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Mild-mannered Donor or Impassioned Activist?

They’re both out to help change the world. Mary Anne Plummer asks whether we’re giving them enough opportunities to do it.

Ever been advised not to call your donors ‘donors’ to their face? It’s something I’ve been told frequently over the years. I thought it was about potential confusion with organ or blood donation, or squeamishness about categorising people as a funding source.

They’re valid reasons. Another is that people supporting your organisation don’t necessarily see themselves as a ‘donor’. Or ‘event participant’ or ‘activist’. As one told me recently, “I support causes in the way it suits me at the time, and when I feel my actions are going to change something.”

This got me wondering. Are fundraisers missing opportunities to make more difference because we assume donors are only ‘donors’? And what actions could/should not-for-profits be asking for, to get the most value from people who care about our causes?

The British Labour Party (BLP) campaign team has provided this unexpected insight into the first question: “Taking an engagement action made our supporters at least 60% more likely to become donors.” What? 60% more likely to become donors?

That impressive figure, and a few more besides, came from a combined Blue State Digital/BLP presentation at IFC2015. It was called Win or Go Home: What charities can learn from political campaigns.

Specifically, BLP’s digital campaign team sent everyday Brits very easy, non-financial asks like, “Tell us if you intend to vote”, “Which of these three statements about today’s Britain do you most agree with?” and “What issues are most important to your family in this election?”

This basic profiling was used to improve the relevance of subsequent communications, which aimed to appeal to the masses after a loss in gifts from the big end of town. Slightly harder requests were then made to respondents, such as: “Give us more information/feedback”, “Make a donation”, “Help out with the campaign in practical ways.”

BLP may have ultimately been smashed in the election. But its supporter e-mail list grew by 601%, membership swelled to its highest level since 2003, and 1,100% more was raised in small online donations than in the 2010 elections.

Take outs

  • Be careful not to silo prospects into ‘most likely to act this way’ categories.
  • Collect and use data along the way.
  • If you give prospects multiple ways to make a difference and do it well, many of them will eventually give you money.

How can charities use non-financial asks to acquire donors?
Jeremy Bennett, the supporter Acquisition Program Manager at Amnesty International Australia, says a model that works well online for Amnesty is first asking people for a lowcommitment action, and in a second step, requesting a donation.

“We can acquire leads relatively cheaply that way,” he says. “It can give us a lower cost per acquisition for regular givers than some other methods, and we’ve seen lower attrition rates in the first year for donors we’ve acquired.”

Also, in the case of leads from online surveys, he adds that: “We get a bit of information on the supporter and the area of our work that’s motivated them.” Amnesty can then use this to craft a better experience for supporters.

But what if – unlike Amnesty – you don’t have an obvious activism charter, or your organisation is small, unknown or new? Of course it’s harder, however there are still plenty of non-financial actions your charity can ask prospects to take (see box for ideas).

It’s all about choosing the right first step for the person, your organisation and your cause, whether you’re saving animals or doing medical research. Not surprisingly, the richer and more rewarding and aligned you make the journey from that earliest engagement, the more likely your supporters are to become donors.

Take outs

  • Make it easy for people to connect with you at the first touch.
  • Make subsequent communications relevant to your prospect, consistent and rewarding.
  • Convert to donations when you both know each other a little better.

Can non-financial actions make people better donors?
Fundraisers try hard to retain donors and increase the value of their gifts. Could asking them to take a non-financial action help achieve these goals too?

Kerin Welford, the Fundraising Manager at Assistance Dogs Australia, says that while her organisation would never ask donors to sign petitions or write protest letters, she has seen success from a survey mail pack which asked them for their opinions and included a soft financial ask.

“We received higher than expected donations and achieved an ROI of 2.65,” she says. “And a small percentage of those who take non-financial actions go on to become more involved. We’ve had volunteers who have become major donors and confirmed bequestors, for example.”

So if your charity isn’t already doing surveys with a donation ask, this could be worth trying. Ditto opportunities for donors to personally connect with your mission in a way that’s not just financial, such as through invitations to special events, site visits or field trips. You could try asking high value supporters to call and discuss a specific issue with someone high up (or better still, someone interesting!) in your organisation.

Not only will getting to know your supporters provide you with valuable insights and feedback you can use to enhance your donor service. These improvements, and every occasion that donors interact with you, will help to deepen their loyalty and the likelihood they’ll keep giving.

People who give money also tend to be generous with their actions, says Amnesty’s Jeremy Bennett, who notes that “our financial supporters tend to be better activists; they take more actions, on average, than our activists … They’re looking for other things to do to help.”

Take outs

  • Test and track combinations of financial and non-financial asks. It will help shape the best way to engage supporters for a greater overall outcome.
  • ‘Like’ to ‘will leave bequest’ is a massive leap. So break it down into little steps.


Non-financial engagement ideas

There are plenty of ways to engage warm and cold audiences in ‘activism’ even if this isn’t part of your mission:

  • Survey (one of the best I’ve seen had one question)
  • Petition
  • Contact a politician (local, state, national) or other authority
  • Contact the media
  • Volunteering request/opportunity
  • Mass event participation
  • Boycott a company/event
  • Change behaviour
  • Hand raiser
  • Bounce-back/message of support
  • Open form feedback
  • Invitation to limited-numbers event
  • Competition
  • Giveaway/premium
  • Share a message with friends (e.g. Facebook or other social group)
  • Anything else people will do and ideally you can track – be creative!

Mary Anne Plummer is Creative Director at Pareto Fundraising, helping charities including Assistance Dogs Australia to create powerful fundraising communications. Before that she spent nine years writing copy for the corporate sector at some of Australia’s best known advertising agencies

This article was first published in Fundraising and Philanthropy Magazine 2017

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