Wake-Up Call: Your Supporters Expect More

by Katya Andresen

Dear Nonprofit Marketing Friends,

The biggest thing that needs to change this year is how we think about our donors. We are in the midst of an enormous generational shift that has major implications for our work. The Greatest Generation of older, civic-minded Americans who wrote checks out of a sense of duty and expected little more than a tax receipt in return is passing the torch to a far more demanding series of predecessors.

Boomers expect a sense of impact, and younger donors expect engagement and involvement. They are anything but passive. Think of it this way. Just as in marketing we have left the broadcast era where consumers passively take in promotional messages, we have left the low-expectation donor era.

That means it’s not enough to declare a need and send a thank-you. Today’s supporters increasingly expect engagement that makes them feel seen, heard and involved. They are not walking wallets or ATM machines. They are partners who expect a relationship with the organizations they support. They want to be talked to as individuals, thanked and updated.

This is especially true online. With most of what we do online – Facebook, Foursquare, gaming, etc. – being highly personal and extremely interactive, we have to provide a more intimate and involved experience for our supporters with our technological tools. Otherwise, you will alienate nearly everyone.

That means we have to completely reorganize not only our approach but also how our organizations are structured. We need to tear down the walls of our organizations’ technology, marketing, fundraising and communications departments and rebuild the organization of our people in a way that creates a completely supporter-centric experience. A supporter is a real person, not a volunteer vs. an online donor vs. an offline donor, and she expects to be treated as such.

If a complete reorganization is impossible, then at least consider how to reorganize your fundraising efforts with a focus on what a prospective supporter or donor experiences at each touch point with your organization. If you aren’t sure, role play. Have a Be Your Donor Day. Go to your website. As the donor, ask yourself: Is it apparent what your organization does? Do you see something that forges an emotional connection? Are there tools to share what you are seeing via social networks, right on the home page? Are the voices of donors and supporters clear in the content? Does the website feel like a community or a brochure?

Keep going. Donate online and offline. How and when are you thanked? What happens after that? Call your 800 number. Sign up for e-News. Tweet your support. What happens?

Be critical – because your donors will be.

Katya Andresen is COO at Network for Good and a regular blogger on non-profit marketing.