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Donor-Centered Digital Communications: How Do You Create a Value-for-Value Exchange?

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We live in an “all about me” world.

All about me doesn’t have to be a bad thing, even if at first blush it sounds ego-driven. You see, there’s nothing wrong with ego. It drives us to want to be better.

We want to look in the mirror and see someone we love.

How do you help your donor look in the mirror and see a hero looking back at them?

Being donor-centered in your communications means always asking, before you create any piece of written, auditory or visual communication:

What’s in this for me (the donor or would-be donor)”?

In other words, if the donor decides to enter into your world — to read, watch or listen to your content, and then act on what’s been communicated — how will they benefit? What will they get as a value-for-value exchange?

For the most part, donors want to feel good about their engagement and investment with you. They don’t want a tote bag (although a few token gifts never hurt) so much as they want a meaningful, emotional experience, connection to community and a place to make a personal impact.

TIP: What are some ways you can create a meaningful emotional experience for would-be supporters using online content? If your donor shows you love, how will you show love in return? (e.g., by telling them a resonant story? Sending them a personal thank you? Inviting them to advocate for a cause they care about? Sharing their tweet with a positive compliment?)

What is your donor ‘hiring’ you to do?

In ‘marketing 101’ I learned that folks don’t buy a drill because they need a drill. They buy it because they need a hole. Nick Ellinger of Donor Voice wrote a great article on how this plays out for nonprofits. He notes:

“Here’s the trick: a hole is not why people buy drills either.” Maybe they are buying hope for the future, as they use the drill to build a crib. Maybe they are buying peace of mind – attaching the bookcase to the stud so the toddler doesn’t tip it on to herself or building the sturdy swing set. Maybe they are buying nostalgia – a way to hang pictures of the toddler and the girl on the slide for when she’s left for college.

Donors, too, yearn for hope, peace, nostalgia and a range of other intangibles. What they’re buying from you is a sense of positive identity – and this is worth a lot!

TIP: Brainstorm no more than five key things your donor is hiring you to do. Then make your content all about those things (e.g., to find a cure for cancer; to get homeless people shelter; to stop sex trafficking; to ensure equal access to legal services; to create and deliver anti-bullying programs; to bring art into the schools, etc.)

How can you make engaging or investing with you worthwhile?

Philanthropy, translated from the Greek, means love of humankind. People want to be loved. Never forget this.

Sure, it’s nice to believe people give without any expectations of getting something in exchange, but that’s simply not true. Sadly, giving isn’t always its own reward.

Each of us is on an individual journey, constantly seeking to get to the next point in our existential quest for meaning. Victor Frankl in his famous chronicle on the search for meaning wrote: love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way we strive to find meaning. And self-love.

On top of that, we’re wired for reciprocity– one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence. If someone favors us, we want to return the favor. If we favor someone else, we’re wired to expect a reciprocal effort. (And it’s not just humans; even orangutans learn to trade favors.)

Similarly, we’re raised on the tenet of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is something found in all the major religions, and in the axiom of “scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

TIP: Complete this sentence: Our “golden rule” when it comes to how we treat supporters is ______________________________ (e.g., send prompt thank you’s; respond to comments; ‘like’ donor tweets; ‘follow’ constituents who ask us; offer meaningful and fun opportunities to engage with us as ambassadors and advocates, etc.)

How can you scratch supporters’ backs with online content?

Think about what gifts you can give; then let your would-be supporters know right up front. This way, you make it easier for them to decide to answer your call to action. Because they know, deep down, they’ll be rewarded.  

This is different than offering physical premiums and habituating donors to only give in exchange for tangible reward. Most of the meaningful value you can offer is intangible. You can assume good intentions, reminding the donor they’re enacting cherished values. Or fulfilling a moral or religious obligation. Or paying it backwards or forwards. Or following the golden rule.

We’ll look more closely at specific ‘gifts’ of universally appealing online content in part two of this three-part series.

TIP: Determine ways you can show donors that by doing something with you they’ll be enacting their own values and, instinctively, know they’ll feel good. (e.g., remind them of your enduring traditions, shared values, common experiences, past activities, etc.).

How can you share online content that points a donor towards your ‘looking mirror?’

When a would-be supporter runs across your content online, imagine this magic ditty running through their head:

Mirror, mirror on the wall,

Why should I care about you [your nonprofit] at all?

Whether your content takes the form of an email update, an e-newsletter, a tweet, a Facebook post, a discussion shared on LinkedIn, a visual on Instagram or a video on your website, your potential viewer/listener/reader wants to know what’s in this for them.

You see, everything people engage with takes time. And folks today are pressed for time. They’re simply overloaded with information. So they’re not going to spend time on something they don’t care about.

Too often, what you care about and what they care about are vastly different.

As you go about creating your online content, get inside your donor’s head and ask what they may think about:

  • A photo of your business sponsor presenting you with a giant check? (Read: We’ve got plenty of money)
  • A pie chart showing how funding is allocated? (Read: Mostly about money)
  • A graphic showing how your work is distributed geographically? (Read: Mostly about process)
  • An article about your new board member (Read: About process of management and people with money)
  • An announcement about your new logo or website (Read: About your process)

TIP: Content dwelling on money and process won’t draw a potential donor’s gaze in your direction; content focused on problems and solutions is more likely to entice. People care about solving relevant problems (aligned with their interests and values) they can realistically solve. Show a problem. Suggest a reasonable solution. Endeavor to see if your supporters can see themselves in that narrative.

Be sure to download the free “Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet and Checklist” to help you in creating a value-for-value exchange, both online and off! In the next article of this three-part series we’ll look at how to leverage the philanthropic ‘mecosystem.’

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