According to Karen Armstrong, one of the key takeaways from the past year is the imperative to focus more on the experience and emotions of supporters.


Fundraising- what can we  learn from 2016?There are many lessons we can take from 2016 to inform our future strategies but the past year has been especially important for focusing on developing supporter-centric organisations.

This is not a new concept. In fact, it is one of the fundamentals of marketing. However, as our organisations grow, as financial pressures increase and as technology continues to rapidly change, it is easy to be distracted.

What is different now, however, is the increasing need for impact measurement, the consequences of government reform (consider the NDIS and aged care), the heavier reliance on bequests and the evolution of traditional nonprofit practices towards digital innovation – all of which are transforming the practice of giving.

It is no longer enough to create brilliant fundraising practices by channel as these are becoming increasingly hard to deliver. This means nonprofits that have their eyes on the long-term horizon and organisation-wide commitment to supporter experiences will be best served to deliver their mission.  

The year 2016 taught us:

It’s time to plug the leaky bathtub Over the last decade we’ve seen a decline in retention rates as nonprofits have focused heavily on acquisition. However, nurturing our database is the only way to identify our long-term supporters, major donors and bequestors.

We have an ageing population and the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth Dedicated investment in bequests and long-term supporter engagement strategies are required.

Nonprofits are losing their emotional edge Because we’re professionalising we risk losing our personal and emotional connection with our supporters, and in the meantime, commercial entities are claiming their hearts.

All eyes are on nonprofits Supporters trust charities implicitly but with that trust comes high expectations and increasing external examination of fundraising practices. Exemplary fundraising practice is a necessity for the future.

Although it isn’t easy we need to adapt to an era of multi-journey, multi-channel transformation Integrated technology platforms and marketing automation are a small part of an organisational transformation to create supporter-centric organisations.

Emotions matter more than we like to acknowledge

A growing understanding of behavioural economics is informing how people are ‘really’ making decisions. Israeli-US psychologist Daniel Kahneman has researched what he terms fast thinking (System 1) and slow thinking (System 2), which describe how the brain makes decisions. System 1 is intuitive, emotional and automatic while System 2 is slow, logical and requires effort. Once we understand the importance of System 1 thinking, we can be more considered in our use of marketing techniques that trigger this type of thinking. It is worth considering:

• anchors (dollar handles, previous giving, peer behaviours)
• prioritise stories over statistics
• optimism drives commitment to increased giving in the future
• frame messages to create the desired response, for example, 90% survival or 10% mortality mean the same thing and yet create different responses.

As the US poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou stated: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

An emotional experience is memorable

A memorable experience correlates to an emotional high or low. Invest in journey mapping that creates an empathy line and maps your supporters’ highs and lows. These journeys should be informed by your:

• audience’s behaviours and motivations
• organisation’s key acquisition and attrition points
• organisational opportunities and challenges
• supporter research and feedback.

These journeys go beyond your specific fundraising channel and take a supporter-centred approach. You need to understand your supporters’ organisational touchpoints as they can often have many roles, such as beneficiaries, clients, volunteers, donors, participants and advocates. Involve staff and volunteers on the front line who engage directly with supporters and, most importantly, engage your leadership team as it will be critical to owning the supporter experience strategy in future.

So, while 2017 will be The Year of the Rooster, for us it must be the year of the supporter. We have a duty to treat our supporters with the respect their generosity deserves. We must create deeper emotional connections with our donors by communicating about the things they care about in a way that resonates with their motivation for giving.

Rather than being slaves to technology we can use new platforms and channels to build the relationships that UK fundraising guru Ken Burnett espoused all those years ago – relationships where feedback is frequently sought from the supporter, is listened to and is acted upon.

Remember: seek, listen, respond and act. These four simple words can transform your fundraising.

This article is based on the masterclass and workshop Armstrong presented at the International Fundraising Congress in 2016.

7 steps to a supporter-centric organisation in 2017

1 Strategy Unite the organisation around a single vision for an emotion-led journey that supports multiple journeys across numerous touchpoints and treats the supporter as the determiner of their interactions and behaviours with your organisation. 

2 Organisational culture Change current practice by considering organisation wide performance indicators. Explore experience measures such as a net promoter score or
a commitment/engagement metric that all of the organisation can collaboratively work towards. 

3 Who Invest in audience insights These will ideally encompass a combination of qualitative and quantitative research combined with external data. Utilise this information
to create the data-driven personas that will be used for your journey mapping.

4 Why Recency, frequency and monetary value (RFM) tell us what people are doing but they don’t tell us why. Motivation should always be part of our supporter data sets. By utilising surveys and a commitment to the ‘voice of the supporter’ your future segmentation strategies will be driven by RFM.

5 How Frequent empathy-based journey mapping by cross-organisational teams is the only way to start moving towards rapidly delivering journeys informed by frequent testing and measurement to optimise outcomes. Don’t develop your journeys then set and forget. Not only do journey mapping sessions deliver your journey maps, they also go a long way to driving organisational cohesion.

6 Experience Journey mapping sessions define our ‘moments that matter’ and it is in these moments that we must exceed our supporters’ expectations (or address the low points when we are not meeting their expectations). Memories are short and supporters aren’t charity exclusive, so innovate and create emotional highs that your supporters will remember.

7 Voice of the supporter Turn supporter feedback to a focus on accelerated improvement of your journeys. Significant investment by the commercial sector in customer experience has, in turn, resulted in customer feedback loops designed to inform the experience customers have with the brand. Journeys shouldn’t be guessed by using a scattergun approach to see what sticks, but informed by rich donor profiles, supporter feedback and iterative testing and measuring prior to full implementation.


Karen Armstrong CFRE

Karen is a Senior Consultant with More Strategic. She has held roles with Cancer Council Australia, Kraft Foods and Fundraising Institute Australia, and was a Founding Board Director of Include a Charity.


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