If you have not taken a hard look at the messages you have been sending your most valued donors over the past six to twelve months, go grab a few samples, sit down with them and put yourself in the shoes of your donor. Read the messages one at a time (in the sequence they were sent) and think about how you reacted to each one. If you see lots of repetition, nothing new or surprising, you are not effectively communicating with your most important supporters and are sending them a message (however unintentional) that they are not all that important to you.
While there is some truth in the marketing adage,” keep repeating your message” so recipients know who you are and recognize your mission and purpose, another truth is that your most loyal and generous donors deserve something more from your organization.
Smart organizations know that their most valued donors deserve timely, accurate information and stories that illustrate the impact of their generosity that go beyond the already tired messages that were shaped months ago for a generic brochure or a direct marketing appeal. If you want to keep your major donors engaged, part of your strategy must be to invest in routinely securing key facts and fresh stories of your work that reinforce for your donors why they got involved in the first place.
For many organizations where the actual work often happens at a great distance from the communicators, the disconnect between great work and effective messaging about it results in weak marketing and donor disengagement.
What can be done? The solution is simple yet requires two elements that are too often in short supply in the nonprofit sector: a serious investment in the resources needed to unearth and capture great stories and a story-management/data system that buckets stories and related facts by target audience interest and organizational priority. Demand that field staff communicate their great stories. Get other staff to back up the stories with key data points. Make it part of staff members’ annual review to submit stories routinely and to provide important factual information to take the story beyond the specific and give it greater meaning. Give the best and most prolific story tellers acknowledgement. Celebrate the work they find and the effort they make to bring it into your communications program.
With the New Year just weeks away and New Year’s resolutions under consideration, make story telling a serious initiative for your organization in 2011. If you keep no other resolution, this one will pay off week after week, year after year, and once it is in place and functioning, you will look back and ask yourself, “Why didn’t we do this years ago? Why did we let inertia and negativity win out over something so valuable? ”
Gail Hyman is a marketing and communications professional who currently focuses her practice, Gail Hyman Consulting, on assisting Jewish nonprofit organizations increase their ranks of supporters and better leverage their communications in the Web 2.0 environment. Gail is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.