The Benefits of “Wow”: Donor Retention, Upgrades

Consistent sameness does not delight.  Of course, it is important to stay in touch with our donors. To thank them for every monthly gift, every pledge payment. To make a special fuss about a new donor, welcoming her to the family. To invite our donors to fireworksspecial events. Most importantly, report to them, in concrete and specific ways, the impact their investments helped us realize.  These strategies are the cornerstone of donor retention.  But…  ho hum.

Timeliness and consistency have real value.But sameness leads to boredom or worse. We can miss out on viral marketing for sure. Often, sameness leads to the stagnant gift levels, no upgrades. And if the donor isn’t watching the video, reading the impact report, attending the scholarship luncheon, your efforts may not inspire the donor retention you seek.

Wow moments, on the other hand, work magic.

In Seth Godin’s blog he makes the case for, “Amazing is what spreads.”  Think about a time when a company “wowed” you as a consumer. Perhaps a hotel, online dealer, car repair service or supermarket delighted you with exceptional customer service or an unexpected kindness…

Our missions, visions and the work we do should “wow” our donors. But our donors have many charities on their lists and all of those charities do worthy and impressive work. So how do we stand out? How do we amaze and delight, not consistently, but sometimes, just enough to wow our donors?  So, what makes a WOW moment?

  1. Surprise. If you think about those moments when you were delighted with customer service, when you said, “Wow,” chances are the kindness rendered was a surprise.
  2. Exceed expectations. The surprise factor goes a long way, but when the reaction to the situation is not only unexpected but is above and beyond what you’ve experienced in other similar situations, the delight meter soars.
  3. Get personal. A wow moment feels personal, tailored to me, designed around my personality, situation, needs.
  4. Be authentic. It doesn’t feel canned, rehearsed, planned (even if it is)
  5. …and responsive, timely. Something went wrong and you fixed it. Something went right and you acknowledged it on the spot, within hours.

And don’t forget to wow your internal audiences. Underappreciated and undervalued staff members will find it difficult to surprise and delight your donors. Joe Connelly of CBS radio and the Wall Street Journal reported, “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Finds ways to amaze and delight your donors. Wow your way to donor retention, upgrades and viral marketing!

How are you wowing your donors?

Fear and Fundraising

imagesFear and fundraising:  two words that, unfortunately, often go hand-in-hand.  Our volunteers and board members are afraid of approaching their friends and colleagues.  Our executive directors are afraid of their boards.  We are all afraid of not hitting our goals and causing program cuts, layoffs, etc.  But there is one fear that seems to bring down more fundraising programs and otherwise good gift officers more than any other.  And that is the fear that chief development officers have of their executive directors and their boards.

I recently had a chief development officer come to me and tell me that they were really worried the fundraising event the organization was planning would be a complete flop, take up incredible amounts of staff time and resources, and lead to very little money raised.

I asked my client, “Have you told your executive director and board this?  Have you forcefully stated that you think this fundraising event will be a disaster?”

“Well, I’ve metnioned my concerns”, my client said, “but the board really wants this event.”

When the event fails to meet expectations, fails to raise money, and other fundraising is negatively affected, is the board going to remember that the event was their idea?  Will they remember the chief development officer’s feeble protests?  Or will they take a hard look at the person responsible for fundraising: the chief development officer?

I think we all know the answer to this question and many of this have been in this position.  The business of fundraising is a highly quantifiable one.  You’re good if you raise money, you’re not if you don’t.  Period.  Yes, unfortunately it is just this simple.  Your board isn’t a good fundraising board?  Welcome to not-for-profits.  Your executive director came from the mission side and doesn’t really understand fundraising?  So what else is new?  Your department is under-resourced?  Show me one that isn’t.  As fundraisers its our job to succeed despite these challenges.

How?  We are the experts and we need to act like the experts.  If you think that the event the board wants to do so badly will be a disaster, you need to forcefully say so, and back it with metrics and historical data, until they tell you to be quiet.  If you need more fundraisers on your board, then you need to push steadily for a board overhaul.  Are you worried you’ll get fired or in trouble for being to pushy?  What do you think will happen if you don’t hit goal?

Fundraising is a business of uncertainty and it’s a business of persuasion.  We can’t always get our way but we can always try and push for what is best for the organization.  Pushing doesn’t mean being obnoxious.  It means being persuasive, providing best practices and data, and it means being respectful.  But it also means not being afraid of exercising your expertise.  After all, that is why they hired you.

Often its a good idea to set expectations upfront.  In the last job I was at before I did full time consulting I sat down with the executive director and the board chair before I started the job and I said. “I’m aggressive.  I’m going to really push for an increase in board giving and some term limits.  I want to completely overhaul how we handle our communications.  Is that OK with you and do I have your support?  If not, you shouldn’t hire me.”

They told me that was exactly what they wanted and they were true to their word.  That doesn’t mean that we didn’t have conflict at times or rough patches.  But we raised a lot of money and generally got on very well because of that fact.

So, don’t be afraid to be the expert and don’t be afraid of your boss or your board.  In the end, pushing for what is needed in spite of having some uncomfortable moments is the only way to success.

Check out our podcast with Beth Herman for more coaching tips

What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Travels in Philanthropy

No, I did not go on a “philanthropy tour” of the U.S. this summer…  As I am sure you do too, I did take notice of the ways that the not-for-profit sector showed up in the community where we were visiting.  And what I found fascinated me and challenged my thinking about the “philanthropy revenue engine” available to different kinds of organizations.  Perhaps some of you saw the companion pieces that came out in the New York Times this week on this very topic?  (We try not to be New York-centric, but hey, most of us live here.)  First this piece on ThinkImpact… and then these thoughtful responses.

Let me tell you about the two wonderful organizations I encountered:

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Asticou Azalea Garden and Thuya Gardens are a meticulously maintained garden preserve in the very tony hamlet of Northeast Harbor, ME.  Planned by Charles Savage, owner of the Asticou Inn, and with the support of John D. Rockfeller, Jr., these two, interconnected gardens that bring together traditional Maine plantings with a Japanese aesthetic can safely be said to rest in the “luxury end” of the not-for-profit sector.

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Common Ground Soup Kitchen overlooks the Seawall in Manset, the last building just outside Acadia National Park, on the “quietside” of Mount Desert Island.  This community kitchen and meeting place serves the year-rounders, offering healthy food from local farmers, feeding those whose work happens seasonally and often have a hard time making it through the long, cold, off-season in Maine, and delivering meals (and companionship) to seniors who may be especially house-bound in the snowy, windy months.  Sounds like the kind of grassroots, “up by your bootstraps” kind of organization that every community has – and needs.

We had a wonderful experience both places:  a sunny, morning tour of the Asticou and Thuya Gardens that delivered on their promise to provide a “quiet and contemplative setting” away from the hustle and bustle of daily life… and a delicious breakfast of fresh popovers and local blueberry jam at Common Ground, with a mix of other vacationers and a smattering of talk about the success of the July 4th fireworks display from other local business owners.

Here is what is so interesting…  How would you assume that each organization supports their work?  What would you guess is the revenue engine of each?

You probably assume that Asticou and Thuya Gardens probably has a membership program and charge an admissions fee for visitors.  And you might assume that Common Ground gets by on fundraising events, gifts-in-kind from local businesses and some “cash in a can” donations from local and out-of-town passers-by.

These two defy expectations.

Though they could easily run as a “fee based” business, the Gardens ask very subtly and gently for a voluntary contribution from those who visit.  Sure, it helps that they have “big money” in their history, but like so many others, that may be more perception than reality today.  And like so many others, “big money” often spawns a well-financed, year-round fund development and membership program.

Common Ground has found a for-profit-like niche that serves them (and served us!) well:  offer vacationers and campers hot coffee, wifi, fresh popovers and oatmeal and the voluntary donations will flow. (It helps that the donations “jar” was a big box with a glass top so we could see what others had given – and Marie, the popover delivery-person, was the friendliest, most assertive gift officer I have met in a long time.)  I know we ended up paying more for breakfast than we would have elsewhere, but did it with a joyful heart, inspired by the posters, pictures, and literature all around us – and by Marie’s persuasive powers – explaining what our popover purchase would support long after we had gone home.

We are challenged by our clients to think about how they can expand and diversify their revenue engine – and all of us in “third sector” work today must think about where our funding streams will come from, what is emerging in the future.  What a powerful reminder to challenge our assumptions of what our funding sources could or should be!  What is your organization best in the world at doing?  Is that something you could monetize?  Is that something you should?  Asticou has decided that quiet contemplation is not to be monetized… while serving those who serve the vacation travelers can be.  Fascinating!

“And” Not “Or”: The Heart of Generosity

When I think about inspired, joyful, generous investing in our world to make it a better place, I focus on “and”, not “or”.  Just as the funny commercial shows us – sweet or sour chicken, bed or breakfast –  “or” can be a bad idea, I find that “or” hurts our not-for-profits as well.  Generosity is all about AND.

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I invest my intellectual capital in the organizations that matter most to me. I prepare for board and volunteer meetings, think about the issues, offer ideas, pay attention. I’m present.

I share my connections. Invite people to my home and to events. Make introductions. Facilitate strategic conversations about the societal problems we are trying to solve.
I invest money with an open heart as generously as I am able.

When we talk about things like “give or get,” “time, talent or treasure,” “work, wealth or wisdom,” we are selling our missions short:

  • Give generously AND help bring in additional resources. You can sell tickets; inspire friends to support your walk; help a CEO meet a foundation leader or government official you know; use social media to connect friends and their friends to a treasured cause.
  • Give generously AND volunteer your time. You can mentor, share expertise, help build a house or dig well, give a talk, offer an internship, give blood, serve on a task force, stuff envelopes.

AND represents generosity. It doesn’t matter how little time you have to give or how little money. For those of us who can do and give more, we should. Sharing makes us all richer, happier.  We love Katya’s Non-Profit Marketing Blog – here’s a classic piece from her blog on the science behind generosity.

Sharing makes the world a better place.

The 72%ers: Individual Giving for Everyone

I admit it.  I wait for the Giving USA numbers to come out each June with perhaps more excitement than is due.  What will they tell us?  Are things really looking up, or does it just feel that way?  Will there be any big anomalies?  A big swing one way or another?  And then they come out and…  well, I’m not ever that surprised by the results, honestly.  At the 60,000 foot level, they tend to say the same thing every year: images most giving to religion and education; 72% from individual giving, outright with about 7-8% more through bequests each year.  I guess that what does surprise me is the conclusion that more organizational leaders do NOT take from these findings, year after year:  despite the fact that $227.7 billion dollars were given by individuals last year, and individuals gave $8.67 billion more than last year, so many anchor their growth strategy in corporate giving, the smallest part of the giving pie.

My hunch – from conversations with many of these organizations – is that the instinct is to go where the money is:  okaaaaay.  And the perception, often from the board, is that corporations are where the money is.  But, of course, we don’t have to go digging very far to find that the many millions of giving individuals in the country give about 2% of their disposable income each year while corporate giving has fallen and stagnated at levels not seen since 1977 – a mere 0.8% of corporate profits last year.  So, clearly individual giving IS where the money is, but building an individual giving portfolio feels unattainable to many organizations.

Why?

The reason I most often hear is, “I/we don’t know ‘those’ people”.  And with the proliferation of the Philanthropy 50, the Most Generous lists, the Forbes Titans of Philanthropy, the press on those who have taken the Giving Pledge, it is easy to understand why accessing “those people” does not feel like it is within the purview of the thousands of small and medium-sized organizations around the country.

But, who do you really need to know?  For sure, knowing and engaging high-net worth individuals who can and will give major gifts is critical and wonderful.  Giving USA confirms again that having volunteer opportunities that attract, inspire and engage these individuals is key:  88.5% report that their giving follows their volunteer involvement.

Leadership donors – those who can give between $1,000 and $10,000 or $25,000 a year – are the bread and butter not only of these Giving USA numbers, but of strong, small and mid-sized organizations around the country.  (After all $1,000 is $83 a month.  $83.  How much was your cell phone bill?)  The “big dog” organizations have known that for years and have invested staffing and fund development strategies to find and keep this cohort above all others.  What can the little guys do to catch up?  The details in Giving USA this year point the way:

  • Leadership donors report that they often give to inspire others.  Do you give your current leadership donors (at whatever level) a voice in your communications?  Do you seek out some who are willing to be showcased to share their story of inspiration with others?  It’s not just about finding those who will be solicitors for you (nice though that is!) but those who are willing to tell your story to others… or have their story told.multi-channel-marketing-fueled-by-crm-increases-member-giving_16001162_800926552_0_0_14057469_500
  • 66% of individuals report that they give regularly to a few organizations they really care about.  Are you offering the opportunity to give multiple times a year?  Through different channels?  To many parts of your core mission that matter to your donors?  I am not advocating a constant, unceasing barrage of mail and email to your donors, asking and asking, always with a hand out.  But, I do know that small and mid-size organizations can cut back – waaaay back on the number of times they invite people “to the table”, either because of fear or just a lack of staff or volunteers to get appeals out the door.  Could you divide the impact of what you do into four or five different pieces and send an appeal, an email, a link to a video on your website quarterly or about every other month?  What and who would it take to do that?  $200 at a time builds up quickly.
  • 90.8% report that they have some or great confidence that the not-for-profit sector can solve problems in society.  That’s HUGE confidence, especially given the much more dismal numbers we were seeing just five or six years ago… (And much greater confidence than Congress currently enjoys, yet they don’t seem to have pulled back the political fundraising…hum.)  Here’s the “But” and it’s big:  the Fundraising Effectiveness Project found that the not-for-profit sector has a crisis of donor retention.  Those who believe in your organization give regularly; however, there is a huge number – on average, 59% of donors – who are getting passed around from organization to organization, year after year.  Notice that I say “passed around”, not “jumping around”:  so often we’re complicit in letting them go by not paying attention to donor stewardship and reporting back on the impact of giving in a way that matters and gets noticed. (Check out our podcast #7 and #15 for more on stewardship.)  Recoiling at the thought of soliciting four times a year?  What if you communicated a powerful stewardship message in between each of those appeals?  Much more palatable, right?  And your donor retention will move closer to those few who top 70% – and you’ll build stronger leadership giving along the way.

In the end, I know what keeps a commitment to individual giving off the table for many organizations:  the reality is that individual giving is a “people to people” business and that can be messy, it doesn’t have a tidy recipe that bakes up every single time.  It is like cooking – you throw yourself into it with good ingredients, you tinker with what works and what doesn’t, you ask others how they’ve made it come out so well and try again and again.  Lots of people know how to cook.  You can too.