Faceless transactions in nonprofits

The Story of John “The Faceless Transaction” Doe

Chip Johnston

You remember John don’t you? He was the energetic young professional who proactively volunteered to be a team captain for your 5K walkathon fundraiser waaaaay back in 2010.

He was passionate about your mission, held a burning desire to make a difference in the world and at the time you first met, had just landed his first job with a disposable income. One that allowed for a line item in his monthly budget titled “do good money.” John was also “doing life” with many other energetic young professionals just like him… ones who could be equally passionate, willing and generous to your mission if only acknowledged, approached and communicated with in the right way at the right time with the right message. He gave consistently, every month just like we “trained” him.

John was a real go-getter. He was active and generous with his time talent and treasure not only with your organization, but several others. His career was on the fast track, his sphere of influence was expanding, and he eventually married and had children.

So what happened?

Was it possible that we started taking John for granted and just assumed that he would always be there for us even though we demonstrated no understanding of who John was on a personal level. No idea of his likes, dislikes, communication preferences or level of philanthropic capabilities and willingness. Is it possible we treated him as nothing more than a faceless transaction, based on his life stage from 6 years ago?

I hate to say it, but unfortunately, I believe the answer is yes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m fully aware of how insanely difficult and challenging the idea of keeping up with this level of detail about thousands of donors can be. It’s incredibly hard work in addition to the already endless list of tasks you’re already trying to juggle in an environment that is probably expected to do way more, with way less. But take heart, in light of this daunting reality, I have good news.

Fully embracing and implementing the idea of relational generosity as a core tenet in your overall fundraising strategy is entirely possible. Even better: once we have it in motion it becomes not only easier and more automated it also has a compounding impact to the long term success of your mission.

So where do we start? It starts with a commitment to doing things differently. It starts with refusing to allow the status quo of “how things have always been done” to define how things will be done in the future. Ok, ok, I understand the rah rah stuff has limited value, so where do we REALLY start?

It starts with simply capturing any and all meaningful information about your supporters you can get your hands on. Remember John? Understanding that John has children presents a golden opportunity to demonstrate how much you care about him personally by communicating opportunities to get involved with your project focused on serving under privileged children. When John and his wife attend the fundraising dinner for our clean water initiative, it’s imperative they are “tagged” accordingly, this will allow for very targeted messaging based on this affinity. You should also be looking for creative ways to solicit help from your givers that does not necessarily involve asking for money. For example, if you discover that John wields a tremendous amount of social capital – eg: lots of Twitter followers or  substantial list of Facebook friends – ask him to Tweet about your upcoming 5k Walkathon. In doing so, you’ve changed the conversation by not calling and asking for money, which he will appreciate. In addition, you’ve created an opportunity to engage with his extended network which represents a tremendous opportunity for expanding your universe of donor prospects.

In closing, it’s important to consider the role that technology can play in dramatically increasing our chances of success as we shift our focus to a more committed relational approach. The real key to creating momentum is the ability to quickly and efficiently build a robust, individual profile of givers. Using the power of “big data” is a great place to start… but it’s only that: a start. But a nonprofit CRM can help you take the next step.

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