2 rapid fire questions:

  1. Quick, name 1 of your 5 most generous donors? Who’s name comes to mind? How big was the gift?
  2. Quick, name 1 of your 10 most generous donors? Huh? Meaning one of your 10 most loyal, longstanding supporters? No shame, if you are like most organizations, this one may be a bit more difficult.

Isn’t it something that many of us struggle with this question. That so many of our organizations have a structured, well-defined stewardship matrix based on capacity to give a gift of $500 or $1000+ but lack having even given a cursory thought to developing a loyalty matrix based not on financial capacity but strictly long term commitment to the cause. Why not? It’s not simply a resource allocation issue. Seems to be more of a collision based on the short-term vs. long-term view.

Your donors are constantly asking themselves: “What’s in it for me?”
Well, what’s in it for them?

When we speak of amplifying the narrative, it is not about the constant activation of new donors, it is moreso through the lens of providing your committed supporters with an institutionalized lifetime value – to them.  Staff that have nurtured relationships over the years may leave for other pastures, but your organization’s loyalty never wains. No more bullshit excuses like donor fatigue [Take 15 – Calling Bullshit on “Donor Fatigue”]

Let’s take 15 minutes today to think about the competitive advantage available to us were we in the business of celebrating donor loyalty, from a 50,000 foot vantage point at first – conceptual thought experiments which we will then translate into specific actionable tactics at a later date. Even though I position the following points as sort of hypotheses, it doesn’t make them less business driven than say the calculation for a donor’s lifetime value.

  1. When you’ve activated a donor, it is because they are responding to a specific appeal or message – when was the last time that you referenced that same specific message with an update on exactly what progressive impact that they’ve been responsible for [through their giving]? Or are you always continuing to create a never-ending sense of pseudo-urgency in appealing for a next gift before having ever reporting back on the impact the donor is responsible for? And I’m not talking about the organizational-centric [tsk tsk] “WE’VE invested more than 700 Billion into…” but rather communication from the beneficiary of the support, like:  “Hey Erica, you’re everything that is right with the world. Thank you for how you’ve changed my life in so many ways in the last 6 months since you’ve decided to become an incredibly generous supporter of…”
  2. What exactly is the lifetime value of your organization? What is the long-term narrative that you are weaving in collaboration with your donors’ express motivations for giving? Are the narratives segmented and personalized based also on where they are in their donor life cycle? What is the evolution, the dramatic structure: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement, from being a new donor, to 6 months in, at 1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 5, 7, 10+? These years are most likely some of your key attrition intervals – are you ensuring that you are pro-actively strengthening their cause-affiliation at these key drop off dates? When lapsed, have you cared enough to ask your donors for the exact reason that they’ve chosen to no longer support you financially? [Take 15 – Lapsed Donor ≠ End Of Support. 15 Point Checklist For When Donors Cancel Financial Support]
  3. The cliche relationship metaphors are cliche, yes, but there’s a reason they’re invoked so often. There are few relationships that you will have in life that will last as long as those that you will have with some of your donors. For example, if you have a donor that has given to you for 10 years. How many other relationships [beyond the extremely intimate ones such as marriage or kids] have you had in your life that have lasted that long? Around the world we’ve personally institutionalized the close relationships in our lives, anniversaries and the like, because we understand the importance of continuously amplifying our personal narratives – yet, why do we not seek to do the same in our donor relationships?
  4. We are all swingers. Have you accepted that you will most likely never have a monogamous relationship with your donors? Do you celebrate that? How are you encouraging your donor’s philanthropic motivations but more importantly how are you institutionalizing competitive analysis in order to position a unique narrative versus your “competition”. See: “Take 15 – The Easy Way To Conduct Monthly Donor Competitive Analysis + BONUS 15 Aspects To Evaluate
  5.  You have various channels all actively working to funnel in new donors – but are you communicating the same message to direct mail donors as your online organic segments, social media, face to face, etc.? An apt analogy would be in what way do you differentiate your communications to your Justin Trudeau vs your Donald Trump supporters? Have you considered creating test cells in order to segment and evaluate performance of different stewardship streams or schedules with the segments? You are looking at key attrition rates yearly, or monthly perhaps, but could you get even more granular and analyze if attrition rates are comparable even within segments, say to those that activated on two different direct mail campaigns, or from different cities?
  6. How does your conversation differ with a committed long-term donor who’s given to your organization for more than 10 years differ from one that’s specifically given for 3.5 years [as an example]. Or are they all part of the same 12 month stewardship stream and upgrade cycle, with only the potential of a non-specific acknowledgement of their giving when thanking them for their support in a phone call?
  7. What horizontal engagement opportunities are you putting directly in front of your donors in order to strengthen their affinity to your cause [and thus, perhaps compelling them to continue giving?!] For example: If I make a gift of $250 to your org. today, do you simply say “Thanks, now tell all your friends about our Facebook page” or something more strategic like: “Wow, AC! Thank you for being such a dedicated agent for change. I can tell that you support the progressive socio-economic climate of our communities, so I figured that you might also be interested in joining the fight in our “boots on the ground” advocacy work here….” How do your engagement opportunities differ by donor segment, activation channel, etc.?
  8. How much of your long-term stewardship is based off of assumptions only? Are you providing me the opportunity to provide feedback at regular intervals, both formally and informally, in order to set benchmarks for my satisfaction, updating my file with the evolution of my affinity to your cause throughout my personal life cycle as a donor, re-segmenting me based off of my new/other interests as our relationship matures over time? Are you doing things in the short term the way that you do them because that’s the way you’ve always done them – or because it’s the most strategic long term journey?
  9. Does your long-term stewardship stream rely simply on the implementation of a moves management strategy? Meaning, for example, if I were to give you $50/year for 5 years and my modelled behaviour dictates that I won’t be moved into an intermediate gift segment, or ever show propensity to move to legacy giving, do you simply keep your communications segmented to treat me as any other “low value” donor?
  10. What does the end of our relationship signify to you? Is it merely when I end [perhaps temporarily] my financial contributions? See “Take 15 – Lapsed Donor ≠ End Of Support. 15 Point Checklist For When Donors Cancel Financial Support”
  11. Which tendrils of organizational culture are encouraging you to save pennies to lose dollars? I’ve written a bit about that here – Take 15 – Saving Pennies, Losing Dollars – with the most relevant question being: What kind of radical transformation would you have if you invested 5% of your acquisition budget towards retention? What if we focused on retention with the same institutionalized vigor as they do with loyalty departments in the corporate landscape?
  12. What is the promise that you are making to your donors? What expectations have you set with them throughout their life cycle? Are you consistently advising them on “what’s next” in their journey? See: “Take 15 – Amplifying The Narrative Is Your Greatest Competitive Advantage”
  13. You’re a donor first, right? Meaning that you financially support your own organization – you’ve got “skin in the game”. When was the last time that you implemented a secret shopper program under a pseudonym and have personally gone through all of your channels donor journeys, mailing in a donation, calling your donor service department to set up a monthly gift, request legacy giving information via email, made a complaint by quill  and ink and waited for a response?
  14. Have you institutionalized the concept of every donor interaction as an ask? Successful narratives are about the breadcrumbs of your organization – the granular aspects in a donor’s interaction with your organization that are sometimes overlooked. From the way you answer the phone, the length of time it takes to respond to an email, the dirty signage at your event, if I have to search for a donate button, etc. Staff turnover is also a reality to contend with, so you’ve got to institutionalize these changes and have monitoring processes in places in order to allow for smooth, unseen, transitions for donors.

So, that’s a lot to think about. Maybe take 15 for each of the points…As mentioned up top we wanted to first look at these issues from a sky high vantage point – I’m currently working on some future posts in which we will be looking at how to implement granular, channel specific donor journeys that leverage both donor motivation and message specific communications at the outset of activation. Another post on how to to create and implement omni-channel satisfaction benchmarks through surveys, reactivation programs, etc.

And a bunch of other types of actionable posts, and tangential rants [as usual].

May you continue to cultivate the joy of giving, value to your donors.


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