

[00:02:29.060] – Andrew Frank

[00:02:30.250] – Boris
We don’t even FaceTime.

[00:02:31.520] – Andrew Frank
That’s true. No Zoom or FaceTime. Just good, old fashioned phone.

[00:02:36.930] – Boris
Amazing that that technology still works. It’s over a hundred and thirty years old now or something like that. I hate to misquote technology. All right, Andrew, so I’ve obviously talked you up a good bit over here, but why don’t you tell us what’s your story? How do you come to doing this?

[00:02:52.990] – Andrew Frank
Thanks, Boris. Well, I started in New York City. I came all the way from Long Island to be a theater director. And one of the things that happens when you’re 20-something and you want to direct a play in New York is you have to raise money to do it because no one’s going to hire you. So, before I even knew what I was doing, I was raising money to produce plays so I could direct them. After a while, when my circle got bigger, we started Manhattan Theater Source, which is where you and I met.

[00:03:23.450] – Andrew Frank
And I was raising money and building a board and putting that together. And then from there, I went to the Department of Cultural Affairs, where I really started to see how big institutions—my job really was covering a lot of board meetings. And so I was sitting around at boards, listening to how they were fundraising and asking for money. And then from there, I wanted to run my own organization again. So I took over New York City Children’s Theater about eleven years ago and have run a number of different organizations, as you’ve mentioned.

[00:03:58.170] – Andrew Frank
All during that time, my love of theater and individual artists stayed strong, and I kept working with them. And I got so tired of having to watch them struggle, so that I created a course on how to help people ask for money. And I started that with individual artists and then realized that the boards that I joined didn’t understand how to ask people for money, and staff didn’t know how to ask for money. So I wound up presenting that course, and it evolved over really the last 15 years.

[00:04:30.460] – Andrew Frank
Basically a primer, an outline, on helping you ask people for money. Yeah. So that’s my story. Here I am with you. That’s the latest greatest achievement is being on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:04:46.320] – Boris
I notice your eyes go up to read that to make sure you . . .

[00:04:49.380] – Andrew Frank
I want to make sure I get the branding right. Yeah.

[00:04:52.510] – Boris
Excellent. I do appreciate that. So, in that story that you just told you mentioned that you codified this into a course, which, by the way, I should say, you and I recorded a version of this course a few years ago now, and it is on the dotOrgStrategy courses, courses.dotOrgStrategy website. But, this is not just about directing people to that or trying to make money off of them.

[00:05:17.770] – Boris
We’re really just trying to share as much information as possible and as much value as possible. And we’ll talk about a few other ways that people can learn more. But let’s start with why even make a course? What makes it so challenging that people need to learn how to ask people for money?

[00:05:33.800] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. What’s amazing, I think over the years is the anxiety and the emotional barriers that people have about asking for money. Most people have a problem just asking someone. Frequently, it’s because they’re starting with friends or family. But even when it’s not somebody that they know, they feel like by asking it means something bad about them or that they’re weak or that, you know, that they’re going to get a “no” and they’re afraid of rejection. I mean, none of us like rejection. No one likes to ask somebody out and be rejected and ask somebody for money and being rejected.

[00:06:11.480] – Andrew Frank
We just don’t like that. And so I think at the end, what’s happened is that people dream about asking people for money, but they don’t actually do it because they’re afraid of taking that step. Over the years, I’ve collected all kinds of reasons on why it sucks. You know, and it’s funny, you see where people say, “Well, I’m going to get a no”, or some people say “I’m going to get a yes and then I’ll have to deliver.” But at the end of the day, really, what it comes down to, I think, is that the sort of anxiety that we have around money and this misconception that it means something is wrong.

[00:06:49.800] – Andrew Frank
It means that we are not successful, or it means that I haven’t achieved the right thing, and I’m asking you for money because I haven’t made it on my own already, or I haven’t gotten there some other way. And I think that’s the headline that goes in our heads that it means that we’re weak, we’re unsuccessful, and we have to get over that. We have to.

[00:07:14.570] – Boris
So are some people just innately better at this than others? Are all of us born with this issue, or are there just some natural born winners, if you will, that can go out there and raise money anytime?

[00:07:27.220] – Andrew Frank
You know, I have to say, throughout my years in the nonprofit sector, maybe I bumped into a few people who say, “Oh, yeah, asking people for money is fun.” It’s the “fun” in fundraising. But I would say 99% of people do not like to ask other people for money. But that being said, I think it’s a skillset. I think it’s something that you can learn. I think it’s something you can get very good at. And I think it’s something that at least you can polish and create… I think it’s a skill set. That’s the best way to describe it.

[00:08:02.140] – Andrew Frank
It’s a skill you can learn and get better at. And really what you can do is you can raise money for your nonprofit or your project that you’re working on. And I have seen many people get much better at it and become successful fundraisers. I don’t think it’s something that you either have to be naturally good at it or not good at it. I think it’s something that’s absolutely learnable.

[00:08:28.980] – Boris
So then what do you tell those folks, like myself to be honest, who are afraid for one reason or ten reasons to ask other people for money? How do we overcome that mindset?

[00:08:42.510] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So let me just start by saying, I think the first thing to do is to challenge this idea that asking people for money means something is wrong or that you’re not successful. And I would actually ask people to go look out in the world and see who successful people are. And when you look at very successful people, whether they’re political candidates, or CEOs, or philanthropists, even the ones that give away money, they raise money. They raise money, and they’re very successful at it.

[00:09:19.250] – Andrew Frank
And actually, people who raise money become successful. And it’s like, “Oh, my God, look at that amazing person. They’ve raised so much money for this charity.” Or “they’ve raised so much money for this political movement or for this project.” I mean, when have you ever heard somebody say, “Oh, my God, that horrible person who raised $10 million to support backpacks for people in homeless shelters.” You wouldn’t. You’d be like, “Oh, my God, that person is amazing.” So the first thing I think we have to sort of say, is asking people for money is a sign of success.

[00:10:02.900] – Boris
Just the act of it on its own communicates commitment, communicates belief in yourself, communicates the value that you bring to the world about the project that you’re talking about. So I think the very, very first thing to do is to challenge the idea of why we think it’s wrong and to get over that. The second piece that I think is a big deal is practice. We don’t do it a lot. And if there’s anything in your life that you just don’t do a lot, I mean, it’s hard to do. If you don’t cook, and then like three times a year you want to sit down and cook a really nice meal, it’s hard to do. If you cook every night, you get really good at it.

[00:10:48.790] – Andrew Frank
And I don’t care what skillset that you have—you read, you watch, you get better at it. So the other part of asking people for money is practicing and doing it, and doing it regularly. I would even say for myself, as an Executive Director, I have to make a lot of phone calls to foundations. And when I procrastinate, and I put it off, and I don’t do it on a regular basis, my own anxiety, even after all these years, goes up.

[00:11:12.750] – Andrew Frank
But when I do it every week and I make it part of my routine, it’s easier to do. And so I think those are the top two. I mean, we can go deeper at other times, but those are the top two, mental and a practice.

[00:11:29.090] – Boris
Awesome, I would also add to that mental part of it. One shift that I’ve seen really helpful both to myself and to others is rather than thinking about it as asking for money, it’s offering someone an opportunity to become a part of something. To become a part of, whether it’s an organization or a project or whatever it is that’s going to do good for the world. And hopefully they already believe in the outcomes that you’re shooting for your vision, right?

[00:11:56.000] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, for sure. And I think we can talk about this more later. But when you’re asking for money, you’re asking for a specific amount of money to have a certain thing happen. A certain outcome. Would you give $5,000 so we can run an arts and education program in a homeless shelter and you’re not asking for $5,000. You’re asking to run an arts and education program at a homeless shelter. The money is the conduit, but that is definitely a good point, Boris, in terms of the mental shift.

[00:12:28.620] – Andrew Frank
But it also speaks to your belief that the program is valuable. That’s part of why we’re asking in the first place, because we believe in what we’re doing.

[00:12:38.800] – Boris
So since we’re jumping into that already anyway. Let’s talk about this. What’s the greatest challenge that people asking for money are facing today? Obviously, things are always changing in the world, but certain things also stay the same. So has asking for money changed?

[00:12:57.940] – Andrew Frank
I think, you know, it really has. I wish it hasn’t changed as much, but it has changed for a lot of reasons. One reason is that in our COVID world, there’s so much noise. So to get your message through, to get people to respond to an email, or pick up the phone, or to meet you in person, is obviously so much harder. And that particular piece, meeting in person is by far the most effective way to ask somebody for money. In-person direct ask is the best way to do it.

[00:13:35.150] – Andrew Frank
And so that being taken off the table is certainly a challenge. And then also, there’s so much need right now in the world. There’s so much competing interest in terms of need, and they’re all relevant, and they’re all, you know… from homes being destroyed by floods and wildfires, and people being homeless, and all kinds of real specific things that are going on. It’s harder to make your case. But, that being said, it’s even that more important that we’re good at it and that we practice it and that we take it on, right?

[00:14:11.700] – Andrew Frank
Because we can’t get overwhelmed and say, “Oh, well, too bad, there’s lots of people in need. My project is just going to disappear.” That would be horrible. We have to dig in deeper, I think, and overcome the challenges.

[00:14:28.820] – Boris
So ultimately, as you were saying before, we have to believe that our mission and the work that we’re trying to do is still vital to the community. And if we don’t do this, and if we don’t find ways to rise above the noise or breakthrough and make these connections, then we won’t be able to do what we do. And people are relying on us. Just because it’s not the most pressing in some ways, the sexiest thing at the moment or the most in-the-headlines thing at the moment, doesn’t mean that our mission’s not important, and that communities don’t rely on us, right?

[00:15:03.360] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I always say to people in a workshop that the world, the world literally is counting on those people, counting on you to go out there and make these really important projects in the nonprofit sector, and the art section, the cultural sector, happen. They have to happen. Our society is not going to just automatically support these causes without the energies of the people that are making them happen. And it’s crucial for us to keep doing it.

[00:15:41.400] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So I feel like it’s an imperative that we work at it. We get better at it and we make our nonprofit survive.

[00:15:48.520] – Boris
So then how do we do it today? Especially in this COVID, hybrid, whatever world that we’re living in, where meeting in person is so much tougher. What do we do to overcome that challenge?

[00:16:01.760] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. So the first thing I would say to people is don’t be afraid of the phone. You and I were talking about this at the beginning. I make a lot of phone calls. I talk to people on the phone. In fact, many foundations are run by people of an older generation, and they don’t like Zoom, and so they pick up the phone. Obviously for people who are comfortable on video, Zoom is great, or FaceTime, or whatever video it is. But video meetings are wonderful, and I think they’re great.

[00:16:36.240] – Andrew Frank
And then also obviously email and texting. Actually, I was thinking about this before coming on. How many people I’ve actually started to text rather than email, because I feel like email is actually getting just so clogged. But if I have somebody’s personal phone number and I can text them and get them on the phone with me and talk to them about what we’re doing, it feels more personal and it pushes through the noise. Obviously, I have to have their phone number, but I think the key is personalizing what the outreach is.

[00:17:14.460] – Andrew Frank
I think if you send a general email to 50 people that that’s not going to cut it. I think you have to take the time to individually reach out to people and then meet them where they are. If they can meet you on the street for a cup of coffee and they’re comfortable in our Covid times, do it. Always meet in person. If not, and they’re willing to Zoom, or meet with you on video, do that. If not, call them. But I think you have to find them where they are and go to them and not expect them to come to you. I think that’s a big piece of it.

[00:17:50.920] – Boris
I think that’s right on and absolutely critical. Whether it’s because the person is an older generation and there’s almost a double-edged sword to it, or double whammy maybe is a better expression. Because with COVID, people are less likely to be out in the first place, and older generation folks are more in danger of adverse effects of COVID, so they might not want to be out as much. And at the same time, a lot of them are also the ones who are less comfortable with technology, and so can’t necessarily hop on a Zoom link real quick.

[00:18:29.240] – Boris
I mean, I’ve experienced this. I’m sure we all have so many times over the last a couple of years now, that it just doesn’t happen. And many of us today don’t think, wait, I can just pick up the phone and still use this computer as a telephone that’s been in my pocket all these years.

[00:18:48.120] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I have to tell you, we’re in the beginning of our year at New York City Children’s theater, and we do cold calls to foundations. I will call a foundation, I will leave a message, and we talk to people. And, you’d actually be surprised by how many responses we get from an actual phone call and a message. I think we get more of a response than we do when we send an email because the email is being filtered through somebody. I think reaching out and… I feel like me saying, “Hi, I’m Andrew Frank. Can I talk to you about blah, blah, blah” gets a better response than the email.

[00:19:28.420] – Boris
Everybody talks about the oversaturation, the noise, the crowdedness of spaces. But there are continually spaces that are less crowded, that if you can utilize, why not? And sometimes it is going retro, if you will, to a technology that’s older than all of us combined, that still works.

[00:19:48.120] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, absolutely. I’m a huge believer in making a phone call. If you can’t show up in person, make a phone call.

[00:19:55.460] – Boris
Right. And sometimes people are on the other side of the country or even on the other side of the world, and you can’t necessarily meet in person. It’d be great if we all have the budgets to just fly anywhere that we want. But obviously, that’s not the most effective use of our funds. So let’s assume that we’ve overcome our fears and our obstacles to fundraising, and we have figured out the best way that we can meet with someone, whether it be in person or through video or the phone or email. Or, as you correctly pointed out, text is actually growing rapidly as a personal communications method, and you want your asks to be personal.

[00:20:35.890] – Boris
So let’s assume that we’ve set aside or overcome those challenges for now. How do you teach someone? How do you actually personally teach someone to ask for money? If every ask is supposed to be personal, right? It should be crafted to the individual. Is there something that you could actually teach?

[00:20:54.460] – Andrew Frank
Yes. Well, I’ve been doing it, so I think so. I think the answer is yes. You can teach it. At least I’ve been trying. And hopefully it’s not been in vain. But yes, everything is specific. And yes, every individual, you ideally want to know what the individual cares about. But that being said, when you ask somebody for money, I think there is a basic structure that you can hold on to, especially when you’re learning and you’re doing it for the first time. And it’s simple, but if you follow it, it’s helpful.

[00:21:29.670] – Andrew Frank
First, there’s an opening, there’s an intro. “Hi, I’m Andrew. I’m Executive Director of New York City Children’s Theater. I want to talk to you about supporting some programs that we’re doing in homeless shelters,” or free tickets or something. Then that’s the first section. And then the second section is a story where you’re telling some version of why you’re here. How you’ve come here. Why is it relevant? Why is it important? “We were asked by the city to start a program in homeless shelters. We’ve been doing it for five years, blah, blah, blah.” But there’s a story that is communicated so that’s the second section.

[00:22:08.440] – Andrew Frank
The third section is an ask. And you’re asking. And some good ideas are to be very specific. “Will you give us money?” is not a great ask. “Will you give us $5,000 so that we can support X program or pay for X expense?” is a better ask. And if there’s anything that you can give in exchange for that, that’s always good. So there’s an ask, potentially an exchange. And then there’s a closing where you say “thank you very much,” and thank them for their time, whether they’ve said yes or they said no.

[00:22:46.530] – Andrew Frank
So I think if you look at that sort of anatomy of an ask, where there’s an opening, there’s a story, there’s an ask, and there’s a closing. It gives you a format to hold on to. Especially when you’re doing it for the first time. But I still think about it, and I’ve been doing it for a very long time. I still think to myself, “make sure you’re introducing yourself. Make sure you’re telling why you’re here. And make sure that you’re asking for something specific.” It’s always so hard.

[00:23:16.370] – Andrew Frank
People always ask me, how do you pick a number? How do you know how much money to ask somebody? I mean, there are tricks to that. Another time when we have more time we could figure that out, but being specific is helpful. And I also just want to say, when people give you money, whether they give you money or not, the thank you is such a big deal. I’ve heard from philanthropists and from donors how often people don’t write really warm thank you emails or call and say thank you and don’t follow up.

[00:23:50.930] – Andrew Frank
Even major institutions struggle with this. I don’t understand why that is, but it’s a big deal because getting money and keeping someone as a donor is just as important.

[00:24:02.400] – Boris
So the pitch, and I’ve had several guests talk about this particular thing that you were just mentioning. The pitch is one thing. Getting a donation though, that’s the start of a relationship. Keeping that relationship, making it feel like a bidirectional, mutually beneficial relationship is absolutely critical. Otherwise, it takes so much effort to get that donor in the first place, that why would you want to repeat that process more than you have to. Rather than the genuine connective upkeep that you could do?

[00:24:35.930] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, absolutely. When we start getting past the once you’ve asked for money and they’ve said, yes, the ongoing relationship management is really important. You really want to avoid the situation where you’re asking somebody for money once a year, and that’s the only time you connect with them. That’s generally not good.

[00:24:52.690] – Boris
And I want to tell you, yeah. There’s one organization that I’ve donated to. I don’t even mind calling them out. I use Wikipedia a lot. And so I actually am one of the few people, apparently on this planet who donates to Wikipedia. And I’ve donated different amounts over the years, and I got basically no communication with them year-round. And then just now I had an email saying, “Hey, Boris, you donated to us.” I don’t even remember if it was last year or two years ago that I donated last. “And we really appreciate it. And can you please donate again?”

[00:25:25.530] – Boris
Seriously, no sort of upkeep and no staying in touch with me over this entire time period of, “Hey, here’s how your money is working. Here’s what we’ve been able to do. Here’s how we’ve grown.” Nothing! It just comes back to me. And this is Wikipedia. Surely they know digital.

[00:25:44.100] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. Who raised these people? Don’t they know how to say thank you and then invite you to the party in the middle? I’ve heard horror stories. People give money to pay for events and then not be invited to the event. I mean, it’s not great. But the… coming back to our structure in terms of what it is when you’re asking people for money. Being gracious as part of that ask, whether they say no or they say yes, I think is really important. And I just want to add something here, which is that, when I ask somebody for money or even write up a grant or whatever, and we get a no, I always say every no is one step closer to a yes.

[00:26:32.160] – Andrew Frank
If you ask ten people, you’re not going to get ten yeses. You’re going to have to get nos. It’s just the way it goes. So whenever I get a no, I’m like, great, I’m that much closer to a yes. I mean, I think celebrating that is part of the mental and the practice in terms of getting good at it.

[00:26:51.080] – Boris
Celebrating the fact that you asked is an achievement in and of itself. That you had the chance to practice, that you’ve actually gotten some time in front of somebody. They may eventually develop into a better relationship anyway. Over time, we develop relationships that are stronger and truer and people are more likely to support you later on.

[00:27:11.140] – Andrew Frank
Absolutely. I’ve had many people say no in the moment, and then a year later or two years later, give money. Because they weren’t ready at that moment or their priorities changed, or it was a new project, and then they wanted the project to be more established. So sometimes the “no” that you get early on—in fact, one of the things that I always say is that when someone says no, one thing that you can ask them is, “I totally understand. Thank you for your time. Can I follow up with you in the future and just update you on the project? Would that be okay?” And often they say yes.

[00:27:47.430] – Andrew Frank
And then you just send updates on the project. And then you’d be surprised how often, six months later or a year later, they’re like: “Oh, wow. You’re actually doing this. I’ll give you some money.”

[00:27:56.300] – Boris
Andrew, could you also ask them if there are other types of projects that they might be interested in? So if you pitch them on one thing right now, maybe in six months, you could come back to them with something else?

[00:28:05.850] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. I think that goes to, like, trying to understand better what somebody is interested in. And, you know, there’s a classic version of people are interested in the mission, they’re interested in access, they’re interested in status, they’re interested in different things. And so sometimes when you ask somebody about a certain project, hopefully, before you’ve asked them, you have some inkling that they like, what you’re talking about. But it does happen, especially with foundations, but with individuals, too, where you say, you know… homeless shelters, and they say, no, I’m actually more interested in diversifying audiences or something. And then there’s another program that you can bring back to them. Yeah.

[00:28:52.630] – Boris
So we’ve got the intro. We got the story. We’ve got the ask. We’ve got the closing. Are there any pitfalls that we want to try to be aware of when we’re making the four sections, the four parts of a pitch.

[00:29:05.420] – Andrew Frank
I would say one thing, don’t skip the intro and the closing. It’s really annoying to get a letter from somebody or to have somebody call you on the phone and talk to you about something and then ask you for money. It feels like you’ve been hoodwinked. It’s not great. So, if you ever read a letter you get and then at the end, it’s like, oh, will you support us? It’s like, “oh, this is a fundraising letter.” It’s not nice. So it’s really important at the beginning to say, “Hi. I’m calling and I want to talk to you about supporting this organization.” So I think that’s really important.

[00:29:37.400] – Andrew Frank
The other thing that I would say is the biggest pitfall is to assume that the person understands the relevancy of the work that you’re doing or the project that you’re creating. I think we get so wrapped up in our own sense of how important it is [what] we do, that we forget that the rest of the world out there isn’t living in our office, in our head, in our programs. And we just think, of course, people would give this money, right? Because it’s so important.

[00:30:08.820] – Andrew Frank
And I think you need to make sure you don’t fall into that trap. And that you explain every time why the work is important, at least in the first ask. But reiterating it, reiterating it over and over and over again, why what you’re doing is important, why your story is unique, why the service you’re delivering is crucial, especially in this time where so many are in need. That would be the biggest thing to make sure. That’s the biggest mistake that I see is people just assuming, “Of course, people will support this, because it’s important, right? Doesn’t the world need this?” There’s a lot going on.

[00:30:46.890] – Boris
Absolutely. So if someone is just getting started, are there any tools or resources that you recommend? Or maybe someone has been doing this for a long time like yourself. Are there any resources that you recommend that they go check out?

[00:31:02.050] – Andrew Frank
Well, to start off, I’m doing the workshop with Candid on October 25th. It’s a free workshop, “How to Ask People for Money for Artists.” Feel free to join me for that. It will be an interactive webinar for a couple of hours, and it’s free. There are a few books that I like, and I’ve got them next to me because I knew this was coming. So I think I got “Fascinate”, which is all about making things attractive to people. “Positivity”, there we go. Being positive about it.

[00:31:44.520] – Andrew Frank
And I think this is one of the best books for leadership that anybody could ever look at. Leadership and Self-Deception”, and it’s all about mindset and getting yourself able to do it. It kind of addresses the issues about relevancy, and being positive, and getting out of your own head, which I think are some of the main topics that we’ve covered today.

[00:32:07.100] – Boris
Awesome. We’ll be sure to link all of those in the show notes for this episode. And of course, we’re going to link to your free course that you’re doing your free webinar at Candid. That’s coming up on October 25th. As you said. It’s specifically for artists, or is it for anyone?

[00:32:24.740] – Andrew Frank
It’s mostly for artists. But the topic is general enough. If you’re not an artist, I think you would get a lot out of it. I think Candid wanted to be specific about it, but I’ve done this workshop for board members and for development people, really for anyone that’s thinking about raising money for something that they care about. Yeah. And we shouldn’t forget that we have a great version of the course on dotOrgStrategy. So if you want to check that out, too.

[00:32:54.220] – Boris
Yeah, we’ll have that linked up as well. It’s called “How to Ask People for Money” and it really covers all of these things in detail with worksheets and step-by-step processes. So if people want to follow up with you, Andrew, what should they do if they want to get in touch and learn more about what you’re doing?

[00:33:12.640] – Andrew Frank
Yeah. The easiest thing is to email me at New York City Children’s Theater. My email is afrank@nycchildrenstheater.org. And because I am a coach and I work with individuals and leaders and nonprofits, I really do enjoy helping people pursue their dreams and make these projects happen. I sincerely believe like you, Boris, and why this work that you’re doing is so important, is that if we don’t help nonprofit entrepreneurs and nonprofit people succeed, then the world becomes not as nice a place and we need to help.

[00:33:57.760] – Andrew Frank
So feel free to email me and I’ll get back to you because it’s important.

[00:34:03.400] – Boris
Awesome. Thank you, Andrew, for being so generous with your time with us and with anybody listening, who wants to follow up.

[00:34:09.640] – Andrew Frank
Yeah, thanks, Boris, this is really great work that you’re doing.

[00:34:13.140] – Boris
I appreciate that. All right. And thank you everybody for joining us today. I hope you found this conversation with Andrew Frank around fundraising and crafting a great pitch helpful to you and the work that you’re doing. Feel free to follow up with him. Feel free to follow up with me on any questions that you might have. Including if you want something specific featured on a future episode, a specific part of the work that nonprofits do. You know, I love everything at the intersection of storytelling and technology and how that can be applied to everything. And certainly a lot of storytelling is applied to fundraising and the work that Andrew does.

[00:34:46.650] – Andrew Frank
So thank you all for joining us. We’ll see you again next week. And if you like the show, please, please, please like, comment, leave a review so that more people can discover people like Andrew and the work that we’re doing here to help you create more heroes for your cause. Bye bye.

[00:35:21.200] – Outro Video
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:

  • Andrew shares his story: how he learned about fundraising, why he decided to teach others, and whom his techniques designed to help. Andrew believes that anyone looking to make a contribution to the world, whether through nonprofit work or through the arts, owes it to the world to make their project or their mission a reality. (2:52)
  • Most people have a tough time asking people for money. They feel that asking means something bad about them or that they’re weak, or they’re just afraid that they’re going to get a “no,” and feel rejected. (5:44)
  • Asking people for money is a skillset. It’s something that most people can learn and get very good at. (7:46)
  • Asking for money is actually a sign of success. All successful people raise money. We need to challenge the idea of why we think it’s wrong and get over that. (8:42)
  • Asking for money is like most skills; the more you do it, the better you become. (10:21)
  • One mind shift that is really helpful is rather than thinking about it as asking for money, thinking of it as offering someone an opportunity to become a part of something. Everyone wants to be a part of something that makes a difference. Asking for money is also indicative of your own belief that what you and/or your organization is doing is valuable and deserves support. (11:29)
  • Meeting in person is the most effective way to ask for— and receive— donations. But it has become harder over time. Especially with Covid. (12:55)
  • When the work you’re doing is vital to the community, you need to find a way to continue to educate and break through the noise to make real connections. (14:42)
  • What’s working today? Phone calls, email, and texting. Find potential donors where they are, and personalize your outreach as best you can. (15:48)
  • Andrew breaks down the “pitch” into a four-part structure: Intro, Story, Ask, and Closing. In each, there are specific elements that should be communicated to whomever you’re meeting with. (21:19)
  • Keeping someone as a donor is just as important as getting the donation, if not more so. This is the start of a relationship. Make sure to keep connected with them throughout the year. And always say “thank you.” (23:57)
  • In some ways, asking for money is a numbers game. Whenever you get a no, it means you are that much closer to a yes. And you never know when that connection you made might turn into something great further down the road. (26:39)
  • Before you ask somebody about supporting certain project, make sure you have some inkling as to what they like to support. (28:05)
  • The biggest mistake to avoid is skipping the intro or the closing. This is where you establish what the donor would be giving to, which is absolutely critical. (29:05)
  • We often get so wrapped up in our own sense of how important our work is, that we forget that the rest of the world out there isn’t living in our office, in our head, or in our programs day in and day out. (29:37)
    • Make sure to state and reiterate why your work is important, why your story is unique and why your service is crucial—especially at this time when so many are in need.

Action Steps: What Now?

About this week’s guest

Andrew Frank

Andrew Frank

Executive Director, New York City Children's Theater

Andrew Frank is the Executive Director of New York City Children’s Theater.

Previously, Andrew was the Director of the Cultural Institutions Unit at the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs where he oversaw relationships between the city and arts institutions, the Interim Executive Director of Queens Symphony Orchestra and the President of TYA/USA – a national service organization that serves the field of Theater for Young Audiences. And sits on the Board of Dramatic Question Theater company.

As a commercial producer, in addition to a number of Off-Broadway projects Andrew was an Associate Producer on Broadway with “Lombardi, A New American Play.”

Andrew is also a personal coach, with a certificate from NYU.

Connect with Andrew Frank

EP26 - Steve Daigneault - Featured

Episode 28: Digital Fundraising Strategies, with Steve Daigneault

The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 28

Digital Fundraising Strategies, with Steve Daigneault

In this Episode:

The world of fundraising and giving is evolving rapidly. Online fundraising has been growing at 20-43% annually over the last three years. As of 2020, it accounted for 13% of all donations, far outpacing the growth of giving overall. As the landscape and tools develop, so do the strategies for best engaging and converting donors.

Steve Daigneault has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing, fundraising, and advocacy programs for nonprofits. He joins Boris this week on the Nonprofit Hero Factory to discuss some of the emerging trends and best practices in online fundraising; breaking down how nonprofits can incorporate them into their campaigns and overall development strategy.

[00:00:17.930] – Intro Video
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 word for all of us. Da-Ding!

[00:00:19.460] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m excited to share this episode with you today. We’ve been talking a lot about fundraising strategies, storytelling strategies, digital storytelling strategies and where the three intersect. And today’s guest is going to fit right into that. If you are wondering about how you can improve your end-of-year giving campaigns or pretty much any donation campaigns that you might have out there, including the more passive ones on your website. Today’s guest is an expert in those things, and I’m excited to have him as I said.

[00:00:53.450] – Boris
His name is Steve Daigneault. He is the founder of Daigneault Digital. Steve has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing fundraising advocacy programs for some of the world’s greatest causes, including Amnesty International, Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Cancer Society, Red Cross, UNICEF and many others. Steve describes his superpower as building and growing digital fundraising programs that generate record-breaking results. Sounds pretty good to me. Let’s bring him on the show to tell us more.

[00:01:26.110] – Steve Daigneault

[00:01:27.550] – Boris
Hey, Steve. Welcome.

[00:01:30.040] – Steve Daigneault
Thank you.

[00:01:31.560] – Boris
It’s really exciting to have you on. I just read your bio. I know there’s even more impressive stuff about you. Why don’t you tell us your story? What’s your background? How do you come to this world of digital fundraising?

[00:01:42.460] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me. I started working with nonprofits in the ’90s, doing communications work, which kind of more into digital communications work. Worked at a company that was bought out by Blackbaud in the early 2000s and led the digital fundraising and advocacy team at Amnesty International. And then for the last twelve years or so, I was an SVP at M+R doing digital fundraising, advertising and advocacy there.

[00:02:15.810] – Boris
Very cool. And so now you’re out on your own?

[00:02:19.340] – Steve Daigneault
Yes, I am. And I did that just to really do more client work, was wanting to switch things up and really love the one-to-one work I get to do with clients and so just wanted to do more of that.

[00:02:34.980] – Boris
Very cool. And I’m sure your clients are happy to have you doing more one-on-one work with them. So we were talking a little bit earlier, you and I, and with your focus on digital fundraising and all of the year-end campaigns that are now coming up, and I don’t think anybody, any longer, they did this as long as they could, but nobody can deny now that digital is the primary fundraising source for most organizations these days, or the primary mode, I should say, modality. So it’s clearly going to have the biggest impact for most organizations this year and moving forward.

[00:03:12.230] – Boris
What’s working and not in 2021 when it comes to digital fundraising? What are you seeing out there?

[00:03:19.960] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. One of the interesting things that we have seen at M+R and then with some of my clients, the just sort of longer content, more content to make a case for giving. We… just one specific example of a client that we set up a paid search program, and we just were not getting very good return on ad spend. You know, paid search should be immediately positive on your return on ad spend. And it wasn’t. And we tried pretty much everything to optimize and fix that paid search program, changing audiences, bid strategies, keywords, keyword matching strategies, and nothing really moved the needle.

[00:04:14.480] – Steve Daigneault
And then we looked at the landing page that we were driving people to. And it was a very optimized, single-step donation form, something that really most organizations that are testing their donation forms are testing into this kind of form. And we just really didn’t even think twice about it. And we decided to try something a little risky, which we thought was risky at the time.

[00:04:35.930] – Steve Daigneault
And it was driving search traffic not to a donation form, but driving them to a page that—what we call an interstitial page that—talks about who is this organization? How do they make an impact? What are some examples of the impact they’re making? What is the problem they’re trying to solve? And it really has a lot of additional content on this page and make that one switch improve the return-on-ad spend ten times.

[00:05:03.650] – Steve Daigneault
So we went from like a 25 cent ROAS to $2.50 regularly. And so it really opened our eyes to like, wow, this long-form content, which is counterintuitive to our thinking about, you know, streamlining the funnel, really making that conversion as easy as possible.

[00:05:25.360] – Steve Daigneault
It’s just so counter to that idea that we really started to kind of rethink what we were showing to different audience and testing longer form content and find a lot of success with it. So, yeah, that’s a big new kind of interesting finding.

[00:05:43.160] – Boris
Let’s talk about that for a minute, because there’s a few parts that I think are really fascinating and worth exploring. The first, I just want to be clear to anyone who’s listening doesn’t know the term ROAS. It’s a return-on-ad spend, right?

[00:05:55.700] – Steve Daigneault

[00:05:55.700] – Boris
So on Google Ads, you’re paying, or maybe you’ve got your grant, but you’re still bidding on ads for a certain amount. And you’re saying that the return should be greater than the investment, which seems pretty logical. Although I know that there are some campaigns where you’re not really looking for the straight donation, they’re are longer cultivation campaigns.

[00:06:11.420] – Boris
Clearly, what you are trying to do here is drive donations. So, I mean, personally, I don’t find it too surprising, but there’s a lot of things that are happening here. There’s my favorite quote by Daniel Kahneman is, “no one ever made a decision based on the number. They need a story.” And so when you’re driving ads directly to a donate page, if there’s no story there that people could really hook into. I could see why maybe they’re turning away. Is that basically what you’re saying when you’re saying you need a page first in between and between step?

[00:06:45.000] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I think, like, obviously there was something missing. Like, people were not getting the information, the story that they need in order to make the gift. They just weren’t convinced. And they had unanswered questions. And obviously this page and this content filled in the gaps for them and made the case that needed to be made.

[00:07:12.080] – Boris
Right. So when I use story, I mean it in a kind of broad sense where we need enough information and enough things to connect to, to resonate with us, if you will, in order to really feel like, yes, this is something I care about. And in this case, something I want to support fiscally, financially.

[00:07:29.070] – Steve Daigneault

[00:07:30.270] – Boris
Did you mess around too much with how much information you put on this page, or is it really just once you were able to frame the work into what I call a story structure, whether everybody thinks of it that way or not, was it enough just to do that? Or did you wind up having to play around some more with how much content was on there?

[00:07:50.340] – Steve Daigneault
Our first draft of this page killed it. It worked really well. I mean, we did… part of where we got the idea, I mean it’s not a new idea, honestly, like you said, but I just think, in direct response, we can go focused on streamlining the conversion process that we kind of forget other pieces of content that actually are needed. But we got the idea from for profit commerce, digital commerce, e-commerce, stores and products. People selling products. You often see this sometimes when, you know, long, long landing pages with lots of, I mean, it almost feels like… it’s almost like you’re watching it’s like QVC trans—a landing page that’s kind of translated from what you see on QVC. And we’re like, we should do this for nonprofits. So we studied a couple of these pages to try to understand what are these pages actually doing? And we also thought about how, you look at the value of web traffic, we often find visitors to the About Us page have high value. And what is on the About Us page? It’s the mission, it’s some of these other things. And so we combined some of these ideas that we were seeing and came up with a landing page and it worked right away.

[00:09:24.450] – Steve Daigneault
Now, we did… we have, since then, adjusted it based on certain incentives. We had, like, a T-shirt offer, and COVID obviously happened. And then once COVID happened, we wanted to make sure we were shifting the message to kind of be relevant. But we haven’t really tested it because the landing pages just worked really well.

[00:09:44.100] – Boris
So that landing page, the QVC-style that you’re talking about. We usually call them sales letter copy, basically. It comes from the old days when there would actually be multi-page letters that people would send out—that marketers would send out. And it would tell these stories and bring people in and make it personal. And they worked, frankly. Not always very, let’s just say, above board. They were often not used for good. But in the case of a nonprofit, I’m sure your clients are using it for good.

[00:10:14.090] – Boris
And that’s really the power of that kind of long form story. When I used to build websites years ago, and I still do, but when I first started building websites for nonprofits, it was actually fairly common. It was one of the schools of thought that was prominent at the time was to have a multi-stage donation, multipage donation process, actually. So first, it was, you click on the donate button and there’s a page with a lot of information about the impact and the work that’s being done and how money is being spent.

[00:10:43.950] – Boris
And then the second page would be a more streamlined form. Since then, I feel like most organizations, at least, and the ones that I’ve been dealing with, and it sounds like the ones that you’ve been dealing with have kind of gone away from that.

[00:10:56.440] – Boris
And that is because of this philosophy, which I think is also valid, that once someone has decided to make a donation, basically get out of their way, remove all points of friction, make it as super easy as possible.

[00:11:11.470] – Steve Daigneault

[00:11:12.640] – Boris
So what’s the difference between the two? When is one better versus the other?

[00:11:19.540] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. You’re right. That the streamline conversion funnel, I mean, the landing page does still work. And what we found, because since we tested into this interstitial page, probably two years ago for the Dave Thomas Foundation, that was the first client I was working on. But there are a couple of other organizations that tested into it at the time. And since then, a bunch of other clients at M+R had tested it across different channels, different advertising channels.

[00:11:52.860] – Steve Daigneault
And what I found is that certain audiences, like existing donors that are active, where you’re trying to ask them to make a second gift. Maybe they’re a sustaining donor. You’re asking them to make a special gift on top of their money gift. Those audiences often do better when you just give them that streamlined donation form. I also have seen that certain organizations have really well known brands where it’s very clear what they do—Natural Resources Defense Council was one of them—they, you know, they see bad guys, they sue the government to make sure they protect species. It’s a very clear theory of change. People really get it really easily, and their brand is pretty well known within, you know, the population of people who support environmental organizations.

[00:12:51.820] – Steve Daigneault
Well, those interstitial landing pages have not always worked as well as a streamlined donation form. I do think that they still work well for prospective audiences. So people who are not yet donors, not yet supporters or activists that are still kind of in the consideration phase. They’re curious about which organization could potentially solve this problem that we’re seeing out in the world, and that letter-form content for that audience, I think, is, we are still seeing it work better, even for the big brands.

[00:13:26.280] – Boris
I think you touched on something absolutely critical there, which is, what stage is this potential donor or a potential repeat donor already in? I have this slide that I use when I’m working with organizations where it’s this ladder, right? This staircase, almost. And it starts from somebody who’s completely unaware to somebody who’s already a supporter or champion of the work that you do. And there are several steps in between. And when I talk about avatars, which is what we call—as you well know, but in case audiences don’t know—we call these potential heroes these target marketing personas.

[00:14:02.760] – Boris
When I talk about potential avatars, I really encourage organizations, if you can, to break them down into multiple levels of even the same person of how aware they are, of what you’re already doing. So that you could streamline the experience for them and not feel like you’re over explaining to them, but also now feel like you’re just dropping them into something and saying, donate. Right?

[00:14:25.240] – Steve Daigneault

[00:14:26.350] – Boris
And this strength of brand thing that you’re talking about is absolutely pivotal. So it could be strength of brand in your particular community. So people who already know you and have a great association with your brand, which is the story they tell themselves about your organization when they think of it. They’re one type of person versus someone who has never heard of you. And most organizations don’t have the fortuitous platform that some of the more established names, like you just said, or Red Cross after an emergency response. So those are some impulse, urgent situations where people know. “Okay. I’m going to turn to this organization.” But for most organizations, that’s not the case.

[00:15:08.580] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, that’s right. I think the third factor to consider is oftentimes there’ll be—an organization’s issue will be in the news for some reason, whether it’s a natural disaster or some other political event. And in those moments, if it’s clear that the organization is directly tied to what is in the news or in that moment, that also is another time when a really streamlined funnel may work better—probably will work better than a longer form interstitial page.

[00:15:43.180] – Boris
The other time that I’m thinking of a couple of weeks ago, we had Kathleen Murphy Toms, the director of digital strategy at GivingTuesday.

[00:15:52.270] – Steve Daigneault

[00:15:53.280] – Boris
Yeah. She’s awesome. And she is very keen on that optimized mobile, specifically—

[00:16:03.930] – Steve Daigneault

[00:16:03.930] – Boris
Not landing page, donation page specifically. And I think in her case, in the case of GivingTuesday and campaigns like that, there’s a common misconception that she’s on a crusade, if you will, to overcome; which is “GivingTuesday is when the people are going to just discover us and magically donate” versus GivingTuesday’s a time to activate our current supporters and get them to start their donations for the end of the year.”

[00:16:33.600] – Boris
So in those cases, and if you’re trying to do both, you might have two landing pages. Do you ever advise to organizations, to have more than one sort of donation funnel on their websites?

[00:16:45.980] – Steve Daigneault
You know, I think this gets at the heart of decision making for digital fundraising and organizations, which is how complex do you go? And it really depends on how large the program is, how large the audience is, how much of a payoff you’re going to get from adding that complexity.

[00:17:07.160] – Steve Daigneault
I do think that at a very basic level, having, treating existing supporters differently than prospective supporters who don’t really know you is a very basic first step that almost any organization of any size can make. And so, yes, I do think that it makes sense to think about those two audiences differently, and, in fact, try or test these different donation funnels based on the audience type.

[00:17:42.620] – Boris
So. There’s another thing that you had mentioned to me previously, which kind of falls in line with the same kind of question of how much do they already know about us before we ask them to donate? And you were talking to me about cultivation and campaigns that do that some more. Can you tell me a little bit about that and what you were running?

[00:18:05.240] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I mean, this sort of related to the interstitial page, which is, you know, how much information do you need to give people? And I think a question that a lot of nonprofits have is what is the value to fundraising of cultivation content? It’s not only, you know, and sometimes people think it’s the thank you messages. Like, aside from the thank you messages, thinking about content like that doesn’t have a call to action. It’s primarily meant to inform, inform the reader of what the organization is doing or even what’s happening in the outside world that the organization is working to solve.

[00:18:47.920] – Steve Daigneault
And so an interesting example, this is again from Natural Resources Defense Council, but we’ve had a couple of other clients at M+R test these, which is testing content through paid advertising and through email, that really just shows the impact that the organization has had. Or speaks in more sort of lengthy formats about something that’s happening right now that the organization is working on, for example, the NRDC, is working on clean water in Flint, Michigan. What’s the latest on lead in water in Flint? And there’s all kinds of stories about people being impacted by lead in water there. There the history of that work there. And it’s not really making it into giving.

[00:19:42.730] – Steve Daigneault
So we tested every week for twelve weeks. We tested sending an additional message that was just cultivation we did, and a complementary ad that kind of spoke to it, used that same content. We were mostly pointing people to a blog post, but really putting a lot of the content in the message. They didn’t need to click to read the full content or to get a lot of it. And what happened, over twelve weeks of giving everybody weekly additional cultivation content to the behavior of the people who saw that content, and we found for—it varied, now it really varied by audience. But one of NRDC’s largest segments are people who take online action, but then don’t give. You know, lots of people point and click, send a letter to Congress. You know, “please protect the Endangered Species Act,” and then that’s all I do. They never give again. And those people who received additional cultivation content we saw over a 100% increase in revenue from that audience. And it didn’t come from the cultivation messages, it came in other events when they were then asked in an appeal at a later time, or they just found NRDC on their own or converted through a paid ad in another area.

[00:21:10.980] – Steve Daigneault
But yeah, it was really, really impressive just to see how additional content that’s really cultivation-focused supports fundraising.

[00:21:22.040] – Boris
I love everything about that. About what you just said and the fact that you guys were able to study it and quantify it in at least some cases. The first part of that is a donation doesn’t need to be your primary call to action in so many circumstances. Most organizations that I come across the just ask donate, donate, donate at every chance they get. And sure, if you don’t ask, nobody will give that’s fully true.

[00:21:53.380] – Steve Daigneault

[00:21:53.660] – Boris
But if you keep asking, then people just think all you want is my money. Whereas what you’re saying is: first give them value, give them value, give them value, give them value. Twelve weeks of that in your case. And then in some way or other, when it’s time, ask them for something back. And that goes back to the philosophy that I espouse all the time, which is, nobody donates as a thank you so much as an IOU. It’s not a tip for the work that you’re doing.

[00:22:24.960] – Boris
It’s gratitude for the work that you’re doing. It’s a feeling of indebtedness. And so the more you can make them feel indebted by showing them all the value, by making them aware of things and giving them tools or whatever it might be, including knowledge, the more likely they’re going to want to pay you back for that. Right? And then I’m sorry you wanted to say something. Go ahead.

[00:22:46.620] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. I think that’s a good way of seeing this. Where they’re getting something value. I think another part of it is that in a way, an organization’s mission is to get people to care. And how do you get people to care? You don’t get people to care by a fundraising message, you get them to care in other ways. There are stories. There are statistics. There are things that happen that they may not be or know about, and it’s your job as an organization to kind of lift up that content that really inspires people and moves people.

[00:23:28.180] – Steve Daigneault
And I think you can move people without asking them to give. You can move people in a lot of other ways with other content.

[00:23:35.580] – Boris
Yeah. Those are the stories, right? That’s what I go on and down about ad nauseum, some might say. But those are the stories. You share your stories, your constituents’ stories. And you show how good is being achieved in the world. You show what the issues are. You establish the villains and the heroes of the situation. And over time, you then create a stronger bond with the person that you’re talking to, and they’re more likely to contribute. The other part of that that I wanted to really emphasize because you said it, but it didn’t sound as important as I think it is just in your sentence, which is that you don’t have to ask for donations all the time, but someone who gave their support in another way, by example, signing a petition, they are still a really valuable contributor. They have already identified themselves by doing that, as someone who cares about your cause. So now it’s absolutely your job to go and cultivate them. You go and you thank them, and then you share these stories. You drip out that cultivation campaign, however it works. Because since they identified that they’re interested but they’re not quite ready to donate to you, it’s your job to show them why a donation would amplify their impact in the world.

[00:24:55.710] – Steve Daigneault
I almost like to think of these online actions are very easy to take, and a lot of organizations do them. I like to think of them as like, hand raisers. These are people that say, hey, do you care about the world? “Yeah, sure.” Now, do you want to make a gift? I mean, “whoah!” You went from like, do I care, to that? There’s a gap. There’s something missing. And that it’s fillable. You have an opportunity with these people to kind of move them along. So, yeah.

[00:25:29.420] – Boris
You know, a lot of people use the dating analogy in the modern day I equate it to I just swiped right, and you’re asking me to marry you.

[00:25:38.840] – Steve Daigneault

[00:25:40.100] – Boris
I’m interested. There’s something about you I like. So, I love to raise your hand analogy. I use it all the time. I’m raising my hand and saying, I’m interested in this. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to give you my life.

[00:25:50.920] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. Exactly.

[00:25:52.770] – Boris
So figuring out the intermediate steps and maybe there are no calls to action. I always say—it’s hard for me when someone says “no call to action.” I always say there should be some call to action, but it doesn’t need to be “give.” It doesn’t need to be anything like that. It could be just, hey, dig deeper into this issue or check this out for more information. Or watch this video. That’s a call to action. You’ve got to layer those in.

[00:26:19.060] – Steve Daigneault
That twelve week content… the call to action was just learn more, read more, watch this video. That was it.

[00:26:25.550] – Boris
Perfect and I’m glad we teased that information out for people. There’s one more question that I wanted to ask, and I want to be considerate of time here, which was: in both of these cases you talked about, you were running ads to these types of campaigns. What do you say in a Google ad, for example, when you’re trying to get someone directly to a donation page or to a donation funnel of any sort? What kind of headlines are you using there to get that traffic in the first place?

[00:27:01.410] – Steve Daigneault
Well, the ads that we used for the cultivation tests were only on Facebook, and we use Facebook because that’s where we were able to match the emails—you know, we matched our email file in order to run ads targeting people that we’re already on our file, receiving the messages and email and all.

[00:27:21.650] – Steve Daigneault
But to your question on what do you say on paid search ads? These are, I think it depends, but we… I always think you want to try to get your brand search campaigns to work well. And those are terms that are directly related to your organization’s name, and they should be very basic.

[00:27:49.570] – Steve Daigneault
Let’s just stick with NRDC… you know, “donate to Natural Resources Defense Council.” And then we associated terms that are related to just their mission, which is protect the environment, solve climate change, save endangered species from extinction. They’re very basic, you know, terms and phrases. They’re not really complicated. But brand search, I think is the first kind of campaign I would try to make work in paid search before expanding into some of the other types. I’m a fundraiser, so that’s where I approach this. Does that answer?

[00:28:37.580] – Boris
Yeah, it does. And I think it answers it really well because I have seen a lot of organizations want to run paid search campaigns to donate. And it is often a folly, I think, because they don’t have the brand recognition, they don’t have the context. The audience, I should say, doesn’t have the context by which to recognize, “yes, I am interested in this. I will go donate.” So spending a lot of money, whether it’s Google grant or actual money out of your own budgets on these types of ads is often not fruitful.

[00:29:21.980] – Boris
I like that you also mentioned that there are mission-related terms that people might be interested in, like preservation of some sort or other, or things that your organization is working on. You could be getting people in on that. But again, and please tell me if you disagree with me.

[00:29:41.670] – Boris
I think if your brand recognition is not that strong, then maybe you’re better off driving people to content about that cause, and they might trust your organization to deliver that as a nonprofit, not as someone trying to sell them something and then nurture them again.

[00:29:56.820] – Steve Daigneault
Brand search is based on—it only works if there’s demand for people searching for your organization. So if no one really knows who you are is not searching for you, then paid search based on your brand is not going to work. And in that case, the best thing to do is to try to use your Google grant or whatever to improve your awareness. And you can do that by bidding on terms that are related to your organization and driving them like you said to your website, to content that helps drive awareness and traffic to your organization. You need to build an audience and people who know who you are and what you do.

[00:30:44.700] – Boris
Yeah. Content that provides value and probably answers a question. Right.

[00:30:48.630] – Steve Daigneault
Exactly. Yeah.

[00:30:49.620] – Boris
Because every Google search is actually a question whether it has a question mark on it or not, you’re wondering something.

[00:30:53.938] – Steve Daigneault
Yes, that’s right.

[00:30:54.940] – Boris
You answer the question well, I’ll like you, I’ll trust you, I’ll thank you.

[00:30:57.600] – Steve Daigneault

[00:30:58.680] – Boris
Awesome. Steve, what are some tools and resources that organizations might want to look into on any of these topics? What do you recommend they go check out?

[00:31:10.000] – Steve Daigneault
Well, I think about, when I think about a digital program, it’s really good to have a baseline understanding of your metrics and how it stacks up against peers. And M+R’s Benchmark Report is great, because if you participate, M+R will create a custom benchmark analysis just for you based on your data that no one else will see that you’ll have delivered to you. It’s sort of a thank you that they do in exchange for you submitting your data to be part of the benchmarks. And the report is really helpful.

[00:31:50.450] – Steve Daigneault
And so I really encourage organizations to participate in that because it’s free. It takes time. But it is free. And the other resources that I found really helpful as an email marketer, fundraising is obviously a big part of the email programs… digital email programs, and Nerdy Email as a listserv that I think is a very vibrant and interesting discussion of a lot of some of the best email marketers in the industry for nonprofits. And so I always learn things, and I always appreciate the conversation there, but those are two that just came to mind.

[00:32:32.260] – Boris
Awesome. I’m going to check out Nerdy Email because I actually hadn’t. Most organizations at this point are on MailChimp, that I come across anyway, and it works really well. But I’m always interested in other alternatives. Mailchimp has gotten a little bloated. Sorry MailChimp if you’re listening and is trying to do too many things and is in the e-commerce space now. And I think nonprofits need something a little more tailored and streamlined.

[00:32:58.100] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah. And just to be clear, Nerdy Email is a discussion group, basically. It’s how to use email. It’s not a technology or a piece of software.

[00:33:05.980] – Boris
Okay, great.

[00:33:06.920] – Steve Daigneault
It’s just a discussion group forum of strategists talking about email strategy.

[00:33:12.610] – Boris
Yeah. Well, the MailChimp. I apologize. I take it all back.

[00:33:17.470] – Steve Daigneault
I’m sticking with you.

[00:33:20.050] – Boris
I actually am. My stuff is still on MailChimp, although I’m always considering, are there better options? Steve, this has been awesome. If organizations want to learn more about what you do or connect with you, what’s the best way that they could do that?

[00:33:31.860] – Steve Daigneault
Yeah, sure they can connect with me on my LinkedIn, which is… I’m there as SDaigneault. And then my website also has a contact information, which is daigneaultdigital.com.

[00:33:48.300] – Boris
Perfect, and we will link to both of those as well as some of the other things that we talked about in our show notes for this episode. Steve, it’s been totally fun chatting with you about all these things and brainstorming on why things work and how to make them work better. Thank you so much for coming on today.

[00:34:04.700] – Steve Daigneault
It’s been a pleasure. Thanks for asking me.

[00:34:06.930] – Boris
Awesome. And thank you everybody for listening in today. I hope you learned a lot from Steve and from this conversation. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please subscribe and leave us a review so that more people can discover what we’re doing here on the Nonprofit Hero Factory, helping you create and activate more heroes for your cause. Thanks everybody.

[00:34:46.650] – Outro Video
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:

  • Longer form content converts better in ad-driven campaigns. A streamlined donation page is often not enough to convert visitors into donors. (3:20)
  • Including more of the story before asking for a donation increased return on ad spend by 10x. (4:47)
  • Borrowing a page out of QVC’s playbook, longer-form content about the organization and mission helps increase conversions.(8:36)
  • Once someone has decided to make a donation, your goal is to make it as easy and distraction-free as possible. (10:56)
  • Your donation funnel should be optimized for the people that you’re targeting and based on how well-known your brand is to that audience. The more they already know about you, the less you need to convey in your funnel, and vice-versa. (11:52)
  • If you can, segment your campaign avatars by their stage of awareness and readiness to support your work. Different stages require different approaches. (14:02)
  • How and when to use cultivation campaigns which don’t just ask for donations. (17:43)
  • Sharing stories and insightful content without directly asking for donations can actually increase donations, particularly from people who have raised their hand to say that they care about your work, but have not yet donated. (19:42)
  • The more value you provide, the more people will feel indebted to you and want to repay you for that value. An organization’s mission is, in part, to get people to care. That doesn’t come from asking them for money, it comes from sharing stories and demonstrating value. (22:42)
  • People who support your cause in other ways besides donations are raising their hand to say they care. They are just as valuable as donors and, with proper nurture, can become donors. (24:02)
  • Cultivation ads and brand-search campaigns. Brand search campaigns on Google Ads are the first type of ad you should consider, but they only work if people are searching for your brand. Cultivation campaigns on Facebook work best as remarketing ads to people already on your email list in one way or another. Those should largely drive to content about your work. (27:01)
  • If you have content that answers that people might have, that’s another opportunity to use Google Ads to drive traffic. (29:21)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • M+R’s Benchmark Report – A great resource to see trends and compare your digital efforts to others in the industry. Plus, if you participate in the benchmark survey, M+R will create a custom benchmark report for you, based on your data.
    • Nerdy Email – A discussion group of great nonprofit email marketers.
  • Start implementing!

    1. Check your campaign conversion rates
    2. See if you can include more of your story in your donation funnels, especially for new donors.
    3. Consider creating or revising your cultivation campaigns to include more stories and provide more value before asking for anything in return.

    Connect with Steve: Visit Daigneault Digital’s Website or directly connect with Steve on LinkedIn.

About this week’s guest

Steve Daigneault

Steve Daigneault

Founder, Daigneault Digital

Steve has spent nearly two decades leading digital marketing, fundraising, and advocacy programs for some of the world’s greatest causes, including Amnesty International, Audubon, Natural Resources Defense Council, American Cancer Society, Red Cross, UNICEF and many others.

Connect with Steve Daigneault