If your organization serves the underprivileged, or provides international relief, you have a beneficiary base who will likely never have the ability to provide material financial support back to your organization. This is incredible, meaningful work but you don’t have the benefit of investing in a beneficiary base who will one day turn around and financially support you.
So how do you as an “open loop” organization–an organization in which a beneficiary and a donor will likely not be the same person–develop an acquisition strategy to find those new donors you so desperately need? Today I want to share three ideas for you to find new donors.
3 Strategies to Help Your Open Loop Organization Find More Donors
1. Be intentional about impressions.
The most expensive part of the acquisition process is the cost of the impression. In marketing, an impression is created and counted every time an advertisement is seen. In a nonprofit context, impressions come in the form of ads, a direct mail piece, a presentation to an audience (which would represent multiple impressions), an experience with the charity, or some other point of communication.
While closed loop organizations are able to save the expense of creating acquisition impressions (because prospective donors are reached every time they implement their mission), open loop organizations are required to invest in impressions to reach prospective donors. The quality of the impression, then, has everything to do with the success of the acquisition campaign. Impressions are needed with people who have the ability to give, are sympathetic to the plight of the beneficiaries being impacted by the organization, and are invited to respond in a way that minimizes friction while still facilitating ongoing communication and cultivation. Text-to-give may be an easy way for new donors to give to a cause (virtually frictionless), but if the organization doesn’t end up with the donor’s name and contact information, the gift is likely to be an episodic, transactional event and not the start of an ongoing donor relationship.
2. Invest in immersive experiences.
The more immersive the experience with the organization, the more likely the impression can result in a donor relationship. Ideally, the organization should get out of the way. Being a middle-man doesn’t help; the prospective donor knows the organization is important to the process. The greater need is to create a direct connection, a personal experience between the donor and the beneficiary. Strong impressions are created by bringing the prospective donor to the work, such as observing relief work firsthand, or volunteering time serving beneficiaries. When donors are unwilling or unable to go to the beneficiary, the beneficiary needs to be brought to the donor, and that experience needs to be as immersive as possible. I’ve seen organizations use web-based tools to help donors hear directly from the beneficiary. Compassion has a mobile “experience” in the form of a semi-truck they drive around the country and park for weeks at a time. That experience incorporates the sights, sounds, and smells consistent with the children donors sponsor. Pictures are good. Video is better. Giving the donor the ability to touch, hear, see, and smell something firsthand are best. This is why stories are so important. While it is important to communicate vision, we need to connect the donor intellectually and emotionally to the needs of the beneficiary. We struggle to wrap our emotions around the struggles of 100,000 people, but we can quickly be moved to tears through the vicarious experience of a single individual.
Because such interactions are brief, impressions hosted by people donors trust and respect are vital. Such peers bring influence which is critical to making a quick decision and taking action. Such engagements should be interesting, perhaps ever entertaining. While the work of most organizations is serious, it doesn’t mean the educational process should be dull or boring. While I would never advocate that we make light or fun of beneficiaries and their needs, Pursuant has had great success in finding unique and interesting ways to educate prospective donors concerning the needs our clients are addressing. While it is important to communicate vision, we need to connect the donor intellectually and emotionally to the needs of the constituent.
3. Maximize the ask.
The most effective, immersive experience cannot overcome a poor strategy for asking for and securing commitments and gifts. I’ve seen too many organizations provide outstanding, in-person experiences, only to fall short inviting people into a relationship, asking for their support, and securing gift information immediately. They ask at the beginning of an event before the donor has experienced the organization, or they ask at the end and hope the donor will go home, go online, and fill out a giving form…or they never ask at all, assuming the prospective donor “knows we need her support.” Hogwash. The ask should come on the heels of seeing what the organization does. You should be clear about the use of funds and the financial goal.
Use price handles if possible (“$10 covers a meal for a family of four”). Make it as easy to commit to a recurring gift as a single gift, and help the donor understand what a recurring gift will accomplish. If the ask is occurring at an actual event, the person making the ask should be recognizable and trustworthy. Provide a testimonial from a peer donor. Have your board present to convey their support. Direct everyone’s attention, with no distractions, and walk the donor through the response process and give them time to fill it out. Capture contact and giving information in the moment and make it as easy as possible.
Donors usually know right away whether they intend to give. When you give donors time to “think about their response” they may have every intention of going home and taking action. But best intentions are lost amidst the demands of everyday life. The experience itself is often insufficient impetus to follow through later. Collect responses at the event. The ask should come on the heels of seeing what the organization does.
Reaching new donors is one of the most challenging aspects of being a fundraiser. I encourage you to be intentional about every step of the process.
Whether you have an open loop or a closed loop donor acquisition model, learn more in depth strategies for reaching new donors in my content paper, Accelerate Your Acquisition: 10 Proven Principles for Reaching New Donors in an Increasingly Noisy World.