I was recently at a conference where my colleague, Jeff Nickel from TrueSense Marketing, was giving a presentation on what it means to have a strong donor brand and how that eventually leads to major and planned gifts. He started the presentation by asking “what is a brand?” The answer: “what the customer [donor] experiences.”
So if a non-profit wants a strong brand, they always have to be thinking “how can I make our donors’ experience exceptional?”
Then the question becomes, “what is exceptional for our donors?” Well, it’s a lot of things (which is why this is a two-part series), but I’m going to ask you to visualize with me that you are a donor to your own organization.
Then I would like you to put the “life remote control” on super-fast-forward, and go from your writing that first check all the way through the years to making a major gift, and eventually deciding to leave a gift to your organization in your estate plans.
What is happening along the way that makes your experience as a donor so exceptional that you will go from making out a check for $25 to leaving your organization a bequest in your will?
Is the experience rich, powerful, passionate, appropriate and rewarding? Or is the experience you give your donors uneven and perhaps not really donor-centered, as you would like? From what Richard and I experience, most of the time it’s the latter.
Many organizations we work with have solid direct-response programs or annual giving programs who welcome new donors, send them appeals and newsletters and keep them informed; but once the donor starts giving more, the experience for the donor starts to break down.
If you work in major gifts and you’re wondering why there are not more major donors coming from your database, this could be the reason.
Think about how you put yourself in the place of that donor that gave her first $25. Because the organization was doing a great job putting new offers in front of that donor and reporting back on the projects she gave to, she started giving more and more over the years. But now that she is giving $250 checks or $1,000 checks… what are you doing with her?
Most of the time non-profits are doing nothing. They continue to send donors the same stuff and communicate the same way as when the donor was giving $25. This is why we see, over and over again, what we would call a “clogged donor pipeline.” Donors giving growing amounts are sitting in the middle, where their experience with the non-profit hasn’t changed from when they were once $25 donors. Therefore, you make it as tough as possible for the donor to increase her investment in the organization, one day moving to become a major gift donor.
The best way for me to understand this is to compare it to being a frequent flyer. The airlines know how to do this right. Essentially, you sign up for the frequent flyer rewards program. You get this great welcome letter, discounts etc. But as you fly more, and of course spend more, they more they continue to make your experience better and better. Fly 25,000 miles and you get better seating. Fly 50,000 miles, qualify for upgrades. Fly 75,000 and get upgraded frequently, receiving free drink tickets and a special representative who will assist you.
See what I mean? The more you fly, the better you are treated – and the more exceptional your experience.
Why can’t we understand that same concept when it comes to how we treat our donors?
This is why you absolutely need (in addition to a great major gift program) a robust mid-level donor program. You want to give your donors a great experience through the entire lifetime of their giving to your organization.
Of course, not all of your donors are all going to end up becoming major donors and leaving you in their estate. But you should treat each donor as if he is.
This means that you have carefully thought out the long-term experience you are going to give your donors. So from the day they say “Yes” to your organization’s mission, to the day they decide to leave you in their estates, what are you doing to foster your organization’s brand (donor’s experience)?
In my next post, I’m going to give you practical ways to create a great experience for your mid-level donors so that you don’t have a clogged pipeline, and you make it easy and enjoyable for a donor to become a major gift donor.