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Online stewardship for all your donors

publication date: Sep 4, 2013
author/source: Holly Wagg
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Last week I purchased my toddler a more powerful nightlight. She’s developed a sudden fear of the dark, and of the tigers she dreams about that apparently invade her room sometime between midnight and three in the morning.

Holly Wagg photoAs I set the nightlight on the checkout counter, I had to decide how to pay – cash, debit or credit. 

I had already decided what type of store I would search out this nightlight in and I had already selected the exact type of nightlight that would meet my needs. All I needed to do was make one last decision about finalizing my transaction – how would I transfer money from my wallet to the store?

What on earth does this long tale about purchasing a nightlight have to do with fundraising, you may ask?  In the large world of multi-channel fundraising, there’s no real such thing as a direct mail donor, or an online donor, or a phone donor. 

There are donors.  There are your charity’s donors. And there are the channels by which your charity’s donors choose to give to you.

Online stewardship of donors, not stewardship of online donors

This becomes an important distinction when thinking about donor stewardship over the course of a year.  Craft a plan for the online stewardship of your donors, and not the stewardship of your online donors.

Here are five ideas to guide, inspire and get you started in the creation of your online stewardship plan and to help you populate it with great content.

1)      Stewardship is everyone’s job.

It’s not just the fundraising department’s job.  And since online stewardship often involves the collaboration of colleagues from several departments (such as communications and IT, and in an ideal world, frontline staff and volunteers too), producing an annual calendar of stewardship activities will tighten up your content creation strategy, distribute the workload, and probably produce some great and innovative new ways to steward your donors.

Here’s a sample of an online stewardship calendar that I quickly pulled together.  We like to encourage the 3:1 communications rule here at Good Works – thank your donors three times for every single appeal you make. To keep the donors you already have, you need to spend more of your time thanking/reporting back than asking. 

2)      Maximize your content creation.

When thinking about which stories or successes you should include in your stewardship plan, use only best stories your nonprofit can tell.  If you only have two mind-blowing stories, then make the most of those.  If you have 50, then perhaps whittle it down to a more manageable selection.

Then think about which medium (or media) these stories are best suited for, and then about the tools and tactics that you can feasibly execute online.  Only after that should you consider the data work of matching a particular group of donors to a particular stewardship piece. 

I like to get the most bang for my buck, strategically speaking. You can use one incredible impact story, told a variety of different ways, an unlimited number of times. Your goal in using online stewardship tactics is to think about the benefits of using a specific medium and its strengths in demonstrating to your donors the impact their investment has had.

If you want a little bit more help, Kivi Leroux Miller is about to release her book, Content Marketing for Nonprofits, and I think it will be a dynamite read. For something a bit shorter, start with 10 Tips for An Effective Non-Profit Content Creation Strategy.

3)      Email is still the backbone.

Today, email is the backbone of an online stewardship strategy (and yes, likely your online giving program as well).  Make sure that a thank-you email with an attached tax receipt isn’t the last email you ever send to donors who give either online or offline.

Whether the whole message is contained in one single email, or the email is used to direct donors to where they can see a photo gallery, view an infographic or watch a video, email is key to the delivery of stewardship messages.

You can use email simply, and increasingly, it’s getting complex.  Here’s an example of a simple stewardship email from the Canadian Red Cross on how they used funds donated for Haiti, a slightly more dynamic email from MSF that also invites donors to participate in an update webinar on an emergency that they supported, and a more complex, yet visually stunning, personalized stewardship report from Charity: Water.

4)      Monthly donors + online stewardship = perfect match.  

Email is a cost-effective way to connect with your monthly donors once-per-month, and tell them what you’ve been up to. I’m a monthly donor at Mercy Corps, and I look forward to the monthly email they send me to keep me engaged and connected.  They’re so well written that I actually think I’m having a one-on-one conversation with their founder.

But also take this a bit further and think about unique digital ways you can thank and engage your monthly donors.  Say NO – UNiTE releases a wonderful desktop calendar each month. Other charities send an e-anniversary card to mark the date their monthly donors started giving.

5)      Mini-mission moments.

When I worked at the Y, we would begin every meeting with a Y story (or what most of us call mission moments).  This was a chance for one person to share a client story, or why they volunteered with the organization, or something that really fired them up about the good we do in our nonprofit jobs.

The use of video or a photo-text combo provides your supporters with a brief opportunity to interact with what your charity does.  It’s a great way to use social media to give social proof and evidence of your good work. Content creation lends well to mini-mission moments because social media is all about choices – your supporters have preferences about where they follow and engage with you – and it’s your job to adapt your content to a specific platform.

Check out the guest post on Beth Kanter’s blog on 7 Fabulous Nonprofit Videos on Vine and Instagram or how to tackle Stewardship and recognition on Facebook over at NPEngage. The Calgary Zoo used Instagram for their 2012 annual report and gets accolades for being the first to do so. Some donors will never visit your website or open an email, but they diligently wait for - and even interact with - your Facebook posts.

The best mini-mission moments are dead simple.  It’s all about the donor (use the word you), and you must clearly show the problem and the solution. You can provide images of what’s happening behind the scenes, or live tweets or Facebook postings of your mission in action. And the bonus is that these can double as cultivation for the newest donors you hope to acquire.

Now that you’ve begun thinking about how you craft an online stewardship plan, be sure to merge it with your offline stewardship activities so that you manage one multi-faceted stewardship plan.  Get it on paper and get buy in so you have a better chance of sticking with it from conception to execution. 

With charities now losing more donors than they’re gaining – for every 100 donors gained, 107 were lost through attrition in 2011 – there’s no time like the present to ramp up your stewardship program.  Keeping the donors you already have is far more cost-effective than searching out new ones.

 How are you approaching your online stewardship?  What tools and tactics are you using? What have you seen that inspires you?

For more insights on the storytelling process, visit the Good Works Blog.

Holly Wagg is a seasoned fundraising and communications professional, now working as a consultant with the team at Good Works. Although she had an 8-track player in her childhood bedroom, she doesn’t remember a time where you could fundraise without the internet. Given her involvement in start-up and grassroots organizing, the digital realm has always been a part of her efforts and expertise. Holly would love to hear from you by email.

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