Communicating Value in a Whole New Way
For years, when I have read articles on communicating value to donors, they have typically focused on conveying gratitude or relaying accomplishments, making certain to give credit for those accomplishments to the donor. You know, something like “Thanks so much for your donation. You generosity made it possible for us to…”
But, in today’s day and age of social media and ecommerce-driven narcissism, we have all come to expect value in a new way - that every online experience is personalized to us - our needs, likes, dislikes, gender, past activities, etc. Heck, I can’t get websites to stop showing me that pair of boots I am thinking of buying from REI. I looked at them once and now they are following me everywhere, like one of those creepy portraits you see where the eyes stare at you no matter where you stand in the room.
Okay, the creepy painting metaphor may not quite be on target. Think of it this way: the most successful eCommerce sites with the most repeat customers, even for the smallest companies, do their best to present the information you want quickly, in a format most pleasing to you, with as much specificity in recommendations as they can provide given what they know about you. And, that is an extra value to you. You could go to another eCommerce site and maybe even get a cheaper price, but you keep going back to the one you enjoy using the most. I could buy that same brand of boot from someone other than REI, but I shop there first and foremost because of their corporate culture (their generous return policy, the membership savings, the way they treat employees, etc.) AND how the site works for me.
So, how does this new online customer value work for nonprofits?
I promise to give you detailed, actionable steps you can take in just a minute. But, first let me say this:
The Donation Experience - It’s Not as Simple as Processing a Credit Card (or signing a petition, or taking an action…)
At a high level, it boils down simply to thinking very long and very hard about the online experience a supporter has with your nonprofit from THEIR point-of-view. In the usual small- to mid-sized nonprofit and maybe some large ones, there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to think about anything but your immediate needs - the next email to be sent, reporting to the ED or board, program execution and success - but you have to remember the donor doesn’t see any of that.
The donor wants you to be successful, but they likely have no idea what it is like to be in your shoes nor do they care. I don’t know what happened to my barista before 9 a.m., I just want my Vente Vanilla Rooibos Skim Latte (I don’t drink coffee, might stunt my growth - ha). More than likely your donor just wants to give you money, feel good about it and move on with their day (same is true for online supporters of advocacy campaigns). So, while nothing requires them to stop and think about what it must be like to be in your shoes, you HAVE to stop and think what it must be like in their shoes. That’s simply what customer service is.
Think of it this way:
4 Steps to Good Online Donor Engagement (aka Customer Service)
In an ideal world, you could change your entire organization culture to a customer service model for supporters. But, we don’t live in an ideal world, we live in this one. So, let’s break down some very achievable steps you can take to shift your supporter engagement strategy and get better results right away.
1. The Donation Page
Online donation pages are the number one place I see most nonprofits struggle online with supporters. And, it should be the easiest to fix. To apply a customer service strategy to your online donation page, you should immediately ask yourself these two questions:
a) Does my donation page match my program/campaign ask?
For every different campaign you are running, or program, you should have a specific, customized donation page. Running a campaign around #GivingTuesday? Your donation page should specifically mention it. Currently promoting a program to save owls this week instead of your usual animal rights message? You should have a donation page that specifically mentions owls and shows pictures of owls. You need to give your supporter continuity in message and “signs” that they are in the right place, doing the thing you intended them to do. Taking them to a generic donation page, or worst, your homepage, will lead to confusion and drop-off. With Salsa, it is VERY easy to create new donation pages. There’s no reason not to do it.
b) Have I made the form/process as simple as possible?
Your donor doesn’t want to spend any more time clicking or typing than necessary. Heck, these days, it seems to be the primary form of exercise for most folks. So, get them through the donation (or petition, or sign-up) process as quickly as possible. And, arrange it as neatly as possible. If you aren’t using Salsa’s QuickDonate feature, then you are missing out on a GREAT customer service experience. What’s better for the supporter than just clicking a button in an email to make their donation? No further typing, no further clicking...just BOOM and they’re done.
2. Go Beyond a Thank You Email
Everybody and their sister sends a thank you email after a “customer” has completed a transaction online. Whether you are a small business, a nonprofit or a large corporation, sending a thank you, often with the receipt and sometimes after, is common. That’s not outstanding customer service. What is? Continuing to follow-up weeks or even months later to ensure your customer has gotten value. Now, that doesn’t mean sending a generic newsletter about what your nonprofit has been doing lately. Instead, I am suggesting that you think about what the donor or supporter needs are. Those can include anything from guides on where they can learn more about local elections, advice for buying environmentally conscious products for less, or maybe parenting tools for raising their kids to be involved citizens. All of those things can be part of a standard welcome series for new supporters or returning supporters without a lot of work. Using Salsa’s automation features you can just build it, set it up with scoring or groups as necessary, and let it run. That’s good customer service without a big investment.
3. Retention through Content Marketing
Content marketing can be useful for finding new supporters, engaging donors online and nurturing your “customers” with marketing automation like I just mentioned. In short, it means you create valuable content for your customer and provide it to them at no charge or as a thank you for taking action/making a donation. Many nonprofits give gifts like coffee mugs for donations, but what if you could give something that is unique to your organization? Then, they form a relationship with you based on customer service that only you can provide. For example, EWG publishes a list of sunscreens each year that are safe for your families - free of harmful toxins. That content is a form of customer service - it provides value to the donor beyond the “feel good” of making a donation, and they are uniquely equipped to provide it. It also attracts new donors and supporters by word of mouth, social sharing and search engine optimization - all that happens organically because of the quality content. Even if your organization is small, there can be unique information that only you can provide and without large investments. We created a short video class on content marketing that goes further into the how/who/what of content marketing. It’s short and provides practical advice on how even a small nonprofit can create valuable content.
4. Social Loves Email
In my twenty-plus years of marketing for organizations big and small, for-profit and non-profit alike, the advances brought through social media have been the most world-changing. Being able to easily have a dialogue with customers is incredible. And, even better, to use social media as a market research tool. Think about it. At one time, the only way to know what your supporters cared about, what was happening in their lives, or get any form of two-way communication was VERY costly. Social media and the advent of social listening tools give us real, actionable information in real-time. Using social listening, you can see what topics your supporters are discussing right now in social media, which supporters are your most active advocates, and the reach/influence of those supporters, all without leaving your desk. And, even better, you can then use that information to provide better customer service - focus your communications on what matters most to your supporters, use the social platform they prefer, send messages to specific groups based on their interests (not your agenda), answer supporter questions & concerns in real-time, address bad information that is being spread...the possibilities are almost endless. Isn’t that the ultimate in customer service? Totally focusing your conversation with supporters on what matters to them most, when they want to talk and in what medium?
Even though I tried to boil down a customer service strategy for online donors and supporters into a few actionable steps, I still somehow managed to give you a lot of information. So, if you want me to go deeper into any of these areas or have questions, please feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will respond as soon as possible. You know me, I am all about customer service (pun intended).
Let me leave you with this slightly modified quote (I substituted “donor” for “customer”):
“A [donor] is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”- tentatively attributed to Mahatma Ghandi