Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to Create Meaningful Donor Experiences vs. Average Donor Events

Golf outings, 5Ks, fancy galas, campaign kickoffs, recognition dinners, open houses, the list of all-too-common donor events goes on. But how many of us are doing it right? When was the last time an event exceeded your organization’s goals for participants or dollars raised? More importantly, when was the last time your donors walked away from an event feeling truly inspired?

Creating meaningful, donor-focused experiences is key to cultivating, stewarding, and engaging our donors. We need to examine if and how our events are making donors feel more connected to our mission, start creating experiences that foster meaningful relationships, and stop focusing so intently on the number of tickets sold and bodies in chairs. But how?

Our friends at Bloomerang published a groundbreaking study earlier this year, and folks, it is awesome. Here's why:
  • It’s the first study of its kind that points to key factors that distinguish outstanding events from average ones
  • It examined events using both theoretical and practical approaches
  • Findings come from case studies of organizations that have doubled or tripled their # of attendees and/or the amount of money raised in a ten-year period or less
  • The study is full of success stories, advice, and examples from interviewees

Many interviewees shared that their organization’s focus had shifted from the content of the event to what the supporter would experience as they participated in the event, an idea that those of us at the DRG Group can get behind 110%. The study is long and detailed (it even gets into motives, human needs, and psychology), so I’ve highlighted a few things I found particularly helpful below.

Tips for Creating a Donor Experience:

  • Give donors an opportunity to interact with the mission – Is there something they can touch, feel, see, or hear that will result in a unique and meaningful experience?
  • Take them on a journey – What’s the narrative of your event? What do the people who benefit from your organization experience? How do your supporters change or improve that experience for them? Take the donor on a journey and make it deeply personal and immersive.
  • Customize the experience – No one wants to go to the same exact event year after year. How can you individualize the experience for your donors? Even if it’s an annual gala, what can you do to make it a different experience each year?
  • Include these 6 key elements called “the experience pyramid" – that are essential to creating an experience:
    • Individuality – How can you make the event personal for each donor
    • Authenticity – How can you make the experience genuine? Is it in line with who you are as an organization, and who your donors believe you are?
    • The story – What’s the overall message you want donors to understand? The story is what ties all of the other elements together to create a truly meaningful experience
    • Multi-sensory perception – This one is interesting: What will donors see? Smell? Hear? FEEL? Even taste?
    • Contrast – This is what I would consider the surprise and delight aspect. How can you contrast what an attendee might have been expecting? What makes this experience different or special to them?
    • Interaction – How connected are you making the donor feel to your organization, the mission, and the beneficiaries of their generosity?

Lynne recently worked with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on a campaign launch event called, Join the Journey. She and her team created an inspiring, immersive experience for donors. Check out the video and photos from the event below.

The Join the Journey kick-off event exemplified what it means to create an experience rather than hosting a typical event. Do you think any of those donors had ever been to an event like that? Doubtful. It was uniquely UT and included all of the key elements necessary to create a memorable evening for donors.

How can you take these tips and use them to generate new, authentic, and exciting ideas for your organization? Bloomerang provided some suggestions for that as well.

Tips for Identifying New Ideas:

  • Internal sources – Start here. Findings revealed that internal sources tend to yield better ideas when it comes to creating meaningful events. It makes sense. After all, internal stakeholders should know your organization better than anyone. You can generate new ideas internally by:
    • Talking to supporters, employees, and/or volunteers
    • Listening to complaints and use them guide new ideas
    • Conducting a focus group with supporters and other stakeholders
    • Hosting team-based and individual brainstorming sessions
    • Organizing creativity sessions (using tools like SWOT analysis or idea generation templates)
    • Asking for insight from senior managers
  • External sources – It can be a struggle to get internal stakeholders to think outside the box. To get out of the “this is how we’ve always done things” mindset, consider these ideas:
    • Talk to people who are involved in other charities
    • Look at what other charities are doing
    • Attend a conference or convention –The DRG Group is hosting a donor relations conference and events workshop in Dallas November 30 - December 1!
    • Look at professional trade associations (e.g. AFP), fundraising blogs, websites, or magazines
    • Read a fundraising book, like one of these
    • Hire a creative agency, idea consultant, fundraising consultant, or donor relations consultant – we like this one!
    • Look to suppliers for new ideas – Vendors often have access to cutting-edge technology and new products you can implement (or that will at least get the creative juices flowing)

Try using a mixture of both internal and external sources. Look externally for new ideas and then turn to internal resources to help you make it an authentic experience that will resonate with your supporters.

Are you currently planning an event? What are you doing to make it a donor-centered and meaningful experience? Do you agree with the findings from this study? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

You can download the full Bloomerang study here:

I hope you enjoyed this post from DRG Group contributor, Ashley Rowe.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Demonstrating Donor Impact

Throw out those boring annual reports, get rid of your lists of donors and invite your donors further into their giving experience by allowing them to learn the true impact of their giving. I say this all of the time to my audiences, and it can sometimes be a leap to go from bragging about your organization and talking all about the wonderful work you do to showcasing the donor and the amazing things they make possible. So how do you write impact for donors? You draw them in, you show them your organization is vulnerable and that they are the protagonist in your story and turn them into your hero. Remembering that donors want three things, they want access, information and experiences, you need to turn your communications into delivery vehicles for that. Dive them deep into the beneficiary's lives, allow them to have insider information and have your communications come alive with experiences they haven't seen yet.

I've been seeing some great examples of just this lately- take a look at IMPACT, the campaign impact magazine from my friend Anne Bottieri and the team at UCF. 
The prose is impressive the impact powerful, the humanity of it comes across with every turn of the page. This is something that donors can look forward to, a piece that demonstrates in words and images their impact and the importance of thought leadership on philanthropy.

With a completely different approach and one that nails it is from my Canadian friends in BC at the University of Victoria- In its PDF form here, the report has powerful design and great quotes that draw the reader into the text. The text pops off of the page and the storytelling is supreme. The photography is immersive, as if you are there alongside those you are supporting- and look at the way they talk to donors:

So how do you make the switch from the traditional approach to an enlightened world of impact and humanity? One step at a time. First you have to get rid of the old standard way you've been writing for years and also get rid of the lists and self puffery. Get rid of the letter at the beginning of the report from your HIPPO (Highest Paid Person in the Office) No one needs another self aggrandizing letter they will skip in the beginning. Instead start and end with donors, demonstrate their brilliance and their foresight. Be human, be vulnerable and allow personality to infuse your writing. It doesn't have to be so sterile, clinical and institutional. Bring warmth to the table, talk plainly and simply and powerfully and the donors will follow you down the path of gratitude and impact. 

What do you do to draw your donors into the world of impact? What inspires you to demonstrate the power of their generosity? I would love to hear more from you on impact-


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Greetings and Salutations

In a continuing effort to stretch our consciousness about what matters to our donors, greetings and salutations remains a hot button item. Do you have greetings and salutation standards at your organization? Are they inclusive? Are they aware of this century? More often than not, I find that a simple mistake in a greeting or salutation can have a large impact on the donor experience. 

Of course, one of the hottest debates out there is who comes first? Not a Marx brothers comedy, it's about how you address envelopes, the order of the names in your letters and even more. What seems like a small detail can have large ramifications. I myself am sick of coming into organizations and seeing the classic 1950s version of a couple's combined formal greeting: Mr. and Mrs. John Smith. 
Where is Jane in this picture? Yes, John and Jane have been married for 20 years but when did she stop being seen as an equal partner? Times change and so should your greetings.

Completely erasing the woman in the relationship and undermining her presence in the philanthropic world. Ignoring the fact that women make 76% of the giving decisions.  Seems a bit short sided and altogether antiquated. I grew up in the south, where women always came first, from ordering food at dinner to entering a door to greetings. I always list the woman first for many reasons but also because I was taught never to separate a man from his last name.

It should be 

Mrs. Jane Smith or
Mr. John Smith

Mrs. Jane and Mr. John Smith or

Jane and John Smith 

Some of you may have the person that goes first be the person with the deepest connection to your organization- it's up to you, but you need a standard. And it needs to be consistent. How you address an envelope across a university or an organization is not dependent on what department send the mailing, it's the donor's preference. My favorite reference on the topic is a book from the DC Protocol school-

Also remember if the woman has a formal title, she ALWAYS comes first-
Dr. Monica Weber
Mr. Chris Weber

How do you address partners who are not married? Is your organization constantly using the word spouse and leaving partner out? How do you greet people of the same sex in a letter? Stacked greetings work well here: 

Mr. Alain Raj
Mr. Joseph Stone

And whose name is first- it's alpha order by last name!

I urge you to take a look at your greetings and salutations and look for your blind spots. For example, how many of you have a gender neutral greeting prefix of Mx. in your database? If not, why not? All databases allow for this option. Is gender in your database a binary choice? Why?

All this being said, some people have preferences, and they will express them to you. Once they have, you should follow them, even if it means going against your set guidelines. And remember, dear friend or dear alumni is NEVER ever a good idea!!

When is the last time your organization modernized and examined your greetings and salutations? How have you been able to change your protocol to adapt to a modern world?
I would love to hear your thoughts, questions or advice!