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.
Read the Transcript
[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
[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
[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 BearbowerFounder/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.
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 23
Increasing Donor Conversion & Retention with Gratitude, with Ephraim Gopin
In this Episode:
The average donor retention rate among nonprofit donors is 45%. The average first-year retention rate is around 20%. Combine that with the fact that it costs more to acquire a new customer or donor than it does to keep them coming back, something is clearly not working well at most nonprofits today.
Ephraim Gopin, Founder of 1832 Communications, joins Boris to discuss the benefits of having a Marketing Team and Fundraising Team work well together to attract new subscribers, nurture them into donors, and keep donors coming back again and again rather than chasing new prospects year after year.
Read the Transcript
[00:00:17.950] – 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!
[00:00:20.360] – Boris
Hi everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. Today, we’re going to be talking about a topic near and dear to my heart, which is the intersection of fundraising and marketing. So if you guys know me at all, you know that I talk a lot about storytelling and storytelling weaves into everything. But there’s often a problem between the fundraising side of an organization and the marketing side where they’re seemingly opposed in what they’re trying to do at times. Of course, they really do want to work together and they try their best.
[00:00:49.010] – Boris
But today I’ve got an expert who really focuses on that, identifying the issues that organizations have in those areas and then helping them remedy them. His name is Ephraim Gopin. He is the founder of 1832 Communications, which is an agency that helps nonprofits build more relationships so they can raise more money, serve more people and have more impact in the community. Ephraim craft strategies which help nonprofits successfully upgrade their online presence, boost their email fundraising, and marketing and improve their marketing collateral. When fundraising and marketing work together, it’s a beautiful thing, he says.
[00:01:22.390] – Boris
When I asked him a superpower, Ephraim said, “making sure that fundraising and marketing are working together at all times across all channels and departments and reminding people that tweet and they will donate is not a viable strategy,” which I love. So let’s bring Ephraim on to talk about all of that and more.
[00:01:39.380] – Boris
[00:01:39.380] – Ephraim Gopin
Hi Boris. How are you doing?
[00:01:40.390] – Boris
I’m doing all right. How are you today?
[00:01:42.960] – Ephraim Gopin
I’m doing OK. Thank you very much for having me on the Nonprofit Hero Factory podcast.
[00:01:47.330] – Boris
I’m excited to talk to you today because as you know, all of these things are near and dear to my heart. When you and I first connected, we had a great conversation that went in all kinds of directions and they said, we’ve got to have you on the show to talk about all this stuff. So I’m glad you’re here. I’ve read your bio. Please, tell us your story.
[00:02:04.170] – Ephraim Gopin
I’m a third-generation nonprofit executive and fundraiser. So, I kind of have it in my blood. My grandfather was. My father also was. And I’ve had the chance to be CEO and everything on down below that over about two decades in the sector. Did fundraising, grant writing, event management, alumni director, sales, communications. I also had the chance to work on what I call the other side of the table. I was the director of communications for a global family foundation. And that was an experience that was very different from being… you go from asking to sort of giving, even though it wasn’t my money and I wasn’t in charge of doling out the grants. But you’re now on that side of the table and it’s a very different perspective and a very different world.
[00:02:55.490] – Ephraim Gopin
I also spent a couple of years in high tech, so I have some time in the business world as well. And so I took all of that together, working, as I said, in multiple roles. You get a chance to see how organizations work from different areas and different departments and how they should work together in sync. And we’ll get into that, I’m sure.
[00:03:19.060] – Ephraim Gopin
But I got a chance to see how they work. I had a chance to lead as well. As I said, I was a CEO, which was a great experience for me. And now I’ve taken all of that and I’ve started my own company, my own agency. I work with nonprofits, small and midsize, even a little bit large as well, to make sure that their fundraising and marketing is working together. In terms of my personal story, I’m a father of three young adults, all of whom love taking road trips with me and all of whom disapprove of how I take selfies.
[00:03:54.450] – Boris
Excellent. That’s a great personal story you’ve got there and also a great professional story. I could relate, of course, to a lot of those things. Real quick before we get into the meat of the matter, because I think it’s actually a really interesting point that you were on both sides of the table. When in a former life I was in the entertainment world, I started out as an actor. But it was really when I first started to direct and before I even got a chance to direct in those casting sessions.
[00:04:22.260] – Boris
So as an actor, you always going out on auditions and you’re trying. You’re trying and you don’t know what’s going on, why you don’t get the part or even if you do, why you did get the part. And it’s not until I got to be on the casting side of the table that it really got to understand. And so, as you said that I was just thinking, wouldn’t it be great if every person in development and fundraising in a nonprofit got to sit on the other side where they got to see all the applications, they got to see all the pitches that they get in order to really understand what it’s like from the other perspective.
[00:04:54.860] – Ephraim Gopin
It would be interesting, I love your the way you connected it to the world of acting, that’s actually very interesting to me because I’m thinking you’ve got your big Hollywood studio with lots of assets, we’ll call it, and the ability to do big things. And then in walks Boris, the young actor who wants to get a job and stands there and tries to get whatever little role it is, whether it’s in a commercial, a movie, a TV show, whatever it is.
[00:05:22.420] – Ephraim Gopin
And I’m thinking, OK, you’ve got foundations that are sitting on lots of assets and now, here I am. And I did great writing. I remember what this was like. You go to them and you’re that little nonprofit with a budget that’s about a half a million dollars and suddenly you’re asking them for twenty five thousand dollars and it becomes almost the scariest thing in the world to ask them for money. That’s a great, great example. I think fundraiser’s would get a lot out of sitting on the other side of the table and understanding, with one caveat.
[00:05:53.860] – Ephraim Gopin
And I’m pretty sure you saw this also in the acting world, the foundation I worked for, the president told me on the second day I worked there, he said, if you know one foundation, you know one foundation. And so although I have the experience and I, through that foundation, interacted with quite a lot of other foundations, the inner workings of every foundation is very different.
[00:06:17.870] – Ephraim Gopin
And so a fundraiser could get that perspective. But I would say you’ve got to work with three or four before you can really start to you know, if you want to change completely the perspective, you’d have to work at a bunch of them before you could understand it.
[00:06:31.060] – Ephraim Gopin
But certainly even at one, it was a great experience.
[00:06:34.240] – Boris
[00:06:34.400] – Ephraim Gopin
I love doing it.
[00:06:36.230] – Boris
Yeah. I think even, I totally understand because I did work for a foundation and each foundation is of course different. But it’s just that side of trying to see, taking in all of the different pitches that are coming your way, all the different requests, and seeing, well, what really differentiates one from another. What are you more likely to respond to, assuming whatever the mission of the foundation is in that case? Ephraim of this workshop doesn’t already exist, I think you and I need to start it up real quick and go out and change the world that way.
[00:07:05.550] – Ephraim Gopin
Yes, yes. Done Done. We’ll, make it happen.
[00:07:10.990] – Boris
Sign up below!
All right. So you’ve done all these amazing things. You’ve had all these experiences. Third generation. That’s incredible. I don’t think I’m third generation anything except maybe male because there had to be three generations of men in my family. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. What made you decide on fundraising and marketing the intersection of those two specifically to devote at least this chapter of your life to?
[00:07:37.620] – Ephraim Gopin
The fact that in a lot of nonprofits and when I say a lot, I know that there are millions of nonprofits out there, so I’m generalizing. And so take that for what it’s worth. But in a lot of non-profits, two things happen. Either there’s a marketing department and a fundraising department who aren’t speaking to each other. And so what happens is that the messaging that goes out from each of them is totally different. And so donors get confused because they get one, let’s say, email from the marketing department, whereas they get a direct mail appeal from the fundraising department. And then wait a second, is this the same organization that I’m talking to?
[00:08:10.980] – Ephraim Gopin
The other thing that happens in a lot of organizations is there is no marketing. You have that mentality of the almighty dollar. The bottom line rules. And because of that, I don’t have time for marketing strategy or anything like that. Just get me money, get me money, get me money. And so with that kind of pressure, who has time to consider how to send out emails, what to post on social media, how the website should look, what the content should be, what stories you should be telling, how to use video?
[00:08:41.250] – Ephraim Gopin
All of that gets kind of thrown to the side because, “oh, my God, I’ve got to raise money!” Which brings me to: A) You know, in terms of data, we know fundraisers change jobs every 18 months. Now, as a business owner, I can tell you that is the most unhealthy thing for business to have that kind of turnover. But in a business like fundraising, where fundraising is all about building relationships. And to any CEOs who are listening, it’s not about the money.
[00:09:11.140] – Ephraim Gopin
I know you need money to make, you know, for certain to have your programs and to service the people in your community. But the fact is, it’s about building relationships. If a fundraiser is leaving every 18 months, you’re never building relationships. It’s constant turnover with your donors. And so that becomes a bit of a problem also. So those are the kinds of things I saw during my sojourns in the nonprofit trenches. And I kind of said that’s where I need to focus.
[00:09:41.270] – Ephraim Gopin
And I think that’s where nonprofits need the assistance to make sure even if you don’t have a marketing department, you’re still sending out marketing collateral that is working in sync with your fundraising together, telling the right stories. Getting it out to the right people, at the right time. And it’s not just haphazard… we’re sending this, we’re doing this and we’re doing this. Because, I’ll finish with this wonderful piece of data, the donor retention rate in the in the sector is 45%.
[00:10:17.980] – Ephraim Gopin
And I have one word to describe that, “abysmal.” Even worse than that, first year donors retention rate: 18 to 20 percent. So if in 2020 you went out and got a hundred new donors and I say, “Yay! Good job.” If you don’t do your work properly and you’re only average, you’re only going to keep 20 of those. 80 or falling by the wayside, and now you have a boss yelling at you, “we need to make up that hole from those 80 donors that we just lost.”
[00:10:47.240] – Ephraim Gopin
That’s not a way to work. That’s not the way to run your organization. You’re constantly chasing your tail. It’s not going to work. So that’s kind of where I focused my energies and my time in the nonprofit sector.
[00:11:00.540] – Boris
And I think that’s a great place to focus your energies and your time. The way you describe the problem is dead on. And also feels huge, right? Because as you yourself said, that a lot of organizations, if they even have a marketing team, it’s a small marketing team and oftentimes it is an overlap with other duties and responsibilities. I mean, I’ve worked with organizations where the executive director is the fundraising and the marketing and everything else all at the same time and maybe has an assistant somewhere.
[00:11:33.100] – Boris
And then again, there’s organizations that are gigantic and have huge teams for everything, and sometimes those get siloed, too. So it’s a giant-, giant-kind-of-feeling problem. And I don’t want anyone listening or watching the show to feel overwhelmed by it either, because they’re already overwhelmed. So let’s break it down a little bit, which I know you’re happy to do. And let’s start with what is the, sort of, solution to the last thing that you brought up, which is the donor retention problem, specifically the first year?
[00:12:04.150] – Ephraim Gopin
Oh, boy, that the easiest thing that I can that I can give is to adopt what I call a gratitude attitude. And here I’m going to bring another small data point from Dr. Adrian Sargeant in the U.K., who has done tons of research on this. And he has seen this constantly. Donors remember the “thank you” more than they remember the reason you asked them for a donation in the first place. So if you think about that for a second, most—a lot of OK, I say a lot… I would hope that it’s summertime, your nonprofit is already planning its year end appeal for December.
You’re in major writing mode now, putting it together, getting the printer on board, everything else. And you’re getting ready to launch very soon. Great. Have you thought about the thank you that you’re going to give those donors? You’re putting in a ton of hours right now. Donors aren’t going to remember a word that was in the appeal you gave them, even though it went through seven levels of hell and rewrites because every manager and mid-manager in the organization had to put in their comments and edits.
[00:13:12.290] – Ephraim Gopin
They won’t remember it. They’re going to remember a good thank you. So if you’re thank you now is memorable, you’re going to up your donor retention rate by tens of percent just on that alone.
[00:13:24.440] – Ephraim Gopin
So I would start there and I would add because I know Boris you’re going to chime in on this. That thank you letter, better tell me a little bit of a story. Tell me that I took a donation and how I solve, I as the donor now, I solved the problem in the community or I helped somebody. And use that storytelling already. You used it in the appeal. It better be in the gratitude letter as well. And that’s how you start building that connection with your donors.
[00:13:51.160] – Boris
Absolutely. Yes. There should be stories everywhere along the way as much as possible. When I I’ve worked with several organizations and what we did was we, online, as somebody gave through their online systems, at the end, they got an instant gratitude, instant gratification with a video that popped up. So this was an organization that helped kids learn certain things. And boom, here’s a video with kids saying “thank you for helping us do more of this. You know, we really appreciate it,” holding up signs and all the stuff. I mean, instant gratification.
[00:14:23.880] – Boris
But then, yes, long term, I think this is I’m sure what you do and teach as well. You need to constantly keep reinforcing that the value of that gift and the work that it’s doing out—you know, there’s this expression, make your money work for you. Well, in a sense, that’s exactly what a donor is expecting, right? They’re giving you money. They’re expecting you to put it to work, and they want to see what it’s doing. Otherwise, they don’t think their money is working. They just put it somewhere that felt good at the moment. Am I right there?
[00:14:55.060] – Ephraim Gopin
One hundred percent. A hundred percent. And I love that what that example they used with the kids. I can give you another example that I saw a while ago. Anybody who got… who gave it was their first donation. They got an instant email and that instant email included a GIF of the CEO doing their happy dance. And it was just funny and fun. But if I’m that donor and I get and it’s a CEO, so CEO, important person, and they’re doing this ridiculous dance with no rhythm and, you know, no rhyme or reason to it. But, hey, it makes you smile. And then all of a sudden now I have this happy connection to the organization simply because they said thank you in a way that nobody else is saying thank you. So that’s how you want to retain those first year donors. That’s how you’re going to that’s one of the ways to do it, is great gratitude.
[00:15:46.660] – Boris
And both the example that you said specifically, actually, and the one that that I mentioned, they were personal. You connect a person to the experience. Now, that organization is no longer just some like large organization somewhere or small organization somewhere. They’re actually a human being who is really grateful for what you just did. And that just creates a much stronger bond than anything and can really do outside of that. So how do we then implement that across our communications and how do we maintain those donors over a longer period of time?
[00:16:22.080] – Ephraim Gopin
Ok, so let’s think for a second. We’ve got an overall donor retention rate of forty five percent. Now, that’s been constant for about two decades now. And I’m always surprised when I talk to CEOs and I say, you’re looking at your data and you’re seeing this year over year, but you’ve never changed that. Well, no, because we’ve always done it this way. And I say, you mean you’ve always chased your tail, year … and you go completely, you drive everybody on staff nuts until midnight of 12 or 1 a.m. of January 1st to make sure we get all that money in.
[00:16:54.680] – Ephraim Gopin
It’s time to stop that. And there’s just no stop. I want that ended. What I want is a focus. In dollars and cents, by the way, acquisition costs more than retention, that’s in the business world as well. This is not something that’s only in the nonprofit world. This is everywhere. It’s hard to get new people in the door. It’s easier to keep what you have. So now how do you keep people that you have?
[00:17:18.680] – Ephraim Gopin
It’s that constant communication. Constantly telling them what is going on with the organization, but not “we the organization.” It’s you, the donor. Here’s what you are doing by being part of our community. So as I explain it a lot of times, and I know that sometimes nonprofits hate to hear this, but I explain it as you’re the middle person, there’s a donor who wants to solve a problem. Let’s take homelessness for a second. The donor knows there are homeless people in their community.
[00:17:47.160] – Ephraim Gopin
However they are… they feel powerless to do anything about it because they don’t know how where to start, what to do, and they’re not going to start a nonprofit. So now they go looking for an organization who, through that organization, they can create positive change in the community. Guess what? You’re that organization. Be there for those donors throughout that journey. You’re now getting that donation and you’re doing good stuff with it for homeless people in your community.
[00:18:16.030] – Ephraim Gopin
But then it doesn’t end there. That’s only the beginning. That donation is only the start of a relationship. Now becomes, report to them. Let them know what’s happening. If there’s advocacy stuff that they can do, call a congressperson or whatever it is, is the law being passed, get them involved in that. If you’re having events, get them to those events. Invite them to come to the shelter and serve food one day, every three, every quarter. OK? Get them involved so that there’s that constant connection.
[00:18:42.790] – Ephraim Gopin
And yes, I totally agree with you on the personalization of one to one. If it’s the CEO, then the CEO should be, you know, signed by the CEO on each email. Or at least if it’s the director of development, whoever it is, let that donor feel that one-to-one connection. And that’s how you, over time, keep them involved in what’s going on at the organization and you keep them wanting to do more. It’s not, “I gave in December and the next time I hear from them is the next December.”
[00:19:13.310] – Ephraim Gopin
That doesn’t work. That doesn’t work. They want to hear from you. These are donors who are happy to do good in the community. They want to help. They want to solve the problem, help them solve that problem.
[00:19:27.040] – Boris
Absolutely. So I call that being the guide or the the superpower that you grant to your donors to to the people who want to be heroes, don’t have the bandwidth, don’t have the resources, don’t have the ability right now to solve a problem that they hopefully already see and identify is a problem. Because the toughest thing is to educate somebody that there is a problem. Once they know there’s a problem and then want to solve it—and there’s a whole, I talk about an entire ladder of support that goes from blissfully or not so blissfully ignorant to being a champion ambassador for your organization. The closer they are, the easier it is to sort of sell them on the next step.
[00:20:07.830] – Boris
And the more you can involve them with they’re making them feel like they’re a valuable part of what’s happening, not just for their money, but there are a human being that has value besides their pocketbook, their checkbook, their whatever the credit card. Then the more they invest that they become and the more invested they become, the more they’ll want to keep investing because they’re feeling the positive benefits of it. So I love all of that. How does that translate to, say, email and social media, which I know you focus on a lot?
[00:20:40.260] – Ephraim Gopin
OK, so, you know, you mentioned in an earlier in the bio, and I’ll start with social media. “Tweet and they will donate” is not a strategy. And I want to share a quick story. I know this, you’re a storytelling guru, so I’ll share with you a story that actually happened to me in 2009. I got a phone call from a CEO of an organization who said we want to raise a million dollars through a Facebook campaign. I said, wonderful, how can I help?
[00:21:04.590] – Ephraim Gopin
And my first question was, of course, well, how many people are looking at what you’re doing on Facebook? A couple of hundred. I said, OK, how big is your email list? Aaahh… one hundred, hundred and fifty. And I paused and I said, And what makes you think you can raise a million dollars on Facebook? And the response was and here I’m quoting, well, Obama just did it in 2008 via small donations. So we can too. And I see Boris is smiling and it was everything. I was on the phone thankfully, because if I had been on a video chat, I would have completely lost my composure. But I was on the phone and I kind of said, no, you’re not Obama. I’m sorry. It’s just not going to it’s not going to work.
[00:21:50.080] – Ephraim Gopin
So when I talk about social media, the first thing is understanding your audience and understanding where they are. If you have a boss who’s telling you you need to be on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat. And I only mentioned seven, by the way. There’s about a hundred others you could be on. No, that’s not a strategy. That’s not a winning.… That’s you’ll be burnt out after ten days and you’ll stop and you won’t get any engagement. You need to know who your donors are. Who are your supporters? Who are the people in the community that are interested in what you’re doing? Are you an animal shelter? Well, who are the people in your community who have already adopted maybe an animal? Or who’ve inquired about adopting an animal? Or who are interested in animal rights?
[00:22:30.750] – Ephraim Gopin
So it’s just a matter of knowing your audience. Now where do they hang out? It could be that your boomer supporters are on Facebook. Whereas your millennials are sitting on Instagram and Tik-Tok. I don’t know. It depends. You have to look at that audience and then you craft that strategy around it. Once you’ve decided where you’re going to be, you’ve got to kind of ask yourself, OK, what content am I going to be pushing out? Again, just posting on Twitter, “please donate to our organization,” is not—nobody is giving that way.
[00:23:00.670] – Ephraim Gopin
That’s not that’s not building a relationship, as we discussed earlier. That’s not doing it. So you have to find content that’s going to engage them and that they’re going to want to… “Oh! Yes, I want to connect with that organization.” And now once you’ve connected with them, it’s a bit of a slow run, but you can get on that path towards building that relationship towards a donor.
[00:23:23.370] – Ephraim Gopin
In terms of email… I’m going to use a very simple example here from the world of e-commerce. There is a what’s called the law… it’s the average of seven touch points. If I want to buy a new product, I don’t just go buy it. I Google, I go on Amazon, I search. I look at the different colors, the different styles. Maybe I, I’m not going to get it today. But then that website follows me around the Internet and shows me ads, I click an ad. Now I sign up for their emails, they send me a 10 percent discount, I go start the process, I decide I still don’t want it. I don’t finish the check out they email me an hour later, “Hey, what happened? Here’s 20 percent off.” OK, now I go finish it.
[00:23:59.950] – Ephraim Gopin
If you follow that story arc, as it were, it took me from the time I decided until the time I actually purchased seven, eight, ten, fifteen touch points. The same that I said for social goes for email, just because you sent them an email does not mean you can ask them to donate. Or as my friend Julie Cooper at fundraisingwriting.com says, you know, don’t ask for a donation in that first email you send them. It’s like the first date you wouldn’t ask for your hand, somebody’s hand in marriage on the first day. Don’t do that in an email. You craft the content, an email, fundraising and marketing strategy that builds up. They sign up. That’s great. Now we’re going to move them to donors slowly. Once you’ve got them as donor, as we discussed before, you’re going to keep that communication going so they continue to stay a donor.
[00:24:48.010] – Boris
So I love all of that. What you’re talking about in terms of the social media, “just tweet and they will give is not a strategy” or however you like to phrase it, there is a… and it actually relates to the seventh touch points, too. There is a common understanding now among at least for-profit marketers that you give a lot of value before you ask for something back.
[00:25:11.170] – Ephraim Gopin
[00:25:12.230] – Boris
Yeah, and I talk about donations as an IOU. It’s not, “Oh, thank you for what you’re doing.” It’s “I am deeply grateful for the work that you are doing and making the world a better place. And I want to be a part of that. I owe you for what you’re doing because I believe in it.” So I absolutely agree with you on that strategy. In terms of the email, is there a specific length of—so what you’re talking about is the onboarding sequence, right, when someone first signs up for your newsletter or makes a donation, however, they first come into your email ecosystem, there is an onboarding sequence that you can walk them through.
[00:25:54.410] – Boris
That’s what you’re talking about in this case, right?
[00:25:55.770] – Ephraim Gopin
[00:25:56.610] – Boris
So is there a particular flow or list of emails that you recommend every organization send based on a new donation or a new subscriber?
[00:26:09.710] – Ephraim Gopin
I’ll start… you know what, the easier one to do is a new subscriber. Because usually, you know, I say usually it could be somebody donated and then they decided to sign up for your email, which is fine. I want to take specifically new subscribers.
[00:26:22.260] – Ephraim Gopin
Again, If everybody looked at their inbox right now, I’m a big fan of Inbox zero, I have no emails in my inboxes, but I know people who have thousands, thousands. Boris right now is—Boris is raising his hand. In your inbox, how many how many emails sitting in your inbox right now?
[00:26:38.370] – Boris
Unread? About five thousand.
[00:26:40.770] – Ephraim Gopin
There we go. See, so I call that a nuclear disaster zone. OK, now that’s the way Boris works and it works for him, and that’s fine. The reason I call it a nuclear disaster zone is because now I want you to think about what happens in Boris’s inbox. Boris signs up for a new email. That’s not a given everybody. He has five thousand unread emails in his inbox. Do you think he wants five thousand and one?
[00:27:02.640] – Ephraim Gopin
No, he doesn’t. He really doesn’t. So if you’ve convinced him to sign up, you better show him the same gratitude attitude that you would show a new donor. That first email that comes to them should be instantaneous after I subscribe on your website and show me the love. Thank you for subscribing. You’re part of a great community. We’re so happy to have you. We’re grateful. Everything like that—the same as you would do in a good thank you letter is the same there.
[00:27:28.960] – Ephraim Gopin
Now that’s the first letter. Now we’ve got a little bit of a onboarding process. If we’re talking seven touch points, it could take anywhere from three to seven emails before you can even ask for a very small little one-time donation or start them off on that. And in between and during that onboarding processes, as we’ll call it, you could send them more information about the organization. You can give them value added. Again, I’ll take the example of an animal shelter, “download our ebook on how to care for your new pet that you just adopted.”
[00:28:03.750] – Ephraim Gopin
OK, but you give them something value-added. You invite them potentially to an event. You invite them to fill out a survey. It could be about them or what do you know about this topic or this issue? So we’ll go back to homelessness, give them three or four questions. What do they know about poverty in their community? What do they know about families who don’t have food to put on the table? What do you know about kids coming to school hungry who need lunches at school in order to literally survive the day?
[00:28:30.820] – Ephraim Gopin
So you use surveys and use quizzes and you can use—it can be fun and interactive. Nothing wrong with that. But it’s a process. It doesn’t happen all at once. I subscribe, boom, ask me for money. I hate getting welcome emails that have donor—that, have an ask in them. And I get them all the time and it drives me nuts. Don’t do it.
[00:28:51.510] – Boris
Absolutely. I love the use of surveys and quizzes specifically. I’ve done quizzes for several nonprofit organizations. They can go viral. They have a lot of interactive joy built in. We could do, like, what type of something are you? And mind you, those get played out and you want to be kind of careful to what you’re likening your your donors to or your subscribers do. But they’re also a wonderful way to start segmenting your list.
[00:29:22.300] – Boris
So if you see that somebody identifies more with one part of your work, with one program more than another, then you can be collecting that data and slowly figuring out what’s the best way to talk to this person. What’s the hero’s journey that they want to take with the organization? Because not everybody is going to want to act on the same exact things just because they believe in the work that you’re doing. They each have their own preferences and feelings of, “oh, this is better,” or “this is not for me,” or whatever that might be. So I love the use of quizzes and any type of surveys in that process. I think that’s brilliant.
[00:29:56.210] – Ephraim Gopin
I would I would just add to what you said about segmenting and how unbelievably critical that is to fundraising and marketing it, the same goes for fundraising. If I give to X program that you have, you already know where my interest lies and potentially you know where my interest doesn’t lie. So you can now custom… make sure that the content I’m getting matches my interests. You might want to introduce me to other programs, but make sure it’s matching my interests and keeping my interests in my interests.
[00:30:29.420] – Boris
Also showing me that you know who I am and you care about the same things that I care about rather than sending me things all of a sudden. I’m interested in your animal shelter and you’re sending me a recipe for a cake. You know, it feels completely disconnected. Obviously, I don’t think any organization is doing something that disconnected, but it can feel pretty much like that. If I’m interested in one part of your programing and you’re pushing a different part to me.
[00:30:51.590] – Ephraim Gopin
Boris, I’ve got to just add here, I subscribe to a newsletter for an organization. Oh wow, I think it’s Covenant House, but don’t quote me on that. They deal with teens living on the streets and they provide a house for them and everything else. You know what? Because you mentioned that recipe thing, they do send out every now and then some of the teens—a recipe for something that the teens made that special to their family and they want to share with their subscribers.
[00:31:17.510] – Ephraim Gopin
And again, it’s a way through food to kind of make that connection between that teen that I’m helping and the donor. Making it now one to one. So when, as soon as you said recipe, yes, it’s totally out of place in, you know, quite a lot of organizations, in this one it works because they’re trying to make that connection.
[00:31:37.280] – Boris
That’s really interesting, and I could see how that does connect people on a human level there, too. Although I have to wonder what the, and I don’t know if they measure it, what the rate of actual usage of those recipes is, how many people will actually take the time to make a recipe just because of this connection? I’m not sure. But if it helps create that personal touch point, then why not?
[00:31:59.980] – Ephraim Gopin
Put it in the email and tell people, make this recipe, post your picture on Instagram, and tag us! And now you’ve moved it to another platform. And there it is. Exactly. And now you get that interaction again between your supporters and your followers and the organization. And now you have people posting pictures and tagging the organization to their followers.
[00:32:21.130] – Boris
Yeah. Ephraim, I’m sure we could keep talking about this for hours. And you and I will keep talking about this for hours, I’m sure. But I want to be respectful of your time and our listeners time. So I’m wondering, what are some of the resources you might recommend to people when they’re listening to the show and they want to dove in further? What are some of the things they might want to look at?
[00:32:42.200] – Ephraim Gopin
So I’m going to, Boris, I’m going to give you a list that you can share with the listeners and watchers of seven newsletters and a couple of podcasts that they should be subscribing to. We’re talking some of the biggest experts in the field and the content that they’re sharing with their subscribers. I call it gold, and that’s the only word I have for it. It’s really just that good. And you’re going to be learning… they are sharing for free their knowledge, their awesome sauce with their subscribers.
[00:33:14.480] – Ephraim Gopin
So those are some tools. There are newsletters. Some of them come once a week, some once a month, and podcasts that you should listen to, read the newsletters, learn from them and go implement.
[00:33:25.160] – Boris
That’s awesome. We’ll be sure to get those from you and put them in the show notes for this episode with links with everything that people need to start taking actions on those. What’s the first step, if they want to start implementing things that you’re talking about, what’s the first thing that they should do, though, on their own?
[00:33:44.860] – Ephraim Gopin
It’s to make, have a decision internally that you actually want to grow and that you want to move forward and that you’re going to use—you’re going to have fundraising and marketing talking to each other. That’s where it starts. And that’s not a budget issue. That’s more of an issue from board C staff and down—C level staff and down. We want to change. And we want to grow. Because it’s not about the organization growing. It’s about being able to service more people in your community, having greater impact on the community.
[00:34:13.070] – Ephraim Gopin
And that’s kind of where the focus has to be. That’s where you start. Once you’ve made that decision, then you can start, “what do we need budget wise? What platforms can we be on? Should we be on?” Again, you don’t have to be everywhere for everyone. You can hyper-focus and do very well just on email, just on social, just—and if it’s social—just on Instagram. It could be that that’s where you should be. So it’s kind of step by step.
[00:34:39.480] – Ephraim Gopin
Don’t get overwhelmed by the process. I know you when you do storytelling with organizations, I know you want to throw a thousand things at them and it can be a very overwhelming process. So when you break it down into a little bits, it’s easier to digest. That’s kind of how I how I look at building that strategy out. So your fundraising marketing is being successful at building relationships and creating more impact on the community.
[00:35:04.760] – Boris
Perfect. And if they want to engage you to help them with any of this, what’s your call to action for them? How should they connect with you? What should they do?
[00:35:12.690] – Ephraim Gopin
You can look at my come to my website, 1832communications.com. And one of the tools that I have there for free, is how to successfully on board new email subscribers. There is a way to do it properly on your website and I lay it out for you step by step with plenty of examples. I did a study of the largest one hundred nonprofits in the US and how they on board subscribers and whether they do a good job or not.
[00:35:44.110] – Ephraim Gopin
And for anybody who thinks out there that the bigger the nonprofit, the better they are at marketing and fundraising. I’m going to share a little secret with you. It’s not necessarily true. Don’t believe it. Go try, it’s trial and error for yourself. Just because somebody else does it that way doesn’t mean it’s the right way. I lay out in that eBook, exactly how to on board new subscribers, where the form should be, what fields should be in the form, call to action, your email afterwards… We talk a little bit about pop up ads, et cetera. You can download that eBook and you’ll have all the information in front of you. Follow the steps and start onboarding new subscribers and eventually convert them to donors.
[00:36:25.550] – Boris
That sounds amazing, and we will definitely link to that as well, so that people can just click on the show notes and and pay for to your site to download that eBook, which sounds like a guide, a template and everything that someone needs when they don’t even know where to begin. Or maybe they’ve already got something but aren’t sure that it’s the best possible use of their onboarding sequence.
[00:36:47.710] – Ephraim Gopin
[00:36:47.710] – Boris
So I’m excited to share that with everybody. Ephraim, thank you so much. I think I’m going to have to have you on again to talk about more things in the near future. Because, like I said, you and I can talk about this stuff for hours. But I really appreciate your time today and sharing all this valuable info with our audience. Thank you, everybody who has tuned in and listened to or watched this episode. Please be sure to go in and leave us to review, subscribe to the podcast, share—share the word about this show so that more people can benefit from experts like Ephraim and all of the amazing guests that we have on the show every week.
[00:37:20.210] – Boris
Thank you, everybody. Have a great week.
[00:37:22.070] – Ephraim Gopin
[00:37:41.820] – 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:
- If an organization’s marketing and fundraising departments don’t work well together, donors get confused. (7:37)
- Fundraisers change jobs every 18 months. This kind of turnover can be unhealthy since fundraising is often all about relationships. (8:41)
- Have a “Gratitude Attitude.” Donors remember the “Thank You” more than they remember the reason they donated. (12:04)
- Building a connection with a story in your “Thank you” letter. (13:24)
- Acquisition costs more than retention. It costs more to get new people to join you than to keep the ones who already have. (16:54)
- Get your donors involved to create a constant connection and keep them wanting to help more. (18:17)
- You don’t have to be everywhere on Social Media. You need to understand your audience and where they are, and focus there first. (21:50)
- On average, it takes seven touchpoints to convince someone to buy something. Don’t instantly send an email asking people to donate. Build trust over time. (23:23)
- No one is interested in more emails in their inbox. If you’ve convinced them to sign up, show them gratitude right away to reinforce their decision. (26:40)
- Making sure that the content you are sending out to donors matches their interests. (30:12)
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Ephraim GopinPrincipal, 1832 Communications
Ephraim is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps nonprofits build more relationships so they can raise more money, serve more people and have more impact in the community. Ephraim crafts strategies which help nonprofits successfully upgrade their online presence, boost their email fundraising and marketing and improve their marketing collateral. When fundraising and marketing work together, it’s a beautiful thing!
The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 6
Making Your Nonprofit's Data Work for You with Isaac Shalev
In this Episode:
When it comes to stretching resources, most nonprofits focus on minimizing their spending and maximizing donations. But many are not taking advantage of everything their data and technology have to offer.
From donor engagement to setting and measuring ROI, to scaling your impact, Isaac shares his insights on how your data can take your work to the next level.
Read the Transcript
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.
Boris Kievsky 0:20
Hi, everybody. Good morning. Welcome to Episode Six of the nonprofit Hero Factory. We’re talking today about making your nonprofits data work for you with our guests, my friend, Isaac Shalev. Before I get into that, though, the goal of the show is to empower nonprofit leaders with ideas, strategies and tools to activate More Heroes for their cause and create a better world for all of us. So today, I just need to acknowledge and say a special word of thanks to all the nonprofit organizations and individuals working tirelessly in the face of tremendous obstacles and entrenched in justice to make this country in this world a safer and more equitable one for all of us.
Boris Kievsky 1:01
If I can personally be of any help to your nonprofit, your cause and the work you’re doing, please reach out to me and let me know. So with that, let’s get to the subject of this episode and how you can create more heroes, with Isaac, who is going to talk to us about how to maximize your nonprofits data to activate More Heroes for your cause and increase your impact. Were excited to bring him on to the show. My friend, data therapist Isaac Shalev, who is the president of Sage 70, Inc., is a nonprofit strategist and CRM expert who helps make data work for nonprofits by focusing on people policies and systems in that order. So good morning, Isaac, and welcome to the show.
Isaac Shalev 1:41
Good morning Boris. Thanks for having me this morning. Great to be here.
Boris Kievsky 1:44
Always happy to collaborate with you in any way. As we get started, can you tell us a little bit about your story and tell us about your nonprofit superpower?
Isaac Shalev 1:54
Yes, thank you. I started in nonprofit really at the very start of my career. I’ve been working kind of at the intersection of technology and nonprofits for the last 20 years or so. And I was lucky enough to have been raised in a computer savvy house and my dad was a database guy. And so I absorbed a lot of these things in the same way that you know, Millennials are really good with technologies like the phone and social media that some of us older folks are struggling to catch up with. I kind of was born into databases. So I use that superpower. And about 10 years ago, I founded Sage, 70, Inc., which is a boutique consultancy devoted, as you said to making data work for nonprofits. And so my superpower is X ray vision. I can see right through your data I can see right through your policies and I can get to the source of your trouble. I know what kinds of problems are blocking you are the obstacles for non-profits to use data more effectively, and to tell stories that activate people using data.
Boris Kievsky 3:06
That’s pretty awesome. As soon as you say that I have a visual of it the original I think Superman movie where he x rays with his vision of the kid’s leg and sees exactly where it’s broken so he says, it’s okay, Billy, you’re going to be fine. So, how quick are you with nonprofit data?
Isaac Shalev 3:23
Well, look, I’m not faster than a speeding bullets. But I can leap tall data silos in a single bound.
Boris Kievsky 3:30
Well, we could go with superhero puns all day. I love it. So tell me then in terms of your expertise and nonprofit data, what are you seeing is going on in the world today in the nonprofit sector,
Isaac Shalev 3:46
So the nonprofit sector is I think, starting to shake itself from the shock that we initially experienced with COVID-19 there’s still a lot shocking that’s going on in the world. And, you know, we were at a protest last night and over the weekend, and so there’s still a lot happening in the world. But nonprofits are starting to come around to taking control of their destiny. And to bouncing back from a really, really stunning kind of right cross that we all took. What I’m seeing is that there’s quite a lot of focus right now from nonprofits about how to be more scalable in the work that they do. And I want to distinguish this from efficiency. People are not talking about how do we do more with less, and I’m so happy about that. We’re not coming from that, that culture of scarcity. What people are really saying is we have all these incredible tools that we’ve been under using, how do we use them? What barriers lying in the way just as a small example, a client of mine was, they called me up they had a chat panel that they had implemented for their memberships and sort of a private place to chat. And this is all, you know, funders who wanted to chat with one another collaborative funding opportunities. And they called me and they said, Hey, you know, it seems to have gone down, can you help us put it back up? And and then they said, but before you do that, can you tell us why nobody’s really using it? And that was a magical question. Right? Because it wasn’t about what tools they had. It was about why wasn’t it being used in the why had nothing to do with the technology? It had everything to do with people and with community building? And is there a use case, right? Can we actually use this? So we looked at the data in the data set, no, nobody’s using it and we rethought. So that’s an example of how nonprofits are not coming from a position of scarcity but really thinking about effectiveness.
Boris Kievsky 5:49
I love that. You’re trying to get away from the focus on scarcity and doing more with less although at the same time using technology well, doesn’t in fact help them do more with less, it doesn’t take as much in terms of finance, financial resources, and hopefully even manpower once it’s set up or human power, once it’s set up and running, to be able to reach more people more effectively, right, more directly more focused and specialized in the ways that you’re reaching to them. And to your point that you were just saying now in the media that they want to use it in ways that they want to use that media, right. So it’s not a one size fits all. But we can actually customize the experience for our stakeholders.
Isaac Shalev 6:35
I think that I want to encourage nonprofits to think about how to do more with more. And what I mean by that is, there are so many opportunities to actually do better than we’re already doing. And the costs for that aren’t necessarily greater. They’re different though. So a lot of organizations have been thinking about their gift acknowledgement process, and some of that is a real struggle of who goes into the office to pick up checks, open them, they’re all paper Do we need to disinfect, right? There’s this whole health concern and an access problem. By the way, we normally do this with two people, because you’re not supposed to open mail with only one person, somebody’s got a login, you know, all of those processes are being challenged. And so a lot of folks are suddenly saying, hang on, why don’t we shift to email acknowledgement for gifts under some number, right. And this is something that we could have done 10 years ago, or even 20 years ago. It’s true that even in the year 2000, we use email. And we could have done this. And by the way, we could have done more with more in the sense that emails can carry multimedia, they can carry links and calls to action that can be measured more effectively. They’re in some ways, much better for building grassroots relationships than a paper envelope is. So we can do more with more and the more here is thinking through, why is email a great tool and taking advantage of what it has to offer instead of saying, oh, let’s attach our acknowledgement as a PDF to the email, right? We’ve all seen nonprofits make that kind of mistake, right? Here’s the new technology and you’re like, I love this car, I’m going to carry it around on my bike.
Boris Kievsky 8:24
Or drawn by a horse. Right? That actually reminds me there’s a there’s a Facebook group that you and I are both a part of where somebody recently asked, What is the best magazine like tool to publish their annual report online that they’re finally moving from print to digital, but they’re looking and there are tools like issue I know. I think that’s how you pronounce it is su u where it basically gives you a magazine layout online. And I was very happy that some people chimed in and said yeah, there are those tools but why not make it a true online experience? You know, build it out in an interactive format that is designed for the web rather than something to retrofit, you know, and get your printed version up online.
Isaac Shalev 9:11
Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I do think that you need to consider your audience and how they want to consume your content and why there was a strategy for a while fundraising Gala’s to produce what are called journal books. So these are essentially ads that donors can purchase to send a congratulatory note to essentially express their support in a visible way. And you write a yearbook of sorts, and there wasn’t there were quite a few attempts to digitize this in some fashion. And it didn’t work. Because the only time that you look at that journal book, is when you’re at the gala. And when you’re at the gala, you don’t want to pull out an iPad from your You know, your suit pocket or your non existent dress pockets? Because oh my goodness, why are we not making pockets on dresses. But you’re going to pull that out now and write and start connecting to service to download a thing to flip there? No, you’re going to take a piece of paper and look through it. Papers, also a technology, you need to deploy it where it makes sense. On the other hand, if you’re going to project messages of thanks, if you’re going to do a video tribute, you know, there are there are great opportunities. So we need to think about doing more with more, because there’s so much that these tools can offer us that we can do more with.
Boris Kievsky 10:38
Right on. Absolutely. So what are what are nonprofits doing right right now? What are what are what are you advising some of your clients to be doing at this time? Well, let me take it from kind of a data and CRM angle. I think that’s even though I love talking about some of this other stuff. That’s that’s really the core of my expertise. And what we’re seeing is a couple of things. First off, there is a an acceleration on access projects. And what I mean by that is, a lot of folks have a CRM database, maybe they have some reporting tools connected to it, that were built to serve a an audience of employees who are working on site. And so there’s just a tremendous acceleration of remote access. And it’s a great opportunity because once you’re starting to rethink how you’re serving that data, you’re also starting to rethink what that data is, and in what format it should be served. So reporting projects, Business Intelligence projects, we’re seeing them become prioritized. We’re also seeing that organizations that realize that they’re kind of behind the curve with databases and that they have allowed you know, too many non web based or non web powered database technologies to proliferate they’re suddenly starting to see some of the challenges they and are looking to sort that out. So those those are at the system level what we’re seeing, but we’re also seeing a really powerful change and how people are communicating. You know, if you’d have asked me, you know, two years ago, what would happen to communications, if something like COVID hit, I would have said, Oh, my goodness, this is going to be great. We’re finally going to kill meetings, right? We’re finally going to get out of this. We’re going to realize we don’t need them. We’re going to, you know, all work in Trello and Basecamp. And whatever it is Slack, just the opposite. We’re seeing more meetings. They’re shorter, for sure. They’re all video. And I think that that’s actually the real magic here. We’ve finally gotten over the video adoption hump, to the point where your default meeting is now a face to face video meeting instead of a phone call. We finally realize that the phone is just this really bad app on our phone?
Boris Kievsky 13:06
Totally fair, totally fair. I do think at the moment there are I personally, I think we’re overusing zoom videos. And I think it’s a sort of knee jerk response to, oh, I can’t walk into someone’s office now. So I’m gonna, you know, pull them up instead of actually using some other technologies like Microsoft Teams or slack or something like that to keep smaller threads of communication going consistently. Because I, I think there are too many meetings going on in general, in every kind of organization right now. A lot of it is also based on the fact that people are struggling to figure out what to do and they want to collaborate and the most collaborative form usually feels like a all hands on deck meeting or a one on one meeting with with video conferencing, but I’m hoping that it’s going to tail off a little bit and we’re going to find other more effective ways to communicate, in addition to video,
Isaac Shalev 14:06
It’s exactly right. We need to learn how to use the tools better. And we are learning we’re learning how to share our screens more effectively, we’re learning, you know, we’re learning that if you talk and you’re muted, you’re not heard, right. And so, we’re getting better at this. And we’re gonna, we’re gonna pick up on on that more and more, what I, what I think we’re also learning is that it’s not just about showing up to the meeting, the real question is, how do we communicate? How does everyone look at the same data and see it the same way or at least have the opportunity to reflect on and understand it and you know, and kind of get everyone on the same page about it? What is what was never especially effective was sitting in a room with somebody trying to explain the data. You need analysis, you need to be able to show things visually so that people who understand things visually can see them, you need to then be able to talk to the data and tell a story from it so that people who understand things, you know, through their ears will understand the exciting opportunity right now is to recognize that with video as our primary means that we have so much more bandwidth to fill our communication channel with, right that we have so much more opportunity to express our data in a meaningful way. That’s where we’re seeing a huge uptick is folks sitting, you know, we’ve always talked about metrics and so on. But we really have a need now to name a couple of KPIs of key performance indicators, and managed to that we really have a need to understand processes that we didn’t understand before. And we have also suddenly more data because we’re encouraging our participants to engage with us through systems through the internet because they can’t do it in person. And all of those interactions are easy to count and they’re easy measure. So folks are saying, what can we measure today that we couldn’t measure before? And what should we measure? What counts?
Boris Kievsky 16:09
So then how are they presenting this data in the new visual formats in video? Are you talking about, you know, charts that get converted into animation? Are you talking about monitoring user flows and diagramming that, what is it that people are doing or should be doing?
Isaac Shalev 16:28
Well, I’ll say this, the first thing that people should be doing is connecting their logic model to their metrics. In other words, what are you trying to do? Why do you think what you’re doing is going to accomplish that goal? And what are you going to count to make sure, right, so if you don’t have that, right, if you haven’t done that, essentially strategic planning work, where you lay out your goals, you define your activities, and then you identify indicators. You’ve got to start there. And that’s, you know, technology can help and support you but nothing can replace human beings thinking deeply and caring deeply, and then trying to act. So you’ve got to be doing that. If you’re doing that, you need to be really, really specific about those indicators. What are you measuring and take the leap of faith. One of the greatest challenges that we have in this work is that it’s hard to measure directly the things that we’re trying to achieve. Even something straightforward, right? Let’s say you are running a soup kitchen. So you think that’s fairly straightforward. There’s a need people are hungry, you’re going to cook food and serve it to them. And that’s how you’re going to meet at least this immediate need. And then I asked you, Boris, what should you count to know if you’re succeeding?
Boris Kievsky 17:47
Number of people served the number of meals served, the number of people who still haven’t been served who still need your services, whether they know it or not, I don’t know. There’s a lot of different factors.
Isaac Shalev 18:00
There’s a lot of different factors. And so really what we have done not so well is defined what success is for our operation. So you might say, and this is sort of a process oriented approach is you might say, our operation is intended to serve as many people as possible. And so then you’re measuring things like cost per meal, right? Because you want to make sure that you’re serving as many people as possible. And you’re measuring things like how many people are you able to serve? And how many meals are you able to serve? But you have to take the leap of faith that says that if those metrics look right, you’re also solving this larger problem. And that’s not always true. But you have to at some point, take the leap and say, what we’ve chosen to measure we have to believe is actually helping us achieve our goals. Because day to day, that’s what you have to be focused on. Your strategic process should take a step back from that on an annual or two year or three year basis and say, did we choose the right actions? Have we impacted the way that we thought? don’t measure impact quarterly? It’s a meaningless timespan over which to shift, major challenges that nonprofits are engaged with. But do you measure your efficiency quarterly? Right? Do you measure your operational quality at a much closer interval?
Boris Kievsky 19:25
But I also think that it’s not just believing that the goal that you’ve set for yourself are the right ones, I think periodically, you should evaluate and reassess them because Sure, maybe you’re serving twice as many people this year as last year. But are they still the people that are most in need? Are you finding that you’re serving the right audience, right, because maybe you’ve expanded too far or maybe people are taking advantage of the system? Or maybe there are other programs that are in place that might help some of those people more effectively, whether they’re within your organization or someone else’s?
Isaac Shalev 19:58
Yeah, one of the things we struggle with is measuring our success. So I’ll give you an example. Just the other day I was talking with a director of technology, who was trying to understand whether the trainings that they were delivering to their staff were effective. And, you know, initially they were thinking about a survey and I said, Look, you know, staff as of under 50 people a survey is just not a meaningful method to learn very much like you might learn some very extreme trends, but it’s just not reliable to few people. But let’s try and predict some other outcomes or some other things that might happen if our training is successful. So for example, one thing that you know, tech folks like to do is measure how many tickets come in on support requests. Okay, so if you are going to train people to use some new process, what do you think will happen to support requests following the training
Boris Kievsky 20:58
There going to go up at first
Isaac Shalev 21:00
Right. And that’s the key point, they’re going to go up at first. In other words, you’re you can you can, you can picture this in your head, right? The the director of IT walks into the senior staff meeting and says, I have such great news. We did this training, we taught everyone how to use our CRM, and we have just experienced a 70% drop in support tickets. Isn’t that great? Everyone’s learned how to use it. Right? And, you know, what’s really happening is that everyone is now terrified, because they’re supposed to know. And so they’re not asking support, they’re asking each other, if you’re lucky, or more likely, they found like the three people who really know how to use the system, and they’ve shifted all the work on to them and those folks don’t need as much support. They know how to use the system. Right? So we need to recognize and anticipate what is the shape of our indicator going to be in the beginning. More support tickets over time, less and that’s really tricky. That’s a hard thing to do. And organizations do struggle with it. And that’s why a lot of them throw their hands up in frustration and say, I’m not getting real value out of measuring. So why am I wasting all my time here? Let’s go back to relying on the instincts and the professional acumen of our staff. And you know, the measurements, we can always find a statistic to put in the annual report. I really want to encourage organizations to recognize that that approach guarantees that you’re not going to make progress. It guarantees because you’re always going to find a reason why what is expedient, or what is easy, is also good. That’s our nature as humans, right? If we don’t hold ourselves accountable, we don’t do the stuff that we do, and we do hold ourselves accountable.
Boris Kievsky 22:54
Yeah, and this happens in all levels of society, not even to talk about politics. But you know, there’s a type of thinking, which is magical executive thinking that I know best that I know this market. I know this audience, I know this process, right? And I can predict what they’re going to need. I know how to respond, rather than actually testing, generating data oftentimes, but at least looking at the data that you already have, and validating in terms of a systemized process, these assumptions, the approaches to them. A lot of organizations I feel are tied to the way that they’ve always done it, because it’s worked. And so there’s that fear of why break something that that’s working, why fix something that that’s not broken? Right? But they don’t know what the possibilities actually are, what the potential possibly is, and if they go back to their mission instead of the way that they enact a particular program. They might see that if they test the data that the programs generated if they generate more data, they might see that it’s not as efficient and as maximal as it could be.
Isaac Shalev 24:07
Yeah, what I find is that the journey into exploring your data is a strategic journey. In other words, a lot of times we think about it in terms of operational efficiency, because there’s so much data around operations. And so it’s easier to sort of understand it there. But for most organizations, that’s not really where the the obstacle is to becoming more data driven. And it’s not where most of the rewards lie. I mean, there are certainly some rewards there. But it’s not really where the the rewards lie. When I talk to folks about why data is important. I say data is a hippo repellent. Hippo is the highest paid person’s opinion, right? That’s how we often make decisions. Whoever’s got the authority, whoever’s got the money, whoever’s got the biggest mouth sometimes, right? That drives too much of our decision making. Data gives you is the ability to overcome some of those entrenched, folks who are driving the bus because that’s how they like to do it. It gives you the opportunity to reframe the work that you’re doing. And that is incredibly valuable. I don’t know. I mean, look there, there are enterprise organizations that invest in greater data capabilities and save 4% of their data processing costs. And that represents millions of dollars. And that’s fantastic. And they should keep doing that. But for most nonprofits, that’s not why you want to look into data. Right? That’s not a sufficient reason. What you want is to look at your data, because you want to know that you are doing the mission work that you’re committed to, not just in the best possible way from an efficiency perspective, but that you’re pointed in the right direction, that the kinds of activities that you’re engaged in, help solve the problems. We live in a world of unintended consequences. There’s so many times where with good intentions, you launch something, and you end up stoking the opposite behavior, bad behavior. If you’re not looking at your data, you miss it. And then you entrench it. And then it’s really hard to get out of it.
Boris Kievsky 26:21
I’d love to keep digging into some specific, some more specific ways that people should be looking at it and maximizing their use of data. We’re gonna run out of time soon, though. So I want to jump to some resources and recommendations where people get started, what should they look at? tools, books, whatever it might be, that’ll help them go in the right direction.
Isaac Shalev 26:44
I want to give you two different resources. One is about your data. And one is about everyone else’s data. Because really, that’s how you establish a context. So there’s a tool called the fundraising report card fundraisingreportcard.com. The link is in the notes, and this is a 100% free tool it connects with , easily processes data from databases like the razor’s edge, which I’m sure many of the viewers are familiar with and probably using. And it generates a series of KPIs of essentially metrics that you would want to be looking at. And it does it in a visual way. So you can generate charts and graphs really, really easily. Just walk yourself through it, pull, you know, pull your date range, pull your accounts, you know, whatever it is that you want to count, and just create these really easy to use and appealing charts and graphs. They’re specially fantastic for talking with senior leadership and lay leadership about your fundraising operation. And they’ll do things like calculate the lifetime value of your donors based on the data that you’ve got, if you know the lifetime value of a donor. Now you’ve got a number that you can go look at and say, Well, what are my acquisition costs for a donor? And are they in alignment with this lifetime value. So it’s really giving you some terrific top line insights for essentially 15 minutes of work, you go, you sign up, you export, you know, a spreadsheet, you upload it. And suddenly you’ve got these great charts, you can do it for years and years of data and start comparing yourself year over year over year. It’s a great tool for giving you the ability to explore and what’s especially nice about it is you can create dashboards for different people in it. So you can actually create, say, a series of board dashboards. So for your reporting to your board of directors, they can be looking at a specific set, and they can each do it from their own browser on their own time whenever they want. So there’s transparency benefits as well. So that’s a tool I recommend to anyone who doesn’t already have a business intelligence tool isn’t already in a fantastic engine for generating reports. This is a great place. You’re not going to Be able to use it for like, everything this is for high level stuff. So, you know, this is not where you’re going to query give me you know, all donors who donated last year but not the year before that at over $500 but less than 1000. Like that’s not it’s not going to give you that kind of querying capability. But as a as a high level tool, it’s a great place to start the conversation about how to use data effectively.
Boris Kievsky 29:21
Sounds awesome. What’s the other one?
Isaac Shalev 29:22
The other one is m&r benchmarks. So Mrbenchmarks.com it is not mister benchmarks, although I kinda wish it was. But m&r benchmarks has been doing this for a long time, like maybe a decade if not more. They have been benchmarking statistics across nonprofits in different sectors. So if you’ve ever had that conversation where you say, Well, our open rate was 22%. Is that good? What should it be? You need benchmarks. benchmarks are the collected statistics across many similar organizations that tell you oh were Arts and Cultural Organization turns out 16 to 18% should be our open rates. So we’re 22, we must be doing something, right. That’s the power of benchmarks. They create context that allows you to take data and turn it into insight.
Boris Kievsky 30:14
I dove into that website, maybe a little too hard. I got lost in the awesome insights that they have there, including they actually showed some great trends. So it was really interesting to me to see how, for example, mobiles are definitely on the rise. Finally, in the US, it’s been, you know, huge around the world, but I’m on the rise here in the US. And even though some mobile response rates have dropped, overall, mobile usage is up and overall mobile responses is up. That’s just one of the many things that I was fascinated by. And I’m actually going to bring on someone else that I think, you know, Mike sabet, in a couple of weeks to talk about mobile specifically. And I had to send him a screenshot of what they were talking about there. It was really eye opening and in hardening in a lot of ways To see the things that they’re talking about that are trending that are moving forward, and also the things that aren’t working as well, so that nonprofits could spend less of their time and energy focusing on those things, and more into the right directions that’ll help them grow.
Isaac Shalev 31:15
Yeah, it’s really interesting to see also, the impacts of COVID on mobile use have not been as dramatic, I had anticipated that they would decline, because people are home and they’re not out and about as much and so forth. But it seems that that’s not the case. And I speculate it’s because with everyone sharing internet connections with their families, and so forth, the phone suddenly becomes this really reliable internet device, whereas the computer you know, it all depends on how many people are on zoom right now. But, but I think it also just reflects that we’ve incorporated the phone into our lives in a really sort of intrinsic way. And nonprofits have been behind the curve on this. So, you know, this is this is sort of a perpetual call, but If your site is not yet responsive, if your donation cart doesn’t work effectively on mobile, if your emails don’t read well, on mobile, start there, don’t worry about data. We have some data for you. It’s that you should fix these things.
Boris Kievsky 32:15
Absolutely. Yeah. And the phone is becoming an appendage. Right? We In fact, the reason I think behind some greater usage at the moment is because we no longer have to sit at our desks in front of a computer for X amount of hours a day continuously, we can get up and walk around the house and get a snack. We’re constantly checking our phones on our phones, something pops up, we were going to click it. So I think, especially with younger folks, the usage of phones is only going to go up and up, no matter what the pandemic or other circumstances are, Isaac we’ve run over time, because as always, you’ve got tons of value to share. So I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for coming on the show today. Thank you everyone out there in nonprofit land for watching. And listening to the nonprofit Hero Factory. I’m going to give my little call to action here, which is go to the website and check out the show notes. You can just go to NonProfitHeroFactorycom and see all episodes there or slash EP six. It’s going to be on the timecard in a second here at to see the particular notes from this show. But please, please, please follow us on YouTube, Facebook on your favorite podcast platforms. We’re on all the major ones now. And subscribe, download, listen, and please if you have any thoughts, we would love a review positive negative share your thoughts leave a rating and we could then reach more people help more nonprofits do more good. Thank you, everybody.
Concepts and Takeaways:
A few of the key points and takeaways we discussed:
- This is a great time to embrace not just how technology can help you do what you’ve been doing, but what technology can do to extend your mission and impact
- The scarcity mindset of “doing more with less” is not helpful. It’s time to think about what you can do with more, by mining your data and using the right technology.
- Smart data works like this:
- Start by understanding the goals you want to achieve (KPIs) — i.e., what does success look like?
- Decide on the assumptions you can test
- Determine the data (metrics) that will show whether or not your assumptions were correct and how well you are performing
- Test against prior data and outside data (see M+R Benchmarks in the Resources section below)
- Adjust your assumptions
Action Steps: What Now?
About this week’s guest
Isaac ShalevPresident, Sage70, Inc.
Known to his clients as “the Data Therapist,” Isaac helps nonprofit organizations with technical expertise, human sensitivity, and quiet confidence. Isaac is the President of Sage70, Inc. a boutique consultancy devoted to making data work for nonprofits. He has over fifteen years of experience leading non-profit organizations, offering strategic consulting in data, fundraising and organizations development, and guiding nonprofits to greater achievement and greater wisdom.