In our prior post we stipulated that donors want to donate. They don’t want massive frustration and irritation in doing so, which is precisely what all the asks (i.e. volume) causes. There is a study here proving that point. And it doesn’t irritate some tiny, minority of folks who really aren’t “good” donors anyway, it irritates the majority of your donors.
In short, most give in spite of the fundraising volume machine and the irritation it causes, not because of it.
So why do they give? To clarify, most don’t give again – hence the dreadful first year retention rates.
But, for those who elect to stick around, what is causing their giving – if not the constant asking – and how would the business look different if charities organized mindset, metrics and process around these reasons?
If we need or want a label, and of course we do, enter the elusive donor-centric term. Our sector unicorn that is never seen and yet the claims to know where to find one (e.g. how to become donor-centric) or to be one (e.g. we are donor-centric) abound.
If most claiming to be or know how to be donor-centric are a million miles from it (they are) then what in the name of unicorns, rainbows and pots of gold is the answer?
No more theory and platitudes damn it. Details, please.
Here is an actual example that we’ve modified for confidentiality reasons.
We identified (using this method) two different types of donor identities for a community based, social services charity – people who are into helping children (e.g. tutoring, preventative wellness) and those into helping adults (e.g. job training, financial literacy).
These identities, just like your identity as a parent, employee, sports fan or hobbyist are core to who these folks are but they don’t need this charity to reinforce and ‘live-out’ this particular identity.
Make no mistake however, the identity of “help children” and “help adult” are the number one motivators for why these folks will give to this charity and failure to market in a way that reinforces this identity will result in them leaving. The current, “control world” for these donors is identical. It serves neither group well and any reinforcing of identity is done by accident.
The new world order starts with these two segments and a separate, dare we say it, journey for each. Note how fundamentally different this segmentation scheme is from what is far more typical – past giving (for current donors) or even worse, acquisition channel/campaign (for new donors).
How do we build the journey from there?
Enter step two for this client – asking folks to self-identify at the point of acquisition as either being more focused on children or adults. Getting this information is as important as the donor contact and bank details.
Because knowing it means we actually have permission to send the next something. Not legal permission, not moral or ethical permission but internal mindset permission that says I now know something about you because you told me. My next job is to send you something that is responsive.
Without this everything is likely to feel more like well-intentioned spam than ‘donor-centric, relevant’ content that the unicorns purport to have figured out.
The welcome kit/onboard is a perfect example. This is, almost without exception, the send them everything (which means we send nothing) set of communications. The proverbial kitchen sink.
In its place for these donor experience test groups will be what is internally branded as the “getting to know you” communications.
The entire purpose is to learn at least one additional thing (or more than one) about the donor in order to have additional permission – in fact, obligation – to send something in return and be responsive.
But, the additional something is not random. This is not the ubiquitous, sham ‘donor survey’ asking them to identify issues they care about or some other rhetorical, fraudulent tactic suggesting we actually care about their individual preferences.
In this case, and based on additional donor insights, the client will ask donors to indicate if they have interest in advocacy actions, volunteering or what we call being “quiet supporters”, meaning they want low behavioral involvement (not to be mistaken with low emotional involvement) but will donate regularly with very little spend required by the charity or desired by the donor.
What is this all about? It is a recognition that not all “child” (or “adult”) folks are the same. They share the same identity, yes. But, how they want to manifest that with this charity and the specific assets it offers will differ. In short, there are sub-segments within the ‘child” group based on charity specific preferences/interests.
At this point we start to shift donors into sub-tracks or journeys – still living in their child or adult identity cohort – that are built out based on donor expressed preference.
(A note: we can and will augment self-expressed preference with behavior data – e.g. they opened, clicked, replied or otherwise indirectly expressed a preference. The cautionary note is we should recognize a behavior based choice is not the same as a preference)
All the content that goes into these sub-tracks or journeys already exists. In fact, folks in the control get all of it. All of it….
Less is more when the “less” is determined by understanding donor identity and preference and serving up content, offers, interactions, communications that match it.
If this is starting to seem a lot like personalized, relationship building that is because it is.
And it needs to get more personalized, down to the 1 to 1 level.
Why? Because the individual interactions donors have with your business – i.e. their experiences – are experienced individually and the determination of whether the interaction was good, bad or in-between differs between Donor X and Y. Further, the quality of those interactions, from the donor’s perspective, will play a big role in determining whether Donor X and Y stay or go.
Do you know, at the individual donor level and in aggregate, how good or crappy your donor experiences are? Are they doing the intended job or not? For example,
- Is your online donation process easy?
- What was the quality of the recruiting process?
- Is the “welcome” reinforcing their decision to give (probably not…)?
- Is the ‘thanking” making them feel valued?
- Did the phone call with the donor service rep fully address their concern?
- Did the e-appeal or direct mail piece reinforce their identity?
Don’t pretend you can answer any of these questions with behavior data. You cannot.
Double negative alert: If you can’t answer these questions your charity is not donor-centric.
As part of the test for this client they are getting into the game of measuring and managing donor experiences (using this tool) at the individual supporter level by asking for feedback right after the interaction and acting on it. This is not asking for asking sake. Donors who have a crappy experience will get a different follow-up than those who had a positive experience.
The analogy here is your life as a consumer where you are likely getting inundated with requests for feedback after you shop online, fly on a plane, stay in a hotel, buy a car, buy a pack of gum… Why? Because the corporate sector knows the quality of these experiences dictate a large part of the decision to stay or go and the only way to measure them is to ask.
Said differently, this data has enormous value to the business. It is worth far more than the next appeal you will send.
So, what do you think will win?
Control World: Sending 40, 50, 60 plus push communications (mail, phone, email) over the course of the year that adheres to an internally crafted production schedule that covers any and all aspects of the business
Test World: Matching what is sent to donor identity and preference and asking for and acting on individual level feedback tied to interactions they have with the business. This will, in most cases, result in far fewer push communications going out but only as an incidental outcome of using a different strategy, not because sending less is “the” strategy.
That may seem like a loaded question. Who is going to pick the Control World?
Well, the vast majority of charities choose it every day and donors, unfortunately, experience it every day.
Or maybe folks will pick the Control World as the answer because they can cite the results of a “cadence” pilot they did showing that when they sent less they made less. You can see here for details on the many, many flaws with that testing and mindset.
The bottom line is this:
Most charities have chosen to make the ask their economic engine, the volume model. To make this engine “work” doesn’t require knowing anything other than some very, very limited past behavior to make some slight efficiency improvements for future volume.
In reality – your current, unrealized reality – the ask deserves very little credit in actually raising money (16% by our attribution models) and more of the blame for current world order.
The donor is giving in spite of the asking machine, not because of it.
P.S. The test group wins. But this isn’t even the best part, though it is pretty damn good. The best part is that we’ve changed the economic engine. The way to scale and grow this pilot has nothing to do with sending out more stuff.
Donor-centric can be operationalized and made real. Just don’t go asking any unicorns how to pull it off.