Nonprofits are dedicated to their causes, but they still need to raise funds in order to operate. The challenge is, how do they communicate with their donors in a way that the donors love? Steve Thomas, author of Donoricity, is a veteran fundraising consultant. He believes in building mutually beneficial relationships by emphasizing the donor’s needs over the nonprofits.
In this episode, Steve shares strategies that foster more goodwill with donors and inspires them to become regular benefactors. By the end of this episode, you’ll have his best tactics for creating long lasting partnerships with donors that will help your organization build a brighter future.
Get Steve’s new book Donoricity on Amazon.
Find out more at Donoricity.com.
Donoricity Thinks About Donors Differently
Steve Thomas: It’s magic when you don’t have to convince somebody to do something. You just have to help guide them or help them understand how they could be a part of something. Then it’s not you selling something. It’s about you connecting with them as a person.
It’s one thing to be across the desk from somebody. But it’s another thing to think about, what does an email look like where I’m considering that person? What does a direct mail letter look like when I’m considering that person?
It is a fundamental mind shift.
The book’s called Donoricity because I have a tendency to make up words. One of the ad agencies that we run is called Oneicity. It looks like one-eye-city, but it’s pronounced Oneicity, like electricity or simplicity.
This agency was formed with this idea that the same strategies, this magical idea that the donor has something they want to do in the world and we can connect with it. And it could be done not just across a desk but through email, through direct mail, through a variety of media.
My very first client was gracious and wrote the foreword to Donoricity. In the very early days, I did an assessment for him. His name is Jeff Gillman, an incredible guy leading an amazing organization, changing lives. Jeff has been my client for nearly a decade.
In that time, he and I have collaborated and become great friends. But more importantly, he’s done a great job of taking what I believe in these kind of things and accelerated them even further. One of the questions that always gets asked is, “Is any of this real, how does this actually work?”
In the book, we talk about the fact that you have to treat donors as very busy people and as people doing more than a million things. They’re doing a lot of things, and the very best donors are occupied with lots of different activities and things they want to be involved with. You have to get their attention.
We talk about ways to get donors’ attention, we talk about ways to help a donor understand how they fit and what to do. Then, maybe most importantly, we talk about the fact that a donor wants to be asked to do more than just give a gift.
Here’s the thing.
I don’t know about you, but there are occasions when I don’t have money to give to organizations that I love. A big podcaster like you, you’ve probably never run out of money at your house, but occasionally at Hoots and Thomas, we kind of run a little short.
When someone we love says, “You know, we could use the help,” and we think to ourselves, “Gosh, this is not our time.” If you just make it about the dollars in that moment, then I feel really bad because I didn’t give you a gift.
But if you give me the option to do more than just give the gift, then I begin to think. I have a good feeling that, even though I didn’t have money to give, when the bank account fills back up…
When the dollars come around, you have the warm feeling, not the bad feeling of having said no.
Donors are really looking for you to involve them—not just with their income, but they’re looking for you to connect with them in other significant ways.
Charlie Hoehn: What are some examples that have worked really well?
Steve Thomas: Our clients, in the two agencies that we have, serve Christian ministries. The predominant donors are Christian, faith-based people.
One of the things that is very common and very real is not only to ask people to be involved at the financial level. But to say, “We would appreciate that if you would be prayerful about this situation.”
It can feel like you’re using that as a technique and what I want to say in the book and what I will say here is: feel free to think that, but that’s not the case.
I actually am a person who believes in prayer and believes in that power in my life. I know that when I ask someone to pray, they have done something good, because I actually believe something happens when you do that.
But they have also felt involved.
I have connected them in that way. Not as a strategy to connect them. But in the same way they give a gift, it draws them in.
I also would say to them “Now, share on Facebook” because I like pairing the idea of hifalutin-spirituality and the low end of Facebook.
One of the keys in both of those is to say to them, “You’re doing something that makes a difference in that moment.”
Engaging Donors in Creative Ways
Charlie Hoehn: Do you recommend giving your readers an out by asking them to share on Facebook if they can’t afford to purchase your product?
Steve Thomas: It would be ideal, if someone will actually jump in there and introduce them physically to the 10 friends in their book group or whatever.
One of my goals is to get someone involved.
Here’s the other piece of the book that I didn’t lead with because I was trying to avoid it, but I’m just going to say:
One things I love telling people is to not say thank you to their donors.
I’ve actually seen people…their tongues roll back and their eyes roll back in their heads and they swallow their tongues and flop on the floor when I say that.
Here’s the thing. Say you and I are best friends, and you ask me to do that, rating and reviewing. I rate and review and I do my part, and I never hear from you again. Or, you say, “Thanks Steve, good job.”
What if you came back to me and said, “Holy cow, Thomas. Do you realize that you were one of a couple of people who have the following it takes that when you rated and reviewed it, we charted? The book sales went off the charts because you wrote, I counted them, a total of 17 words.” Then you say to me, “Wow, would you do one more thing for me?”
I’m going to lean in and go, “I gave you 17 words and it changed your life. You bet I will,” right?
You’ve allowed me to validate my effort, my gift, my participation. Yes, it’s still good to say those two words, “Thank you.” But that’s not it. Thank you means nearly nothing.
You tell me my dollars, my interest, my effort meant something.
You give me a metric or you give me something concrete.
I had a guy call me this week and he said, “I’ve got a one-minute question for you.” Those are always interesting. I’m on the phone walking back through Seattle and he says, “We have this event…” I had been at the event, and it had gone very well, but he said, “We had one guy. He’s a first time donor and he wrote us a mid-five-digit gift.”
You’re not in that world, but I’ll just say, you don’t usually get first gifts in the mid-five-digits. That’s kind of a big deal. He’s like, “I’ve got a letter written, I’ve got the thank you note all done, what else do I do?”
I said, “Okay. Has he ever been to your place?” He said, “No.” I said, “So you’re going to do a tour?” He said, “Yeah, absolutely.”
I said, “On the tour, here’s your goal: not to talk about what you’re doing, but to talk about what this donor is doing.” You get the chance to not just say the two words, “Thank you.”
You can say, “See that family over there? They are going to get a chance to not only have food but they’re going to have a chance to get off the street because of your gift.”
“These people over here are going to get job training because of you. We can help pay for the tutor who will be helping them with resume writing because of you.”
These are the faces of the lives you’re changing.
That takes it away from a transaction.
Donors don’t give for thank-yous. Donors give because they’re ready to change the world in some way that’s significant.
If you can tap into that by validating and giving them feedback, here’s what difference you made in the world, then they aren’t dreading your next conversation. “Oh, they’re going to come back and ask me for money.”
No, they’re going to have a conversation to give me an opportunity to change the world in the way I want to change it.
That becomes a conversation I want to have, either in email or in person or whatever the various tools you might use to have that conversation.
This thing works in person, it works in email, it works in a direct mail piece, it works in video.
How Steve Thomas Learned to Fundraise
Charlie Hoehn: Where did you learn this, was it through trial and error or did you have mentors or how did it happen?
Steve Thomas: Total failures.
Jeff Gillman, my client that I mentioned, we were having conversation about major donors. So these are people of significant impact in an organization who were writing, significant checks. He and I are actually literally sitting on a bench waiting to go eat in a restaurant. We were talking about how does one create relationship with these major donors in a way that gives them value. That helps them feel like they’re important, but doesn’t make you feel like you’re selling them.
There’s a variety of techniques, and they’re all good, but they don’t really work for me.
You’re like, “Take them to a ball game or play golf with them, or you know, take them out to dinner.”
I have no problem with sales, but it’s sort of a sales kind of thing. What he pointed out, I’ll never forget this. He said, “If they say, ‘this is not my time to give,’ what do I say?”
If it’s all about the money and if it is all about what you, as the organization, are trying to do, you’re going to fail. But, if you look to that other person, like my friend in Tennessee, and I finally got to understand what was important to him. I begin to look for what was important to him and how they aligned with what I was doing.
As the same thing, what we have created is this idea of saying, there are ways to connect with donors that are about what they want to do. You don’t have to sell them on that, you don’t have to persuade them. If you’re only asking for money and only asking for one thing, they’re eventually going to say no or not have money.
And then all you can do is go, “Well I’ll be back when you have money.”
Look at your wrist watch and go, “Would that be like a couple of weeks from now? What would that be like?” That’s a miserable thing for everybody.
But if you can say to somebody, “Totally understand, but would you help in this way?” For the author experience, “Loved your Facebook share, but now, would you actually write me a review?”
“Or if you don’t have time to write a review, share me on Facebook.”
I might come back to you and tell you what a difference your Facebook share made and how much more – give me 20 words on iTunes and here’s the link to make it easy.
Donors are very busy, you better give them a recipe.
You better tell them, “Here’s what I’m looking for, here’s the link to click, here’s how you’re going to do it so that I don’t have to think about it…”
Chris Brogan talks about recipes on these kind of matters, and I agree with him 100%. I can follow a recipe, everybody’s followed a recipe. Give them some steps. Here’s what you can do.
“This is not your time to give me a gift of cash. Here’s how you can help me. Would you introduce me to a couple of your friends? Would you have a coffee? I’ll take a share on Facebook.”
What Readers Gain from Donoricity
Charlie Hoehn: Is there any particular strategy or technique in the book that you’re particularly proud of?
Steve Thomas: I worked so hard in the book, I am proud of all of it. It’s like saying which of your kids is the best looking.
One of the things that most non-profits struggle with is finding new donors. One of the things that I teach in the book is this idea that most people are not going to be your donor.
I call it “The Ugly Baby Strategy.”
You’ve been in an elevator or an escalator person where you bump into a mom or a new dad and they’re got a baby wrapped up in a blanket. And they are so proud of that baby, and you go, “Well, let me see!” They pull back the blanket and it looks like a little wrinkled smooched up Winston Churchill face. And the one thing you can think is, “That it is not a pretty baby.”
But they are so proud of that baby because to them, it’s a pretty baby.
Most non-profits have to understand that the vast majority of the world will think about their non-profit as an ugly baby and will not find it beautiful.
We think about how you get past that with a couple of techniques. Making sure that you are getting in front of enough people and presenting your messaging so that your message can resonate with whoever might find your baby pretty.
Craft your stories so that a donor understands why—in spite of what you might think your baby’s pretty—they ought to pay attention to it.
Charlie Hoehn: What is something that your readers can try out from the book?
Steve Thomas: My recommendation is you get a donor on the phone. Somehow a real live, someone who is given you two dollars or $200,000. Someone who’s made a gift of some money, big or little, in the last couple of months. Once they get over the awkwardness of you getting them on the phone, ask them why they gave their gift. Ask why three times, because you probably won’t get the deepest, most candid answer first.
Understand that donors have motivations that are usually not in the mind of the organization.
As you begin to think about your donors as people, much like businesses, once they begin to think about their customers as people, things change.
It is a joyful, amazing experience for most non-profits. To actually have a conversation with somebody who gave them a gift and to appreciate them, but then to say, “Why? Why did you give that gift?”
Usually they will give a bad answer. Then say, “Is that the only reason? I’ve noticed that you have been giving a number of years. Well why have you stayed with us for so long?”
Pursue that path to get you to the deepest why. What I have found in encountering lots and lots of donors and lots and lots of clients with lots and lots of donors is, at the core they have a desire to change the world.
They want to do something to help a person’s life be better. They want to make an elephant’s life be better. But it all comes down to this metric of changing the world.
Once you understand that, every bit of your communication is not going to be about what you want to do but it’s tapping into what that donor wants to do. If I make things about what I want to do versus what you want to do, then I’m going to head into the direction you want to go.
It becomes effortless.
Charlie Hoehn: Where can our listeners stay connected with you and follow you and your company?
Steve Thomas: We built a website just for the book called Donoricity. Funny how when you make up words you can get the URL too.So it’s Donoricity.com and you can, as I say in the book, here is where you can find all the things that I didn’t intend to leave out but did. There’s some resources and ways to communicate and stay in touch.
Get Steve’s new book Donoricity on Amazon.
Find out more at Donoricity.com.
Listen to more authors who think differently about reaching their market: