After meeting with several nonprofits recently and now coaching one for Social Venture Partners’ Fast Pitch competition, I’ve detected a theme: Many are having a hard time identifying resources. So today’s post will feature some insights from my experiences and from research. We’ll center in on individual donors for this post, but many of the lessons here can apply for corporate, foundation and other relationships as well.
With March Madness coming up, here are six ways to strengthen donor relationships with an assist from the 1986 classic basketball film Hoosiers.
1. “I’ve seen you guys can shoot, but there’s more to the game than shooting. There’s fundamentals and defense.”
Retention first. Board members, past donors, volunteers, staff and even family members must be a strong base of support. If people are already giving, your job just got easier. The 2015 Giving in Chicago report looked into why Chicago donors stopped giving. Of the households that stopped their giving, the most often cited reason was discontinued involvement with the organization. The key to retention is regular contact, and the study found that one of the chief reasons for attrition was a lack of proper communications with donors. People who give to your cause want to know that they are changing lives and that no money is wasted.
2. “You have special talent, a gift. Not the school’s, not the townspeople, not the team’s, not Myra Fleener’s, not mine. It’s yours, to do with what you choose.”
Reframing asks. Asking for money can certainly be intimidating. After all, it’s one of the most sensitive jobs we face. I’ve found success in thinking about requests less as requests than as a means for connecting people to causes. People are looking to help, and nonprofit leaders have the information available to help them make an informed choice. Not giving to charity might be the default option for many people—and the easier path—but for your potential supporters it’s likely they are open to making a choice. In that case, it’s reasonable to assume that asking for a gift wouldn’t be a nuisance and may even be welcomed.
3. “I don’t know why Cletus drug your tired old bones in here, he musta owed you somethin’ fierce.”
What’s the story. As stated before, stories with clear drama and a compelling conclusion are an age-old means of connecting with others. Former GE CEO Jack Welch used to say he told some of the same stories for 20 years to connect with employees on a values level and sell his vision for the company. Stories don’t have to be complicated, or in Welch’s case particularly fresh, but they do need to be personal. Sometimes even a mundane story—how you chaperoned your kid's field trip—can show a bit of humanity and wit and help people open up. Now convey all those values-based stories across your communications and you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to connect with a high number of donors.
4. “Welcome to Indiana basketball.”
Experiencing the mission. This might be my favorite scene in the movie, when Coach Norman Dale walks into a packed Indiana gymnasium for his first game. Organizations might not have the gym that Cedar Knob had, but those that do have visitor and volunteer experiences may have an advantage in garnering financial support. The feelings, emotions and senses from a volunteer session or a tour can strengthen bonds with your mission. For organizations without ready experiences, events can be a way to curate something that’s tangible. Data, imagery and presentations at events can leave a similar impression and open the door to deepening relationships.
5. “Sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass everyday, but, mister you ain’t seen a ray of light since you got here.”
Day-to-day involvement. Opal Fleener offered valuable insight into the situation facing Coach Norman Dale. Indeed, a meeting providing an update on the organization and soliciting input can be very effective. Be open to a prospect’s ideas about the organization and even a few criticisms, too. That leads to lasting connections with the work and provides natural touch points in the future. A new strategic plan, campaign or program can be the perfect entrée into the organization and its thinking about the mission.
6. “Boys, we’re gonna run the picket fence at ’em. Now, don’t get caught watching the paint dry.”
Immediate follow-up. Make the most of a recent meeting or volunteer experience by personally following up with an email or note--quickly. Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania released a study last month on the giving habits among patients of a university hospital system. Researchers found that giving requests that came more than 30 days after a patient experience decreases the likelihood of donation by 30%. The researchers state that the timing of a solicitation relative to a recent interaction can affect generosity. Keep the momentum going with donors by making a request quickly.
Nonprofits have a great opportunity to identify resources for their cause, especially in a market as wealthy and generous as Chicago’s. Taking even a few of these steps could help you become even more effective at generating revenue and executing your mission.
The blog is a space for stories of the natural world and the occasional post about communications and strategy.