By Mary Moss.
When growing up, this was one of the most often heard questions coming from the generations above. I can remember not having a good answer for it. I didn’t have “people” that I thought were description-worthy. Frankly, I had no idea who “my people” were: they were just a sister, grandparents and some distant cousins, so why did people keep asking me “who were my people”? A few times I answered “Criminals who came over from Ireland” to much laughter. As it turns out, once I got older and more comfortable with this question, I realized that those asking just wanted to know more about me; the question was not meant to be intrusive but a friendly colloquialism that invited conversation and connection. In a nostalgic moment now and then, I wish I knew my own people better.
Little did I know that I would spend a career that in one way or another explores this very same question. In all aspects of advancement work, from direct fundraising to alumni affairs to grant writing, the very first questions we ask about any organization are (1) who is supporting you already; (2) who else might want to support you; and (3) who can connect the dots between your organization and this other group. It sounds pretty simple, right? Not!
Understandably, life is so busy in the nonprofit world that organizations develop routines that do not allow time and space to examine these questions. Staff are multi-tasking and so busy going to meetings, worrying about the next event, or getting a mailing out the door that they have not stopped to ask the basic questions above: Who are these people? Who is coming to the party and how can we know them better? Who is going to open this letter, and what would be memorable and motivating? We find that many organizations take for granted their consistent supporters and do not thank them or steward them properly. Current donors are not asked to move up in their investment for fear of losing the current one, and because it is easier and faster to keep doing work the same way. The thought of getting new people engaged is overwhelming: Creative thoughts become buried under deadlines and routines.
At moss+ross, we take you back to the basics to stimulate creativity and new approaches. Whether through a feasibility study, campaign counsel, an assessment, an executive search, or a board retreat, we begin our work with you examining these basic questions. Who are your people, and how can you know them better? We encourage you to consider these eight steps to success, and we promise you will know your people better than you do now.
Eight Successful Steps to Know Your People
- Set aside staff and volunteer time to take a deep dive into your database. “Put your creative on” when you are looking at names! Be curious. This is not boring work; it is essential and fun work.
- Consider wealth screening to know as much as you can about your people. moss+ross offers this service, and we would be happy to talk about prices.
- Segment who has been giving consistently for five years or more, and make a plan for them that involves personal outreach from staff and volunteers based on levels of giving and potential. Ask them to lunch; get to know them; listen. Tag them in your database. When they come to the party, have a special plan for them.
- Develop a pool of people who dropped off your list six to ten years ago. Create messages that will bring them up to date and encourage re-engagement. Ask who knows them, and how they can reconnect? Tag them in your database. At the party, seat this group with seasoned supporters who can tell the story.
- Look at who has never given. Why are they in your database? Repeat the steps in number four and consider eliminating names based on sound reasoning (they were one-time memorial gifts, have not given in 10+ years or more, etc.). Again, tag them in your database.
- Make an effort to add new names to your list. Work with volunteers to see who is not in the database. Plan targeted meetings that will stimulate thoughts, perhaps looking at Triangle Business Journal’s Book of Lists, or annual reports of other organizations. Tag the new names in your database and make a plan for personal introductions. Don’t just ask board members to submit names of their friends, because you will be met with a blank stare.
- Don’t forget to ask. If you are going to do all this work getting to know them, you will need to know the right moment to ask for a new or increased gift. In your mailings and conversations, discuss the mission, identify the need and raise the sights of your donors with an appropriate ask. Use gift levels as motivations to increase support.
- Track your results. Be bold and creative with your segmentation. Test some different messages within these tiers just to see if one resonates better and pulls in more donors than another. It does no good to segment and create new messages if you do not track the results. Have fun with it! Once this type of activity becomes your new normal, you will see better results.
If you need help with this process, just let us know. We enjoy spending our days doing just that.