Save Yourself! Don’t Use ‘Donor’ as a Segment
We regularly speak with clients about how they talk to supporters to activate or “prime” their identities as people who support their organizations. We’re often asked if reminding donors that they are a “donor” or a “volunteer” is a good idea.
The answer is always the same: “Well, no.”
That’s because by labeling them merely as a “supporter,” you are defining your relationship by virtue of a transaction: donor, supporter, volunteer fundraiser, etc. It doesn’t address the values and beliefs that motivated the person to engage with the organization in the first place. Compare “donor” to “Wildlife Champion” for example. Feels cold.
But regrettably, that’s the unit of analysis that is often applied to supporters — are they a volunteer fundraiser, single donor, annual donor, regular donor, monthly donor, major donor? It’s all about the transaction.
Maybe, you’d say, calling someone a “donor” or “volunteer” acknowledges the part of one’s identity that motivates that person to give back to society, to behave in a way that benefits the greater good. And while you might be right, that puts you in competition with the million-plus other nonprofit missions through which the person could choose to express a sense of largess. Why your organization, why now? The “donor” identity attribute has nothing to do with your organization specifically. That’s why “donor” doesn’t work.
The transaction should be the beginning of your focus on the supporter, not the be-all-end-all. Unfortunately, only about 20% of first-time donors make a second gift to an organization. Increasing this number requires that we understand the values and beliefs that resulted in the initial behavior.
Supporters need to be taken on a journey that presents them with identity primes that are consistent with the organization’s goals. It’s a sophisticated strategy that requires more than a simple transactional understanding of the individual. Instead, we are suggesting you focus on the values and beliefs that the donor can express through engaging with the nonprofit.
As Francesco Ambrogetti describes in his new (highly recommended) book, “Hooked on a Feeling”:
We engage with a cause and expect it to fulfill the values and identities we choose and believe. … we want to be what we support, and really promote change.
Why is community building so important in solidifying a supporter’s identity as a warrior for (insert your cause)?
One of the things that shapes a person’s identity is the memory of their experiences. Unfortunately, events are anemic in terms of providing opportunities for participants to engage with the nonprofit and have a variety of positive, reinforcing experiences.
But, providing people with a community where they can express the beliefs and values they have in common with an organization is a different animal.
Take the community created on a Facebook group page for an event, for example. GoodUnited reports that the average group participant takes an average of 20 actions (comments or posts) during each event. That’s a lot of engagement. It should also tell us that it’s a great way to replicate the in-person fundraising experience online.
But it’s more than that. When people chat with other like-minded individuals, they feel more a part of the organization’s community. And more engaged people stick around; they are more likely to consistently fundraise, donate, show up for new events and even—wait for it—organize fundraising initiatives on their own.
In addition to reinforcing supporters’ identities, community engagement is a way for nonprofits to cast a wider net. For example, “The 2021 Giving Experience Study," new research from OneCause, reports that donors are more than twice as likely to hear about a social giving opportunity through a friend, family member, or colleague than from a nonprofit directly. That statistic alone should tell us that the future is in building communities.
Active participation in a community and a feeling of identity are mutually reinforcing. The result of this virtuous cycle is commitment, longevity, and the ever-elusive high lifetime value.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a book, "Dollar Dash," on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.