The Search for Sneezers: How to Find Online Fundraisers in Epidemic Proportions
I hope you enjoyed last month’s article, “Top 5 Tips to Improve Your Digital Fundraising.” For those of you who missed it, let me provide this disclaimer: I lead a fantastic online fundraising company, so my perspective is very pro-digital … but it’s also informed by 10 years of Internet fundraising experience, so I hope it will be of some value to you. I’m fortunate to observe hundreds of online fundraising organizations from all over the world, but primarily the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and The Netherlands.
This month’s topic is timely as the weather warms up across the northern hemisphere and we get back into special-event fundraising season!
“What is a sneezer?,” you may ask. I’m borrowing the term from Malcolm Gladwell in his fantastic book, “The Tipping Point.” If you haven’t read this yet, please do; it will help you become a great digital fundraiser. Basically, a sneezer is someone who is particularly contagious. Epidemiologists who study the spread of disease through any population note that some people are more infectious than others. Much more infectious! In the context of this article, imagine that the sneezer is an online fundraiser for your cause who is particularly good at bringing in lots of online donations.
I know it’s an odd way to start a discussion about online fundraising, but I think it’s appropriate. As many of you traditional fundraisers know, 80 percent of the money in a fundraising campaign comes from 20 percent of the donors. This happens online, as well, but with an important difference. In an offline capital campaign, the 80/20 effect occurs because a few donors make very large gifts. In an online fundraising campaign, the 80/20 effect occurs because a few fundraisers not only rise to the challenge, but exceed all expectations.
Remember your old-fashioned walkathon? Participants were asked to register and then solicit donations from their friends and family using a pledge form they received in the mail. Once participants completed the walk-a-thon, they followed up with those who had pledged and collected their donations. In the 21st century, leveraging the Internet, this process happens at warp speed. Rather than carrying around pledge sheets, participants e-mail or message their friends who link to a personal fundraising page and make secure, online donations.
Since this process is now digital, and since we can predict that 80 percent of the online donations will be raised by only 20 percent of the online fundraisers, it provides an unprecedented opportunity for fundraising organizations to identify and cultivate these online fundraising sneezers. As soon as an online fundraising campaign begins, sneezers will leave behind clues for those paying attention. They will not only register for the fundraising campaign sooner than most, but they’ll be more likely to lead an online fundraising team (if your campaign and technology allow for this). If you’ve asked your fundraisers to set an online fundraising goal, sneezers will set goals that appear impossibly high. If you can view the number of e-mails being sent from your online fundraisers, sneezers will be sending 10 times the average.
Once you’ve identified a prospective sneezer or group of sneezers, treat them differently. Don’t just send them the same blast e-mail that you’re sending to the entire online campaign. Let them know they’re special. Surprise them by having your president give them a thank-you phone call well ahead of the campaign deadline, as it will motive them to do even more!
I want to end with a final note about retention and renewal. Focus your retention and renewal efforts on your online fundraisers, not on those friends and family members who donated to them. I have seen many charities alienate their best fundraisers by over-soliciting donors brought in by those fundraisers. When I donate to my friend’s personal giving page, I’m giving to him, not to the charity or cause. If I find myself added to the direct-mail list of that charity, I’m going to let my friend know how unhappy I am. It’s certainly OK if the donor has explicitly asked to learn more about the cause, but I find that often this is not the case. Your sneezers are precious: Treat them (and their friends) with utmost care.
Please keep your eye out for my next column: “Fundraising Big Online: How Little Charities Are Punching Above Their Weight.”
If you’re enjoying this content, I invite you to search for my Digital Fundraising Podcast on iTunes and listen to interviews with top thinkers in the world of digital fundraising. Also, if you have any ideas or comments, I’d love to hear them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip King is president and CEO of Artez Interactive.