How Nonprofits Can Use Affinity Scores to Strengthen Constituent Relationships
Nonprofits today face significant challenges in providing a world-class experience to their valued constituents. Fraught with organizational silos in their programs and services, nonprofits find themselves with a limited understanding of their constituents. Who are they? How do they engage with nonprofits? What are the touchpoints and interactions that are most important to them?
This lack of understanding is detrimental for nonprofits and, as expected, this leads nonprofits to deliver a disjointed and, therefore, poor constituent experience. In turn, this has significant downstream impacts, not only on the constituent’s giving behavior, but also on their relationship with the nonprofit.
It’s a no-brainer that a constituent’s experience with the nonprofit matters. Constituents who are delighted with a memorable experience are more inspired, engaged and committed to the nonprofit’s mission. They develop long-standing relationships with the nonprofit that can accelerate revenue growth. It is, therefore, critical that nonprofits strive to build and sustain these relationships with their constituents on an ongoing basis.
How can nonprofits proactively strengthen their constituent relationships?
Nonprofits are historically so focused on constituent transactions (i.e. the recency, frequency and monetary value of donations) that they completely disregard the myriad other non-transactional ways a constituent engages with them, thereby missing out on key opportunities to build relationships.
For example, a nonprofit may miss out on the opportunity to build a relationship with a constituent who may not have donated yet (a transactional interaction), but volunteers her time to nonprofits or advocates for their mission (a non-transactional interaction).
At the heart of building a relationship with constituents is the much-needed ability for nonprofits to develop a single view of the constituents and their interactions, both transactional and non-transactional. Nonprofits must then leverage this singular view to develop a sense of affinity for each constituent (i.e. a score that measures the strength of the constituent’s relationship to the nonprofit). Measuring, tracking and acting on constituent affinity scores can ultimately drive deeper engagement and higher value.
Start With the Affinity Score
Today’s constituents give strong signals of their affinity with the nonprofit as they interact with them across multiple touchpoints, programs and services. These could be positive signals, such as participating in a bike event, signing up for e-newsletter, consuming website content, offering to volunteer their time or donating toward the mission. There can also be negative signals, too, such as opting out of direct mail or email, and a lapse in giving. Both these types of signals reflect a constituent’s evolving relationship with the nonprofit.
Affinity score measures and tracks these signals to quantify a nonprofit organization’s progress in building relationships. It is comprised of three factors: constituent value, engagement and retention.
- Value, as the name suggests, is the constituent’s transactional value (e.g. donation) to the organization and is the most commonly used metric by nonprofits.
- Retention signifies the duration and recency of constituent’s interactions (both transactional and non-transactional) with a nonprofit.
- Engagement is the type and amount of non-transactional interactions (e.g. subscribing to newsletter) a constituent has with a nonprofit.
Measure Affinity Score Over Time
Measuring affinity that reflects both the transactional and non-transactional engagement requires nonprofits create a single, unified, enterprise-level view of each of their constituents and their entire journey with the nonprofit. This requires breaking down organizational data silos across programs and touchpoints. While it may seem like a daunting task, it is not impossible. With executive-level buy-in, the right technology stack and analytics resources, this is doable.
With this unified view, we can now track the history of a constituent’s interactions, their level of engagement and the contributions they have made over their lifetime. To calculate the affinity score, we leverage a three-step process:
- First, identify the relevant interactions or signals of affinity along the constituent’s journey.
- Second, assign relevant weights to each signal based on weighting models (e.g. an e-newsletter sign-up gets a higher weight than website browsing).
- Third, deploy a rigorous process of back-testing, validation and calibration of weights to finalize the weights.
The finalized weights aggregate up to define value, engagement and retention sub-scores, which, when combined, form the affinity score.
Leverage Affinity Score to Drive Proactive Action
A constituent’s affinity score, as expected, is a dynamic metric that changes constantly over their lifetime with the organization. With every new interaction, the affinity score can go up or down. And there lies its value for the nonprofit to drive meaningful experiences to build affinity.
To illustrate, assume that a constituent got diagnosed with a disease. As she is actively researching treatment options, her affinity score may increase as she increases her interaction with the nonprofit (e.g. by browsing the nonprofit’s website, signing up for a newsletter or even becoming a team captain in an event). On the flip side, it is also possible that over time her affinity score may decrease if she visits the site less (e.g. content not adequately and regularly refreshed).
These inflection points—defined by drop or spike in affinity—are critical to track and drive proactive action. When affinity score suddenly drops for a constituent, we can take immediate action with personalized outreach. Similarly, when affinity score suddenly increases, say due to a high-value donation, it would warrant immediate attention in terms of acknowledgement and stewardship.
Affinity score is a critical tool in a nonprofit’s kit to gain a better understanding of the constituent’s current and evolving relationship with the nonprofit. In this day and age where constituents demand a world-class experience (similar to those provided by companies like Amazon, Apple, etc.), nonprofits that leverage the affinity score to drive action and transform the constituent experience will be rewarded with a loyal constituent base that drive higher long-term value.
Sudeshna Sen is the Nonprofit Vertical Lead for Analytics at Merkle. She brings 12+ years of experience in nonprofit marketing, analytics and strategy; leveraging predictive and advanced analytics to build strong donor pipelines, drive growth in revenue, and maximize donor value for some of the world’s largest fundraising organizations. She also seeks to deepen understanding of constituents through research and analysis, and leverage these insights to drive stronger constituent engagement and transform their experience.
Prior to joining Merkle, Sudeshna held a key leadership position at NuStats, a market research firm, heading its analytics practice and managing several strategic client engagements. She has a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Texas at Austin, MS from University of Illinois at Chicago, and BS from the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur.