Engaging Tomorrow’s Donor (Part III)

by Marc Chardon and Hal Williams

In part one and part two of this blog series, we introduced the concept of supporter shift and explored how people today are searching for something very different when they engage with nonprofits, particularly those who have grown up with the immediacy we get from technology.

Stepping back for a minute, you might ask what’s different in how people are interacting and what they’re expecting.

  • First, communication and the search for information are happening in real time.
  • Second, the greatly shortened message size enforced by tools like Twitter leaves us little room to be abstract. Users get to the point, quickly. Conversation is more literal and honest.
  • Third, responsiveness is expected, all the time. After all, if we can ask for information in real time, we also expect an answer right back.

All of this means that nonprofits can no longer treat supporters like they treated donors; as episodic participants that they may have only asked for donations or sent a report to once a year. The good news is that the time spent in building and participating in engagement can pay off handsomely.

Nonprofits want donors. They depend on volunteers. They need ambassadors. And they require participants willing to change their behavior to get to the human gain they are committed to achieving. Only one kind of person can play many, if not all of these roles. That person is a nonprofit’s supporters. They are foremost prospects for volunteering and can often help (within a careful structure) do jobs now done by paid staff, at times with more energy. They are ambassadors with not only belief but credibility. They have led by personal example. And they can become participants. Susan G. Komen for the Cure has an annual race hosted by its Triangle North Carolina affiliate to support breast cancer programs, research and prevention. They are now asking all 25,000 participants to commit personally to getting a breast cancer screening annually and ask a friend to do so, as well. That’s a significant number toward program success.

In the end, if nonprofits cultivate true supporters, they will end up with brand ambassadors who amplify their message, who give their time and money, and who become “friendraisers” for the organization. The supporter and the purpose will become intertwined, and the nonprofit will be the beneficiary of the resulting passion.

Like it or not, the Boomers won’t be in charge forever. Members of Generation X – often that lost group people fail to talk about – are stepping into leadership roles as thousands of Boomers leave the workforce each day. And Millennials are not far behind, beginning to show what they can do, the impact they can make, and how different they are. As this shift happens in the world, supporter shift is happening throughout the nonprofit sector. The degree to which it will help or hurt is up to the investment nonprofits make in understanding their younger supporters, and the long journey they could and should make with you.

Download the complete paper that inspired the Supporter Shift blog series.

Marc Chardon is CEO of Blackbaud, Inc., a software and services provider for nonprofits. Hal Williams is the former CEO of The Rensselaerville Institute and currently an Outcome Guide who has assisted foundations and nonprofits utilize an outcome-based approach.

This article first appeared on The Huffington Post. It can also be found on npENGAGE, a new online resource for nonprofit news, trends and best practices.