Modern Donor Stewardship Requires More Listening

Mckenna Bailey

Modern donor stewardship looks completely different than anything we’ve seen in the past. We’re not talking about smartphones and email. Those are technology trends your organization has already adapted to. We’re talking about something bigger, but much more subtle. In the last few years, we’ve seen what is possible in terms of understanding what your donor wants most from your organization. And yet, in 2018, individual donations dropped by more than 1%. 

How can nonprofits know more about the individuals in their donor base than any other era, and still fail to engage them or inspire generosity? We believe the biggest problem is organizations aren’t listening nearly enough. 

Requirements of the Modern Donor

One dangerous assumption made by some nonprofits is that modern donors means young donors. Often times, organizations assume that they can target older donors and worry about younger, modern donors when they get older. The problem is, the trends that have fundamentally changed the behavior and requirements of modern donors spans across generations. 

Let’s say your target donor is 62 years old. In 2018, there was a 79% chance that they owned a smartphone and used it daily. More importantly, there was a 62% chance they’re spending time in the hyper-curated world of Facebook. Of all the social media sites, Facebook offers the most personalized experience for all its users. Every time a user logs on, they are teaching Facebook exactly what people, products and companies they want to see (and which ones they want to ignore). 

As more people age into that target group of 62 year old donors, the likelihood that they expect to be catered to with personalized, relevant experiences by your nonprofit only grows. Keep in mind that Generation X starts turning 55 next year. This means that new retirees, typically those giving the largest sums to nonprofits, will include the generation that grew up with the Sony Walkman and other portable technologies. This is something that contributes to a greater likelihood that they adopt new technologies than their Boomer parents. 

Simply put, the world is different for everyone. Donors are in charge of their experience, and they will ignore you if you don’t meet their expectations. Each year that your organization ignores the need for personalized donor stewardship strategies, the more difficult it will be to grow generosity from the individual donor. 

Modern Donor Stewardship Best Practices

The question still remains: what does modern donor stewardship look like? How can nonprofits create a personalized experience that matches the likes of Netflix with a fraction of the resources? It’s much easier than you think. In fact, you probably already have many of the tools that you need to succeed.

Listen More

The basis of donor stewardship in today’s world can be boiled down to one thing: listen more. That means listen more frequently, and pay attention  to more than just a few key individuals. Donors are giving you new information about themselves every day. To ignore them is to prevent your nonprofit from growing in the future. 

You can physically listen more by interacting more frequently with your individual donors in person. Attend more events, make more phone calls or visit more donors. If you have the resources, there is no better way to make your individual donors feel valued and included in your mission. However, if you can’t scale those strategies, reporting metrics can supplement your efforts so that you are listening to each individual donor as often as possible. 

Pay attention to the types of engagements that inspire the biggest reaction — good and bad. Modern donor stewardship is not just about doing more of what you know works. More importantly, it’s about improving the negative experiences so that you’re providing the most value to your donors at every touchpoint. 

Many nonprofits pull engagement reports on their marketing campaigns and email them to the larger group. Successful nonprofits prioritize dissecting the reports, listening to the feedback from their donor base and optimizing their efforts.

Use Your Stewardship Plan for Major Donors

Major donors have always been the exception to your donor stewardship plans. Representatives at your organization likely know every relevant detail of your major donors, including what motivates them, what interests them and the best times to talk to them. In order to connect with the modern individual donor, you simply need to repeat what you’ve been doing for the small few to everyone. 

To scale this kind of donor stewardship plan, take a look at your entire donor list. Make a list of qualifications so that you can group your donor base from least, semi and most engaged. Then, figure out what useful, personal information you learn about your major donors during the first month that you don’t know about the group of most engaged individual donors. 

You probably won’t be able to get to know this group the same way that you did your major donors, but you can use that framework as a guide. What kinds of conversations lead to you learning the important information? How can you recreate those conversations in an integrated engagement campaign? How can you leverage social media, email marketing, phone calls, hand-written letters and events to create a personalized experience for these donors? 

Make sure that your campaign collects engagement data at every step. You can use this in two ways. First, you will understand what is most important to your individual donors. More importantly, you’ll have a template for engaging the semi-engaged donors on your list. Move through these segments, always listening for new ways you can engage your donors. Pretty soon, you will have a completely scalable donor stewardship program based on what you already do with your major donors. 

Create a Plan for a Variety of Outcomes

The part of listening that makes modern donor stewardship so powerful is the response your organization provides each person. By creating a plan for every donor reaction, you are ensuring that no individual ever feels ignored or unimportant to your mission. That dedication to inclusivity is how you inspire loyalty and recurring generosity from your donor base. 

Think about your giving page. Most nonprofits only account for two reactions from individual donors on those pages. They assume people will either donate or leave. There isn’t a plan for any other response. But, of course, there are other responses. 

For example, there are likely donors who were excited by your new initiative. They clicked to your page to learn more, but they weren’t in a position to give money. However, they shared the video on your giving page and talked about you with their friends at a dinner party. That is invaluable commitment to your initiative, even if it doesn’t count as a conversion in your reporting metrics. Your nonprofit needs a plan for how to respond to people like this. You need a plan for listening to all your donor behavior and responding appropriately. 

Start Now

Finally, start adopting modern donor stewardship best practices now. Even if your process isn’t perfect, it’s better to begin collecting data that you can use now. As the central reason for your success, your donors deserve a personalized experience of your organization. Waiting any longer to listen and respond to your donors is detrimental to the growth of your nonprofit. 

Start with the best practices you can accomplish right now and make a growth plan for the next year. As you accumulate new resources, iterate on what you’re doing today and make it better. The only real failure would be ignoring your donors’ needs. 

Get More on Donor Stewardship for Today’s Donor

To learn more about modern donor stewardship and the growth levers your nonprofit can leverage, check out our free webinar, How to Grow Your Donor Base & Increase Donor-Loyalty in Today’s Distraction-Filled World. We take you through the proven 3-step framework for growing your organization in 2020 and beyond. 

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