I like to get in on the ground floor when trends turn. As a newborn, I chose Austin as an up-and-coming city for its left-leaning culture of outdoorsy, university types. In a few short years it developed into the high-tech hot-bed I’d foreseen. And when I joined Convio almost 10 years ago, we had one client and a vision of harnessing technology for the benefit of our planet’s charitable change agents. The first couple billion dollars of donations were the hardest.
Now I’m with the Common Ground team and loving every minute of it!
Ask any nonprofit what the lifeblood of their organization is and most will tell you it’s the donor. Cultivating an ongoing relationship with the donor is of extreme importance, but it also raises a burning question: Who, exactly, owns the donor? Traditionally, it has been the development staff – or, in some instances, a senior fundraiser.
Talk to development staff at nearly any nonprofit organization and this is what you’ll likely hear: “It’s my job to develop and maintain the key connections that drive gifts. I need to control the interactions. Stay away from my contacts and let me do this my way.”
This “fundraiser owns the donor” model often works for a while, especially when programs are first introduced, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Here’s why.
The issue of who owns donors is really a question of who and what the sources of organizational value are in a given donor’s mind. Nonprofits can better position themselves for long-term success by adapting their community engagement strategy to create layered sources of value in donors’ minds. Some ways to do this include:
When you create multiple sources of value, donors will rely more on the organization rather than any one individual within the organization.
Making the transition to an organization that provides multiple touch points to a donor isn’t easy. Organizations are more likely to succeed when they use events that create an expectation of change (new year, new leadership, missed financial goal, etc) as catalysts for enabling the transformation.
By and large, long-term donors engage with a nonprofit because they believe in the mission, are passionate about what the organization is doing and communicate with the nonprofit via various channels. Nonprofits should structure the organization to embrace the donor in a multifaceted way. Ultimately, the results will be a fully engaged donor that is "owned" by the nonprofit versus a moderately engaged donor that is "owned" by one individual.
[Read the Harvard Business Review? If all but the last couple paragraphs sound familiar, it’s because this entire post was inspired by the corporate-focused “Who Owns Your Customer Relationships: Your Salespeople or Your Company?” as posted by Andris A. Zoltners, PK Sinha, and Sally E. Lorimer.]
Posted by Jennifer Darrouzet at Apr 10, 2012 09:43 AM CDT
Categories: Fundraising, Nonprofit Trends, Volunteerism
“As it happens, a lot of our volunteers are donors,” says Dora Chan. And she should know – she’s what colleagues refer to as the “database whiz” at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. And in fact, her statement is true of the wider nonprofit sector: a recent study by VolunteerMatch and Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund found that 67% of volunteers also give money to the organizations where they invest time and talent. You might be asking: why should I care?
Well, for one thing, could your team answer this: “To what extent does our own volunteer list overlap with our donor list?” Would it be a major time-sink to go compare two or more lists? Is it possible there’s a population where you could be raising 10x what you’re raising now??
(I imagine there are multiple people at your organization who would care about that last one.)
“When people volunteer, their money is not far behind,” says a trusted fundraising friend. That meets the common-sense sniff-test to me personally. In retrospect, I’m certain it was no coincidence that I just made my first donation to my neighborhood YMCA, just weeks after finishing up a 2-month stint as a volunteer basketball coach. I wasn’t thinking about the two types of involvement when I made the gift, but I certainly was picturing my pee-wee players and their parents and siblings when I considered what the Y’s Partners of Youth Campaign could provide my community. Intimate involvement yielded stronger affinity. Pulling out my credit card wasn’t nearly as challenging as getting up and being enthusiastic and nurturing eight Saturday mornings in a row.
Which leads to my next point: who exactly is recruiting your future donors?
In a brief but smart blog post on Volunteer Manager job qualifications, volunteering guru Jayne Cravens wrote that the ideal role is “not merely the purveyor of free labor” but instead might have responsibilities like:
Jayne really takes a long and wide view regarding volunteers and how to cultivate them. She consults internationally regarding recruiting, training, deploying and retaining today’s skilled and successful volunteers – using especially the new online and social techniques consumers have come to expect. And she’s literally writing the book on online volunteering (due out this year).
We’re very excited that Jayne will be our guest speaker at this month’s free Convio webinar: “Volunteer Management: 5 Trends that Can Improve Your Fundraising Bottom Line.” She’ll share the top 5 trends she’s identified at the local, national, and international level, what’s working best with regards to keeping volunteers engaged, and how to set yourself up for success with community involvement in today’s hectic environment, when every volunteer (and prospective donor) is just a click away from another game of “Angry Birds.”
This stuff matters. 44% of volunteers say that - if an organization cannot take advantage of their specific skills - they will go volunteer elsewhere. And now that we know that these folks give 10x what other donors do, that’s a lot of VIP wallets potentially headed out the door. Everyone should care about that.
P.S. Be sure to save your seat: pre-register now for “Volunteer Management: 5 Trends that Can Improve Your Fundraising Bottom Line” on Tuesday, April 24th, at 11 a.m. Central time.
Got an old school direct mail junkie on your team? Use this 2-minute video from the President of a 93-year-old direct marketing firm to help support your argument that consumers are becoming more multi-channel in their daily lives, and expecting more from the brands (& causes) they engage with. I’m guessing they’ll listen to Debbi Barber from Grizzard Communications.
And if your team is onboard, but you had a colleague at the last AFP luncheon who was crying on your shoulder about being stuck in the fundraising rut, forward on!
A third (33%) of nonprofit executives take over from someone who was fired or forced to resign, according to the 2011 Daring to Lead report, which surveyed 3000 nonprofit executive directors earlier this year. The easiest way to avoid getting the boot yourself is to avoid taking a leadership job at a dysfunctional organization in the first place.
Ramping in public is hard enough - meeting & leading the team, taking inventory of a community of supporters, revitalizing relationships that may have wilted – without finding yourself facing unexpected infrastructure failures. The
Daring to Lead report finds that a full 55% of your peer executives name technology as a “depleting” aspect of their job (it would have been the most depleting of all options surveyed, if not for the joys of HR – like evaluating and hiring/firing staff). As someone interviewing for a top job, how can you detect warning signs of organizational system decay *before* your professional credibility is on the line? It doesn’t have to be a “buyer beware” situation, after all.
You wouldn’t buy a home without insisting on a thorough inspection of things like plumbing and wiring first. The best time to negotiate budget for needed repairs is before you’re holding the keys to a fixer-upper.
It was once my day job to visit worldwide facilities and – within 2-3 days – determine and document whether a given organization had the necessary systems in place to meet their commitments in an ongoing way – no hiccups, no excuses. I was helping pick suppliers for Motorola and Dell, and I got to really live with my decisions, because the winning facilities would be mine to manage for years to come. I knew my brand – both mine personally, and my employer’s - would be blamed for any failures.
So leaning on that background, as well as my more recent decade in nonprofit technology, I offer the following interview questions that an interviewee can ask of a hiring organization, to determine whether a given group is where you should place a career bet.
The Seven Questions
1. Do you have a documented succession plan? Can I see it?
2. Please name the systems in place to accomplish the following tasks, and include main go-to person for that task, indicating whether staff, volunteer, contractor, or outside firm, etc.
3. What data is provided to the board about fundraising (and on what frequency)?
4. Show me the data that proves that a program activity undertaken within [insert appropriate time period – I’d suggest six weeks] produced a community benefit.
5. Where are the records for staff and board professional development trainings on [insert industry-specific topic]? Can I spot-check the attendees at the most recent training on that topic?
6. Over the past 6 months, highlight the items on the board meeting agendas that were initiated by staff, as opposed to board members. How could you tell who initiated what?
7. What board candidates have been identified, and what interactions have been logged while cultivating these individual candidates over the past year?
Now go forth and secure a position where you’ll really be able to deliver the impact you’re capable of. If you think any of these questions are inappropriate for a serious executive candidate to ask, I invite you to chime in and explain why you won’t need that information within a few weeks, if not days, into your new gig.
A few notes:
Yes, daring to lead does at some point require a leap of faith. (“Jump off a cliff with me” is the West Wing quote that comes to mind…) There will always be uncertainty & fear, and, as the Daring to Lead report found, significant loneliness – reported by 70% of executives! - at the top. No organization you join will be a sure thing.
I’m just saying to inspect the safety net for human-sized holes before you take to any given trapeze. Because when you fall – and we all do, whether a critical support link in the chain fails, the roof caves in, or someone greased the bar – we need you to be able to get back on your feet, climb back up, and lead on. If you find big holes in the net prior to taking a job, be sure you get buy-in – and budget! – to replace or repair the net before you fly too high.
These seriously dreamy cultivation events are especially great for major donors.
I got goosebumps when my colleague Rachel Muir (founder of GirlStart & voted AFP Fundraiser of the Year by her peers) first described to me her tried-and-true method for creating high-impact cultivation events that – while NOT fundraising events, per se – seriously moved the needle on community support in the long term. Part art & part science, her approach played to the inherent strengths of current & prospective donors.
Her focus on scalability & repeatability startled me. Add that these events would cast community leaders in (well-supported) starring roles as high-impact volunteers, & my old brain started forming new synapses.
The events she created would provoke unforgettable *personal* experiences that participants wouldn’t be able to stop talking about - with colleagues, friends, and family.
I don’t remember exactly when, but at some point, I hugged her.
And then I begged her to share her strategy. And so she let me write up this Major Donor Cultivation Events guide, which includes her formula, sample events, a preparation checklist, and even a script for the *very important* post-event dialogue with participants.
As a donor, I really hope fundraisers will take advantage of this method. I can’t think of a more efficient way to provoke the necessary light bulb moments among movers-and-shakers. As a board member, I’d have been proud to invite my friends and colleagues to serve as volunteers at such events, learning about the mission - yes – but more importantly having their own personal look at the impact being delivered. And with the focus on minimal time commitment, convenience, “ready-room” support, & the networking possibilities, I’d have been more than pleased to participate, too.
Someone needs to keep inspiring big giving that strengthens our communities. I hope it will be you.
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