Is This Relationship-Building?

Why is America fractured?  The disenchanted, the disenfranchised, the displaced are front page news.    Perhaps the commonality underlying all of the complaining is a longing to belong.  As a society, what can we accomplish by being more inclusionary, finding the common thread that binds? 

Assuming there is a basic truth to this premise – how do we embrace the premise of ‘longing to belong’ and use it to take our direct response relationships to the next level?

Let’s take a look back. For decades marketing was all about the brand, the slogan and making the sale. No one had the ability to track the individual consumer and their preferences.

By the 1970s, the marketing world finally had the capabilities to identify individuals and target offers directly to them based on their buying history. And thus the direct marketing industry was born.  Fundraisers embraced this technology using data to personalize messages. This “one-to-one” communication gave the impression of organizations building a relationship with a donor.

Fast forward to today. Donor acquisition and retention rates are plummeting. Organizations continue to think they have the answer – personalize more – the city, the state, the neighborhood, to help drive the urgency for giving.  Non-profits have asked thousands to take the time to fill out and return surveys.  Why? Not for helping these organizations “show donors that they know them” but to use it merely as a way to get a gift.

It seems the entire world is talking about big data and how it’s changing the face of marketing and customer/donor engagement. But if it’s really improving engagement, then why is acquisition and retention declining?  How do we inform the donor that we know them, we appreciate them and we value their priorities?

Perhaps the answer no longer lies in the imagined one-way relationship between organization and donor. Futurist J. Walker Smith believes we are now in an age where we are all “Longing for Belonging”. And that the motivation for making a purchase (giving) is about community, connection and identity.

We’ve always known that we needed to concentrate not on getting a single gift but rather on building a lifetime of engagement and loyalty. But are we really practicing what we preach? And is it enough in today’s world where people want to retain their unique identities but find a community that they can have ongoing connections with?

No longer can we focus on a relationship between organization and donor. Rather, we need to work on creating and developing devoted followers who willingly share their experience with their friends and their communities.  Just look at the explosive growth of peer-to-peer fundraising.  Read one of the many personal fundraising pages posted on a crowd funding site asking for support for their amazing cancer treatment center, conservation group, etc. and you will see the depth of connectivity and relationship that these people have for their cause.  And, remember that key phrase, “their cause.”  This is a very different feeling than being a donor to an organization. 

My change of perspective from previous vocation of service and implementation to the agency perspective of goals, strategy and tactics invites me ‘behind the curtain’ where the analytics drives the one-to-one focused personalization that we know is so important to building a sustainable community of constituents; each an essential part of an organization’s greater community.

What impact does a personalized letter have if the only aspect that’s ‘personal’ is the salutation and the ask amount? It’s been the standard go to formula forever, but if we’re going to ask our supporters to stay with us year after year – we’d better get busy with creating a relationship of substance. 

From the perspective of the experts – both the print manufacturers and the digital developers – they can do almost anything that is asked. The infrastructure exists – it’s not what’s holding back the push toward an improved donor experience that builds loyalty and relationships. 

The challenge today is in deciding how to use the data and tools to create a community where donors are proud to be part of and feel ownership in, yet still can retain their unique identity.  This does take time, effort, money and a mutually vested interest. 

We can keep doing business as usual or invest in sustainable growth and identifying the thread that binds.  A no-brainer, don’t you think?