Creating meaningful engagement with donors

Jay Hollister is, as he describes himself, a customer-experienced obsessed professional.

He began his career in the Business Process Outsourcing space, supporting contact center operations for the financial services sector. There he had the opportunity to wear many hats and really discover the many facets of client relations, customer experience and loyalty.

Then in 2014 he made his shift to the non-profit sector and joined the Canadian Red Cross.  As the CRC’s Senior Director of Customer Experience, Jay oversaw their donor and customer service shops, their donor insight and stewardship as well as their customer experience marketing.

Over the next couple of blog posts, Jay will share some of the insights on donor experience and engagement that he’s learned along the way.

FD is thrilled to have him as a guest writer and we look forward to sharing his learnings with you.

It is a fixture of fundraising conferences (remember those?) around the world. Someone is going to say that retaining a donor is five times cheaper than acquiring a new one. People in the audience will write this down in the official conference notebook and nod along in agreement. Well, if that is true, then why hasn’t our focus shifted from an acquisition mindset to a retention focus? Fewer Canadians are donating, but those who are give more than ever. As an industry, our reaction has been middling at best.

We will throw some stewardship at the donor and be quite proud of ourselves. We reached out to the donor and didn’t even ask for money. We pat ourselves on the back. That should solve that retention problem, right? Well, of course not. What’s in it for the donor? Not much. In a world where we see hyper-targeted content all day, how can the charitable sector stand a chance if the only engagement we have with donors is to ask for more money?

What if we re-think our approach? What if real, meaningful engagement is the new acquisition? Gone are the days of the donor pyramid. You get a first donation and rush to a solicitation piece. You employ your trusty direct mail pack or email campaign to target this new donor. And then sort of hope that you ingratiate yourself with the donor and they decide to give you ever more money until they become a recurring or even a major donor. As though a supporter has time to care about the distinctions we make in our databases.

The new donor journey zigs and zags. Donors fall out of love with us. They find something new to support. They might come back because of something they see on social media, TV, a solicitation they receive, or maybe when your mission becomes relevant to them. That doesn’t mean that they will never donate to you again. It means that you need to commit to being relevant and important in their day. You need to serve them up the thing that you do best – the thing that makes you stand out. Not as a break from your normal schedule, but as a cohesive plan that responds to what your donors do.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to share examples of donor engagement ideas you ought to try. Some are very low tech. Some are a bit more sophisticated. All are based on my own lived experience as a marketer and fundraiser. We will also talk about the principles that underpin the ideas themselves, to give you a tactical and strategic view of donor engagement for the long haul. In the end, that’s what we want: long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with our supporters.