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Donor-Centered Digital Communications: How Do You Tailor the Nonprofit Experience?

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If you’re not actively engaging with folks online in today’s digitally-revolutionized zeitgeist, you’re missing a huge opportunity. One of the best ways to engage with folks online is through content marketing.  

In Part 1 of this three-part series we looked at how you can create a value-for-value exchange with online content, inexorably leading folks towards an interest in engaging with you more passionately. Even if currently online fundraising is a small slice of your total contributions, you should be aware that the percentage of philanthropy coming from online strategies is steadily increasing. According to a survey by M+R, online support grew by a median of 23% in 2017. That’s not insignificant. So… you’ll want to get in the game!

If you want to win, you’ll deploy multi-channel, donor-centered online marketing strategies.

Before we get to what constitutes donor-centered content, let’s note the importance of integrating these strategies across multiple channels to create a consistent brand. “Brand,” by the way, does not mean logo and design. It is who you are. Your identity. Your raison d’etre. The promises you make, and the promises on which you must consistently deliver.

Brian Solis, author of The End of Business as Usual, has posted provocatively on the subject, asking: Are You Building a Social Brand or a Social Business? He notes businesses are evolving from traditional CRM to social CRM. It’s no longer about “branding” as it’s traditionally been conceived. It’s about your very essence. Solis notes:

Engaging consumers from a marketing-driven approach may work for the short term, but engagement requires a holistic approach. Consumers see one brand, one company, one experience and not a series of disconnected silos experimenting in social media without a common vision, mission, or process.

Nonprofit fundraising and marketing communications must be connected, because they’re all part of your would-be donor’s total experience. You’re a bit of a Donor Sherpa. The way you lead will impact whether, and how long, donors will follow. Every step of the journey is important.

It all begins with tailored content.

There are certain types of content that will meet the various needs of all your most likely supporters. That’s where to begin.

As you learn more about needs of individual donors (e.g., they prefer to support senior services over children’s services), you can tailor content even further.

For an overview of generally successful content categories let’s take a look at some online content marketing guidelines – each with a few suggested examples of content people want.

Content that helps them in some way.

It’s important to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Philanthropy means “love of humankind.” Show your would-be philanthropists some love by giving them little “gifts” of content. It may answer a question, point them towards a valuable resource, give them a little giggle, connect them to a group of like-minded folks, offer a way for them to be a hero, or any number of things they value.  

EXAMPLES of helpful content

  • Q & A that puts frequently asked-for information at folks’ fingertips.
  • White papers with relevant research or emerging trends in your field.
  • Stories that help people engage with you in an emotional way.
  • Front-end premiums (e.g., address labels, greeting cards, calendar. etc.).
  • “How to” information (e.g., “10 Ways to Keep Seniors Safe;” “Tips for Taking Toddlers to the Zoo;” “7 Tips for Planning a Perfect Museum Date;” “22 Ways to Save Your Planet,” or “3 Ways to Influence Your Legislator”).
  • Token gifts (e.g., coupon for coffee in your café; ‘We heart you” stickers; recipe; recommended reading list; inspiring quotes).

Content that enables them to see themselves in your story.  

If you just brag about how great you are, or what you believe, it’s unlikely your would-be supporters will see themselves in the narrative of your vision, mission and values. If you simply talk about your organization’s accomplishments, programs, services and processes, everything will look like a fait accompli. There will be no problems to solve, and no way for your donor to offer solutions. Instead, tell a simple story that defines a concrete problem and suggest a specific solution to which the donor must respond “yes, I’ll help” or “no, I won’t.”

EXAMPLES of story-based fundraising offers:

  • Alicia dreams of being first in her family to graduate from college and become a nurse. Instead she’ll probably get a minimum wage job after high school. Unless you help.
  • Lake Louise used to provide water for the whole county. In 20 years, people won’t be able to swim in it, let alone drink it. Unless you help.
  • At 12 she was sold into sexual slavery and will likely be dead in 7 years. Unless you help.

Content that validates their decision to give.  

When your donor makes a gift, they need to know you appreciated it. Psychologist Matthew Lieberman, in “Social, Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” writes about how MRI scans reflect our brains are hard-wired to respond to positive recognition from others. So come up with content that demonstrates your gratitude and recognizes your donor’s awesomeness!

EXAMPLES of gratitude and demonstrated impact:

  • “You made this happen! (Share information about outcomes the donor made possible).
  • “You are amazing!” (Flattery will get you far).
  • “Please join us in saluting Claire for raising $27,000 with her birthday appeal!” (Recognition means a lot).
  • “You’re our hero!” (Hero worship of donors is a good thing).

Content that delights them.

I’ve long been a fan of what I call random acts of donor kindness.” There’s nothing more donor-centered than thinking about what might delight your supporter; then offering it to them as a nice surprise. When you give people more than they expect, they like you and tend to want to reciprocate.

EXAMPLES of content that goes above and beyond expectations:

  • A thank you video sent via a link to a Thank You Landing Page on your website.
  • A 15-second personal “Thanks” you film of yourself using your cell phone and then send via a link on social media.
  • A link to an article you think they’ll enjoy because of what they’ve indicated to you as their greatest interest area.
  • A silly photo of an ugly vegetable sitting in your Food Bank warehouse.
  • A quote of the day or week.
  • A joke of the week.

Content customized to their preferences, habits, and history of action.

Nonprofits operate in a crowded, competitive online marketplace. You don’t just compete with other nonprofits. You compete with Amazon! And people want an Amazon-level experience. Subconscious expectations are high. Folks want you to show them you know them.

This is why it’s critical to use a robust database tool that enables you to integrate all data on a single supporter (now fragmented in multiple departments and records) into a single, in-depth profile. Without this 360-degree view of your constituents it’s very difficult to cover the relevant experiences people expect.

If your donor tells you (or anyone else in your organization) something about their interests and you ignore it, they’re likely to feel disregarded. If they show you how they prefer to communicate, and you’re indifferent, they’ll feel neglected. Consider what you can do to respond to donor preferences.

EXAMPLES of tailored content:

  • Send cat people cat videos; dog people dog videos.
  • Send articles about children’s services to donors to children’s campaigns; articles about senior services to those who’ve indicated an interest in care for elders.
  • Message Millennials via Instagram or Snapchat, not Facebook, email or other channels they don’t frequent.
  • Only mail to donors who say they don’t want phone calls.
  • Use at least 14-point font so people of all ages can read your materials.

Content with which they can engage at their convenience.

If it’s difficult to interact with you in any way, people will give up. So your goal is to make sure folks don’t leave you in the middle of the road.

EXAMPLES of ways to make engagement easy: 

  • Assure all your messaging is optimized for mobile viewing
  • Include ability for folks to donate via social media (e.g. Google donate button, Facebook donate button, see #3).
  • Don’t bury your donation buttons or otherwise make it hard for folks to make a gift when they’re so inclined.
  • Don’t clutter your donation landing page so it’s hard for the donor to find what they need without serious searching.
  • Don’t make folks click multiple times to make a donation.
  • Don’t make folks complete lengthy forms to make a donation.  
  • Eliminate optional information fields, and seek that data after the fact.

Content that’s transparent.

Folks need reassurance investing with you is a good decision. Help them out with their research, and they’ll believe you’ve nothing to hide.

EXAMPLES of things it should be easy to find:

  • Board and executive leadership.
  • Financial information.
  • Security and privacy information
  • References to where your data comes from.
  • Attribution of your stories and testimonials.
  • Other donors who support your organization.

Content that tells them what’s next.

Folks need to be able to trust you’ll follow through on your promises, or they won’t pursue a lasting relationship. There are many ways to set folks up so they know what to expect next, enabling you to show you deliver!

EXAMPLES of promises you make and keep:

  • Let them know when they go to your thank you landing page they’ll also be receiving an email thank you.  
  • Let them know in that email they’ll also be receiving a mailed welcome package.  
  • Let them know in that mailing they’ll also be receiving an invitation to a tour, volunteer activity or free event.  
  • Let them know in that invitation you’ll also be calling to get to know them better.
  • Let them know when you call they can sign up for your e-newsletter.
  • Let them know in your email they can follow you on social media.
  • Let them know via social media you’d like them to complete a quick feedback survey.
  • Report back to them after they participate, including a link to a story on your website based on what they revealed about their interests.

In our digitally-revolutionized world, everything links to everything else.  

Nothing stands alone. Unless, of course, you want to stand alone. In which case you’ll reap what you sow.

Stop thinking of content marketing and fundraising strategies as transactional “one offs.” Connect the dots for folks. Build on their previous connection with you to spur them to the next one. That’s how you’ll create the transformation you need to survive and thrive in our noisy digital world.

Be sure to download the free “Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet and Checklist to help you tailor the donor experience and take folks on a meaningful journey! If you want some great samples for deploying content across multiple channels, check out: Readers’ Choice: Great Models of Online Fundraising, Provided by You from the Chronicle of Philanthropy and 45 Digital Fundraising Examples in 45 Minutes, an on-demand webinar on Bloomerang.

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