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    Disrupt Philanthropy by Delighting Donors: Key Learnings from AFP Congress 2018, Part 1 of 2

    By John Paul de Silva – originally published on the Social Focus Consulting blog.


    Where all my social impact peeps at?!? What! What! I’m still hyped up over attending the astronomically amazing 2018 Association of Fundraising Professionals Congress which had the theme “DISRUPT Philanthropy.”


    Why do we need to disrupt this sector? Caroline Riseboro, plenary speaker and President and CEO of Plan Canada, summed it up nicely, “A hyper-focus on major gifts is disguising the problem that we have an erosion of donors in the Canadian market. Philanthropy as a whole is on a decline.” And it’s no wonder given the challenge to get people’s attention, nevermind donations. We see 10,000 marketing messages a day while having an eight second attention span, according to Vanessa Landry, Director of Client Services at Fundraising Direct. That’s why we need disruption. We need new ideas, new ways of doing things, to advance the sector and keep being socially impactful.


    Then, how do we become disruptive? We do it by delighting donors and through leadership. Delighting donors involves giving them an experience they can’t stop talking about, according to Jen Love, Partner at Agents of Good. When donors can’t stop talking about a positive experience, that leads to engagement, repeat donations, referrals to others, and ultimately growth for charities.


    This first part of a two-part blog will cover how to delight donors. Based on my takeaways from attending some of the sessions and engaging with the #AFPCongress2018 feed, there are three main opportunities to delight donors: personalized communications, experiential events, and frictionless webpage design.


    1. Personalized Communications

    Your charity can start improving communications by making it more personalized, especially for Millenials who crave personalization, according to Steve Thomas, Chairman of Stephen ThomasBrady Josephson, VP of Innovation and Optimization at NextAfter, agrees about the importance of personalization and says that e-mails should be more personalized and less about the brand as it increases response and donations. He adds that the copy should also be longer, regardless of the channel, as the charity still needs to communicate its value proposition.


    Don’t be so quick to ask for money right away, however. Using a non-monetary ask during the first interactions will lead to better reception of your charity’s brand, says Mr. Thomas. Once someone does give in some way, remember to thank them either through a hand-written note as suggested by Shanon Doolittle, Chief Creative Officer at Voice for Good, or a phone call as suggested by Ms. Love.


    2. Experiential Events

    Tips for holding micro events, by Cindy Wagman


    Traditionally, charities try to organize large galas where over a hundred people wear tuxedos and glittery dresses while eating cocktail shrimp and sipping wine. Cindy Wagman, President of The Good Partnership, actually made a case for “micro” events that can actually be more effective at generating major gifts and other donations. For example, with her work at Hot Docs, the documentary film festival, Cindy gained the insight that viewers were life long learners that valued education and learned something from the documentary even if they didn’t like it.


    To build off this insight, Hot Docs patrons hosted simple (read: “not fancy”) micro events for 20-30 people at their homes where they could discuss the documentaries with the filmmakers. By doing this, Hot Docs developed intimate, mission and donor-centered events that build community and lead to meaningful connections. This has created a snowball effect toward major gifts.

    Tips for when to release auction items, by Layne “The Auctionista”


    Layne “The Auctionista” also highlighted the impact events can have for charities in her talk, “Surge Your Charity Auction Profits”, where she deemed events as small businesses. Her first tip at charity event auctions is to take guests on an emotional journey that elicits empathy rather than talk about how nice the auction items are as people remember what they feel, not what they see.


    Logistically, events should be held earlier in the week as there are less competitors, catering and venue costs are less expensive, and attendees will have more energy. At the event, hold the auction toward the beginning of the event and keep it at 30 minutes, to cut down on boredom.


    As for the types of auction items, offer 7 to 8 packages that are hard to get and experiential (e.g. food, shopping, travel, depending on the demographics). Also, make sure the item is turn key. Don’t make the bidder feel that it will be a chore to claim the prize.


    In terms of order, offer the lower valued items first to generate the most bids and a higher percentage of audience interaction. Next, offer the highest priced items to generate even more excitement. Finish off with lower priced items to get others into the action that weren’t able to or didn’t bid earlier. Refresh the event annually to keep people coming back.


    3. Frictionless Web page Design

    Beate Sorum, providing tips on enhancing the donor’s online experience


    Beate Sorum, Owner of b.bold, came all the way from Norway! to present on “The Donor User Experience.” She proposed that we can use behavioural economics to help someone who already has an emotional connection to the cause and is motivated to give, to have a “frictionless” (simple, easy)experience donating online. This is important because if a charity’s website visitor is thinking about the bad design of the form, they’re no longer thinking about giving, and this will lead to lost donations.


    One way to improve the donation form is to adjust the field length to the category rather than make them all the same length. For example, the postal code field should be much shorter than the address field. Keep the number of fields to a minimum because every extra one has been shown to result in lost donations. Just because your database has a field, doesn’t mean you have to ask for it when someone donates.


    Nudge the donor into giving monthly by making this the default setting. Similarly, use a drop down menu with a higher value suggested donation amount to anchor the donor’s perception of what is typically given. Take care when labeling buttons. For example “OK” is ambiguous whereas “Donate” is much clearer. Since the “Donate” button is the positive action that we want, make it bigger and bolder. Design the page so that when someone makes a mistake completing the form, they’re informed what went wrong and how to fix it. Lastly, ensure the page is mobile friendly as this is how people are increasingly accessing the web.


    In summary, to delight your donors and increase funding, personalize communications, organize experiential events, and design donation web pages that have the least number of obstacles. In the next article on my key learnings from AFP Congress, we’ll explore how charitable sector individuals can demonstrate leadership and develop a culture that embraces and implements these types of initiatives.


    In the meanwhile, what are your thoughts on delighting donors or disrupting philanthropy? How else can we accomplish these things?