In the article, “We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?”, we examined the child sponsorship model used by World Vision and Compassion International, and considered a key principle that drives the strategy: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

As we continue our focus on building a strong tribe of satisfied donors and volunteers, and examine what makes the child sponsorship model work so well, a second principle emerges.

Principle 2:  Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

A compelling presentation of the problem your organization addresses will trigger a response from a percentage of any group you address. So—according to some marketing firms—we increase funding by targeting a specific segment of the general population (to keep production costs down) and then seek to maximize response by communicating our problem-solution program with the right blend of pathos and logic.

To be fair, the approach works, especially for older constituents who tend to be motivated by a sense of duty. Sad eyes, dirty clothes, and flies-on-the-face images do, indeed, prompt donations.

Once while visiting an African village, I asked a child’s mother for permission to photograph her daughter. She saw a white man with a camera representing a humanitarian organization, so she instructed her little girl, “Push out your stomach and look sad.” She was well aware of problem-solution marketing and simply wanted to be helpful.

While the problem-solution approach can be effective, it’s an exhausting treadmill. It requires relentless focus on finding new audiences to replace individuals who grow tired of urgent appeals. It calls for a constant refining of the problem-solution message to increase the percentage of donor response. And then there’s the challenge of prompting first-time donors to give again, or become regular supporters. So, the question becomes, “How can we restate our problem-solution message differently with each appeal?”

In other words, “How can we continue this kind of appeal while avoiding ‘donor fatigue’?”

While the child sponsorship model is clearly is not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most, it works so well because it connects the donor’s actions directly to results.

Here’s an example of a value proposition used by Compassion International on their Web site. (See image.) After only a brief mention of the problem, the appeal promises specific outcomes. Individual donors who enroll then receive prompt confirmation and ongoing reports that describe the results of their giving.

Increasing constituent satisfaction by connecting donors and volunteers to the results of their contributions is hard work. It will require a gradual restructuring of your organization so that the communications and operations teams become equal stakeholders in a shared outcome: donor and volunteer satisfaction.

The donor development question then becomes, “How can we help donors and volunteers feel like they are part of the operational team?” When this comes the objective, the issue of donor fatigue fades away; your communications will inspire hope and fuel excitement for greater involvement.

Moreover, just like the for-profit sector, satisfied constituents become our greatest advertisement.

How can you combine your donor or volunteer development and operations teams to form a cohesive unit?

How can you give each team a genuine stake in the other’s success?

2 thoughts on “Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

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