For example, I was at city hall in Elgin, Illinois the other day trying to acquire my small business license. I thought doing something in person might be more efficient. Unfortunately, that was NOT true. I was turned away by a clerk who asked to me to do this online. When I turned around to talk out of the building, I saw this huge sign sitting on an easel. It advertised Mayor Dave Kaptain’s “Listening Sessions” and promoted public participation.
At that very moment, the old Guinness beer commercial came streaming into my head. Do you know which one I’m talking about? Click here to enjoy this flashback to the not-so-distant past.
So, why is this so “brilliant” and what does it have anything to do with non-profit organizations, which is at the heart of this blog?
For starters, I think it is brilliant because in this day and age of mass media, the answer always seems to be: send them a letter, advertise on television, put it on the website, “tweet” it, organize an email blast, and the list goes on and on. I haven’t heard anyone say in a very long time: “let’s go out there and engage people directly” on issues that are important to them.
As for the question about how this pertains to non-profit organizations, all I have to say is that non-profits should take a page out of Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain’s book. Here are just a few ideas for non-profits that I thought of as I walked out of city hall:
- Organize a “town hall meeting” at your non-profit service site on any number of issues your agency helps address every day. Invite donors, volunteers, community leaders, and collaborative partners to attend and participate.
- Organize a series of quarterly or monthly “brown bag lunch meetings” focused on one of the issues your agency deals with every day. Invite a guest speaker from the community to speak about some part of the issue (e.g. your state representative, city council member, chamber of commerce or hospital CEO, etc). Also invite donors to bring their brown bag lunches and participate in this lunch program.
- Organize a small reception and honor someone in the community who works hard and does something related to your agency’s mission. For example, a domestic violence shelter could put together a small after-work reception to honor a local police officer for their commitment to working differently and compassionately with victims. Invite your donors and ask them to turn-out and help you honor this person.
- Organize a petition drive around one of your issues and ask donors to help secure signatures.
- Organize focus groups for each of your fundraisers and ask donors to provide feedback. Invite your donors to help you dream by asking them what they think it would take to “double” the funds raised from that specific fundraisers. After all, who else would know best other than the participating donor?
Non-profit organizations don’t always need to be out front, jumping around screaming “look at me . . . look at me!” Donors are capable of digesting subtle messages, and these types of activities will position you as a leader in your field. Mix in a few subtle “return on investment” messages, and donors will walk away feeling very good about their most recent investment in your organization.
Don’t charge any money. Resist the urge to solicit your donors during these mission-moments. This is about engagement . . . not about cash flow. If you find yourself saying “you don’t have the time or resources” to do these kinds of things, then I suspect you aren’t interested in looking at your donor loyalty numbers either (and with Halloween around the corner this could be a very scary activity to undertake).
Non-profit organizations need to get back to investing in personal stewardship and engaging donors in real mission-focused activities in between solicitation opportunities. I urge you to go beyond the donor database generated acknowledgement letter, email or Tweet. There are countless examples of how to do this if you just keep your eyes open. We can all learn something from politicians, for-profit corporations and our fellow non-profit friends.
This entire post aligns well with my teachable point of view that non-profits need to stop treating donors like ATMs!!! Of course, if you don’t commit to being a life-long learner on the subject of donor engagement, then you might start looking like Ms. Swan from this old Mad TV comedy sketch (albeit less fortunate than she turned out to be in the end of the sketch).
How is your organization stewarding its donors? How are you going beyond traditional stewardship and engaging them? Have you done any benchmarking to see how your efforts impact your donor loyalty numbers? If so, what was the result? We can all learn from each other. So, please use the comment box below and share your secrets. Because failing to do so would not be BRILLIANT!
Here is to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC