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4 Things Clothing Upcycling Can Teach Nonprofits about Keeping Donors

Part 2

Claire Axelrad Claire Axelrad

In Part 1 we learned about: (1) How to stop discarding and learn to treasure your donors (and clothing), and (2) How to meaningfully thank and praise your donors (and clothing) for all the things they make possible. Today we’ll talk about some specific ways to get these things done.

1. Show Impact with Stories and Compelling Images

When you thank Grandma for the birthday gift, there’s a big difference between writing “Thanks for the gift” and “Thanks for the warm and fuzzy blue sweater; here’s a photo of me wearing it at the beach. It really kept me toasty!

The first is really blah; grandma may not even remember what she gave you, and she certainly can’t tell if it meant anything to you. It certainly won’t inspire her to be thoughtful about the next gift she may give you. Whereas the second gives grandma a great, memorable picture of how you’re using it (if you can slip a snapshot in, so much the better). It probably makes her smile, and gets her thinking about how she can please you even more next time!

Praise grows in a group setting. Grandma is apt to share the snapshot of you wearing your sweater with her friends. Take a look at the websites of some of the nonprofits who are most effective sharing impact using stories and images. Charity: Water . World Wildlife. St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. The Humane Society. The Salvation Army. You won’t see a lot of heavy text and mind-numbing statistics. You’ll see inspiring stories, photos and videos that demonstrate impact. Today’s donors care about outcomes. Show them! Many like their friends to know they helped. Share the news of their love!

ACTIONABLE TIPS (Closet analogy): Think of the many ways you can show off the impact of your clothing (aka donations) in action. Create a Pinterest board. Post photos to Facebook or Instagram. Use a smart phone to take videos in the field; then upload to Vimeo or YouTube. Create a rocking blog and/or e-newsletter to showcase your great outfits (aka donors and donations), telling the story of how they were used. Make your clothing (aka donor) the hero that saved the day!

2. Build the Relationship

Stop looking at your donors simply as a means to an end. A wallet or ATM to fund your needs. Recognize that donors have needs too, and your job is to meet those needs. Actually, donors should be incorporated into you mission statement.

Part of your essential purpose is to give meaning to donors’ lives. They may want to help end homelessness; they don’t have a clue how to do so on their own. They may want to end cancer; they can’t begin to do it alone. They may want to bring music education back into the schools; they’ve no idea how to start. Your goal is to help donors act on their desires through you. You are the bridge between what donors want and need to accomplish and the world’s most pressing problems.

You are a philanthropy facilitator. And relationship philanthropy (from “love of humankind”) comes from a place of donor love. This requires finding what donors value, since all of fundraising is facilitating a value-for-value exchange. Your first time meeting someone you don’t love them. If you spend time building a relationship, and share common values, you may become loyal friends. Ultimately, you may become like family. When this happens, you have a sustainable fundraising model.

ACTIONABLE TIPS (Closet analogy): Whenever I bring something new home I want to make sure I don’t just stuff it into my closet and forget about it. I don’t know it very well yet, so I put it on a rolling rack outside my closet to remind myself to begin engaging with it. To get to know it so that I feel the connection and begin to commit it to memory. You can do this with new donors too. Put them in a special pipeline and make sure they get a number of “touches” throughout the year (maybe a “welcome package,” an invitation to a tour or volunteer opportunity, a holiday card and a year-end stewardship report). This requires devoting some real resources to the effort (I bought my rolling rack) and getting everyone else in your organization on board with the importance of this process (my family is now A-OK with the rolling rack hanging out in our guest room; they even sometimes use it too!).

What we’ve learned today about donors (and clothing):

  • Donors want to be able to visualize the impact of their gift. A picture can be worth 1,000 words. Ask: How can I best demonstrate impact to my donors using images?
  • Praise grows in a group setting. Ask: Where might I share a photo or video depicting the impact of my donor’s gift?
  • Donors have needs; they’re not just a means to an end. Donors have values they seek to enact through philanthropy. Ask: How can I get to know my donor better so that I find out what my donor values most?
  • Many donors (not all) want to develop an ongoing relationship with me and my organization. Ask: What plan of “moves” and “touches” can I put in place to build a strong relationship that facilitates my donor’s philanthropy?

More Tips about Retaining Donors through Gratitude and Active Relationship-Building

Check out some of my Clairification Blog articles (here). Also peruse my Pinterest boards on Relationship Fundraising and Gratitude. And grab one or more of my practical, hands-on E-Books on deepening donor loyalty: How to Cultivate an Attitude of Gratitude, Creative Ways to Thank Donors, 48 Hours Donor Acknowledgement Solution Kit and Thank You Calls E-Book and Script.

The preceding is a guest post by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE. Claire was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of her social benefit consulting firm, Clairification. Claire offers oodles of resources on her site, writes a monthly feature for Maximize Social Business on social media for nonprofits and is a frequent contributor to leading nonprofit resources including Nonprofit Hub, 4GOOD, Fundraising Success Magazine, Nonprofit.about.com and npENGAGE Experts. Claire Axelrad: Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine.

Topics: Fundraising