Fortifying Your Nonprofit’s Support


Every nonprofit wants a highly engaged donor base.  The foundation for donor engagement is a knowledgeable donor.  Unfortunately, most donors know very little about the missions they support.  Their annual gift to each of the nonprofits they support is less than what they pay per month for their cell phone.  When you think about how much they spend each year on their cell phone, one is inclined to believe that they have the capacity to be far more generous.  They might be willing to focus their giving on one nonprofit if they knew more about the mission they are supporting.

Nonprofits  would like to have their donors as engaged as some iPhone customers.  Their willingness to line up many hours in advance to purchase a new phone when their old phone is still functional is a great example of behavior of a highly engaged person. This article and two other companion articles about your fundraising and board will help you tap the potential for more generous support.

Those passionate customers behave that way because they see extraordinary value in their current phone and hope for greater value in their new phone.  It is value far beyond what most people see or understand.

Do you have any clients who are that engaged, satisfied, and passionate?

Superior value will create highly engaged, satisfied, and passionate clients.  The client is the sole arbiter of superior value.  Superior value is more than just meeting the needs and wants of a client.  It includes providing the client with unique, unexpected value.  One of the initial and unexpected values the iPhone provided its customers was cachet.  The cachet has declined as all things do with time, which in part explains why there is less enthusiasm for the current iPhone than there was for the earlier versions.  While it is hard to imagine nonprofit clients flocking to a nonprofit because of the cache associated with its services, it is doubtful that very many people would have predicted a mobile phone could generate much prestige for its users either.  The meaningful, measurable, and durable changes your mission promises to make in a client’s life can be as compelling as the iPhone cachet.

Since nonprofit clients typically have limited disposable income, it is best to focus the search for unexpected value to something with practical value.  In addition, the unexpected must be something the client discovers rather than the nonprofit promotes.

I know a man who credits an afterschool program with catalyzing his interest in engineering.  His family had very limited resources.  He wanted a radio when he was a young teen.  Instead of giving him a radio, the nonprofit encouraged him to build one from several broken radios.  He believes he learned many things he would have never learned any other way.  The things he learned allowed him to enjoy a very successful and fulfilling life.  Fifty years later, he still encourages people to send others to the nonprofit and support the nonprofit.

If that nonprofit had a fifty-year history of consistent success, it would enjoy enviable support today.  There are many reasons the nonprofit might have stopped the program.  One of them might have been because they were unable to see immediate success.  Without the immediate feedback, they might have felt other programing would be more beneficial.

The meaningful, measurable, and durable changes made in someone’s life can take years to become obvious.  Therefore, nonprofits must measure the milestones that predict future success and endeavor to retain contact with clients long after they leave the program.  While it takes effort to sustain the relationship, it pays significant dividends and increases the sustainability of the nonprofit, its programing, and mission.

Success like the one in that story is rarer than necessary.  All of the things he thinks he learned are things the afterschool program could have measured (tenacity, self-reliance, understanding of basic engineering, etc) if developing those aspects of a person was part of their intentional programing.  The measurement process would have helped them to realize that when a client passes a certain threshold, their future success is assured.  That would produce the feedback to encourage and refine the program.

Evidence that your nonprofit produces similar results on a regular bases and a few anecdotes that humanize the statistics will help to ensure that your donors and other supporters are just as enthusiastic as the man in the story is.

Next Step:

Look for the unexpected value (outcome) your nonprofit provides or could provide that the clients will discover after they leave your program (the iPhone’s cachet was a collateral result of its usefulness and value)

Be intentional about developing the unexpected value, measuring it, and reporting it to your non-client stakeholders

Continue to provide the unexpected value until it becomes a recognized signature element of your programing

Use the unexpected value to attract donors, volunteers, and other supporters

It is important to remember that what the donors see as unexpected value may be significantly different from how the clients characterize it.  In the preceding story, the man is grateful for a successful career in engineering, a fulfilling life, and help developing attributes that were important to his success.  The donors might have been thrilled that the cycle of poverty was broken.

The unexpected value fortifies your nonprofit in many ways.  It proves the durable value of your mission.  The satisfaction of the clients generates word of mouth, which results in additional support, new clients, and helpful advocates.  Because it takes time for clients to discover the unexpected value, it is a competitive advantage that is difficult for competitors to identify and overcome.  As you build on the unexpected value over time, it becomes even more difficult to overcome.  The unexpected value creates long-term sustainability.

Take It Further:

Use the development of your unexpected value, rather than successful completion of your programing, as the success measure for your programing

Remind your board that it takes time to fortify one’s market position


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