Fundraising is selling – but without a tangible product or service to offer to your customer.
I’ve spent a decade working as a fundraiser, helping organizations establish and grow relationships with donors. My development experience includes higher education, healthcare, social service and fine arts, and in each, the underlying principles and metrics for success remain the same. Many of these can and should be applied in the for-profit setting far more often.
1. It is more powerful to grow a customer than to find one.
Fundraisers think long term, and I mean really long term. The ultimate gift, after all, is the planned gift – money left through a will or trust when a donor passes away. When examining prospective donors, a fundraiser looks at a prospect’s short-term as well as long-term potential. A donor with a modest income but no spouse or children, who makes small donations each year, can be just as important as the donor making a five-figure gift right now.
Every year I hear of elderly donors of modest means passing away and leaving millions to non-profits. These donations are often made to organizations who skillfully nurtured the donor relationship for years despite not receiving large gifts.
The long-term potential of customers is just as important. Talk to your customers about their businesses. What are their long-term dreams and plans for their companies? This small talk may hint toward the importance of nurturing that relationship.
2. Your pipeline is your lifeline.
As an Annual Fund specialist, I was frequently called upon to defend the value of my program, which often showed the lowest ROI of any development function in the office. Yet it was my job to fill the bottom of the donor pyramid or rather the top of the sales funnel. Every relationship with a donor requires an initial investment in order to get the first gift. For a donor, it might be a letter followed by a series of emails that eventually leads to a $25 check. For your customer, it might be clicking on a banner and completing a lead generation form. Spending time and energy on your top customers and donors is a necessity, but an empty pipeline is even more costly in the long run.
Donor or customer attrition is an unpleasant reality that can only be combatted with a well thought out, proactive plan to grow your prospect list. Every good development office invests heavily in its annual fund, a great takeaway for a sales office that may be singularly focused on the next sale.
3. Don’t sell a shovel to someone who needs a fork.
Just because the organization has a particular project to complete doesn’t mean that is where the donor wants to put his or her money. A good fundraiser knows this rule and spends far more time listening than talking, waiting for the clues that point to what the donor really wants lest the donor make a token gift instead of investing in the institution.
A sales force can become so focused on product-specific sales targets that they overlook a customer’s real needs. Sales goals, like fundraising goals, should be set to keep the customer at the center of the relationship. There is much to be lost in mistaking your customer’s goals for your own.
4. A customer is a customer even after the close.
Development officers are well aware that each and every encounter a donor has with an organization has the ability to dramatically impact that relationship. They practice good internal communication, spreading this message to those around them; they ensure that the organizational values close to the donor’s heart continue to be demonstrated around every corner and that the donor is always treated as a respected benefactor of the organization.
Sales departments need to ensure that they spread the same message. Though communicating with those outside the sales force can be challenging, ensuring brand consistency and customer centricity can be crucial to maintaining that relationship. Mistakes can be made at all levels of an organization, accounts payable, distribution or even among leadership. It is crucial that every person understands the power he or she has to either strengthen or erode customer relationships.
5. Numbers never lie.
You love your new marketing piece. It is innovative, creative and exciting. But hearing this from colleagues or even from your favorite customer isn’t enough. Anecdotal evidence can be a dangerous thing when evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Fundraisers know this, and because there is so much similarity across the nonprofit sector, quantitative measurement has been standardized, especially within annual funds. Response rates, average gift, upgrade rate and cost per dollar raised are calculated for almost every solicitation conducted.
Sales should be no different. ROI should be monitored at every turn, with conversion and attribution rates tracked as frequently as possible. If more marketers took analytics as seriously as the fundraisers I know, I have no doubt there would be more split tests, more data tracking and a higher marketing ROI.
Non-profits are not always known for their efficient business practices, but within the development field you will find long-term thinking at its best; a profession built on donor centricity and quantitative measurement.
Contact PLS Launch Solutions, and let us help you apply the principles of fundraising to your business model.