Episode 28 – How Do I Move Affinity from a Staff Member to the Organization?


By Jeremy Reis

What do you do if the affinity the donor has isn’t for your organization but for a staff member? In this really intriguing question, Karen has a long-time staff member who is connected to donors and she’d like to explore ways to move the donors from connecting to the employee to the nonprofit. This can happen with major donor reps, or even a donor connecting to a beneficiary and not to your organization. Learn how to identify donors who have an affinity for your organization or cause instead of the person and how to move them into supporting the organization in this episode of Nonprofit Answers.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of Nonprofit Answers, the podcast where we’re answering your nonprofit marketing and fundraising questions. Thanks so much for joining me today. If you could please do me a favor, I would love your honest rating review on iTunes or your other podcast providers. Your honest rating and review really helps other people find this podcast, and I’d love to hear from you and hear what you think as we develop more episodes here on Nonprofit Answers.

Today we’re going to talk about something that’s really essential in today’s fundraising marketplace. I don’t know if you’ve looked at the Fundraising Effectiveness Project Survey from 2018. The results just came out. Some people are panicking about the results. I’m not panicking about the results because I think if you’re a nonprofit who is connecting well with your donors and providing a lot of value to them, you’re going to do well despite what the industry is doing.

One of the things that is happening in the nonprofit industry is, it’s losing donors. In 2018, donor growth was negative 4.5%, meaning there were 4.5% less donors than the previous year giving. As we look at those kind of numbers, really makes me pause and think about our donor audience and their affinity for giving to our organization. You see, within fundraising as a whole, there’s an area of study around donor ratings, and this is, how do you rate particular donors and how they connect with your organization.

One of the models that fundraisers use is called the PAC model. The PAC model stands for Propensity, Affinity, and Capacity. Propensity answers the question, has the person given to similar cause organizations as yours? Have they given to other organizations? Do they have a passion for that cause and shown an interest in giving to that cause? Affinity is, is the person passionate about your cause and organization? Not only have they given to organizations that are similar to yours, but are they currently passionate about this cause?

Finally, capacity is how much can the person afford to give? What is their wealth look like, and how much can they give to an organization like yours? Today we’re really going to focus on this question of affinity. In today’s question, the donor is connected to the rep at the organization and not necessarily the organization. She’s looking for an answer on how do we get that donor connected to the organization and not just that rep? This is going to be really useful for organizations where you have people that raise their own support, but you’d like to see those supporters become supporters of the organization itself and also for organizations that use peer-to-peer fundraising.

In peer-to-peer fundraising, a lot of people are connected to the primary fundraiser on the campaign and not necessarily the organization itself. How do we increase that affinity for organizations so that those donors will give to the organization and to the cause? Here’s the question.

Hi, Jeremy. My name is Karen, and I’m the executive director of a service organization. I’ve been on the job for about a year, and I have a staff member who has been here some time. The organization formally required staff to raise their own support, but now we do not. My staff member previously raised her own support, but now raises support for our organization. Most of the donors know her, are friends with her, or are related to her. I want the donors to give to our organization because they value what we do, but I’m not sure how to transition them to giving because of the work we do and not because they know my fundraiser. Currently all of our fundraising is done via direct mail letters my staff member writes and sends out quarterly. Any recommendations are appreciated.

Hi, Karen. Thanks so much for the question. This is going to definitely be a common problem. I’m going to give you some examples here of other organization types and other similar situations where an organization has a problem that’s similar to your question. This is a common problem in organizations where people raise their own support. People begin to see those donors as their donors. They begin to think that those donors aren’t the organization’s donors, that they need to protect them. They begin requesting that the organization not send communications to these people. They get very emotional, and it can be very emotional to try to move donors from what a traditionally… staff raising their own support to people giving to the organization. It can be very emotional because they do get very connected to these people who have been supporting them for a long time.

It can also be risky if someone leaves an organization who raises support for the organization. If a donor begins to see themselves as connected to that person and not to the organization, then they could be at risk. If someone leaves, that donor could go with the person, or they could just quit giving entirely. I’ve seen this a number of times with major donors when an executive director, president, CEO leaves. A major donor may get upset about the situation and stop giving to the organization.

At Food For The Hungry, we see it sometimes with child sponsors. They get connected to the child, or to the country the child is in, and not to the organization. We work really hard to help donors understand that their support goes beyond just that one child and goes to help a number of people within that community, and also to get them to understand what Food For The Hungry is doing beyond just the work with that particular child. Many organizations see this same problem with peer-to-peer fundraising. People come in and they give because a friend or a family member did, but they don’t have an affinity for the cause or for the organization.

They see this uptick in donors from one time donors, and then they have a difficult time keeping that donor for a second donation. You see great donor attrition. You see donor acquisition costs rise overall. Though peer-to-peer donor acquisition has a low cost, it can be expensive to try to cultivate those donors when many of them don’t have an affinity for the cause. As I mentioned earlier about the major donors, this could be a problem for major donor giving programs. People can be connected to the major donor rep and not to the organization, and at the major donor reps, people might walk with them. We don’t want this.

When you acquire a donor, it’s expensive to acquire, develop, cultivate that donor, and if you’re not able to get that second, third, fourth gift, or if the person leaves every time a person leaves your organization, it’s very expensive. It’s very time consuming. It’s very difficult to run a fundraising program like that. Sometime ago I worked with a mission sending organization where both staff and the people that went on these mission trips raised their own support. The organization raised really good money for the teams, but then they struggled with, how do you move that person to become an organizational donor?

If Aunt Sally gave because Johnny asked her to, Aunt Sally cares about Johnny. Aunt Sally doesn’t necessarily care about the organization. The question became of the consultant work we did was around, how do you get those people to become a donor to the organization itself and not because Johnny asked? In fundraising, this is a question of affinity. Affinity’s a question, is the person passionate about your cause or your organization? If the answer’s no and Aunt Sally’s passionate on her nephew Johnny, she may never give again to the organization.

However, in every group there’s a percentage of donors who are passionate about your cause, no matter if it’s peer-to-peer, Aunt Sally, major donors. There are people who are passionate about the cause and not just the person they’re connected to. There still is risk. If that person leaves, even if that person the donor is connected to the cause and passionate about the cause, if the person they’re connected to at the organization leaves, they might leave as well.

The question is, there’s two here, the first question is, how do we find those donors among that group of people who gave? How do you find the ones that have an affinity for the cause or the organization, and second, what do you do to keep them? I’m going to give you eight steps here to help you grow your donor program, to help you identify who those donors are that potentially have an affinity for your cause, how do you get them moved over so they’re connected to your organization and not just a single person.

First, I want you to expand the number of voices the donor is hearing from, and then I want you to measure the results. For example, in your question here you had a staff member who’s been connected to these people for some time. I want you to introduce your voice as the executive director or someone else on staff to these donors, and then identify the donors that give to the appeals that came from a different voice. You want to segment these donors for future mailings and for future fundraising campaigns.

What you’re doing here is, you’re using the tools that you have here to identify people who are passionate about the cause or the organization and not necessarily just the person who brought them in. Second, I want you to tell more stories of impact from the organization, not from the person. Identify your donor list of active donors, and start sending them more stories. If it’s email, if it’s direct mail, send them more stories about what the organization is accomplishing and have them, just from the organization or from yourself as the executive director, not from the person who’s been traditionally raising funds.

When you tell more stories of impact from your organization, people begin to trust that the work that you’re doing is good work, and if they have an affinity for the cause, they’re more likely to give. In direct mail, even if you don’t have an appeal included in there, throw a white envelope in there with a tracking code on it. This allows you to track donors that are coming in from these impact stories, and you’re going to have some. There’s going to be a percentage of people who give based on that impact story without an appeal because they see the good work that your organization is doing.

Third, I want you to increase the number of appeals. You mentioned earlier in your question that you were sending out quarterly appeals. I want you to increase the number of appeals that you’re sending. At least add an additional one, maybe two or three more, and again, vary the people that these appeals are from. What I am suggesting is that if you’re only sending quarterly appeals, you’re probably sending too few to the donors to support your organization. Donors have a higher capacity than you think to receive these appeals. Add a few more, especially during October, November, December timeframe. These extra appeals are going to bring in more income for you.

Fourth, you mentioned that you primarily are raising funds through direct mail. I want you to introduce more digital giving options into your fundraising mix. Run a crowdfunding campaign for a specific project. I mentioned earlier there is sometimes a risk of peer-to-peer fundraising, or people give because a family member or friend invited them. Crowdfunding is different. Crowdfunding is where a group of people come together to raise funds for a specific project.

By introducing these new digital giving options, you’re going to decrease your cost of acquiring donations as the cost of digital giving is much lower than direct mail. You’re also going to give options to people who may not give through direct mail. There’s a lot of donors out there who are not your direct mail donors. They don’t give through direct mail. They’re not going to be interested in giving through direct mail, but by introducing more digital giving options, you’re going to appeal to a different class of donor. At the end of the day, what we want to do is, we want to grow your donor base beyond those donors that are supporting you currently.

Fifth, go back to the segment you identified in step one, you know, the people who gave to a different fundraising voice. You want to send them appeals from a new person like yourself, the executive director, or someone else on staff. This segment is already shown an affinity that they’re willing to give to a voice outside of the person that has traditionally fundraised from them, and so you’re more likely to be able to move these people to supporting the organization in the cause.

Number six, move people to monthly giving. Monthly giving stabilizes your fundraising. It provides you money over time and not just all of the money coming in, in that traditional fundraising quarter of October, November, December. If you go back and do a donor survey with your audience, I bet one thing that you’re going to find is that your donors crave connection. They want to be connected to something, to other donors, and so when you have a monthly giving program, you can create an environment that helps people feel connected to something and involved in a larger donor community.

Number seven, offer more value to your donors through eBooks, through training opportunities, through videos, through exclusive events. When you invest more in your donors and the people that are giving to you, they will invest more in you. Finally, number eight, diversify your income sources. It’s time for some donor acquisition. You want to move beyond the donors that the staff member has acquired over the years and find new donors to support your organization.

Listen to episode 14 of this podcast, and you’ll learn how to grow your email list and episode 27. You’ll learn how to acquire more digital donors. Thank you Karen for your timely question. This is something that a lot of nonprofits are currently facing, a lot of nonprofits are currently struggling with. I really appreciate the time that you took to send in this question. Take care.


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