Friday’s Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference started off with a heartfelt call to action by speaker Stacey Monk of Epic Change. After relaying the challenging personal story that brought her from the corporate boardroom to a nonprofit, she gave an emotional call to return “love” to the front and center of why we come to work each day. This message spilled over into many of the day’s unconference sessions. The Salsa-led session on donor engagement was no exception. Below are four takeaways that emerged on how best to cultivate engaged donors over time:
1) Make a tangible ask and bring out the “bling”
Participants agreed that we need to connect donation asks to tangible and immediate benefits for both beneficiary communities and donors themselves. For the former, this means tying the donation to the direct alleviation of a need. Examples could be five dollars for a mosquito net or $100 for a goat.
On the donor side, the term “donor bling” was coined to describe donor gifts that they can wear with pride after donating. One example was the Blue Key Campaign of the USA for UNHCR. For a five dollar donation, the donor gets a blue key pin. The wearing of the pin shows they’ve donated; but more importantly, it publicly illustrates their alignment with the refugee cause.
2) Impact reporting: Creating a two-way conversation
There was agreement that long-term donor engagement requires excellent reporting on the impact of donations. In the Epic Change example, a two-way conversation takes place routinely between social entrepreneur Mama Lucy and any donors who follow her Twitter feed. Helping local organizations learn to communicate to donors directly through social media is one way to provide immediate, real-time feedback on impact.
3) Getting out of peoples’ way: Dollars aren’t the only way to give
One participant acknowledged that getting somebody to donate $5 is easy. It’s getting them to get personally involved that is much, much harder.
At Crisis Commons, in response to the Haiti Crisis, they found a community ready to donate all kinds of relevant skills, time, physical space etc. As an organization, they focused on getting the job done with volunteer resources and avoided individual fundraising. After demonstrating results, they secured a large-scale foundation grant, which will help them continue to grow and succeed.
4) The challenge of scale
A final theme that emerged was the challenge organizations face as they grow to scale. For example, it becomes increasingly difficult to tie individual donations directly to the provision of goods or services when an organization has an enormous budget. In relatively well-known case of Kiva, the nonprofit marketed the idea of donors giving microloans directly to beneficiaries. In practice, the loan wasn’t going directly to the recipient in real time. This caused PR issues when this was exposed to public scrutiny.
The Red Cross similarly has to be extremely careful in its donation asks. Haiti donation asks had to be very clear about requesting funds for "this emergency in Haiti and others like it," since fundraising was often going to cover expenses incurred at the outset of the crisis.
In good form, just as she started the conference, Stacey Monk brought her emotion and sought to cut through established assumptions. She asked why scalability is the goal of nonprofits in the first place. She interestingly cast doubt upon the assumption that economies of scale are appropriate for mission-oriented nonprofits the way they are for private businesses. Later that afternoon I found Stacey, gave her a huge hug, and asked: “When’s the book coming out?” I’d like to read that book.