Let’s say you’ve decided it’s time to buy a new pair of jeans. You’re thinking maybe skinny dark jeans or perhaps a light-wash high-rise boot cut. But when you walk in to your favorite store, the sales associate directs you to a table piled high with denim and a sign that reads: ONE SIZE FITS ALL. Um, no. The one-size-fits-all model may work with scarves, but it definitely does not work with blue jeans. Why? Because people’s body types are as diverse as their senses of style. (The Internet literally has hundreds of pages dedicated to breaking down the best style for your body type — seriously, there are algorithms for this stuff.) Your reaction to this abomination, this affront to your unique sense of style and individuality?
You walk out of the store.
Which is why, if you are attempting to engage all your donors in the same exact way, you’re going to see a lot more of them turning their back on your organization than buying what you’re selling.
In 1994, a team of social scientists conducted a study to determine what motivates an individual’s interest in and support for a nonprofit organization. Their research concluded that donors fall into seven distinct groups, which they dubbed “The Seven Faces of Philanthropy” (Maru, Karen & Prince, Russ Alan. Jossey-Bass 1994).
Astonishingly, we tracked down seven donors, one from each category, and asked them what they respond to when it comes to engagement.
Here’s what we learned….
Name: REGINA REPAYER
Her motto: “Pay it forward.”
Why she gives: Regina was positively affected by a nonprofit when she was a child. Now an adult, she feels a strong sense of obligation to give back to organizations that have missions similar to the one that helped her.
How to approach her: Regina is likely to be moved and motivated by hearing the personal story of an individual whose life was deeply affected by the work of your organization.
How to involve her: Regina might be interested in volunteering with your organization and might even be willing to tell her own story as part of a campaign.
How to thank her: Regina doesn’t want individual attention or recognition, but a handwritten thank-you note is always appreciated.
Name: INGRID INVESTOR
Her motto: “Doing good is good for business.”
Why she gives: Ingrid runs a large corporation and understands that partnering with and supporting nonprofits is a good look for her company. She is skilled at cost-benefit analysis and wants to know how her gift to your organization will be used to create the most impact. Just like her stock portfolio, Ingrid diversifies her giving among a range of organizations.
How to approach her: Ingrid wants charts and numbers — data that supports exactly how her gift will be used in the present and will contribute to a better future. She wants to be assured that her gift is not just changing one life, but potentially dozens of lives. And yes, she’d like you to talk with her about ROI.
How to involve her: Show Ingrid you appreciate her business savvy as well as her generosity. Invite her to join your board and finance committee. Solicit her thoughts on scalability. And do your best to persuade her that having her company be a sponsor of your next event is a win-win for both organizations.
How to thank her: Ingrid typically appreciates both public and private acknowledgement of her contributions.
Name: SALLY SOCIALITE
Motto: “If it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right.”
Why she gives: Sally has a big heart and free time that she wants to use to make the world a better place — all the better if she can have fun doing it! She has an extensive social network and likes to work with others to create enjoyable ways for people to donate their time, treasure, and talent.
How to approach her: Sally is always looking for ways to burnish her reputation as a philanthropic mover and shaker. So invite her to an event! Make sure she has a good time and meets lots of people. Then follow up with a phone call or a coffee date and ask what she thought about the event. While you’re at it, feature a picture of her at the event in your newsletter or on your social media feed.
How to involve her: Ask Sally if she would be willing to help organizing a future fundraiser or social event — maybe even one at her home. If she’s a good spokesperson for the organization and believes in your cause, you can bet she’ll get her friends to believe in it, too.
How to thank her: Sally desires formal and public recognition of her generosity. Be sure to mention her generosity to others in her social circle.
Name: COLIN COMMUNITARIAN
Motto: “Help others achieve their dreams, and you will achieve yours.”
Why he gives: Colin is a local business owner with a strong sense of civic responsibility. He enjoys bringing people together around a common purpose and believes everyone has value and adds value.
How to approach him: Colin knows his community, and he knows there are problems that need solving. Using data-driven research, show Colin that your nonprofit also knows the community and the challenges it faces. Demonstrate that you and your colleagues care deeply and are dedicated to addressing those challenges and need his help to do it.
Name: DEVIN DEVOUT
Motto: “We should feel grateful instead of entitled. We have a moral obligation to give back.”
Why he gives: Devin gives because he has a strong belief in the cause and wants to align his efforts on its behalf with like-minded folks.
How to approach him: Devin is an ideal donor because he will unselfishly give everything he can in terms of time, treasure, and talent. But first he needs to establish trust in the leadership and values of your organization. Acknowledge Devin’s commitment to the cause and build his trust with a meaningful encounter with a senior leader at your nonprofit. Recognize that other organizations also are trying to court Devin, and be sure to keep checking in and listening to his hopes and priorities.
How to involve him: Devin is driven by his passion and commitment. You’ve done the leg work to gain his trust; once you have it, involve him as a thought partner.
How to thank him: Devin doesn’t seek public acknowledgement, but he should be thanked privately, personally, and often. When you thank him, consider sharing specific stories about individuals who have been helped thanks to his generosity.
Name: ALLIE ALTRUIST
Motto: “If you want to feel good, do good.”
Why she gives: Allie gives out of generosity, empathy, and because she feels it is simply the right thing to do. And it feels good!
How to approach her: Allie chooses the nonprofits she supports based on her feelings of empathy and her heartfelt connection to the people involved. She is moved by personal stories of struggle and triumph and wants to know specifically how her assistance will make a difference.
How to engage her: Allie gets joy out of helping others and seeing the results of her assistance. She would welcome hands-on experience working with the community served by your organization. Offer her as many volunteer opportunities and ways to give her time, treasure, and talent as you can.
How to thank her: Allie almost always wishes to remain anonymous.
Name: DINAH DYNAST
Motto: “Tradition simply means we must end what began well and continue what is worth continuing.”
Why she gives: Dinah believes that philanthropy is everyone’s responsibility, and she sees it as part of her identity. Dinah’s family has been long-time supporters of many causes, and she very much is interested in carrying on that legacy.
How to approach her: Acknowledge that you understand and appreciate the valuable contributions Dinah’s family has made over the years. Dig into your organization’s history and site specific examples of how her family’s generosity has benefited the community you serve. Dinah is a donor you don’t want to lose, so be sure to give her lots of personal attention.
How to involve her: Dinah believes that giving time is as important as giving money. Ask her to serve on your board or a committee. If it isn’t already, she may also be interested in having her family’s name attached to a program or capital improvement. This can be a delicate conversation, so make sure you’ve thoroughly vetted her interest before broaching it.
How to thank her: Dinah should be thanked publicly, privately, and often.
As you can see, each of these individuals has different philosophies and motivations with respect to their giving, and if you’re looking to maximize their contributions, the last thing you want do is to engage them as if “one size fits all.”
Ashley Waterson, creative messaging guru at Envision Consulting, has more than ten years’ experience crafting content for various platforms, including comedy sketches, NPR features, and websites.
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