As nonprofits juggle multiple campaigns throughout the year, they often struggle to communicate how these individual projects relate to their overall mission. In this piece, Big Duck’s marketing and fundraising expert Daniel Buckley offers his advice for how to inspire a loyal donor base that will work with you to achieve your big picture goals.
Building a strong supporter base is one of the most important tasks for any nonprofit—arguably second only to achieving your mission. Without people to donate, volunteer, or take action, a nonprofit’s ability make a difference is severely limited.
But exactly how you recruit new supporters can lead to problems down the road. Especially when nonprofits run campaigns around specific issues—or have a set of programs that address different problems but work toward a common goal—supporters can come to identify with the campaign or program they first encountered, rather than with your organization as a whole.
This is an issue for a couple of reasons: First, any content you send these supporters that doesn’t focus on the work they have a connection to may feel irrelevant. And, as found in a recent study from Abila, a high number of donors say they may stop giving because of irrelevant content. It might feel like a sensible response to segment supporters so they only receive content you know will be of interest. But, few nonprofits have the resources to maintain this kind of communications strategy.
Besides, a supporter who cares about your overall mission is likely to have a much higher lifetime value. Here are a few strategies for building holistic relationships with your constituents:
Build a solid house
If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that Big Duck has been thinking a lot about brand architecture—a strategy for organizing and expressing the hierarchy of your brand. Too often, nonprofits fall into a habit of developing distinct visual identities or catchy names for their programs or campaigns. While making your initiatives stand out on their own isn’t always a bad thing, having distinct sub-brands makes it much easier for a supporter to identify with a program or campaign in a way that isn’t easily transferrable. This is of particular danger if these sub-brands differ in a significant way from your primary brand. If this sounds like you, it may be time to simplify how your initiatives are presented.
Take them step by step
The “ladder of engagement” is a communications framework we commonly use to think through strategies and tactics for getting the attention of someone who isn’t yet aware of your organization, converting them to become a supporter, and deepening their relationship until they are a true advocate for your cause. But this exercise can be helpful in achieving a variety of more specific communications goals, from how to connect the people you serve to a new program to how to identify and cultivate new board members to—you guessed it—how to bridge the gap between support for an initiative to support for your organization. Take a single afternoon to map out what you need to take supporters who don’t know your larger organization, make sure they’re aware of the bigger picture, and deepen their relationship until they’re eager to get out there and help broaden your community. Think through their motivations, what they’re looking for, and how you can reach out to them in ways that appeal to them—and, presto, you’ll have a roadmap for achieving your goal.
Keep it together
When you’re in the weeds at a nonprofit every day, it can be easy to forget how content may appear for someone who’s first encountering your organization. It may feel obvious how an initiative relates to your mission, or you may not think to mention your organization’s name because, well, the logo’s at the top-left corner, right? When developing content (even a new program name) it’s ideal to keep in mind how it will be understood to the least informed, most distracted reader. Making a point to always put your organization front and center and clearly explain how the initiative relates back to your mission will help you avoid a highly fragmented audience. For an example of this done well, take a look at the Food Bank For New York City’s financial empowerment services. The name, Food & Finances, tells you immediately that the program relates directly to hunger, and the landing page makes the connection more explicit in the second sentence.
Get them when they’re paying attention
Some people just aren’t going to take the time to explore your organization beyond the initiative they’ve engaged with. Sometimes you just have to go where they are and put the bigger picture right in front of them. Always referencing the organization name and connection to your mission is one way to do this, but it can take a bigger effort to get people to absorb your messages. When constituents take an action, they are highly primed to pay closer attention to what you have to say next. If there are events, volunteer opportunities, or advocacy actions associated with specific campaigns or programs, consider using the confirmation page and email to connect them with other initiatives or to your overall mission. Think about creating an online welcome series—a set of emails that are are automatically sent based on the date constituents take an online action. Include content that finds a dynamic way to explain your overall mission and how your various initiatives fit together. Or, if you have the bandwidth, build out a system of welcome series that are specific to the action in order to explicitly address how one program or campaign is in service of a bigger picture.
Daniel Buckley is senior strategist at Big Duck, a communications firm that works exclusively with nonprofits.