Do you really know your donors? I know you’re thinking, Monica, of course, I do! But do you really know them, besides a few bits of demographical information you have stored in some database somewhere? I want to help you understand whether you really know your donors, why it matters that you understand them, what you need to know about them, and ways you can reconnect with them if, on the off chance, it turns out you really don't know him as well as you thought you did.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

Do you really know your donors?

We need to have a heart to heart. It’s a discussion I’ve been meaning to have with you for a while and it’s about your donors. I need to know if you really know who they are. 

Now, here’s the deal. When we have this conversation, I want you to stay open-minded. And remember I’m just hanging over here by myself. There’s no one else talking to me. And if you were here, it would be an amazing conversation where we would absolutely discover everything we need to discover about your donors and about your target market. But you’re not here. So instead, I’m going to try to have this conversation in a one-sided way. I want it to help you understand whether you really know your donors, why it matters, that you understand them, what you need to know about them, and ways you can reconnect with them if on the off chance, it turns out you really don’t know him as well as you thought you did.

Why does it matter?

I need to start at the beginning and ask you one more time, do you really know your donors? I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking, yes, I totally know who they are. I know their names. Then you’re asking yourself, why does even matter? Why are you even nervous about having this conversation with me, Monica? Like, that’s kind of silly, because obviously, I know my donors. So the answer is easy. 

Things are changing – it makes you question EVERYTHING.

Well, it matters right now more than ever, because we all know things are changing. When things start to change and you have to start shifting directions, taking your events online, and adjusting the way you communicate with your donors, it makes you question things. It makes you question everything! It makes you question where you spend your time and what’s the best use of your energy. And if you are asking those questions of yourself, like am I doing this the right way? Is this the most important thing? Should I be investing this time in this event and figuring out how to do it digitally? If you’re asking yourself those questions, I want to let you know that understanding your audience, donors, volunteers, and the people that you serve, will allow you to confidently make those decisions. 

Understanding your audience will allow you to confidently make decisions.

You can make other decisions more easily too like, what should I post on social media? How can I make a good appeal to my volunteers and donors that really works? And even, what type of event should I do to meet new people? 

Because you’re busy. I know you are. Especially if you are an executive director to a small but mighty nonprofit and you don’t have a fundraising or development or marketing person at your back helping you do all these things. You need to make sure you’re doing the most important things all the time to make your organization thrive. Those decisions start with understanding your audience.

Events are like a big advertisement, they draw people in. But are your events the right ones?

For example, let’s say you’re doing events and you had lots of events in the past and events were a way you met people. In the nonprofit world, the events are like a big advertisement; they draw people in. Many of my clients do various events and I asked them hard questions about the events. Sometimes, they don’t like these questions. 

When I ask these questions. I say, why are you doing that event? Because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to serve your people or mission. They say, oh, a board member came up with the event and now we’re doing it. Then I respond with yeah, but when I think about the people you serve and your mission, it doesn’t align. Your events need to bring in people you can meet that have the same values and interests as you, so you can continue having a relationship with them easily. You don’t marry somebody who doesn’t want to do anything you do. 

You have to understand your audience. 

You want to find relationships where you have core values and interests in common so you can foster those relationships. That all starts with understanding who you’re serving. 

For example, let’s say you’ve always done an annual 5k for your organization. However now, you have to figure out how to do a virtual one. That could be a lot of effort, and you have a lot of things to do because you have to figure out how to do it in a completely different way. Now, I want you to sit back and ask yourself, does it make sense for me to do a 5k? Does the 5k connect me with people who have the same interests in the same values as my organization and its mission? 

If your organization is Girls on the Run, perfect have a virtual 5k! Don’t ever give it up. It totally makes sense. Now, if your organization is the Historical Society, it doesn’t really make sense. They don’t overlap. 

As you’re faced with these crazy new parameters for meeting people and maintaining your relationships with your donors and potential donors, we need to make sure that we understand who they are. So everything you’re investing your energy in is actually serving you.

Let’s get this straight right now – your target market isn’t everybody. 

Let me get this straight right now. I need to get it out of the way: your target market isn’t everybody. Your goal should never be to appeal to everybody with your marketing. Now I know what you’re thinking right now, I’m not trying to appeal to everybody. I’m just trying to appeal to people who have extra income. Nope, that’s not it. Does extra income overlap with your values? Does it overlap with your mission? No, it probably doesn’t. It is not a justifiable reason to talk to everybody with extra income.

I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in initial meetings with people and I would say, so tell me about your target market. Then they would respond with, It’s anybody who owns a house. (No, it’s not). I would sit there thinking, how am I going to be able to convert you to my way of thinking because if I have to make marketing for your company that appeals to everybody, I hope you got a lot of money for all the different campaigns.  Because you don’t serve everybody. You want to seek out specific individuals to start relationships with. When you talk to everybody. It’s like having a conversation with a person whose eyes are just roaming around the room constantly looking for the next person they can go have a conversation with. 

Super Bowl Commercials 

You’ve seen commercials like this. When it comes on, you just tune out. You look around the room and everybody’s on their phones, uninterested. Have you ever watched a commercial and then thought to yourself, that was weird? It’s because it wasn’t targeted towards you. 

Imagine yourself at the Super Bowl when they have all those outlandish commercials. They’re all very targeted and entertaining, but not everybody understands or connects with every message. Sometimes I’m sitting there laughing, and the guys are like, what just happened? Do you know what’s going on? Or I’m crying over a Google commercial and everyone is looking at me confused.

Be like Jim Speiler, make your audience feel important. 

I like to tell this story about a guy named Jim Speiler. He was in my rotary group, and he passed away in 2014. Now, the first time I met Jim, we were at an event and my husband introduced us. I was in my mid-20s and he was probably in his 60s at that point. Jim was a successful businessman and he was the Rotary marketer. When I joined rotary, and I had conversations with Jim, he always gave me his full, undivided attention. He looked at me when I spoke, he listened to the words I said, and he asked me questions back. It made me feel so incredibly special. He made me feel like I was important and that is how your audience needs to feel when you’re talking to them. Like they’re Important. 

When Jim passed away, I put a post-it note on my desk that said, “I will listen with more than my ears, I will see with more than my eyes, I will interact from my heart,” because that is what I learned from him. That’s the story I love to tell about why it matters to understand your target market, and why it’s not everybody. Because Jim made me feel special and he would not have made me feel special if he hadn’t paid attention, if he hadn’t had a conversation with just me, or if he’d been trying to have the same conversation with the 20 other people in the room.

I’m sure you know your donors’ names.

I’m sure you do know your donors’ names, especially the big ones. You probably know where they work. But tell me this. Overall, do you know how old they are? Do you know their gender? Do you know how they make decisions as a family? Do you know their education level and their education level about what you do about your mission? Do you know what drew them to you? Do you know what makes them stay? Do you know what makes them happy? What their hobbies are? Do you know if they would contribute more, if you asked or how they might want to contribute? Do you understand their goals personally and professionally? And do you understand if there’s a way you can fit in and help them achieve those things? Do you know what makes them really angry? Can you identify a good donor just by listening to them talk? Just by overhearing a conversation with someone, can you pick out phrases they would use that you think, yes, that is my person?

Next Generation Donors

 Do you know your next generation of donors? I gotta tell you, they’re going to be slightly different than this last generation, you have to interact with them differently. That doesn’t mean they don’t have the same core values, but it does mean you’re going to have to start the relationship now. So when you want to ask them to give, you have a relationship to fall back on. Do you know who they are? Do you know what point in life they’re at? And do you know all of those things about them? What might draw them to you? What their hobbies are, what their concerns are? Do you know the challenges they face every single day and why they may or may not have already come in contact with your organization? 

Those are some tough questions to ask yourself. You may be able to answer all of these. I would be so super pumped if you knew all these answers. I have to tell you though when I ask businesses these same questions, they do not know these answers. They might have some of the demographic data in a software someplace, but they don’t know in their heart, who they’re serving. 

A great business runs with that servitude. That’s what makes people want to work with them because they understand the people they serve. They do everything they can to make that relationship amazing. And it makes them a lot like you. It makes them a lot like a nonprofit.

I’m on a journey to launching a program to help nonprofits plan their marketing.

Right now, I’m on a journey launching a program to help nonprofits plan their marketing, and my heart led me here. I’ve been doing a campaign called CoMoGives for the last seven years which we help our local nonprofits raise money. In the last four years, we’ve done a workshop training event for marketing, because so many of the people participating in the campaign are small nonprofits and they weren’t sure how to ask and how to market it online. This was a new experience for them and we wanted to make the campaign as successful as possible. We understand there’s a multiplier effect. We know when people come in, they donate to more than one organization. So the more people  I can get to the website, the more donations I can get for more organizations. 

So our path was education. Let’s give them everything we think they would need to be able to run a successful campaign. One of the ways I found this was I got all these thank you letters this year. I kid you not. I know there were 140 nonprofits that came to this training, and there were probably 300 people in the room. But these 20 thank you letters just filled me with gratitude. It has rekindled this fire in me that this is what we need to be doing right now. We need to be helping these people. 

I asked myself how do I know that this information is right?

So I’m on this journey to launch this program. I was laying out all of the elements for my course exactly what I thought I needed to teach. And I asked myself, is that what you really need to know? Because I don’t just want to talk about what I want to talk about, I want to make this right. I want to make you successful. I want you to find your path, and to be able to do your marketing with absolute confidence. That’s my goal, right? So I was asking myself these same questions I just asked you, and I realized there was some doubt there. 

So I went to Stu Mclaren – Tribe guy.

To get more information, I signed up for an online class. It’s with Stu McLaren, who’s the guy that started the tribe theory. He gets really excited about stuff. He told me to assess my audience online. So I went online and I was looking at YouTube videos and the comments in YouTube videos. I was looking in forums, comments, and blog posts. I was looking in public Facebook groups, and I was trying to find the voices that I needed to hear. I was trying to understand where you’re at, what you need from me. All I found was really sad stuff from people who are in really crappy situations and they weren’t nonprofits. They were people who had absolutely no money and were trying to figure out how to pay their bills. It made me start feeling not-okay. I thought, maybe there really isn’t even anybody out there who needs my marketing program. I could be on a totally wrong path, right? Because here I am questioning everything, I’m doing just like you are. 

Then I remembered this type of research never makes me feel okay!

Then I started thinking about it. And I thought you know what? This type of research never makes me feel okay. It never does. I never go out and look at my competitor’s websites because I don’t want to know what they’re doing. I only want to know what they’re doing if they’re doing awesome. One of the reasons I signed up with the training with Stu McLaren is because he is knocking it out of the park. This dude is one of the premier trainers for people who are thinking about starting membership sites. And I wanted to learn from him because I want to be that good someday. I want to help someone this much and be this successful. So I enrolled, and I’m doing the things he says. Then I realized it’s just not right. So once again, I realized I’m not the person that should be going out and researching online about this stuff because I couldn’t hear your voice through all those comments.

I dumped the research and picked up the phone. 

So I thought to myself, how am I going to know if I really know you well enough to help you. Then, I remembered I’m an audio person. I love hearing people’s words. I love to hear them talk. So I got on the phone and I called nonprofits I didn’t know. I called the leader of our Community Foundation. I called people I’d never met before. I called people that were big and small. I called people who asked lots of questions in our last workshop training and also at other events I’ve done. I remembered those people. I called people who had cool organizations that my interest and my values aligned with. 

Then I got to hear your voice and it was amazing. So if you’re having a hard time connecting with your donors, if your emails aren’t getting open, if they’re not making donations and volunteers are not coming in, if you’re trying to plan an event online and it makes you feel completely out of control and you’re not even sure if you should be doing it or not, or if it’s worth your time…think about yourself and how this works for you and set up a zoom call with your people. Set up a phone conversation, ask them.

 I was blown away by how amazingly conversational and thoughtful these people were, they didn’t even know me. They didn’t know me at all. And they spent 30 minutes on the phone with me (sometimes an hour) just listening to what I was thinking about doing, giving me their feedback. My heart is so full with all of these people who have spoken to me about what they need. 

Talk to your clients, reconnect with your target market.

We also then went through and we went to our own clients and we asked them,  what brought you to us? What makes you stay? What were the challenges you were facing before you found us? What are your goals? How do we serve you? What makes it right? And they told us. Once again, I was like, this is so amazing because I have been really trying to do this project, and be good and serve people. And it turned out that I was actually doing a pretty decent job of it. You can have those same conversations and I encourage you to do so. That is an amazing way to reconnect with your target market.

If you’re lucky enough to be able to have events anytime soon,  I want you to wander around with your ears and eyes open and listen to the conversations that are happening. Pull aside individuals and ask them these questions. Engage them in this conversation so you can understand them. Go into that event with the goal of reconnecting with people with the same values and the same interests as your mission.

Develop guidelines for these conversations: challenges, objections, questions. 

For each of these conversations, you’re going to want to develop a framework. Don’t just walk in blind and just start asking random questions because that’s not going to get you where you want to go. Your goal is to uncover the challenges these individuals face, the objections they had before, and after they started to come in contact with your organization, and the questions they ask about your organization.

You want to figure these three areas out so you can speak to people like them by honing in a conversation you had with that individual. The more you can use the language that your donors and your volunteers use with you, the more you can connect with people like them. So, as you’re formulating the questions and conversation, really think through, how can I understand what their challenges were? How can I understand the journey they took that lead them to us? And then what were their potential objections? Was there anything that held them back initially?

Just the other day, my husband said, you know what, Monica? I really feel like I should be donating to the Diabetes Association because my dad and brother both have diabetes. He continued with, I don’t know why I don’t. I don’t know why I haven’t done that yet. I responded with, well, no one’s asked you. No one has connected with you in a way that could even lead to that ask. And so you haven’t done it yet. And he’s like, well, how are they gonna find me? And I’m like, that’s their mission. That’s the whole goal of these conversations, you’ll be having.  How did you find this person? How did they come in contact with you? Where do your values and interests intersect? 

Always have a conversation first. 

Jason, one of our content developers, writes a lot of copy for people. He writes lots of words for their websites, social media, and their emails. His first instinct is to have a conversation with people and it makes perfect sense. When Jason came in, we actually adjusted our content development process in our company, to better allow him to understand who he was writing for, and who he was writing about. Allowing him to have an initial 20-minute conversation before he started planning client work was awesome because he was able to hear their voice and hear them talk about who they’re serving, and then go out and learn more about who they’re serving.

If you’re unsure, this is the time for a change.

 So ask yourself, how can you reconnect? Or do you even need to? Do you know your donors? And if you’re feeling like you’re not sure where to put your energy, if you’re not sure if you should even be doing this event or not. This is the time for a change right now. 

Right now at this moment, because everything is adjusting right now. That gives you an amazing opportunity to really look at what you’re doing. Reconnect with those people that you serve: your volunteers, your donors, and the people who benefit from your work. Use this as an opportunity. Use this, to empower you to make decisions that you know are right, that are grounded on something that makes sense. Not decisions like, how do I just meet more people that have disposable income? Because those are not the people you care about. 

We want to connect with the people that once again, have the same values, and the same interests as us as our mission, so that we can be real friends with them. And we can be friends with them for a long time, and they become supporters, and then they become champions. That’s who we want. We don’t just want everybody. 

Are you questioning everything a little bit more now?

Maybe you’re questioning a little bit more than when we started about whether you really know your donors or not. You understand why it matters now and you understand what questions you can ask yourself, and what activities you can do to reconnect with those individuals you serve, volunteers, and donors. 

You could also download How to Create a Marketing Plan, it’ll help you through making buyer personas. After you get through talking to everybody, then you go through the activity of making your buyer personas. Make sure to document it because then when you’re trying to make decisions, you go back to it.

 As my old sales trainer would say,  you go left all the way back to the beginning when you’re uncertain where to start, just go on all the way back to the beginning. Think about those people that you’re talking to. Make sure you do what Jim did, and have a conversation with just that person and make them feel important and special. That is how we make friends. While this was a tough conversation, I feel like we came out better on the other side. 


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