By Kenneth Allen
As a former endurance athlete, I’ve seen or employed dozens of effort management and improvement techniques (i.e. training programs). There are lots of ways to get better and all of them have some kind of marginal gain to offer. However, the best advice I ever received was, “Race your strengths and train your weaknesses, Kenny”. Your organization’s fundraising strengths are not unlike the strengths of an athlete, a performer, or a surgeon.
Without a doubt, your organization has many strengths above and beyond your fundraising strengths.
Your mission is the reason you do what you do. It is the reason you raise money, awareness, advocacy, or volunteerism in the world.
Your staff is a critical strength, too. They have so much passion that they’ve made your mission their work. They are advocates for you in their own family and social circles too, just by virtue of working towards your mission.
Another strength is your supporters, whether they’re donors, volunteers, letter-writers, event registrants, members, or prospects for larger opportunities. This strength isn’t as easy to predict or control, though. Or is it? There is little magic to control or predict your supporter’s actions, but persona development can tighten your understanding of your support base.
How well do you know your supporters?
Do you know why someone loves your mission and chooses to give their time and money to you? The simplest way to learn about your supporters is not necessarily the easiest–ask them. It is not necessarily the easiest because there is a myriad of reasons why someone supports you. Instead of asking an open ended question like, “Why do you like what we do?” offer options like, “Have you taken advantage of our services?” or “Have you or someone you know been affected by [cause]?”
You could also seek research from any companies that provide data on points like giving to other nonprofits or even magazine subscriptions. Data points like that are a wealth of information to your marketers.
“Hey, did you know that 36% of our donors also subscribe to [XYZ] magazine? Let’s increase our ad-buy there to see if we can get a 3 point lift!”
If you also happen to find out that a great deal of your supporters shop at a specific retailer, your corporate relations team would probably like to hear that. Perhaps a partnership is in your future!
Finally, one other route to learn about your donors is inside your own four walls–your donor support team that talks to your donors, volunteers, advocates, event registrants, and those interested all day. They probably have very solid opinions about who your donors are. They also know how people have responded to your mission, your partnerships, and your marketing. Hold an internal knowledge share with those front-line/back-office team members to hear what makes your supporters tick.
Train your weakness, race your strength with Persona Development
Persona development is a valuable tool for determining where you do well in your fundraising activities, but also where you can do even better.
For example, if your mission focuses on childhood health, then parents are likely excited about your cause. What about grateful grandparents? Classmates? Aunts and uncles? What about young people who are not yet able to donate money but can give you their time? Do you have something in place to appeal to those segments of your supporters? What is it that is important to them and will get them engaged enough to donate when they do have a bit more disposable income?
In the past, I’ve organized personas with nicknames or even favorite ice cream flavors. When you’re having a conversation internally about campaigns, it helps when you can refer to ‘give back’ers, ‘want to make a difference’ers, or ‘positively affected by our mission’ers.
Through persona development, you can put a more concrete visage on your supporters and test various efforts to see what really resonates with them.
Kenneth Allen is the Senior Product Manager for NGO Connect at roundCorner. With over 18 years of experience in nonprofit technology, Kenny guides product requirements and development to help nonprofits build life-long relationships with constituents. A former competitive cyclist, he’s pictured here ten minutes before he won the TN state championships!