Stay Relevant By Soliciting Supporter Input
Planet Philanthropy is Florida’s biggest annual educational conference for development professionals. I spent a day there this June absorbing knowledge from experts in a number of nonprofit specialties.
One of the things I love about the nonprofit industry is that people from large organizations with access to valuable resources are very often willing to share those resources with smaller organizations.
I experienced some of this generosity at Planet Philanthropy. The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) is a $24.4 million organization (according to its 2017 990). IGFA’s development director, Eric Combast, ran a session on the logistics of memberships at nonprofit organizations.
In my experience, every nonprofit that has a membership component conducts the membership process differently. Some send membership cards, others give tchotchkes as a benefit of membership. Certain types of organizations have “experiences” they can offer to members, such as meeting the cast backstage at a community theatre. According to Eric, IGFA’s long history (it was formed in 1939) has included many iterations of membership programs and deliverables.
This is where the sharing part comes in. IGFA was able to conduct a $90,000 survey of its worldwide membership, soliciting feedback on the reasons their members join and renew, as well as what benefits to membership hold value and which are less important.
The results of IGFA’s member survey were excellent and detailed and will help them strategically plan for the future of the organization and its membership base. Eric shared some of the details with us, revealing that members placed value in some unexpected areas and were surprisingly unconcerned with other topics.
The wants and needs of members vary widely by industry and type of nonprofit, of course. But IGFA’s membership survey reminded me that we should not assume we know what is important to other people. We may believe people engage in a particular activity for the networking, when the main motivation may actually be perceived prestige. Or we may expect that people would like a certain gift in return for their membership, when in fact they want membership dues spent on research or conservation.
We aren’t all in a position to hire outside firms to conduct detailed international surveys for our nonprofit, but we can all access SurveyMonkey or another similar product. The results may not be quite as scientific as what IGFA was able to secure, but the important thing is that we ask!
Nonprofits need to be flexible, open to new ideas and willing to change when appropriate. Soliciting supporter input on a regular basis will help organizations stay relevant and in touch with their base.
Tracy Vanderneck is president of Phil-Com, a training and consulting company where she works with nonprofits across the U.S. on fundraising, board development and strategic planning. Tracy has more than 25 years of experience in fundraising, business development and sales. She holds a Master of Science in management with a concentration in nonprofit leadership, a graduate certificate in teaching and learning, and a DEI in the Workplace certificate. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), an Association of Fundraising Professionals Master Trainer, and holds a BoardSource certificate in nonprofit board consulting. Additionally, she designs and delivers online fundraising training classes and serves as a Network for Good Personal Fundraising Coach.