It's Nice to Meet, But Better to Know Your Donors
If you want to know what a person thinks, just ask. If you want to know how a person feels, listen intently to what he or she is saying. But if your goal is to really know an individual, then ignore most of what that person says and how that person may feel, and observe that person’s actual behavior over time. That’s because there is a big difference between simply knowing something about a person and truly knowing the person.
We can easily know a little bit about a lot of different people, but is it even possible to really know someone so well that we can predict his or her behaviors in a number of different situations? I believe it is. I’m not saying it is easy (because it’s extremely difficult), but I do believe it is conceivable.
Our ability to know a person requires that we have great familiarity with that individual. We must have information that we can only obtain through many different and interconnected experiences that we observe firsthand and over an extended period of time. It’s through this process that we begin to understand whether a person’s behavior is the result of some episodic impulse or something the individual truly could not stop themselves from doing, which I believe is different than “meaning to do it.”
Predicting someone’s behavior requires an understanding of his or her motivations and truest intentions, which is one of the great challenges we face in knowing someone. There are lots of different reasons why people behave the way they do, and it’s not our job to judge those motivations. Rather, our job is to understand how to leverage those motivations to predict behavior. Whether consumers are aware or not, their motivations define who they are. And as marketers, we can use that information to create better experiences for them.
Whether personally or professionally, it takes a great investment of time and energy to get to know someone, which is why we need to be very selective about whom we choose to pursue. The question then becomes, as a good friend of mine says, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” And that’s something only you can answer. Understanding how to do it is a critical element in building stronger relationships with constituents. This is one of the keys to gaining a greater share of the overall charitable-giving market. As the giving environment becomes more competitive and challenging, I believe that the greatest long-term success will come to those organizations willing to make an investment in “constituent intelligence.”
There are many different techniques and tools at our disposal to better understand those who support our organizations. It’s the integration and connectedness of these tools that hold the key for fundraisers. Whether it’s leveraging some type of survey to better understand what someone thinks, knowing how someone feels through his or her solicited or unsolicited comments/feedback, or studying a series of independent interactions (both online and offline), we now have the ability to connect individual behaviors in a way that reveals the underlying motivations. Through advancements in technology and analytics, we are getting closer and closer to being able to really know an individual—at least as it relates to our ability to enhance the person’s overall charitable-giving experience. In turn, we can better predict and influence the individual’s long-term giving to our organizations.
In summary, the good news is that everyone is motivated by something, whether it be “selfish altruism” or satisfaction of some personal need, and there is a strong correlation between what someone hopes to experience and the choices he or she makes. When you understand someone’s need, you can develop an enhanced and customized engagement strategy for the purpose of establishing a more deeply bonded relationship with your constituents.
It takes a lot of work to know someone, so pick your “real friends” carefully and invest in getting to know the few that will always be on your side. When you do, the rewards will be great.
Greg Fox is vice president of nonprofit vertical strategy at Merkle. He joined the company in 2000 to establish a data-driven, strategic fundraising agency group. Fox is a 30-year veteran of direct response fundraising, with expertise in developing innovative fundraising marketing strategies and solutions. He has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for many of the largest and most respected fundraising brands in America, and while he has broad-based fundraising experience, he is highly regarded as a leader in the national health-charity sector. Prior to joining Merkle, Fox was a founding partner in TheraCom, a leading provider of full-service specialty pharmacy solutions and marketing strategies that served the healthcare and charitable industries. He also served as vice president of direct response fundraising at the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he started his career and created the organization’s first national direct response program. Fox is an industry thought-leader, frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active participant in the DMA nonprofit federation. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.