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Two Ears, One Mouth, Three Keys to Engagement

When talking with nonprofit—or better yet, “for purpose”-- leaders about their fundraising activities, I am frequently reminded of a nugget I learned in a sales training course earlier in my career: “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Simple, but true, this observation is the key to building a solid foundation for your nonprofit, and the most important skill for engaging support from volunteers and donors is the skill of listening.

After analyzing their donor and volunteer data, many nonprofits would admit that that their fundraising buckets have small (or even major) leaks, making it almost impossible to keep funding at optimum levels. Analysis of donor data will most likely show that even when year-over-year giving is holding steady or growing, the individual’s making those investments in the organization are a shifting group—with a larger-than-desirable percentage of donors falling way and a new crop coming in to make up the difference each year. As any fundraiser will tell you, that’s a lot of work. In fact, studies estimate it takes from eight to ten times the effort to land a new donor as it does to keep a current one, so a revolving door burns important resources

What does it take to counteract that trend and create a stable, growing group of engaged supporters? Here are three keys to get you started:

Key 1: Engage in real, meaningful listening interaction with your supporters. This does not mean spamming their inbox with a general newsletter, posting a generic survey on Social Media, or sending them an email with a generic ask. It does mean making a plan that allows you to assign the appropriate resource and strategy to each individual—with the primary objective of learning how the passions, needs, and concerns of the individual donor connect to the mission and needs of your organization. You'll unlock the key to turning them into valuable resources to influence others. And, once your have identified the universe of those individual needs, you will be able to group people and make your engagement messaging a better fit.

Key 2: Divide and conquer by customizing your approach. Maximize your resources by deploying them where their skills will have the highest return on investment. Large donors deserve the attention of your Executive Director and most experienced and skilled Board Members. Other might be willing to provide the information you need via a phone call, customized Internet survey, or well-designed focus group. The key here is planning. Time is becoming an extremely valuable commodity, and people are quick to dismiss an unsolicited call, a poorly designed survey, or a blanket request.

Key 3: Give everyone on your engagement team the training and tools they need to do the job confidently and effectively. For example, Board Members, past and present, are a great resource, but I find they are often reluctant to participate or discouraged by past efforts. Being a good listener and making sense of what you hear is often the result of engaging in deep listening—where the listener uses prompts to get beneath initial comments and learn more about the true motivations and desires. Helping fund-and-friend-raisers succeed in their efforts will increase the odds that you get the data you need to rationalize your messaging and connect to more contacts going forward. You might do this by structuring their conversations, pairing them with an experienced fundraiser, providing templates they can use to record and share the information you need to create more effective fundraising campaigns going forward.

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