Chances are, if you are reading this blog, I don’t have to convince you how much contributed income is a vital component to a non-profit arts organization’s survival in our rapidly, evolving world. The good news is that we are not alone in knowing that importance: our donors know it too.
In fact, according to 2018 Charitable Giving Statistics, the Arts, Culture and Humanities saw an increase of 8.7% to $19.51 billion in charitable giving from 2017. Across the board, this upwards trend is fueled by individual giving.
According to What Americans Say About the Arts in 2018 Report 81% believe the Arts are a “positive experience in the world,” 73% believe the Arts give them “pure pleasure to experience and participate in,” 69% believe the Arts “lift me beyond everyday experiences.” With experiences leading the charge to why Americans invest in the Arts, are we as leaders in the Arts, taking into consideration how to shape the giving experience? Are we instilling donor loyalty? Let’s take some time to get to know what our donors value, communicate based on their behaviors, provide updates on how their impact is helping our organizations thrive and celebrate the generosity in order to grow and deepen our community.
The resulting goal is to have donors contributions become “sticky”. Granted, the technical term is “renewable” but “sticky” has far better imagery of creating relationships and gifts that stick with our organizations each year. If we look at giving from the donor’s perspective, we can naturally understand when a gift becomes meaningful. What sticks with us is not the sole act of giving, but when we know our giving made a difference, when it becomes a part of our heads and our hearts.
The average donor retention rate was 45.5%, as reported by the 2018 Fundraising Effectiveness Report, which means less than half of all donors who supported an organization did so again. Why might donors be leaving? Or just as important; why did donors give in the first place? Was it due to a recent program they attended? Or perhaps they received a call to action in the mail? Perhaps a friend reached out and asked them to give or something specific happened in their life.
Upon meeting and interacting with donors it’s important to develop authentic relationships; let’s get to know them beyond the dollars they share with us. Too often we begin conversations by promoting our organization’s upcoming programming to spearhead the interaction and create donor excitement. Whereas, Michael Kaiser suggests spending the first conversation with donors listening to their interests and then aligning those interests to projects that are planned over the course of the next five years. Not sure how to get started? Nonprofit consultant Simone Joyaux offers close to two dozen questions to begin a conversation that leads to deciphering the values and beliefs of our donors.
An additional approach to seeking out ways to create sticky giving is through Abila’s Donor Loyalty Study in which 1,136 donors in the U.S. were surveyed to better understand donor behavior and what drives donor loyalty. Insights of the study can be viewed by clicking on this video.
Today’s donors expect organizations to communicate in timely, relevant, and personal ways. We can use the word “you” a thousand times in a direct mail piece and still miss the mark if it’s not information a donor cares about, or if it’s presented in a format that doesn’t match their preferred communication channel. For example, build a sticky email by using the actions or engagements of the donor and personal demographic information by segmenting based on gift level, or any other engagement metric.
Additionally, In this age of content bombardment, people want content that is concise and simple. From there, if their interest is sparked in a topic, they may want to go deeper and seek out long-form content. But, primarily, they want what communications to be quick and easy. Delving deeper into the Donor Loyalty Survey reveals the top four preferable content types of donors to be:
- Short, self-contained email with no links (75 percent)
- Short letter or online article (73 percent)
- An email with links to other articles (65 percent)
- Short YouTube video (60 percent)
When looking to deepen donor relationships, research suggests that we should start by taking a close look into how our donor’s are currently spending their time with us. Lynne Wester, The Donor Guru, believes organization’s need to prioritize making each donor feel special for each act of generosity rather than the amount of the gift. She advocates for focusing communication by where donors give and how donors give; creating messages that are geared toward donor behavior. What makes them special? Donors don’t want to hear about everything we do equally, they want to hear what they make possible.
Donors don’t just want to be asked for money; they expect you to follow up and tell them exactly how you used that money. 56% of donors are most likely to give repeatedly to an organization if they receive regular communication about the work the organization is doing and the impact of their donation according to the 2018 Giving Trends Report.
By sharing stories of the impact of their current giving we can inspire future giving. It’s not just about “the ask,” it’s also about “the tell.” Haley Bodine offers several insightful ways to share donor impact.
- Use social media to regularly post real impact stories
- Dedicate a portion of your website to communicate donor impact
- Utilize impact metrics and stories in letter and email communications
By amplifying the existing support, we continue to cultivate a donor experience that represents how much their support helps make a difference. For example, Nothing But Nets tells donors that a small donation of $10 will buy a bed net to protect someone from malaria. This shows donors the tangible results that just a few dollars can achieve; motivating them to keep contributing. Annual impact reports such as the ones Inner City Arts shares their website builds credibility in the minds of the donor. The benefit of such communication is a continued effort to cultivate and inspire donors to continue partnering and investing with you in the future.
Every donor can have a donor journey with our organizations and it’s up to us as Arts Leaders and Development Professionals to recognize their giving and reward the practice. Ultimately, it boils down to respect. By respecting our donors enough to get to get to know them as people and appreciate them we can begin to create meaningful connections between our donors and our work that brings them closer to our mission and thereby creates a stronger sense of engagement. By giving gratitude and sharing impact we can make sticky connections with our donors and in turn they will become advocates to others about our organization. After all, we all like to share what makes us feel good and how we can make a difference.