Imagine a group of potential donors driving several hours and paying for an immersive experience in your mission. Then imagine providing such a terrible experience that they leave confused about what you do and why you do it, regretting that they wasted their time.
Seems unlikely, but it describes a day I recently spent with a reforestation project in Costa Rica. And it highlights three key lessons that should apply to every nonprofit.
#1 – Don’t Promise What You Can’t Deliver – If we’d just visited the website we would have come away convinced this nonprofit is doing excellent work with local farmers and landowners planting sustainable crops and trees to sequester carbon. Based on the website, we likely would have taken them at their word, and simply made an online contribution to offset the carbon impacts of our trip.
But no…………..they offered really exciting immersive experiences. We fell for it. And they failed to deliver.
#2 – Hone Your Message – Can you imagine spending five hours and coming away understanding even less than when you started? I can. The problem started from the beginning, when it became clear there was no elevator speech summarizing what this organization did.
If you can’t summarize your mission in a few sentences, then how can you hope to engage a donor?
Beyond the elevator speech, any site visit should illustrate the problem you’re in business to fix, and illustrate that problem with urgency. Then lead directly to your solution to the problem, using storytelling to make your solution come to life.
We all need narrative to structure information. Don’t make us struggle to construct our own narrative from your random outpouring of information.
#3 – Train Your People – Not every staff member has the skills and personality to engage donors. And that’s fine. Select your staff carefully, and then be sure to train them well – enthusiasm and bubbly personality isn’t a substitute for skill. The staff member needs to understand they represent the organization, not themselves. So gratuitously offering personal opinions on the organization’s finances, the role of global agribusiness and the impact of astrology on farming detracts from the organization’s mission and message. (It also made me want to jump out of the van and risk plummeting to my death in a ravine.) Good speakers know to balance the amount of time talking and the amount of time listening. Solicit feedback from your donors – and adjust your approach. They’re telling you how to be successful – why ignore them?
And the final fail was no follow up – after arranging this experience well in advance, paying for it, and then spending several hours on site, we never heard another word from the organization.
Not. One. Word.
Use this worst case example to audit your own donor engagement experiences:
- Do you accurately set expectations before the donor arrives?
- Do you have clear compelling messages that are more than just a recitation of how hard your organization works?
- Is whoever will be guiding the donor well chosen and well trained?
- Do you know the follow up plan before the donor steps through the door?