Stewardship: Traveling Along

February 12, 2019

A GPS in a new era of giving navigates the experience

It’s an exciting time to be working in philanthropy — unless you are afraid of change. Change is everywhere. There are shifts in who gives, where they give, how they give, why they give and what they expect when they give. With more choices of where to give, the philanthropic landscape is fragmented and yet quite concentrated in terms of the number of organizations donors choose to support.

Today’s philanthropic landscape seems to be a jumble of contradictions. How do organizational leaders find their way and where does it get started?

Not surprisingly, it all starts with a map – a map of the donor journey. First, here’s a quick snapshot of some current trends.

Proliferation and concentration. The competition for the hearts, minds and wallets of donors is as intense as ever. The nonprofit sector is splintering, with more than 1.2 million charitable organizations in the United States covering myriad causes.

And yet, when donors were asked which charity they would support if they could give to just one, 54 percent of respondents selected the same 20 organizations, according to “The Donor Mindset Study VIII” from Grey Matter Research.

In this competitive, fragmented and top-heavy environment, many of today’s nonprofits leaders find themselves paddling faster just to stay still. There is a better way and it starts with a focus on the donor.

Being Donor Centric. There was a time when it was sufficient to be fiercely committed to a cause, work relentlessly in service of that cause and make the case that your organization’s work was an endeavor worth supporting. This “put your head down and plow ahead” approach is no longer enough. Even the most compelling cause needs to up its game to compete in the current crowded landscape.

The best place to start is to ask a simple question: “Are we organization-centric or donor-centric?” Some of the most important answers will be found if you dive into your organization’s Voice, Donor Paradigm, Communication Strategy and Engagement Strategy.

Voice. Your organization needs to speak in the language with which donors can readily grasp and identify, not in a language limited to just what you want them to hear. Using simple, non-jargon, straight-to-the-point language that leads with the impact a donor can make will allow your organization and your donor to make a connection.

A simple way to check your collective voice is to review your organization’s written communication and determine if you’re using “we” copy or “you” copy. Words that focus primarily on the organization (“what we do, our goals”) are less effective at pulling the donor into your mission than copy that addresses the donor’s point of view. The word “you” is still one of the most powerful and effective words in communications and marketing.

Simply count the number of times the word “you” appears in a given communication. If it’s less than a handful, work to increase the frequency dramatically. You’ll see an evolution into a more donor- centric message — why your work and mission matters to them.

Donor Paradigm. Do you think of your donors as merely donors? View them as investors in what you do. This simple but profound shift will inform your organization’s communication, strategy and interaction with donors large and small. It will help reinforce to every member of the team the need to connect donors with the impact of your work at every opportunity, resulting in a greater cumulative effect.

Communication Strategy. What is the overriding theme of your messaging? Organizational messages have historically confined communication almost exclusively to the nonprofit’s own side of the equation — what the staff does, organizational focus, etc. Instead, donor- centric communication conveys to donors the impact of their support. This includes customizing communication to your donor’s interests, an infinitely more effective approach.

Engagement Strategy. Donor acquisition is an appropriate priority for nonprofits.

Unfortunately, this acquisition mindset can lead to missed opportunities. Specifically, a new donor entering the system is often presumed to be “converted” to the mission of your organization.

Instead of assuming the new donor is on board, nonprofit managers should see this as the very beginning of a relationship opportunity, a relationship that must be nurtured carefully and continuously over time. The arrival of a new donor should not be seen as the end of the acquisition process. This seemingly subtle change can lead to a dramatic difference in strategy and success.

The “Why” Behind the Donor Journey. Migrating to a donor-centric approach might not seem like a radical departure from traditional past practice. But its power is found not in the individual strategies and tactics but in the cumulative effect.

It’s all about creating an experience. With a donor-centric approach, it is far more likely that your organization will create a cohesive approach to outreach and all donor engagement. This helps ensure that all donors, no matter when or how often they engage, understand what the organization is doing and see themselves in it.

Your organization is known to its audience for what you want to be known for, in the right way, every time. The goal is to bring your donors and all stakeholders along on a shared journey. With a holistic, donor-centric approach to that journey, you will see deeper, more resilient engagement.