When ‘Doing Good’ is the Focus: Enabling Donors to Create Positive Change
Many have called 2017 “the year of me.” In fact, we’ve heard the idea come up in a variety of conversations, and characterized in other forms, like the “you universe” or “the transformative me.” While there’s an unmistakable trend in the retail world this holiday season around self-gifting and a little more self-indulgence overall, there is another layer emerging from this concept of self that has much more to do with the nonprofit universe than we might realize.
The Value of Transformational Experiences
According to the Ad Council, “doing good” is becoming as elemental to one’s life as faith, work and family. We often hear about the doing good movement in the context of Millennials and, oftentimes, Gen Zs—two generations that have demonstrated substantial shifts in attitude surrounding the belief in their own power to create positive change in the world. And it’s deeply tied to how these audiences express themselves, identify with friends, families and communities, and lead their daily lives.
In fact, today, 90 percent of Millennials would switch to a brand that supports a cause over one that does not. That statistic in itself is a dramatic indication of what’s happening in the realm of consumerism today. As retailers continue to grapple with the challenges of developing meaningful relationships with these generations, there are certain ideas that have become very clear about their priorities: Experiences are valued over things, experiences that bring individuals closer to their personal goals are valued even more and experiences that enable individuals to change their world for the better grow to be valued above most all else.
As we near the beginning of a new year, the idea of “the transformative me” will continue to grow beyond Millennials and Gen Zs, as people, more broadly, seek the types of relationships and opportunities that enable them to see change in themselves and see change in the world—and this will be more important than ever for nonprofits.
What Does This Movement Mean for Your Nonprofit’s Strategy?
We’ve already seen significant fluctuations in U.S. giving behavior over 2017, with the change in presidential administrations, natural disasters and several moments in time in between—all which would otherwise point towards a more precarious situation for #GivingTuesday and end-of-year fundraising efforts. But what we’ve also seen are upticks in advocacy behavior, strength in the power of social influencers and real belief in the capacity for nonprofits to cultivate change in a world filled with so much uncertainty.
By mid-morning of Nov. 28, 1.64 million gifts totaling $177 million had been donated in more than 98 countries as a result of the global #GivingTuesday campaign, with hashtags like #TurnYourTuesday flooding the social sphere. Buying across online, and mobile more specifically, surged in growth this holiday weekend over the previous year, leading up to the kickoff of end-of-year giving. And while people may be more encouraged to give during an event like #GivingTuesday, nonprofits should ultimately focus on ways to provide long-term value to donors beyond that one give, especially as behaviors continue to reflect a desire to be a part of large-scale social impact. Becoming familiarized with these new attitudes is critical for understanding how to engage this “new donor”.
Thoughts on Strategy for Year End and 2018
Ensure your creative is audience and platform appropriate. Millennials and other target audiences may actively express passions and devotion to particular causes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know your organization or how you’re tied to that cause. Creative and messaging should reflect the stage in the relationship you have with that audience and is dependent upon someone’s awareness, not just of your cause, but of who you are. For instance, if you’re speaking to prospective donors or even those recently acquired, you’ll want to use rich, informative storytelling techniques to allow someone to become familiarized with your approach to the mission you serve. Conversely, if you’re working with a recurring donor or someone who has engaged significantly with your content, you can shift creative and messaging to focus more intently on the ask.
By the same token, the platform you’re using to communicate will often dictate how a message is presented to the donor, as well as the chosen media format. Facebook, for example, allows you to tell stories throughout the stages of “inform, engage, acquire and convert” through different creative formats—from videos, to carousel, canvas and traditional ads. Imagery can also be static or show movement based on the desired action from the donor. Beyond social media, donors are more interested in emerging technologies like chatbots and augmented reality that allow them to “get inside” the cause and access more personalized experiences.
Don’t just ask—empower and inspire. While we’re certainly beyond the days of making a blind ask, a lot can be said about messaging techniques that connect to people’s ambitions and make them feel personally a part of creating change. With more power in all donors’ hands today, messaging should speak to how an individual’s donation can actually impact change, with less a focus on what the organization itself does. Empowering and educating donors also requires maintaining a high level of transparency around how their dollars are being used, which could mean telling individual stories around the lives they are impacting or providing feedback on different programs they’ve contributed to.
Remember, your nonprofit is the conduit for the donor to make an impact through causes they’re interested in. The more tangible your stories are around change, the more they will resonate with audiences focused on making that impact.
Identify tone and themes that resonate. Most loved Millennial and Gen X commercial brands, like Chobani, Chipotle and Netflix, may use messaging that’s focused on social and environmental consciousness, but where they really connect with audiences is through the different tone they use across channels. Whether they are aspirational, relatable or educational, the tone is always connected to a brand identity that aligns strongly with audience values.
Donors today often consider nonprofits like they would any other brand, and so throughout your year-end campaigns and into next year, you may consider identifying different brands that share values or focus on similar causes, so you can begin to test tone across channels. Consider what resonates on a platform like Instagram over Facebook and even what “visual” tone encourages more engagement and action from donors.
There is substantially more noise in the nonprofit ecosystem today, and that means breaking through is that much more challenging. But staying relevant with, and taking the time to identify your audiences’ preferences and changing behaviors, can help to bridge the engagement gap.
As vice president of nonprofit digital strategy for PMX Agency, Bethany Maki works to develop strategies to build optimized digital experiences for constituents that bring the most value to them and the organization. She coordinates the execution and measurement of tactics to support those strategies in SEO, SEM, display, social media, email and on-site content and technical development.
Maki is a skilled digital marketer with more than 16 years of experience, both at local and national nonprofits and agencies. With a proven track record of online advocacy, peer-to-peer event and direct-response fundraising success, she has been privileged to serve some of the nation’s top nonprofits, such as Alzheimer’s Association, American Diabetes Association, U.S. Olympic Committee, Sierra Club, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Heart Association, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, PetSmart Charities, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Metropolitan Ministries, Bowery Mission, Salvation Army, Mercy Corps, COPD Foundation and Children’s Cancer Research Fund. Maki is a thought-leader in the nonprofit digital industry and is a frequent speaker at events and author of blogs and articles.