Asking Why: Knowing Your Donors’ Connection to Your Mission
DonorPerfect Community Conference 2022 session with speaker Tina Barber
Asking Why: Knowing Your Donors’ Connection to Your Mission TranscriptPrint Transcript
Amanda Tadrzynski: All right, I think we are live. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to, Asking Why: Knowing Your Donors’ Connection to Your Mission, presented by Tina Barber. Tina has a varied and robust fundraising background that includes leadership positions at Read More
Amanda Tadrzynski: All right, I think we are live. Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to, Asking Why: Knowing Your Donors’ Connection to Your Mission, presented by Tina Barber. Tina has a varied and robust fundraising background that includes leadership positions at some of the Delaware Valley’s most well-known nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the United Way, Philabundance, and the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation.
She currently serves as the director of community giving at The Trevor Project, where she is responsible for growing annual fund revenue nationally. As a highly-skilled individual giving strategist, Tina has been a key part of multimillion-dollar capital campaign projects as well as boutique fundraising initiatives. Her training experience includes development and communication planning, board management and development, volunteer motivation and engagement, and special event organization. She is an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, serves on the board of International Ballet Exchange, and volunteers with South Jersey Mutual Aid.
Before I turn the session over to Tina, I’d like to address a few housekeeping items. Presenters will be leaving time for questions at the end of each session, so please be sure to add your questions to the Q&A tab so that those can be seen and answered. Questions that are put in the general chat area may not get answered due to the constant scrolling of the screen. With that said, I’m going to turn it over to you, Tina.
Tina Barber: Thank you so much for that, Amanda. Happy pride, y’all. I have to do a shout-out for all my LGBTQ+ people and our allies in the room. We are in day seven of Pride 2022. It is very exciting to be here with you all today. As Amanda said, my name is Tina Barber and I serve as the director of community philanthropy and giving at The Trevor Project. I use she and her pronouns.
It is my absolute honor and pleasure to be here with you all today and to share some content with you that I hope will be actionable in real-time when you leave the DonorPerfect conference today. We’re going to have a little bit of interactivity in our chat as well as a poll. Generally speaking, we’re going to be talking through some really fantastic content that will hopefully prepare you to be able to go back to your organizations and maybe just implement one thing that can help change the trajectory of your fundraising program.
With that, we’re going to go ahead and get into our slides. I did mention to Amanda that you’re welcome to ask questions in real-time. If there’s something that I’m talking about that you feel like really connected to needing an answer about right away, feel free to flag that for Amanda and she’ll stop me. I’ll try and get that question answered for you. Otherwise, we are going to have about 10 minutes at the end to talk about whatever we want, so let’s go ahead and get started.
All right, so in case you didn’t know, you are in a session where we’re going to talk about leveraging donor stories to amplify your mission. We’re really going to dig in here about the why. In fundraising work, we talk a lot about motivation like, why do people show up to give? Why do people give specific amounts? Why do folks show up and choose your organization and perhaps not other ones? We talk about this a lot in our work, but we don’t always action those conversations into meaningful engagements with our supporters.
We’re going to talk about that today and hopefully come to some conclusions about some actionable next steps that you can take with the audiences that you’re engaging with to really draw the line between sitting in your office with your colleagues and thinking about like, “I wonder why our donors behave the way they do?” and actually getting some information from the source about why your donors are showing up the way that they do and what that means for your organization and your success.
We’re going to talk about stories and we’re not going to talk about your organization’s story. We’re going to talk about your donors’ stories because those are really, really important assets in creating really thoughtful and engaging communications, solicitations, and engagement opportunities for your supporters. Before we do that, I’d love to learn a little bit more about the folks in the room. Amanda’s going to assist me in launching a little poll here. I told you a little bit about me, but I’d love to hear a little bit more about y’all.
If you want to go ahead and jump in this poll, we’d love to find out about you, is how you identify? Are you a fundraising professional? Are you a marketing pro? Are you showing up here as an executive director or a volunteer, or maybe you’re like a lot of us and you’re wearing all the hats all the time? We’re going to go ahead and take a moment and answer our poll so that we can get a little bit of a better sense of who’s in the room. Oh gosh, I love watching the poll in real-time. It’s moving. All right, it looks like we have a smattering of a lot of different folks in the room. All right, it’s still moving.
Tina: I’m going to give it a few more seconds to see if our poll slows down if we steady up here. All right, it looks like as many of the folks who are going to participate in the poll have logged their answers. Feel free if you haven’t yet to go ahead and pop your answer into the poll, but I’m going to go ahead and end our poll so we can have some concluding numbers. All right, it looks like an overwhelming number of the folks in the room today are fundraising professionals.
It’s lovely to be in your company today. We do have a pretty even split between marketing pros and executive directors. Always exciting to see some executive directors in a training room like this. Substantial number of you are wearing all the hats. Same friends. I feel you. We even have a few volunteers in the room. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, y’all, for participating in this poll.
It’s super helpful for me to see this for a number of reasons. One of the reasons that I always ask this question when I meet folks is so that I can better understand like, “Who am I talking to?” because I’m going to speak a little bit differently to fundraising professionals than I might speak to executive directors or volunteers. I also love to find out if we have volunteers in the room.
It’s always really exciting when there’s folks who are not paid staff coming to these events and engagements to learn more about how to better support the organizations where they’re serving. I want to just give a big shout-out to the volunteers. Whether you’re board members or active volunteers, thank you for spending this time with us because your service is invaluable to the organizations that you’re serving with and it’s really exciting to have you in the room.
I’m also seeing in the chat, lots of folks are logging where they’re from. I see annual giving folks, finance folks, marketing folks, board members, and HR reps. It seems like we have a really interesting group of folks in the room, so welcome, welcome. Thank you for participating. It’s really wonderful to have you here. Most of the content we’re going to talk about here today is applicable for all of you, but it is going to have a bit more of a fundraising lens, so buckle up. We’re going to go ahead and get started.
All right, so we’re going to have a little bit more of interaction here, but we’re really going to talk about now why stories matter. Why do stories matter? At this point, this is a question for you all. Why do stories matter to you? What do stories mean to you as individuals and at your organization? Feel free to go ahead and pop your answers into the chat. We’re going to take a little time and pull out some of those answers and talk a little bit about what you shared, so go ahead and feel free to answer that question. Why do stories matter to you? Whether it’s as an individual or at your organization, feel free to share in the chat.
Tina: For me, stories are a really invaluable asset when we’re developing content for our organizations, right? I see stories as a way for us to better understand one another. I’m also seeing some answers in the chat here that are absolutely fantastic. We’re seeing folks jumping in here. Wow.
Amanda: Building connection seems to be a big one. I’m seeing it pop up a lot.
Tina: Yes, I see that too, Amanda. Lots of building connections. Lots of folks talking about the emotional way that stories work for us evolving–
Amanda: “And that builds relationships.”
Tina: Ooh, that’s a great one, Allison. Ooh, I love this, Alexandra. “An opportunity to see how our lives are all connected.”
Amanda: I like Meg, “Because they show impact in a way data can’t.”
Tina: +1 to that, Meg.
Tina: Oh, I love these answers. Y’all don’t even need me. [laughs] These are some really great answers, y’all. Thank you so much for jumping in and sharing those with the chat. Well, you hit the nail on the head, right? Stories are about connection. Stories are about sharing our experiences with one another. They’re about creating, understanding, and our ability to build empathy for other folks, right? Storytelling is part of the human experience. It’s about how we relate to one another, how we find our shared humanity.
It’s a way for us to break down barriers between groups that perceive themselves as very, very fundamentally different from one another. Through storytelling, we understand our common experience. We understand our common perspectives. We start to make sense of the world around us in a way that build connections, right? The way that we use stories in fundraising and nonprofit work is really aligned to this idea, right?
When we are trying to build support for our organizations, we are trying to draw people in based around a common understanding of the need or the problem in the world and how we as human citizens are able to come together and intersect that need. Whether it’s with our financial support, our time, our expertise, whatever it is that we’re leveraging around the missional work of our organizations, it’s rooted in that storytelling narrative that draws all of that emotional energy and connectivity together.
Storytellers in our society are opening up worlds of possibilities of what’s available to us to imagine a better or different world. It allows our minds to explore all of these possibilities and actually build images where we can start to see a world imagined in a different way, right? That’s why these connective moments are so important to our fundraising work because, oftentimes, especially now that so many organizations have pivoted to virtual work environments and it’s harder to get folks to come on-site, this storytelling and visual image building is so critical to our success because we want people to go on the journey with us.
That story of connectivity is the beginning of creating that path for someone to be able to join you in imagining a better and different world. Stories are so important, but even more expansive than just the storytelling we do at our organizations is rooting our storytelling in what I like to call “values-based philanthropy.” Values-based philanthropy is really about aligning the world around us to our personal value systems.
This is really what motivates most supporters to make a gift. Yes, a story is important and connecting to a mission matters to people, but below that is this values-based idea where people are making a gift to an organization because they really truly believe that they can change the world. They believe that they can realign the society around them in a way that better suits how they perceive their values, right? I think about myself and what I value in the world.
I truly believe that the world can be a kinder and more welcoming place where everyone has what they need to thrive, that it isn’t just about survival. It’s about quality of life, right? Those are the values that I hold as a human citizen. When I make my philanthropic decisions, those are rooted in my childhood experiences of growing up, serving meals with my family in soup kitchens and working on Habitat for Humanity sites, helping to build homes, and running food drives at my school to collect food for our local pantry, right?
My mom also was the neighborhood caretaker mom where she would make sure every kid in the neighborhood had a snack or a meal or had adult eyes on them if their parents were working. I just have grown up with this rooted experience of service. When I think about my philanthropic choices, those are also aligned to this idea that there’s plenty in the world, right? If we just move some things around, we can make sure that everyone, irrespective of their experience, can thrive in the communities that we’re trying to build.
Now, more and more donors are really leaning into this sort of shift, especially younger audiences are moving towards this model of aligning all of the facets of their life towards their values. We have more and more folks who are making decisions about employment based on quality of life and work-life balance and a company’s orientation towards CSR, right? Are they living their values in a meaningful way, in a demonstrable way in community, right?
These are shifting away from our more traditional models of folks aligning with an institutional brand, right? Folks are moving away from, “I only support the American Red Cross or the United Way because of the brand,” and moving towards a values-aligned framework for decision-making that’s, “I believe in environmental justice. I believe in civil rights. I believe that our world should be a more welcoming and affirming place.”
They’re making their philanthropic decisions to support organizations that are values aligning with those principles. Now, I’m sure all of you are seeing this happening at your organizations, where people are showing up and wanting to have slightly different kinds of conversations. What’s exciting about this is that the intersection of storytelling with values-based philanthropy is absolutely beautiful because what values-based philanthropy leans on is your lived experience, right?
Our stories are those verbal or written retellings of our lived experiences. Again, as we think about how these stories that our donors present with, the lived experiences that they come to us with, we have an opportunity to ask really thoughtful questions about who they’re showing up as and why those experiences have shaped their decision-making. It’s an opportunity for us to have a deeper and more vulnerable and meaningful conversation with our supporters about this values alignment, right?
The why is so critical to understanding the decision-making here because it’s rooted in this larger ecosystem idea, this ecosystem understanding of someone’s role as a human citizen and their vision for a world that more aligns with where they see value. It’s, I think, a really beautiful opportunity for us to think bigger about the stories, to think more expansively about people’s experiences, and how those narratives can better shape our tools in our fundraising toolbox, right?
Knowing someone’s why, knowing where someone comes from is so important in helping us make really thoughtful strategic decisions about how we’re going to ask for money, what kinds of communications we’re going to share with folks, and how we’re going to meet them where they are. What does that mean practically? It means we have to be more curious. I love Brene Brown. I don’t know if there’s any other Brene Brown stands in the room.
Feel free to pop in the chat if you are a Brene Brown stand like I am. One of the things that I love so much about Brene is when she talks about curiosity, vulnerability, and courage. I think that in our philanthropic work, we could all do with a bit more curiosity, vulnerability, and courage. There’s a lot of work that we’re all doing right now that’s really hard. It’s emotionally challenging.
We’ve all had different experiences over the last two and a half years. Many of us have suffered tremendous loss across all facets of our personal and professional lives. Our donors have had those same experiences. What we are being asked of right now as fundraising and nonprofit professionals is to show up and be more curious, be a bit more vulnerable, and act with a bit more courage.
What I mean by that is asking our donors questions, right? We talk a lot about why their stories matter because knowing your donors means you can better show up with the right ask, right? Do we actually ask them curious and thoughtful questions about how they’re showing up, what kind of experiences they’ve had, what kind of impact our organization’s mission is actually making on their lives?
Do we actually create the time to have those conversations? I understand there’s a lot of folks in this room who are wearing a lot of hats, right? Raising money is really important to keeping program delivery happening, right? The only way we can continue to support our organizations is if we do ask some of these thoughtful questions. I personally believe cultivating curiosity is like a fundraising superpower, right?
Asking questions thoughtfully and with a gentle curiosity of the folks around us is what brings us to so much more learning and understanding about the lived experiences of our donor community and why they’re showing up for our missions, right? We can’t learn what a donor’s why is if we don’t ask. How do we ask? What does asking look like for folks who are trying to flex their curiosity superpower?
Asking looks like a lot of different things, but sometimes it’s helpful to think about the questions that you want to ask donors and the story points that donors show up with as data points, right? We all want to be making more thoughtful, data-informed decisions about how we leverage our fundraising strategies. We have limited time. We have limited resources. Often, we have a small community of supporters that we’re trying to get the most out of in any particular campaign solicitation moment.
Thinking about donor stories as data points, I think, is really helpful in framing your strategic questions. Every data point that you can aggregate about your supporters is another piece of information in the puzzle of understanding their motivation and what the lever is to renewing their support, re-engaging their support, upgrading their gift, or moving them to an additional CTA of engagement with your organization, right? Another call to action.
Maybe you want your donors to also become volunteers. Whatever that is for you, these story points are data bits that help you make those decisions. Collecting that information is really important, right? We’re obviously at a DonorPerfect conference, so we know DonorPerfect is an incredible tool to help us do this work, right? We know that we can track people’s gift information. We know we can track donor demographic information.
We can use the various integrations in the system to help us collect even more information. Dates of birth, information about people’s lived experiences, notes about their other interests, their communication preferences, where they live, what kinds of information they’re being more positively responsive to, right? All of these story points, all of these data points aggregated together create a data set that enables you to do a few different things. One, it increases the accuracy and your ability to better segment your donor audience.
If folks are showing up and they’re telling you that they, like me, are a huge animal lover and they care so deeply about the shelter communities in your area, then you want to know that about someone. Because if your organization has a mission alignment with that or like a specific program that could target folks who are interested in shelter animals, you want to make sure that you’re segmenting that person into an audience that’s going to receive communications that align to those principles, right?
You also can use these data and story points to better target your asks and your impact stories, right? When you start to identify people’s lived experiences and what they love about your organization, you can better target the kinds of communications and information sets that you’re sharing with them. You don’t need to tell somebody about something they’re not interested in. The reason for that is because we’re all splitting our attention a thousand different ways all of the time.
We’re still quite literally living in the end stages of a global pandemic. I don’t know about you, but my attention is not what it used to be. I’m sliding and flipping through emails way faster than I ever used to. If you want to get my attention, you got to get me with something that really matters to me and connects to my lived experience. You won’t know what that is if you don’t ask me, right?
This is why this narrative storytelling and this data collection is so important because you’re getting more bang for your buck because you’re better targeting your audience with communications that they’re actually going to open, they’re actually going to read, and they’re most likely to engage with. This is also an incredible opportunity to increase retention among your donor audience by serving them content that matters to them and increase the loyalty to your organization and your brand. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to leverage an upgrade.
If you know somebody cares very deeply about one particular part of your work, you can ask them to increase their support by knowing that brand loyalty to that part of your work and knowing more about what’s happening in their lived experience about their life. You can make a connection between why an increased gift today is so important for that vital work that you already know that that person is interested in supporting. All of these story elements are data points that you can aggregate about your supporters to better target so many facets of your program so that you can use what limited resources you might have to the best possible end, which ultimately is raising more money for your organization.
Personalization is the name of the game right now. People live in a world where they’re used to being seen and known wherever they show up digitally. We as nonprofit professionals have to do the best that we can with the tools that we have to create as much of that mirrored experience for folks as possible if we want to continue to garner the attention and the eyeballs quite literally that we need to keep our missions moving.
I’m going to talk about my favorite donor story aggregation tool. It’s very simple. It’s a survey, right? I know we talk about surveys a lot in our work and we probably all do a lot of surveys like after we buy products or things like that. Surveying your donor audience is my absolute favorite story-gathering tool. It’s pretty easy, right? I will say I shamelessly borrowed this from MarketSmart, who’s a fantastic organization.
They don’t support me. I don’t know if they integrate with DonorPerfect, but they’re a wonderful organization that does a lot of great work around collecting stories of donors and relies heavily on surveys. Surveys don’t have to be complicated and they don’t have to be long, right? Asking donors very simple questions where you’re flexing your curiosity muscles is absolutely paramount to becoming a successful fundraiser and a successful fundraising organization.
Here’s just a few of some really great questions that you can start with, right? You’re going to want to make sure you build your survey in a way that’s super easy to use and is accessible to a number of different donor audiences. You want to make sure that your survey isn’t leading folks to a specific answer. You’re getting as much genuine feedback as possible straight from a donor’s brain to your CRM, right?
My favorite survey question to ask is, what is something that you want to know more about our organization but you haven’t asked? At Trevor, we started asking this question a lot of our donors. It’s been really interesting to learn what people want to know, but they haven’t asked us yet. Often, it reveals something that somebody feels uncomfortable with or perhaps a little vulnerable about.
You often, as the fundraising professional, are the bridge between your organization’s mission and the people that you serve, the resources that you have available, and the donor’s understanding of the work. Asking this question, “What is something that you’ve always wanted to know but you haven’t asked?” helps create trust and it builds more of a relationship between you as a fundraiser and the people that are supporting your organization.
It’s a very vulnerable question to ask and it’s oftentimes eliciting a more vulnerable answer from a supporter, but it tells you a lot about how they’re thinking and what level of engagement they might already have with your organization. When you’re building your surveys and you’re thinking about the kinds of questions that you want to ask your donors, my recommendation here is to really lead with empathy.
Remember that this kind of connection that you’re trying to make with your supporters requires humility and vulnerability on your part. What you are entering into is a conversation with folks about who they are and how they show up. This isn’t about you presenting your organization’s mission again or talking a lot about the work that you do. It’s really about putting the ball in the donor’s court, learning more about them, their lived experience, how they show up and why.
That requires us often to ask a question and then be a little quiet, which can be uncomfortable because silence can be awkward sometimes, but it’s in those quiet moments that you’ll get the most information out of your supporters. From a very practical perspective, how do you deliver these surveys? After you’ve crafted your survey, how do you want to deliver it to your audience?
Obviously, there’s a number of ways that you can do this and it’s all based on your organization’s technological capacity and what makes the most sense for the ROI for you. I like delivering surveys both in email and in hard copy because not everyone lives in a digital world. Honestly, more often, folks are getting a little bit email blind. I think sometimes a paper survey can be a way to break up the monotony of the digital engagement we often have.
I always prefer to offer both options to folks. Ask people how they want to receive survey-related information. Would they prefer to get it as an email or perhaps they’d like a paper version? It’s really important to pay attention to what’s available to you within your toolset. I know that DonorPerfect has a number of integrations and has some built-in functionality where you can create forms and survey templates.
You can rely on that as a deliverability system for you or you can look at an integration. Perhaps you’re a Mailchimp or a Constant Contact user. Those are also tools that you can create really thoughtful service in. Like I said, snail mail is also a great way to deliver content to folks, especially if you have an audience that’s more accustomed to interacting with you that way. I’m going to check in on the chat here, make sure I’m not missing anything. All right, okay. Time check?
Amanda: We are at 12:30. Do you want to take a quick two questions about surveys?
Tina: Sure, I will happily take a pause for survey questions. What do we got, Amanda?
Amanda: Casey Richardson was asking, “For your survey questions, do you recommend more open-ended questions or do you typically offer donor choices to choose from?”
Tina: Ooh, that’s a really great question. I like to do a mix of both, right? I generally try to stay within like a 5-to-10 question format because we don’t want people to have to work too hard to give us information. We want people to actually complete the survey. I like to have a mix of multiple-choice questions like giving people a set number of options to choose from. The data tells us that when folks don’t have to try hard, they’re more likely to complete.
Multiple-choice answers are a really great way to get people to complete. Then I like to have one or two open-ended questions, questions like the one I shared. What’s the one thing about our organization that you always wanted to learn that you were afraid to ask or didn’t have space to ask? That is an open-ended question. We’ll give you a tremendous amount of insight into someone’s understanding. I like a little bit of both. I generally lead towards multiple-choice with a smattering of open-ended questions.
Amanda: That is awesome. Then besides the DonorPerfect online forms that we know can do surveys, were there any other software that you recommend for people to use to survey their donors?
Tina: Oh gosh, I think there’s a lot of options, right? Obviously, the built-in functionality is probably the best because it’s going to integrate the information directly back into your CRM and you’re going to avoid the middleman. When I say the “middleman,” I mean that liminal space where information hangs out before you can find someone to put it in your CRM, right? Because if you’re collecting the information but you’re not tracking it, then you can’t act on it, right?
If living in a Google Doc or spreadsheet somewhere, it doesn’t really help you make actionable choices. However, there are other tools that you can use. I’ve used Mailchimp’s built-in survey functionality. It’s fine, right? Again, if it’s integrated to your software and it can pull those answers in, lovely. If it’s not integrated, it lives in liminal space. I’ve also used SurveyMonkey as a tool. It’s pretty inexpensive and it works fairly well. It’s designed specifically to make surveys.
Again, I think the tool that you use is less important than what you do with the information that you collect, right? The key to all of this is having an actionable plan on the other side to use the information that you collect because there’s nothing worse than giving someone feedback or answering their questions only to get silence on the other side. If you’re going to engage in a survey, you have to make sure you have a strategy in place to act on the information that you get from donors. Otherwise, it’s just performative and folks will stop responding.
Amanda: Those are all great answers. All right, so I’m going to remove myself from the screen and let you keep going.
Tina: Thanks for tapping in, Amanda. Thanks for your questions, y’all. All right, so perfect lead into our next bit of conversation. All right, so how are you marrying your donor’s why with your organization’s impact? This is about the follow-up. This is about what you do after you’ve gathered the information about your supporters, after you’ve learned more about their stories.
What is next? Next is making this connection between your organization’s impact and your donor’s why, right? This is when you actually want to do the work. You want to actually leverage the data that you’ve collected and segment your audiences. Put folks into different donor journey streams, right? Put all the folks who love shelter animals on one list. Put all the folks who are really interested in data and analytics and numbers-driven impact messaging onto another list, right?
You can start to better develop and serve content to your audience segments now that you’ve collected this information. This can be anything from changing your copy or your creative in your appeals or impact messaging to, quite literally, this audience only wants to hear from us on email. This audience only wants to get printed letters. Every bit of segmentation that you can create as the result of gathering this information is more opportunity for donors to see themselves being seen and known by your organization.
It increases their emotional connectivity and their loyalty to your organization, right? This creates a more responsive file for you. Donors start to show up in a more responsive way for you when you are acting on what they tell you and marrying it to your organization’s impact. Donors want to see folks who look and think like them investing in your mission, right? We as humans are social-relational creatures. We make some of our decisions based on our perception of whether we will be aligned with people who are like us.
That’s why this storytelling is so important because it’s about all of those connections that help us see one another as same rather than seeing one another as different. All of these kinds of data points and copy elements that you can pivot or change to connect better to how donors see themselves in your mission, the more likely you are going to be to get a responsive and retained donor audience. You’ll also start to see new supporters join your organization because they see themselves reflected in your mission, in your messaging, and in your audience.
What do we do if our stories start to get stale? I know I can’t be the only person that thinks about this. I know that at my organization, folks sometimes get annoyed with me because I’m like, “Do we have any new testimonials? Do we have any new stories of impact? Do we have anything new that we can share with folks?” I’m sure I’m not the only one at their organization who’s asking those kinds of questions, but letting our stories get stale is a really, really easy thing to have happen at our organizations.
We’re busy, right? We’re doing a lot of things. We’re raising money. We’re keeping program running. We’re serving volunteers. We’re being responsive to donors. We’re keeping the lights on and the bills paid. We’re doing all of the work of serving our communities each and every day, but it’s important to remember that we are being immersed in messaging as human beings all the time, right? Over 5,000 messages are being served to us on a regular basis.
We’re only going to pay attention to 150 of those. That’s like a firm that we’ve seen it, not just scroll by or swipe away. Of the 150 we connect, we’re only going to really engage with 10, right? When we’re thinking about our stories and what stories we’re delivering to our audiences, we are trying to be 1 of 10 out of more than 5,000. If our stories are stale, we won’t be 1 of 10. We’ll be one of those stories that get swiped by, right?
Now, some of this is a newness bias, right? What is newest we often think is best even though sometimes things that are old are just perfectly fine and wonderful. It’s about being learning-oriented, right? Donors who are connected and want to consume your stories are learning-oriented. They want to know more about your organization and they want to engage with your content.
If we want to meet them where they are, we want to make sure we’re serving them content that affirms that we recognize that they’re engaged. Serving them the same story over and over again or the same flavor of a story with just a slightly different angle isn’t going to meet this appetite that they have for deepened engagement with us. One of the first things we need to ask ourselves is, are we being honest about what’s working?
Are we being honest about what we’re learning? Are we actually experimenting with what’s available to keep delivering on our mission? How are we inviting feedback from our supporters about our communications? All of this information helps us make better decisions about how we can create content and deliver it to our audiences, ultimately connecting the missional work and impact of the organization to the lived experience of the donor, which culminates in a gift or other activity that we want them to engage in.
I invite you to think about, how are you asking these questions? How are you looking at your stories? Do you have a schedule baked into your communication plan where you’re refreshing your newsletter content, your thank-you letter stories, your appeal letters, all the bits of information that you’re delivering to your audience that might need a new set of eyes? I love having a content like an ad hoc content committee where we meet and we think about all the kinds of stories we might want to share.
We test those ideas that folks who aren’t just fundraising or marketing professionals because not everybody in your audience has that kind of lens, right? A lot of folks are just regular everyday people who have all kinds of lived experiences. Bouncing refresh content off of another group of people who might be able to react to it more similarly to your donor audience is a really great way to refresh your stories and get out of that staleness trap, where you might be stuck sharing what you think are really thoughtful messages but aren’t actually getting activations or engagements from your audience.
All right, so how do you get above the noise? We’ve talked about this. There’s a ton of messages. We have these incredible donor stories. We know we want to ask them questions, but how do you get there? What does it look like? For me, it’s three things. It’s showing up, it’s making an ask, and then it’s acting on what you learn, okay? Showing up, making an ask, and then acting on what you learn.
Use the tools and the tech at your disposal to create and curate content that meets donors where they are, that shares impactful narratives and connects their values, how they show up in the world to your organization’s mission and experience, right? You want to keep reminding donors that they are part of your community. They’re not at the center of it. They’re not the most important constituents that you’re serving, but they’re partners in this impact-making business that you’re in together, right?
They’re co-conspirators in changing the world, in leveraging impact. That means that you have to meet them where they are. You have to show up in social media. You have to show up in email. You have to show up in bed. You have to show up in all the places that people inhabit and then you want to deliver that content to them. Ask them those curious and thoughtful questions.
Curate and collect and aggregate that feedback and those answers, and then start acting on what you’ve learned. It’s useless if you just store it all in your CRM and you don’t let it inform your decision-making even if the way that it informs your decision-making is to make a different decision. None of us like change, especially right now. We all experience change as some sort of trauma.
We just don’t like it, but experimentation and innovation is how we get to new best practice. Showing up, asking curious questions, and then acting on the information that you have can lead you to a deeper and more engaged relationship with your audience who is more willing to show up for your organization every day and especially in moments of crisis when you need them the most.
All right, so we have 15 minutes to talk, to share, and to ask questions. I know I just talked at you for a good long while. We’ve had a little bit of conversation about some of our storytelling notes here, but we’d love to open it up now for folks in the chat. You’re welcome to ask your question there. Amanda will share those with me, so let’s go ahead and get some questions answered, y’all.
Amanda: All righty, so Emily Debo asked, “Do you have any recommended segments that are non-specific to the organization’s mission that you find helpful? For example, parents.”
Tina: Yes, so I definitely think organizing folks by constituency is a great way to start. Parents is a great example of that. You could have a parent segment. You could have an alumni segment. You could have, if you’re in a healthcare organization, maybe like a grateful patients segment. There’s a way that you can look at segmentation from how people identify themselves as a constituent. What role do they show up as your organization? Board members, donors, volunteers, community members, all of those are great segments of how to deliver content to your audience. They’re not specific necessarily to your organization, which may be like all donors who gave $50 to this event on a particular day.
Amanda: Awesome. Sorry, there’s a lot of questions here.
Amanda: Jacqueline asked, “Could you please read some of the other survey questions?” I’m assuming she’s talking about the slide that you had the questions up on.
Tina: Let me hop back. All right, so I will go ahead and jump into these because it might be a little small. Some of the survey questions here are, what is your preferred method of communication? This is a really valuable survey question, right? You don’t want to send paper mail to people who are going to throw it away. You might as well send money on fire in the parking lot, right?
If you know that someone doesn’t want to hear from you in print but they do want to hear from you an email, you can better target your resources. The other thing that’s really invaluable about this question is you can find out if people are open to getting text messages from your organization or other kinds of more casual communication that doesn’t require a lot of effort on your part or the donor’s part but feels really intimate and connected.
This is a great one. I also really love the last question here, which is, “When thinking about future generations, how important is it to you that we further our mission?” This is kind of an open-ended question, which I really love. The reason I love this question because it gets at two things. It gets at whether or not the person is like seeing your vision for the world, which means that they’re like super on board, right?
It also gives you a hint into whether someone is thinking about legacy, which is always a really good thing to know as you’re building your pipeline for planned gifts, which we know, the data shows us. People who are engaged in our annual fund programs are the best targets for likely leaving a bequest or some other kind of legacy estate gift for us at the end. This question gets you a little bit more insight into how someone’s thinking about their future with you.
Amanda: That is awesome. Kiana, and I apologize if I’m saying your name wrong. Kiana Becker asked, “Should we tell stories on social media that are uncomfortable or gross?”
Tina: Ooh, I have follow-up questions about that, but I will say this. I think that transparency and authenticity to your organization’s values are the most important elements of organizational storytelling. I say that as someone who works at an LGBTQ organization that deals with mental health and suicide and crisis intervention on the regular. It’s heavy and challenging storytelling. It also can be very triggering for folks, right?
I think when you’re making your storytelling decisions, it’s really about, does this serve our mission? Is this the right audience for this story and is this the right channel? If your organization is in tune with its value proposition and its connection to transparency and authenticity, I think your decision-making about the kinds of stories you tell can be anchored in those values principles. It can sometimes be challenging storytelling because our role in the philanthropic landscape is sometimes to ask people to think differently about their worlds. Those can be hard conversations. That’s, I think, how I would frame that answer. I don’t really know how I would answer the gross part. [laughs]
Amanda: All righty. Allison Anderson is asking, “Can you recommend any tech plugins or tools that will let you insert a question or two into emails? I’ve seen it done, but I don’t know the methodology.”
Tina: I wish I was a better tech professional to answer that question. I think that’s a better question for your DonorPerfect pro than me, unfortunately, so I would kick that one over to the DonorPerfect team for that answer, unfortunately.
Amanda: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any plugins that I am aware of. I’m usually a big fan of Google for these kinds of things if I don’t know something. Usually, if you google it, you can find some type of a plug-in or tool that will work for you.
Tina: Google Forms are another great tool that you can use to insert survey questions. We’re a Google shop where I work right now. We rely on Google Forms a lot for quick survey information of folks, so maybe that’s a good tool for you.
Amanda: All righty, so let me see what other questions we have coming in here. “Do you have any suggestions or unique ways to find people who may connect with your mission?”
Tina: Can you say that one more time?
Amanda: Sure, “Do you have any suggestions or unique ways to find people who may connect with your mission?” I’m assuming it’s about finding potential new constituents.
Tina: I think this is about showing up where you think people who look like the people who support your organization might be, right? I can make recommendations about other community events who are engaging a similar audience. You can show up in those places. If you’re thinking about trying new fundraising strategies like acquisition mail or like email acquisition paid ads and paid media like on Google or on social media like Facebook is also a great way to start mining for like-minded audiences.
It really depends on what your existing fundraising program looks like and how much resources that you want to spend on some of those new potential streams. I’m always a big fan of looking at your internal audiences and figuring out who you might be able to convert like asking your volunteers to share your resources and invite other people to support, leveraging your board members to make connections. Showing up in communities with a table and resources is also a really low-lift way to spread the word about your organization.
Amanda: That is amazing. If I may just take a moment because I’m seeing some questions that are asking about, “If you know your donor’s interest, how do you track that in DonorPerfect?” If I may just give a little bit of insight to folks. DonorPerfect does, on the bio screen, have some fields that are used to track interest, but you can certainly also use our screen designer tool to customize and add fields to capture information that’s specific to your organization.
What I would encourage all of you guys to do is to connect with your account manager, your trainer, or the support team. We will be able to get you guys up to speed on how you can start tracking all of this great information that Tina had alluded to earlier in the presentation. All righty, let’s see. There’s so many great questions in here. [laughs] I’m scrolling through the chat right now. If you guys put your questions into Q&A, that makes it a little bit easier to find them for us.
Tina: Oh, there’s this really interesting one at the very top. I think it’s an interesting question. I’m just going to jump in with this one, Amanda.
Amanda: No, please do.
Tina: An anonymous user has asked, “Given the last few news headlines, should we always acknowledge or reach out in general to state the institution’s condolences and that the institution does not condone such actions?” I’m going to read a little subtext into this, which is like, “How do we as institutions show up around what’s happening in the world around us?” Just going to take a moment and let people know I’m going to talk about some of the traumatic stuff that we’re living in the middle of right now.
If you need a minute or step away, that’s okay. Be good and safe to yourselves, but we’re living in a world that is increasingly more violent and publicly violent. There’s a lot of damaging stuff that’s happening in the media. It’s hard, I think, sometimes for us as organizations to make decisions about what do we say things about and what do we not because, at some point, we’re going to make a mistake in the view of some external constituent.
For me, the answer to this question is really, again, about your organization’s values. How do your organization’s values about who you serve, how you show up, and what you do intersect with this decision-making? There’s been a lot of backlash in the news over the last several years about how brands or institutions showed up in moments that perhaps were not part of their narrative.
I think it’s important for every organization to perform and live their values authentically. You make those decisions in real-time about how your organization is displaying that to your constituencies and your audiences. It’s actually not beneficial to your organization to insert yourself into a narrative that isn’t about you, right? That’s performative allyship and it’s not helpful to the folks who are actually doing the work in meaningful ways on the ground.
I think it’s sometimes a game-time decision, but this is ultimately about understanding your values, your mission, and how you’re aligning yourself with your vision for the world. Then make those decisions thoughtfully and with input from people across your organization and your stakeholders before you go ahead and put something forward. That would be my recommendation and my answer to that question.
Amanda: That is super powerful. I think that is a good way to leave the session for today. Thank you, everyone, for your participation and your attendance for today’s session. Thank you, Tina, for joining us. We hope that all of you will join us in just a few minutes for our keynote, Where Their Story Begins: Lessons from Community-Centric and Donor-Centric Voices given by Robbe Healey. We hope you all enjoy the rest of the conference for today.
Tina: Thank you for your time, y’all. Feel free to find me on LinkedIn and connect if you want. I’m always up for a virtual coffee date. Take care and enjoy the rest of the conference.Read Less