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Donor-Centered Digital Communications: How to Leverage the ‘Me-Cosystem’

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donor-centered digital

Ask not what your donor can do for you, but what you can do for your donor.

The donor is always right.

The donor’s priorities are our priorities.

These are adages for the modern age in which nonprofits compete with for profits in a service-oriented digital economy. It’s one of the reasons “culture of philanthropy” has become such an important topic. If you’re not coming from a place of service, gratitude and abundance in interactions with your audiences they’re not likely to stick with you very long.

Like it or not, this is the new reality.

In Part 1 of this three-part series, I noted we live in an “all about me” world. And that all about me doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But it’s on you to make it a good thing. Or alternatively, if you think it’s a lemon, to turn it into lemonade.

Brian Solis of Altimeter Group has written extensively on the new reality in which we all live and operate, noting how the digital revolution has fundamentally changed “business as usual.” One of the outcomes is what’s been termed the “me-cosystem” (or “egosystem”) — a concept that places the consumer at the center of their environment. 

Here’s how two business experts describe the me-cosystem:

The ecosystem that revolves around “me,” our data, and technologies that will deliver more relevant, useful, and engaging experiences using our data.” Altimeter

“The most successful brands – the ones with the most presence in a person’s life …often stand out by blending in, because people measure the entire experience by how much it adds to their lives and how little it disrupts it. They empathize with an individual’s priorities, figuring out how to meet people exactly where they are, and when they want it, and tailor to how people move through their worlds.”Interbrand

How does this translate for nonprofit marketing and fundraising?

Meet people where they are with content that makes them feel good

Ever hear the term “retail therapy?”

For some folks, shopping makes them feel good. So they head over to Amazon or Overstocks or Zulily to have a ‘feel good’ experience. That’s the online retail meconomy.

There’s a philanthropic meconomy as well. Your donor seeks a ‘feel good’ experience, and your job is to encourage supporters to invest philanthropically in order to find out what makes them feel good about themselves. Not because they got something, but because they did something reflecting their values.  

In a world that values individuality and self-expression, one of the greatest things you have to offer would-be donors is self-discovery.

TIP: Figure out what drives your donor and pumps their ego so you can give them what they need. If you do this, they’ll be inclined to give you what you need. You can:

  • Engage them in a fun quiz that helps them discover something about themselves (e.g., when I worked at the San Francisco Food Bank we sent folks a multiple choice quiz that separated out folks by favorite taste senses – salty, sweet, sour, bitter, umami). Folks identified, and shared the quiz with their networks.
  • Share inspiring quotes and see who retweets different ones that express their values.
  • Ask folks to pin photos showing them engaged in a favorite activity (a volunteer program? Wearing your organization’s swag?)

Understand your relationship with donors is symbiotic  

They need you as much as you need them. Which is why you must put them at the center of your universe and make them an integral part of your mission.

To succeed with fundraising and marketing in the 21st century means creating a “donor experience rather than bringing people in on your terms and marching them up a donor pyramid. Alas, the pyramid is transactional, climbing from one touchpoint to the next and always looking at what the donor does rather than what the nonprofit offers in return.

Your job is to offer donors an active, transformational experience. If you offer donors what they want, you’ll draw them in. Which is why, in our digital zeitgeist, we have an energized donor vortex. People don’t move along a linear continuum of engagement; they come in and out of your orbit on their own power. The experience you offer folks today — in any messaging channel — will color their next experience. Communication is more inbound than outbound.

TIP: Draw folks in towards you by developing an understanding of their needs, desires and preferences. You can:

  • Survey them.
  • Ask for feedback via social media.
  • Track opens and click-throughs from emails and social media to see what content appears to float their boat.
  • Ask for permission to send them different types of content, and see what they select.
  • Ask how frequently they’d like to hear from you, and be sure to track that in a donor database so you can follow through.
  • Ask what social channels they prefer so you know your best options for content delivery.

Embrace the joy of adding to your donor’s life

Everything boils down to making philanthropy a joyful, fulfilling experience.

And that means evoking the emotion of joy by persuading the donor your mission is their mission: If they join with you, magic will happen – and they’ll be infused with feelings of happiness and well-being!

The heart of good fundraising is, as fundraising guru and pioneer Hank Rosso famously articulated, “The gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.”

The joy of giving in support of your mission should, of course, shine through in all your nonprofit communications. Offline as well as online. But for some reason nonprofits often think longer and harder about their print communications than they do their digital materials.

When constituents feel they’ll benefit from engagement with you, they’ll do so. If not, you’ll lose them.

TIP: If you want to make engaging with you joyful, think carefully about how you’ll answer the following:

  • When a donor gives us money (or gives an in-kind donation, signs up as a volunteer, shares an email or social media link, completes a survey, or makes a pledge) what meaningful gift (experience, connection or ‘feel good’) will we give them in return?
  • If they even contemplate giving us something, how will we reward them?

Create beneficial content for a digital world

The options for delighting and benefiting donors online are virtually endless. The only limit is your imagination.

The important thing to keep in mind is that your digital content is every bit as important as your offline content. Maybe more.

In our digitally-revolutionized zeitgeist, where folks often are two-thirds down the path towards learning about you before they ever receive anything from you directly, you can no longer get away with giving shorter shrift to digital communications. Your tweets are as important as your emails. Your emails are as important as your mailed appeal letters and annual report. All your fundraising and marketing must be integrated.

Each channel reinforces the other. Or it doesn’t.  

TIP: Review your online messaging to assure it aligns with your print messaging. If you’re donor-centered on paper, but all about you online, you’re sending a mixed message.

When it comes to communications, the meconomy is worth considering by nonprofits as a model for both medium (channel) and message (content). It’s essentially a framework for donor-centered fundraising and marketing in the digital age.

Be sure to download the free “Donor-Centered Content Marketing Worksheet and Checklist to help you in creating an experience that’s all about your donor’s needs and wants. In the third article of this three-part series we’ll look at how to tailor a relevant, meaningful donor digital experience.

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