I don’t know about you, but my colleague Emily Goodstein mentioned that one thing she wishes was that organizations asked her more often about why and how she decided to get involved. Emily is my bellwether for how millennials think and behave. Me, I’m GenX, which might make you think I’m a slacker, but in fact I’m more likely to make a monthly gift to your organization than any other demographic segment. As GenX and millennials increase their giving over time, knowing more about us and better personalizing communication to us will be paramount.
There’s a lot out there about how to convert prospects to donors. Direct mail has it down to a science. Email used to be the wild west, but over the last decade has generated its own list of best practices and golden rules, which are in turn enthusiastically broken by lead-edge innovators. The question is – how can you do it better and more efficiently?
The answer may lie in data. When I speak of data, in my mind I divide it up into two parts. The first is demographic and psychographic data, which is the kind of data you can buy. Think about things like age, sex, income, political affiliation, interests, the type of car you drive. In the long run, if you have good tools and good methodology, you can test different messaging on different segments and find pockets of profitability. Maybe people who drive a Prius who were born prior to 1985 are more likely to become a monthly sustainer, for example.
But that won’t tell you WHY a donor decided to give to your organization. To find out what motivated the donor (or better yet, what will motivate similar prospects), you usually will have to ask. Thanks to online systems and social media, it’s easier than ever to ask questions and collect responses online. Maybe even too easy – as anyone who has collected a lot of data and then had to cull through the results can tell you.
So it’s best to begin at the end. Before you jump in to write the questions and answers and set up the survey, think about how you will use the answers that you collect. Every single question should have an application that will help you better communicate with this potential donor. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and theirs. Don’t collect data that you’re not going to use.
Where can you collect this data? One of the easiest places is via your website in the place where people can join the email list. Best practices recommend that you keep the email signup form brief – if it’s too hard or seems like it will take too long to fill out the form, people might abandon it. But I think that it’s worth testing out including one very simple question. For-profit websites often ask “How did you hear about us?” They’re trying to gauge the effectiveness of their advertising spend. For a mission-driven nonprofit organization who wants to ask this potential supporter to make a gift, the question is a little different, and there are plenty of ways to ask it.
- Why do you want to join our email list?
- What is motivating you to get involved with us?
- What is your connection to our mission?
- Why is this issue important to you?
The format of the answer could vary – multiple choice, with “Other” if the person’s reason doesn’t fit one of your pre-written answers. Or just a text box, so they can state the reason in their own words. Or anything else you can dream up. Make sure you actually read the answers, or scan them for keywords, and make a meaningful attempt to understand what the person means. In fact, for essay questions I’d argue that it’s worth the time to have a real live human person read every single answer and categorize or tag the person somehow in your CRM system so you can use their answers for segmenting.
Wondering where I got my information about generational giving patterns? You don’t have to take my word for it – you can download our study about generational giving. It’s a fascinating read, and important to boot, because it’s where the future of giving is headed.