Wooing Less Committed Donors

Let me start by saying this is not another blog about the ALS challenge.

Yes, it’s been amazing. And yes, it proves that when celebrity, social media and peer-to-peer energy align perfectly, magic happens.

But that’s not what this is about.

This blog is about what happens six months to a year from now … when ALS works to convert the thousands (maybe millions) of new donors into regular supporters. 

Many nonprofits faced a similar challenge in the months and years following 9/11. The outpouring of generosity was nothing short of astounding. But when the mood faded, keeping the donations flowing in proved difficult.

If your nonprofit has brought in a sizeable number of new supporters, you may be wondering “What’s next?”

Here are a few tips to maximize your success:
  1. Act Fast—Don’t wait to start communicating with your new donors. Following the moment of donation, begin thinking about what they’ll hear from you. The longer you take, the less likely you’ll retain them. Be sure to collect email addresses to make this easier.
  2. Remind Them of Their Commitment—Tap into the emotion that made them give in the first place. Reinforce how they will feel when they make another gift. If they gave through a friend or loved one, remind them of that, too.
  3. Create a Separate Communication Track—Many nonprofits simply put their new donors into the standard stream of donor communications. Take a critical look if that even makes sense. Their commitment may not rise to the level of the rest of your donor base. How can you customize your communications to address that or orient them to the organization?
  4. Know When to Cut Your Losses—Hard as it is to say, some donors will NEVER convert. There, I said it. Consider how long and how much you’ll invest in cultivating less committed donors, and then hold firm to your choice. You’ll be glad you did.

How to Get A Job ...

I found the recent New York Times column, "How to Get a Job at Google" fascinating. Thomas Friedman condensed the approach down to five key traits: technical ability, learning ability, leadership, humility and ownership.

In my experience, that list is as relevant to a small entrepreneurial operation as a Silicon Valley giant. Or a small nonprofit.

The opening paragraph attention-getter - "... that Google had determined that 'G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless" - was a bit disconcerting, however.

I've always been a big believer in the value of education. So I was somewhat relieved to see this position clarified a bit in follow-up column, "How to Get a Job at Google, Part 2" this past weekend. (I'd encourage you to send the link to this column to every student you know!)

Between the two columns being published, I also had the opportunity to meet some some of our budding young communications professionals at the Rockhurst University Department of Communication and Fine Arts annual "Speed Networking" event.

(Full disclosure: I am a Rockhurst graduate. In fact the first to graduate with the then-just-added Communications major. Even accounting for that bias, I was impressed with the number of bright, eager, curious young minds.)

Some of (what I felt were) the best questions asked of me parallel the points Friedman makes. 

1. What qualities do you look for when you're considering a hire?

Curiosity, initiative and a willingness to take responsibility, were the terms I used. (Remarkably similar to learning ability, leadership and ownership.)

2. Should I have an online portfolio?

Does that sound like technical ability? Friedman quotes Lazlo Block, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, who feels, “Humans are by nature creative beings, but not by nature logical, structured-thinking beings. Those are skills you have to learn." He goes on to emphasize that the people who offer both skill sets are the strongest candidates.

3. What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate?

Be engaged. Volunteer. Look for opportunities to develop real-world examples of how you can apply your learnings in your chosen field. Be positive and enthusiastic about communicating your successes. But always remain honest and genuine.

4. Are there more or fewer opportunities for communications careers with nonprofits?

More. If you're selling a product, you have the physical item and experience to help build your case. If you're selling a mission, you're presenting a concept or idea that depends almost entirely on how it's communicated to make it real.

5 Is M&C hiring for any intern positions?

It wasn't the question that struck me. Or the fact it was asked multiple times. It was that in four of the five instances, a second-semester senior was looking; in one a second-semester sophomore.

She, I think, understands what Friedman is saying. And, I suspect, will have no trouble at all getting a job!

Your Website is Never "Finished"

"But We Just Did Our Website . . ."

I hear that line quite often from nonprofit leaders. Sometimes, "just finished" means as much as 5 or 7 years.

Given the time and cost involved in developing a website, the sentiment is understandable. But the reality is websites are NEVER finished. They should be always evolving.

Think of it like a house. Yes, there is an act of purchasing at a moment in time, but invariably it will require maintenance. Sometimes that maintenance is simple, like mowing the lawn, for example. Other times it requires a larger investment, like a new roof or heating and cooling.

Websites are no different. They will require both structural and aesthetic updates to remain relevant and effective. That's why we recommend our clients keep this in mind—and plan for it—at the outset.

Ongoing investments to build into your plan include:

  1. Updates to the look and feel
  2. Enhancements to functionality (new features are released every day)
  3. Security updates (this is vital for content management systems like Wordpress or Joomla)
  4. Administrative matters (like updating and paying for the domain and hosting)
  5. Training new staff on how to update the website, if applicable

Ask as many questions as possible if you are in the midst of a web redesign and set your expectations accordingly. It will save you from surprises and make for a better website, too.