Sunday, May 17, 2009

Giving Members and Donors Value

by Bunnie Riedel, Host of Nonprofit Conversation

The latest news is that the economy has “bottomed out.” But as I recently said, nonprofit fiscal health will lag some twelve to eighteen months behind the for-profit sector. So even if tons of new jobs were created tomorrow and the economy had a complete turn-around in the next twelve months, nonprofits will still be feeling the pain for at least the next two years.

What does that mean for you? It means you have to be as sharp and entrepreneurial as you can be because you are in hot competition for membership and donor money. You must make sure that you provide value to your members and donors and if you’re already providing value, you must make sure you communicate that value.

Take a long, hard look at your organization. What are your members and donors getting out of giving you money?

Everywhere I look there are lots of sales. Business understands that shoppers are seeking the greatest value return on their purchases. What I might have spent $10 on a year ago, I now want that same product for $7 (or even less), I am seeking bargains. Is your organization a “bargain”? Will I, as a member or donor, feel like I am really getting my money’s worth?

Let’s look at overhead. What percentage of your budget is spent on creating products or services or programs that meet the needs of the members/donors? Have you looked at your rating on Charity Navigator recently? Is your organization listed on Guidestar or with the Better Business Bureau? And if so, what information is available on those websites? Is it good or is it less than stellar? If your organization is too top heavy, meaning too much of your income is being spent on non-programmatic expenses, it’s time to do some trimming.

People are very savvy these days and certainly electronically connected, and they are looking for value. I would even urge you to hire a consultant to assess your organization with fresh eyes. And if you haven’t Googled your organization lately, I urge you to do so; you should always see how your organization comes up and who is saying what about you and your organization. Googling every week or so can save you a lot of aggravation and certainly make sure your members/donors (and potential members/donors) have a good impression of the organization.

What do your members/donors want in exchange for their money? Networking? Training? Discounts? Good will? To help others? To build something? A cause they believe in? If you think of your members/donors as shoppers and your services as products you are selling, it will be easier to look at your services and assign value to them. And if you can’t, if there is no value, then perhaps it’s time to get rid of those valueless services. When is the last time you surveyed your members/donors and asked them what they want? It’s called “market research” when for- profits do it, maybe it’s time for you to do some market research. I recommend you consider conducting in-person focus groups with your members/donors so you can really get a feel for what they think is important.

So let’s say that your non-programmatic expenses are in line and you know exactly what your member/donors want and you have created the ultimate value and your services are really a bargain. Now what? It does no good to have fabulous services and programs if nobody knows about it. For-profits advertise constantly “We are the best! You have to shop here! You can’t miss out on this terrific product! You can’t get this kind of value anywhere else!” However, one of the line items most ignored by nonprofits is the marketing budget. These days you can do so much marketing for free on the internet, and you certainly can be constantly marketing how fabulous you are to members/donors. Here’s a few tips:

  • Facebook (get your members/donors to become your fans)

  • Twitter (get your members/donors to follow you)

  • Blogs (yes, have a blog and spend some time getting others to blog about you)

  • Digg (write articles and Digg them)

  • Pitchengine (I love those guys! Free social media releases!)

  • Ezine articles (put your blog out there as an expert article)

  • Your story (write about your organization)

  • Constant Contact (go green, save trees and deliver newsletters)

  • Direct Mail

  • Public Service Announcements and videos (spend a couple of bucks on a quick video to post on your website and Youtube, etc.)

Wait! Did she say “direct mail?” Yes. While it’s great to go green and do everything electronically, there’s still nothing like that direct mail appeal. As I said in a previous post on writing membership renewal letters, the beauty is that your members/donors can add your appeal to their bill box, so it gets paid just like every other obligation.

Everything in the above paragraphs is really dependent on your members/donors, their demographics and their technical savvy. If you have a constituency that is not “wired” you will still need to employ the old fashioned methods, which is perfectly fine although may cost you more.

At the next Board meeting have this discussion: How do we give value to our members/donors? By constantly striving to give value you can beat out your competition for dollars and make sure that when the economy does finally recover, your organization will still be standing.

Calling Nonprofit Executives, Board Members and Consultants! Want to write for Nonprofit Conversation? Email Bunnie at info at riedelcommunications dot com. Pitch your idea! I'm all ears!

Contact Bunnie at info at riedelcommunications dot com



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