NRB Donor Engagement Proceedings Paper

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Ministries and their consultants have invested heavily over the past decade or more in message development for fundraising appeals and in testing mail and e-mail concepts to determine which are likely to yield the greatest returns in each specific appeal transaction. While this has been successful, in the most recent economic downturn many ministries struggled to maintain levels of support even with well-tested appeals. Our work on behalf of several of these ministries suggests that one reason for this decline in support is that they had cultivated a group of donors who were characterized by high levels of transactional response but low levels of overall engagement with the ministry.
In this analysis we explore patterns of engagement that we commonly see between donors and our ministry clients and share new tools for building and monitoring effective and sustainable engagement.

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NRB Donor Engagement Proceedings Paper

  1. 1. Evaluating and Improving Effectiveness in Fundraising Measuring and Improving Donor Engagement for Sustainable Support Chris Wilson and Bryon Allen, Ph.D. Presented to the National Religious Broadcasters Research Symposium Orlando, FL, June 28-29SummaryIntroduction Ministries and their consultants have invested heavily over the past decade or more inmessage development for fundraising appeals and in testing mail and e-mail concepts to determinewhich are likely to yield the greatest returns in each specific appeal transaction. While this has beensuccessful, in the most recent economic downturn many ministries struggled to maintain levels ofsupport even with well-tested appeals. Our work on behalf of several of these ministries suggeststhat one reason for this decline in support is that they had cultivated a group of donors who werecharacterized by high levels of transactional response but low levels of overall engagement with theministry. In this analysis we explore patterns of engagement that we commonly see between donorsand our ministry clients and share new tools for building and monitoring effective and sustainableengagement.
  2. 2. A Typology of Donor EngagementExamining our database of broadcast ministry and other ministry donor research, we find a commonpattern emerges where each ministry has some mix of three different types of donors. Each of thesedonors brings a different type and level of engagement to their relationship with the ministry andposes a different type of challenge in terms of building and maintaining an engaged relationship.1) Personality-Centered Donors One common type of donor relationship we see among our ministry clients is the Personality-Centered donor. These are donors who feel a strong personal commitment to support a strongfounder or ministry executive. Their willingness to give to the ministry is based on a trust for thisstrong leader and a feeling of personal engagement with his or her ministry. In many of the ministries we serve, this is the oldest cohort of donors because they havebeen with the ministry and its founder since the early days of the ministry effort. In a broadcastministry, they can be more broadly distributed across age groups and durations of relationship withthe ministry because of the more personal connection possible in a broadcast environment. Anothersimilar engagement pattern emerges in organizations, such as Campus Crusade for Christ, wheredonors are asked to support a specific volunteer’s mission directly. The Personality-Centered engagement pattern is often the strongest we observe in our donorresearch. The challenge with this pattern comes when it is time to change leadership of theorganization or when a specific person leaves a broadcast or other ministry. This can lead tosubstantial attrition problems unless steps have been taken to build other types of engagement inanticipation of the change. We find it is often difficult to transfer a Personality-Centered donor’sengagement to a new person at the ministry, instead it is necessary to use both appeal andengagement messaging to slowly shift them into a Mission-Centered engagement pattern.2) Mission-Centered Donors
  3. 3. Mission-Centered Donors value the “big picture” goal of a ministry and feel a personalengagement and value for achieving that over-arching goal. These donors are often older than themore program-oriented donors who we will discuss later in this analysis and have been with theministry longer. In some cases, they became donors to the ministry before its existing set ofprograms and efforts existed, but have continued to support the ministry through changes in the wayit accomplishes its mission because the mission itself has such a powerful values-basedpsychological appeal to them. In many cases, these donors have multiple points of engagement with the ministry, serving itnot just with their dollars but also with their time and receiving services from it as well. This is animportant element of their engagement pattern because it ensures that even if they temporarilyreduce their financial support due to financial stress, there are still other ways in which they canengage with the ministry and they are therefore more likely to resume giving in the long-term. The challenge of a Mission-Centered engagement pattern is that it is more difficult tomeasure and assess success in building this engagement pattern. A simple analysis of response toappeals in the short or medium term is insufficient because it does not measure whether thoseappeals are helping to build a Mission-Centered engagement in the longer term. Survey research is obviously one way an organization can help measure how well it is doingat developing a Mission-Centered engagement pattern with its donors, and we share some ways wemeasure this engagement later in this analysis. In addition to survey research, there are other toolsthat can help test whether an engagement communication is likely to succeed. Most of theseinvolve making a “trivial effort” request such as returning a postcard expressing support, respondingto an automated telephone message by pressing a button to express support, or (for ministries withyounger donor bases) through expressing support in social media.3) Program-Centered Donors
  4. 4. Our research suggests that most donors to ministry organizations follow a Program-Centeredengagement pattern. That is to say that they support the ministry one specific action or need at atime. This is unsurprising because it is an outcome of our very successful efforts to develop andimplement effective appeals to donors on just this basis. This engagement pattern is especiallycommon among younger or more newly acquired donors, many of whose first interaction with theministry was in the form of a programmatic or need-based appeal. The challenge with these donors is that the ministry is effectively re-acquiring them with eachsuccessive appeal. Without a deeper personal or psychological values-driven connection to theministry, you must win their support with the value of the programming or the need in eachsuccessive appeal that you send. As we have seen in the most recent recession, these Program-Centered donors are often hard to keep when their own financial stress increases because you arecompeting on a need-versus-need basis rather than having their giving to your mission as a primary,values-driven, obligation.Building Mission-Centered Engagement: A Values-Centered Approach The key to building mission-centered engagement is identifying and using specific values-oriented language in your communications, both in fundraising appeals and engagement-onlycommunications. While we all share Christian values, in this context we are using “values-oriented”in the specific sense of fundamental psychological triggers that tap into the specific “why” behindactions and outcomes. Our Mission-Centered Values Analysis tool is a standardized battery of questions that guidesdonors through an exercise to elicit the values behind their support for a program, action, or ministryfunction. By helping them to tell us in their own words what matters most to them about a ministry,we can help our clients adopt language in their donor communications that helps them move fromjust a Program-Centered pattern of engagement to a deeper Mission-Centered pattern.
  5. 5. The Mission Centered Values Analysis begins with a simple “just the facts” description of aministry, specific program or action. After hearing this description, donors or potential donors areasked a series of questions designed to access successively deeper levels of response to thedescription. Outcomes and Impacts This most basic level of response is where most Program-Centered message development stops. At this level we ask donors to tell us what they think the tangible results of the ministry, its programs, and actions will be. Global Value At the next stage, we ask the donor to tell us why the outcomes and impacts matter. For most, this response will be a statement of "global value" illustrating why they think the outcomes will be good for society or a specific community or segment of society. Personal Value The final and deepest stage of our values analysis helps the donor to define why the societal value matters to them personally. In this stage they provide us with the personal language that will help highlight the importance of the ministry to other similar donors by tapping into the same psychological values drivers. The responses to this sequence are then analyzed to understand patterns of valuessurrounding the mission and its actions as well as to identify specific common language that can beused verbatim in appeals and engagement communications.Measuring Mission-Centered Engagement: Affect, Alignment, and Attachment Shifting from a focus on a transactional or Program-Centered engagement pattern to aMission-Centered engagement pattern requires more than just new approaches to the way wedevelop language for use in appeals and communications; it also requires that we adopt new ways oftesting outcomes and potential outcomes in our donor surveys. To do this we have developed a“Three A’s” approach to measurement. This supplements our standard battery of questions used todefine competitive organizations and assess likelihood to donate (both transactional concepts) with
  6. 6. a battery of measures aimed at understanding current engagement and the potential impact ofmessages on engagement. The “Three A’s” that we measure in this analysis are: Affect, or the sense that an organization is good and is doing good. This most basic metric of Mission-Centered engagement tests our success in using psychological values triggers to build an emotional response from the donors to the work that a ministry does. The more intense the affection a donor feels toward a ministry and its mission and activities, the closer they are to forming a strong engagement bond with the ministry. Alignment, or the sense that an organization’s values and actions are in line with the donor’s priorities. This second measure of engagement measures not just whether the ministry is doing good, but whether that good is personally important to the donor. The more intense this feeling of alignment, the stronger the engagement bond becomes. Attachment, or the sense that being a part of the ministries mission is a personal priority to the donor. A donor with strong Attachment to the ministry and its mission has moved fully into a Mission-Centered engagement pattern and support for the ministry is now an important part of their definition of themselves and their personal Christian life.Conclusions Building maintaining donor engagement has been a priority of both research and action inthe ministry community for some time. In this analysis we have outlined how not all engagement isequal and the importance of building Mission-Centered patterns of engagement for sustainableministry efforts. We have also shared some of the tools that we are using to help our clients find thelanguage and concepts they need to make their communications efforts more successful in buildingthis Mission-Centered engagement patters and that we are using to help measure and understandthis deeper type of engagement for each of our clients.
  7. 7. Methodology Data for this analysis was drawn from surveys of more than 45,000 surveys of donors tonearly 100 ministries conducted by WPA Opinion Research from 1998 to 2011. In particular, fivemajor donor segmentation projects of specific ministry donors, each consisting of more than 1,000donors, conducted over the last four years were used to inform the typology of engagement.About the Authors and Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research Chris Wilson is CEO and Bryon Allen is COO of Wilson Perkins Allen Opinion Research(formerly Wilson Research Strategies), a national donor and market research company. Since itsfounding in 1998, WRS has conducted over 2,500 research studies in all 50 states and numerouscountries around the world. We have a strong commitment to serving ministries and Christian not-for-profits and have conducted nearly 100 donor studies for these organizations. We have helpedleaders of ministries, not-for-profits, and more than 100 Fortune 500 companies and numeroussmall-to-medium sized companies make better decisions through thorough analysis andinterpretation of survey research data.

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