Previously published on GiveGab

What’s the key to fundraising success for nonprofits of all sizes?  Effective, consistent, and memorable engagement!

In the months of February through April 2019, GiveGab is sponsoring a series of engagement workshops with Matt Lehrman, an expert in audience engagement with a special focus on nonprofit organizations.

Matt Lehrman of Audience Avenue specializes in helping nonprofit organizations of every size and purpose find authentic and compelling ways to grow and strengthen their relationships with their constituencies.

Lehrman’s half-day workshop, ENGAGEMENT IS EVERYTHING™ is being presented by Candid West on April 2  with underwriting by GiveGab.

Matt provided us with more information about his workshop in the remainder of this blog article.  Continue reading to learn more or sign up following the linked dates outlined above! 

The Engagement Imperative

Every nonprofit organization is supported by the generosity of some combination of members, donors, friends, sponsors, followers, audiences, volunteers, or other kinds of contributors.

Those supporters invest their money, time, attention, resources, leadership, and passion, at least in theory, expect nothing back beyond the organization’s diligence to pursue its stated mission.  But we know better, right?

Your organization’s supporters absolutely do expect something in return – and, increasingly, those expectations far exceed the conventional appreciation of seeing their name in print.

Respect, recognition, and appreciation are the cornerstones of a basic “You Give/We Thank” approach to fundraising, but it’s wholly inadequate to the great challenges facing today’s nonprofit organizations:

  • To attract an ever-increasing number of supporters,
  • To deepen the quality of connection with supporters over time,
  • To cultivate a genuine and well-practiced culture of caring throughout your organization, and
  • To diversify your community’s support of your organization, now and for the future.

The “engagement imperative” is the place where a nonprofit’s fundamental need for supporter relationship intersects with supporters’ own cravings for meaning and enjoyment in their lives.  It’s a realm of tremendous opportunity! And the good news is that a google search of “How to Engage your Donors” reveals more than 35 million results, starting with “8 Ways to Better Engage…” and “6 Best Practices for Engaging…”

But before you jump into answering the question “how” to engage donors, let’s ask the question of “what” the function of engagement intends to achieve.

I suggest 3 goals:

1. Hold their Attention

The first priority of your nonprofit is to cut through the daily noise of incessant advertising and screaming news headlines.  Let’s face the fact that your organization is unlikely to ever win a competition for producing the loudest message. Thus, your competitive edge must emphasize quality over quantity, that is, it must deliver a highly-relevant message, told incredibly well.  And that message needs to play out, with consistency, over a potentially long period of time.

It’s time to think about your fundraising as akin to a season-long dramatic television show (and hopefully the kind that airs weekly and keeps you coming back for more, rather than the kind you binge in a single weekend.)  The relationship you offer can feature individual episodes (aka events, activities, and campaigns) but should also offer a season-long arc, that keeps your supporters emotionally connected to meaningful stakes.

2. Recognize What’s Meaningful

Have you ever interviewed your supporters and asked them why they support your organization?  It may seem obvious, but the answer is never, “Well, we just had so much money we decided to get rid of some of it.”  So why do nonprofits spend so much time and effort thanking contributors for their decision to donate?

Ask contributors why they support and it’s more likely that you’ll hear comments that reflect these essences:  “I don’t have the strength or equipment to rescue people from natural disasters, so I hire you to do it.”; “I don’t have skill (or stomach) to take care of the sick, so I entrust you to do it”;  “I don’t possess the expertise to conduct research, so let me invest in your efforts”; and “I don’t have the financial capacity to pay for your building, so join me with others to make that happen.”

With that understanding, you learn that contributors often don’t want to be thanked for their contribution, but would prefer instead to feel connected to what their contribution enabled the organization to accomplish.  Show them pictures, tell them stories, take them to see the results – but most of all enable your supporters to feel the satisfaction, that comes from being a meaningful part of the team that accomplished something significant.

3. Drive Loyalty

When you approach engagement on a systematic basis, it becomes obvious that a supporter’s experiences can and should be designed in sequence.  One experience leads to another. Momentum gathers and that momentum creates bonds – like gravitational forces – that keep supporters coming back to your organization.

A caveat here:  Automated systems and the rise of artificial intelligence are making it easier than ever to sustain automate your organization’s “dialogue” with supporters.  On the positive side, it enables a speed and volume of discourse that would be impossible for a live staff to achieve.

Though I’m not anti-technology, it’s critical that nonprofit leaders take care to design those systems in ways that respect the true heart of their organizations.  The quality of your organization’s sincerity in addressing its supporters should never be allowed to appear anything other than genuine.

In the ENGAGEMENT IS EVERYTHING™ workshop, we study a variety of frameworks for engagement – with the goal of describing a methodology that enables nonprofit organizations to deliver the precise nature of engagement that a supporter might want.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to engagement, save for this irrefutable fact:  If you’re not paying attention to deliver the engagement that your supporters want, someone else surely is.

Learn more about this workshop by contacting Matt Lehrman at Matt@audienceavenue.com or Marcy Ogborn at marcy@givegab.com.

About the Author(s)

Matt Lehrman Audience Avenue View Bio

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