2 Fresh Ways to Connect With Existing and Prospective Donors
The COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot about the world and how we approach virtually everything. Here are two things I learned during that time about connecting with new audiences and existing stakeholders that will have a lasting impact on me.
1. Be a Painkiller for New Audiences
During the pandemic, I learned the concept of focusing on being a painkiller when communicating about your cause. In other words, it became more important than ever for nonprofit leaders to be good stewards of dollars and resources used for growing awareness and support. One of the keys to being a good steward is to spend less time and money on messaging that doesn’t resonate with your priority constituents.
Sabri Suby, the author of “Sell Like Crazy,” wrote in a social media post that brands can be a ray of sunshine in the storm and can thrive even during tough times. He said the secret is to understand that, in such moments, people don’t want candy or vitamins. Rather, they are looking for a painkiller.
Candy-like messaging is representative of organizations that are very nice, and that people enjoy, but aren’t positioned as a solution to a burning problem. So, while they can get support during good times, they’re not seen as essential in challenging seasons.
Vitamin-like organizations are known to have a very positive impact over time, but they’re also not seen as solving issues of urgent need. Therefore, they too are not positioned well to grow during economic contractions.
In contrast, painkiller messaging is seen as coming from causes offering immediate solutions to vitally important and pressing problems. Therefore, donors and other key audiences recognize the need to alleviate these problems urgently.
Suby also said when situations are dire, don’t position your organization as anything but a painkiller. Think about it this way: “If you’re feeling crippling pain, your focus goes quickly to finding immediate solutions,” Suby said.
Maybe you’re a vitamin type of cause, but find someone or something you serve that has an urgent need or you will miss these moments of opportunity during challenging times.
Truth be told, painkillers are always needed. And while that may have been more evident during a pandemic, reality is there’s always someone in pain and the need to message accordingly.
2. Treat Existing Stakeholders as a Neighbor, Not a Customer
Ken Calwell, chief marketing officer at Compassion International, introduced me to a second breakthrough concept. Before arriving at Compassion International, he was an extremely successful chief marketing officer for several major fast-food and pizza chains. One day I had a conversation with him and couldn’t help but wonder how he was helping the organization to be more innovative.
“Initially, I found myself longing for the focus I had in the business world where everyone was aligned around knowing and serving our customer,” he told me. “Building a customer-centric culture was a proven best practice that I had seen successfully transform many businesses I served.”
His main challenge in the nonprofit space was how to build a customer-centric culture. He then wondered, “Who is our customer?” He concluded: “Our goal as a nonprofit was not transactional, so it was wrong to refer to those we served as ‘customers.’”
Being Christian-based, he knew ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ was a core underpinning of the organization, so he determined its goal was to form a deeper relationship with the neighbors the organization serves. So, through Ken’s leadership, the organization made the commitment never again to refer to those whom they served as ‘customers,’ but only refer to them as ‘neighbors.’
“When issues arise now,” he told me, “... we no longer start with the ‘how’ question — ‘How are we going to address this issue?’ Our first question now is the ‘who’ question — ‘Who is the neighbor that we serve?’ Being neighbor-centric became the first and most important step in creating an innovation culture.
He continued: “The key idea is that our audiences all need to be treated kindly and lovingly as a neighbor. A neighbor that must be known deeply, loved deeply and served well.”
Then the pandemic hit just as Compassion International embraced this new perspective, forcing the nonprofit to cancel most of its in-person events, like the large, in-person concerts it held to attract donations. The immediate assumption was that donations would decline drastically.
“We asked ourselves, how can we talk to our donors as neighbors during a time like this?” he said. “[We] decided to do two things — first, telephone donors individually to ask them how they were doing during this difficult pandemic time. Secondly, we wanted them to know that if this was a challenging time for them personally, then they have our support and understanding to stop giving for a while and take a break.”
I asked Ken, “What happened?”
“Much to our surprise, donations went up,” he said. “Many donors wanted to give more to make up for those who could not give during this challenging time. The innovative philosophy of being neighbor-centric grew donations through a worldwide crisis by treating our donors with the same love and care that they had shown needy children for decades.”
And the moral of the story is — too many nonprofits treat donors as ATMs and fundraising goals as more important than demonstrating goodness to go along with good works. Ken’s neighbor-centric approach brought clarity and mindful innovation to his nonprofit’s efforts to gain support by raising the bar on how all audiences should be treated.