Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

Are We Turning Our Donors and Volunteers into Quitters?

According to multiple studies, 50 – 70 percent of online donation attempts end before completion.

In other words, thousands of people click the “Donate” button—saying “yes” to our value propositions, agreeing to support the people we serve—only to quit before completing the transaction.

At the risk of belaboring the point, let’s put “donation abandonment” into real-world context. We have poured precious resources—money, time, and creativity—into finding likeminded donors and volunteers, convincing them to view our Web site, and inspiring them to help the people we serve.

Potential donors then click the “Donate” button, saying in effect, “Yes! I want to share a portion of my wealth to help others through your organization. I believe in what you’re doing!” Then, at some point during the donation process, more than half of them change their minds, close the page, and do something else.

Donors have agreed to help others through our organization, but our donation process convinced half of them to do otherwise.

This brings us to our third principle of donor and volunteer satisfaction. It is perhaps, the most overlooked, yet the most critical to our bottom line.

Principle 3: A clumsy donation or volunteer process turns potential advocates into quitters.

Non-profit marketing and communications begins with good messaging, on which the first two principles focused.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

Principle 2: Problems urge donations; results inspire activists.

Non-profit marketing begins with a captivating appeal (based on a compelling value proposition) and leads to a clear call to action. But it must not end there. We promise the donor will experience satisfaction in his or her decision to help others; the success of our cause then demands that the donation or volunteer process reinforce their initial decision.

If our donation process erases this initial excitement before the end of the first attempt to help, how can we reasonably expect our organizations to grow?

Think about the economic impact of this. If we simply avoid disappointing donors with our clumsy online donation process, we could double our online revenue and help twice as many people!

Okay. ‘Nough said about the problem.

As I studied the issue of online donation abandonment in depth, I identified five factors of donor psychology that, when addressed with specific remedies, virtually eliminated the problem.

Here are the five principles listed and summarized. We will examine each in detail in coming articles.

Factor 1: Continuity

The perception that the donation process flows naturally from the value proposition and call to action.

Factor 2: Friction

Cognitive resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as confusion.

Factor 3: Anxiety

Emotional resistance to any element of the online transaction process, usually presenting as concern.

Factor 4: Momentum

The feeling of ease or effortlessness that continues throughout the online donation process.

Factor 5: Cognitive Bias

Unconscious influences that systematically affect decision-making.

This article focuses on donor behavior because we have tons of data to study. Completing an online donation transaction is relatively simple compared to the intricate process of volunteering, which is fraught with opportunities to disappoint. So, it’s no great stretch to suggest that volunteer abandonment is equally high, if not higher.

Fortunately, these five factors of donor psychology apply equally to volunteers. As we examine each factor in detail, we can evaluate our volunteer processes to maximize participation.

In preparation for the coming articles, talk to your Web development team and have them begin measuring donor abandonment. This is a relatively simple thing to do, even for novice developers. Google Analytics is a free service and it’s easy to configure.

Simply have Google Analytics count the number of times users click any of your “Donate” buttons, then compare that number to the number of online donations received.

Begin tracking these two numbers on a weekly basis, and consider making donor abandonment a key metric in measuring the effectiveness of your marketing, communications, and Web development teams.

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

Are We Soliciting Donations, or Inspiring Change-Agents?

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?

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

We Know the Power of Customer Satisfaction, What about Donor Satisfaction?

Anyone who gives time or money to a charity does so with the expectation of satisfaction.

That’s not to suggest their motives are selfish. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Donors and volunteers simply want to know that their time or money has been invested wisely, and that our organization has helped them make a difference in the world.

That is, after all, the promise we make in our value proposition. (Assuming, of course, our value proposition is clear and compelling.)

This isn’t new information. Every leader in non-profit organizations I’ve encountered understands this at an instinctive level. Unfortunately, the concept of donor satisfaction rarely finds its way into the marketing or donor development activities of charities, and almost completely overlooked on the ministry side of their operations.

For-profit organizations live or die by customer/client satisfaction. In the non-profit world, satisfied donors and volunteers do two very important things: they donate or volunteer again, and they tell other people about our wonderful organization. And that’s the key to maintaining financial stability while cultivating steady growth.

Many charities eagerly devote precious resources to acquire new donors and volunteers, yet give little thought to making donating and volunteering a satisfying experience.

Seasoned leaders, however, understand that the key metric in organizational growth is not new name acquisition or even first-time donations, but consistent re-engagement. Astute leaders understand that ministry operations and donor development are not two separate functions, but interdependent teams that share a symbiotic relationship.

Consider, for example, two of the largest Christian humanitarian aid organizations in existence: World Vision and Compassion International. Both use a child sponsorship model, which is clearly not appropriate for every kind of charity and may not even be possible for most. However, their system leverages several principles that can be adapted when developing our own marketing and communications strategy.

In this series of articles, we will consider some of these principles and explore ways to apply them.

Principle 1: Donors and volunteers give to people, not to causes or organizations.

If the majority of promotional literature and donation appeals are any indication, this principle isn’t as basic as it might seem.

The child sponsorship model maximizes donor satisfaction by maintaining a direct connection between individual donors and the people served through the organization. Donors get to see the faces, and learn the names, and even carry on direct communication with the people they are helping. This helps each donor experience the satisfaction of generosity while appreciating the organization for its role in facilitating the work.

Any communications strategy we employ needs to connect donors and volunteers to the people they are helping as closely as practically possible.

Take a few minutes to examine your promotional literature and the last several appeals for donations or volunteers.

Who is the hero of the story you tell? Do you highlight the size, strength, successes, or qualifications of your organization? Or do you show the reader how to become a potential hero, a genuine change-agent in the fight against a particular evil?

Do you present statistics or describe the size of the problem you address? Or do you highlight the people potentially helped by the donor or volunteer? Can you tell the stories of representative individuals whose lives have been changed by the efforts of past donors and volunteers?

Can you communicate your value proposition in terms that feel accessible to your potential donors? What can be accomplished with a single donation of [insert reasonable donation here]? How will that donation or volunteer activity change the life of someone for the better?

Now the more difficult question: How can you bring a sense of satisfaction to the donor or volunteer after the initial transaction is complete?

Principle #2 addresses this challenge.

A Command Is a Command

32 - Salute (iStock_000005426456XSmall)Captain George Little served with distinction in the United States Navy.  So, after obeying the order of his Commander-in-Chief, he never expected to find himself on the wrong end of a lawsuit, liable for damages in the commission of his duty.

In 1799, war between the United States and France appeared inevitable. In preparation, Congress passed a law allowing President John Adams to seize any vessels bound for French ports. However, Adams took this power a step further, ordering the seizure of vessels heading to and from France. Captain Little, commanding the USS Boston, captured the “Flying Fish,” a Danish ship, as it arrived in St. Thomas from France. And he carried out his orders to the letter. After all, refusing to do so would certainly have him court-martialed, perhaps even executed.

So how could he have been liable for civil damages for carrying out a clear order from the President? The U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruled that “instructions cannot change the nature of the transaction, or legalize an act which, without those instructions, would have been a plain trespass.”[1] In other words, orders from a superior officer—even the Commander-in-Chief—do not release a person from his responsibility to do what is right.

Chief Justice Marshall admitted his personal conflict with this decision. He sympathized with Captain Little, who merely acted in good faith, and he worried that the ruling might undermine the integrity of the military, which depends upon the implicit obedience of its members. But, in the final analysis, much more would have been lost if he ruled in favor of the hapless skipper. Continue reading “A Command Is a Command”

Are You a Reed Shaken by the Wind?

26 - Discouraged (iStock_000000453292XSmall)Sometimes, I identify with John the Baptizer. Not in his fiery prime, when he stood against the religious hypocrites of Jerusalem. Not when he prophesied the coming of the Messiah. Not when he called multitudes to repent of their sins and to submit to the rite of baptism. No, I empathize with the man whose faith stood on trembling legs in the squalor of Herod’s dungeon. Undoubtedly bewildered by his suffering, he sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).

What a curious question for the Forerunner of the Messiah to ask. What could have caused this man of almost superhuman faith to question Jesus’ identity? After all, from the moment of his conception, John’s destiny compelled him to prepare the way for the Christ. Even before he took a single breath outside his mother’s womb, the prophet sensed the divine presence of the Expected One (Luke 1:41, 44). Nevertheless, John’s confidence waivered for the same reasons many vocational servants of God struggle today.

First, John suffered outrageous injustice.

  Continue reading “Are You a Reed Shaken by the Wind?”

The Cost of Changing the World

Well-known physical formulaIn the early 1960s, Thomas Kuhn wrote a book titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he coined the term “paradigm shift.” When scientists can no longer make sense of their data using the established theories, someone stumbles upon a new perspective that sparks a scientific revolution. The facts don’t change; we merely change our way of looking at them.

A quick review of history reveals that paradigm shifts almost always result in dramatic improvements for humankind. Yet, for all the undeniable benefits they bring, paradigm shifts are rare and precious events in human history. That’s because adopting a radical new perspective is a costly venture. To embrace a new paradigm, we must accept no less than four conditions or else accept the limitations of the old way of thinking.

First, we must be willing to accept that the generally accepted perspective has become more harmful than helpful. While the old way of thinking served our purposes and has perhaps done great good, we must be willing to set it aside when the old paradigm makes problems worse rather than better.

Second, we must be willing to challenge what we believe to be true. This is not a denial of truth; merely a willingness to put our understanding of truth to the test and to let it stand on its own, or fall away. This is undoubtedly the most difficult condition, and what keeps paradigm shifts from occurring more often. This requires humility, admitting we may have defended and promoted a faulty perspective. It also demands faith, genuinely trusting that our perspectives and truth are not the same. And it calls for courage, a steadfast confidence that truth will prevail if we keep a relaxed grip on our perspectives.

Third, we must be willing to go back to the very beginning and rethink everything we now take for granted. While the exercise often feels like reinventing the wheel, it is necessary. A faulty assumption, no matter how innocent or small, can potentially undermine an important breakthrough.

Finally, we must be willing to be misunderstood. People who do not see the need for a new perspective (usually because the old paradigm has not failed them) zealously resist change and tend to regard anyone arguing for change as an enemy. Consequently, the integrity, intelligence, qualifications, or motives of those embracing the new paradigm will be called into question.

Revolutionary thinkers pay a terrible price for their innovations. Most die penniless and persecuted in their own time, only to be celebrated as heroes when their radical idea becomes the standard view. Eventually, their sacrifice becomes humanity’s reward.

Do you have a crazy idea? Do you have a vision for how things could be different? What price are you willing to pay in order to see it through?

Uncle “Red Beans” and Me

22 - RB with BlackieMy uncle R.B. was one of those winsome old men who draw kids like honey draws flies—an incorrigible teaser with a permanent, mischievous twinkle in his eye. He almost had me convinced that R.B. stood for “red beans,” which he had with dinner seven nights a week. This salty west-Texan did his time in a General Dynamics factory and savored retirement like it was his parole. He worked to live, not the other way around. He was my playmate, the closest thing I had to a grandfather, and easily one of the greatest influences on my life. Much of what I understand about manhood came from him. And when I think of a mentor, I immediately recall his sun-parched face and this story.

Uncle R.B. considered the dimple-C ranch in Duffau, TX his true home—several hundred acres of grassy pasture, Mesquite trees, a few dozen head of cattle, and an old, black farm truck from the Hoover administration. By the time I was tall enough to reach the floorboard starter button, I had mastered the art of driving. And, despite the sloppy manual gear stick and wobbly steering, I could proudly declare that I had never so much as scratched anything with it. Other, less responsible family members (I won’t embarrass them—they know who they are) had plowed into trees or torn a giant gash in the barn. But not me. At the ripe, old age of eleven, I boasted a spotless driving record. Continue reading “Uncle “Red Beans” and Me”