Too many nonprofits treat their donors as just that … money givers.

They don't recognize that at least some donors (your “best customers” so to speak) are probably motivated and prepared to take the further step of affirmatively championing a cause or charity they're involved with.

Traditionally, we tend to wait for donors to cross some magic threshold — say, $500 or $1,000 — before we even consider that we might ask them to play a bigger role. But at that precise moment, other “considerations” often come into play that can thwart the process of escalating their role.

For one thing, at that magic threshold, “control” of the donor often passes from the “membership” (i.e., direct marketing) folks to the “development” folks. The latter tend to be rather “protective” of their donors, often passionately resisting putting any request to these individuals that doesn't end with the words … “give more.” Otherwise, “don't bother them.”

That's a shortsighted approach.

For one thing, we see over and over that increased giving correlates with increased participation and involvement. And one of the best ways to involve a donor is to enlist them as advocates or “missionaries” for the cause. Amidst your donor pool are emotional individuals who actually believe in your cause and feel they made an important and wise choice in supporting you. They would in fact feel that they were affirming their wise choice if they encouraged others to follow in their steps.

The fact is, with consumer products from bourbon to vacuum cleaners, the experience is that a core group of product users will become so passionate about the product that they will go out of their way to recommend it … and even improve and transform the product itself. This piece from Paul Gillin, author of The New Influencers: A Marketer's Guide to the New Social Media, nicely illustrates the point, including the wonderful example of Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners!

Your nonprofit, we hope, can inspire more passionate brand advocacy than a vacuum cleaner!

This of course requires providing donors with appropriate support and tools with which to proselytize. That makes more work for already hard-pressed membership or development staffs.

So that's why, historically, the effort wasn't even considered unless a donor was a “major” donor. Only major donors were assumed to have sufficient passion — and to have made a deeply considered commitment — to be potential candidates for a missionary role. Maybe that was practical thinking in the past.

But no longer.

Today, with the internet and the availability of user-friendly software tools for “customer (donor) relationship management,” some nonprofits are finding that: a) even “small” donors are perfectly willing to take a brand advocate role for the organization; and b) they can be efficiently supported in this role.

The presidential campaigns offer many good examples. Setting the pace is Obama, with thousands of small gift Obama supporters — “microbundlers” — using online tools to conduct their own fundraising and recruiting for the candidate.

For nonprofits, the online tools available from leading vendors like Convio and Kintera make it easy for nonprofit managers to set up “missionary” programs, and for donors to go about their proselytizing. On a smaller scale, easily installed online “widgets” can let your supporters promote your cause on their own websites, blogs and social networks. And of course the blossoming social networking sites themselves are tailor made for personal proselytizing.

We urge you to take a fresh look at your “brand advocates” program … or lack of one.

Don't let “membership versus development” issues get in the way. Don't assume that only your biggest donors have sufficient motivation to proselytize. And don't assume that “give more” is the only ask worth making.

Roger & Tom

This article was posted in: Major donors, Nonprofit branding, Nonprofit management, Social media.
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