KNOW YOUR DONORS: HOW TO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS
Episode aired June 24, 2021: Individual Giving
Fundraising isn’t about the money. It’s about getting to know donors, building relationships and understanding how they want to be communicated with. Fundraising pro Mimosa Kabir has spent her career successfully connecting with people and the causes closest to them. In this episode Mimosa discusses
- how to encourage monthly giving
- what to leave at the door before meeting a donor
- how to use digital tools to connect with people
- a different way to view the low retention rate
- the importance of segmenting donor communications and
- how often should you ask for a donation.
Below you can listen, watch or read this podcast episode.
Mimosa: I’m hanging in there. There’s some sun out, so not too bad.
Ephraim: Excellent. Let’s introduce you to our listeners, watchers and readers.
Mimosa is a creative fundraising professional and champion of the nonprofit sector, with a career background ranging from libraries to theaters, international aid to science. Mimosa brings a broad holistic perspective to industry issues. She has experience growing revenue through individual giving, special events and sponsorships. Currently she’s managing a capital campaign at Hot Docs.
In today’s episode we’re going to discuss individual giving. Let’s dive right in. Mimosa, why is the retention rate of our sector so abysmal?
Mimosa: Well first of all I want to say that in answering today’s questions, I’m really looking at sharing my personal experience, my personal opinions. I think it’s important because my answers are not scientific today. They’re just more anecdotal. So I think one of the reasons that the retention rates are challenging right now is because donors are changing and I think that a lot of people are interested in providing solutions to many different problems.
So in saying that, I think that it’s a competitive landscape and urgency is one of the one of the consistent reasons that people give. I think that in today’s climate there’s so many things that seem urgent this week and then next week there’s something new that seems urgent and so donor attentions are following that and they’re wanting to create impact in different areas. As we become more connected in different ways, social media and… I think just the strength of the connections that we’re building and the information that we’re learning in new ways that we might not have before through the news means that we’re competing with way more organizations than what would have been you know the top 100 list of places that people would give when they wanted to donate. So I don’t even think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s just kind of like music. You don’t listen to just one artist for the rest of your life. You listen to a lot of different artists and that’s what gives you perspective and it’s what makes you feel good and it depends on your mood and where you’re at. So I think that that’s one of the reasons.
On the flip side I think that our sector sees a lot of turnover and I think that fundraising is so much about building relationships and if you’re consistently trying to build relationships with new people, where donors are interacting with your organization, that’s of course going to impact their experience with you to some extent. I do think that plays a role as well.
Planning Before A Donor Meeting
Ephraim: Excellent. That’s a very interesting perspective on donor retention. So many urgent causes. I haven’t seen that yet, so I really like that the way you frame that. That was great. You actually just mentioned it, about different musicians and listening to lots of different music. Every donor is different. So before a meeting, what are some of the factors you consider when planning your approach and solicitation of an individual donor?
Mimosa: For me, I think it’s really important to leave your assumptions at the door. I think research is really important in helping you maybe get a sense of how to approach a meeting, but I really like to listen and ask questions. You can also ask some guiding questions to help you tell your story as well.
I think initial meetings with donors are our learning opportunity to really get to know them and share the work that you’re doing that you think is relevant to what their interests are. I think that all of the organizations I’ve ever worked at, there are so many facets, even if it seems specific, when you really look at the portfolio, you’re probably having touchpoints in so many different ways and so for me it’s really having a list of thoughtful questions that can guide the conversation and looking for interjections that can color your own organization story. I think sometimes when you do research into a donor before your meeting, you create these assumptions about who they are and I think it’s really important to not go in there thinking you know them if you haven’t met them. You can only read so much but really ask them the questions, so that they can tell you and then you can figure out where you can work together.
Ephraim: That’s a fantastic, fantastic answer. Always avoid the assumptions. So today’s actionable item: Monthly or recurring givers have a higher retention rate and a higher lifetime value. I’d appreciate if you could please share with us three ways an organization can encourage individuals to sign up to become monthly donors.
Mimosa: Absolutely. I think first and foremost is your messaging. So break it down and make it real. People are looking for tangible impact, especially if they’re giving on a monthly basis. So what will ten dollars a month do for your organization and the communities that you serve? I think the more real it feels, when you’re looking at food banks and ten dollars will serve this many meals or provide a family with this, it makes it easy to want to give.
I think making it easy to give is also one of the best things you can do. That might require a little bit of an investment on your part but the easier it is for a donor, the more likely they are to stay engaged and that they know that they have the control. They can stop it at any time, they can pause at any time and they can restart at any time and I think that ease really helps make it easy for the donor.
And then the last is keep them in the loop. Thank them, even if you say five dollars a month provides one meal, at the end of 12 months how many meals have they provided? Remind them. Share that information with them. Share the impact of what they’re giving has done with them. I think that in this group you want to communicate more than not. So share all the little wins, share your challenges too because that might be a great time for them to upgrade or also support your organization in additional ways.
Using Online Platforms To Raise Money
Ephraim: All three of those, excellent excellent answer. Thank you. So let’s talk about… you had mentioned a little bit earlier about social media. Let’s talk about using online platforms. How should organizations utilize their website, email and social media presence to mobilize people to become donors?
Mimosa: I mean I go back to the idea that for me, fundraising is a lot about building relationships. So how can you use your digital tools to build relationships with people? I think if you look at utilizing your platforms in that lens… what’s important in a relationship? You want to build trust, so when someone comes to any of your channels, your website, reading an email, how do they know that they can trust you? Are your financial statements there? Do you have testimonials from others? Do you have the impact of where they’re fundraising, where their investment in your organization is creating change?
Communication is key in a really strong relationship. How can you communicate with your donors using the channels that you have? I think also listening is a really important part of it. How can you survey them? How can you allow them to provide you with feedback but at the same time- and this is again, as I mentioned a personal opinion- I think that boundaries could also be important. It’s learning about the donor and how much do they want to be communicated with. How much do they want to engage with you.
And really segmenting your lists, to talk to different people the way they want to be talked to. think it’s an important exercise to try to create different- I don’t want to say buckets of people- but different tracks for different types of donors.
How Often Should You Ask
Ephraim: Fundraising is a two-way street and your answer kind of speaks to that. It’s not all what we want to send them but we have to know what our donors also want that’s important. Here’s an issue that many many organizations struggle with: What would be your recommendations and expert advice as far as how often to ask individual donors for a donation?
Mimosa: I mean this feels like a trick question because it could be so complex and I’ll go back to my previous answer. I think it really depends and I think that’s why segmenting your list is so important and getting to know your donors is so important, because you can let them know what your options are and let them choose how they support you and when I think that giving them as much information and sharing as much of the impact that they’re having, is really for me the key to putting it in their court, right?
Donations shouldn’t feel like… no one should feel like they had their hand forced into giving something to you. So I think that once you segmented your list, you might find that certain people like the repetition of the message. For me sometimes that’s key. We get so many emails and so many different things that I don’t always click open but the one that I do, I’m like oh yes, of course I want to give. So sometimes it’s that. You send something to me nine times and it’s the ninth time that I’m responding to it just because that week it happened to be something that caught my eye or something that I had time for.
On the flip side I’ve been receiving calls from a lot of charities where sometimes I miss it for the first three times for whatever reason and the fourth time I’m annoyed that I received that call, even though I haven’t answered because I’m like, can you not understand that I don’t want to talk to you right now! It’s obviously never worked out. I try to put myself in the shoes of donors as much as possible, because we’re all people at the end and I think sometimes we lose track of that and start to think of people in very specific ways. Ask them and tell your story as much as possible and in different ways and let them decide when they give.
Let’s Learn More About Mimosa
Ephraim: Excellent. Know your donors. Three very very important words. Alright let’s move on to the lightning round and learn more about you. What got you started on your nonprofit career path?
Mimosa: Okay, now this is a lightning round question but I have a long-winded answer because I… my undergrad was in a program called global development studies, which was really looking at how the world came to be, how it is. It was a very critical program where you were using your critical thinking skills to really understand how did we get to this moment in time and I came out of the program feeling very hopeless. When you look at every theory of how we came to be, there’s always a contradicting point of view and nothing felt right. It just felt like what can I even do? And so for me fundraising was an intentional career choice. I actually did a post grad program straight out of university and the appeal was trying to do some good to some extent because I felt like we really messed this world up, where can we pick up and try to fix it and that was the route that I took.
Ephraim: Just a quick follow-up question. Do you believe now that the fundraising you’ve done is helping to make the world a better place?
Mimosa: Yes, most days. All the organizations I’ve worked for, I’ve really believed in the work and I would never take a job where I did not. But I still have my critical thinking hat on sometimes and it’s always looking at ways that you can maximize that impact and for me, that lens can be challenging sometimes. Even in fundraising. I read so many different theories, right? You go from donor-centric communications to community-centered communications and things are always shifting. And I think that’s important and I think that as you learn new information, you’re supposed to adapt and change. So it’s not about having the right answers in the first place. It’s about working through the information that you have and trying to get to that answer, if that makes sense.
Ephraim: Yes, very much so. Perfect. I love that. Given your expertise now in the field, if there’s one thing in the nonprofit world that you could shake up, what would it be?
Mimosa: I think it is starting to treat people like they’re people. That goes for the communities that we serve and our donors. Sometimes I even try to avoid using the word donor because you already kind of separate yourself from somebody else and I think that the more that we can really treat each other… that’s like the golden rule you learn in kindergarten, right? Treat others the way you want to be treated, the better off that you are and I think that some of the fundraising things I’ve learned sometimes make sense and then there’s them and I think there’s a we and how can we focus on that more.
Ephraim: Excellent. Favorite part and thing you dread most about event planning?
Mimosa: That one’s easy. Event day. All the work that you’re doing is leading up to the event, so that is definitely your biggest stressor. But that day, when you get to an event, working in events that is what makes it so special. You always have that moment where you get to see it coming together and that is the best feeling, even though it has been the source of your anxiety for who knows how long leading up to it.
Ephraim: I like that answer because I’ve been there, so I get it. You’re a wannabe globetrotter. One country or continent you want to visit above all the others?
Mimosa: I think it’s actually Nicaragua. I had a trip booked there three years ago but then there was some political unrest and it didn’t feel safe to go, so I actually went to El Salvador instead which was incredible. But I never got to complete the trip I wanted to, so hopefully that’s in the books for some time soon.
Ephraim: Okay. Good.
Mimosa: These days soon feels like two years from now but…
Ephraim: Soon soon. Calvin and Hobbes. Do you identify with one of them more than the other?
Mimosa: It depends on the day. You know Calvin to me is far more intellectual than I can ever aspire to be, in what he conveys in a few sentences. I learn so much. I’m probably Hobbes on more days and you know these days, I do not have children but I find myself probably identifying with Calvin’s mom more than anybody else. Just that feeling of exasperation that everything around you. So probably a mix of all of them in there.
Ephraim: As long as you enjoy the comic strip, that’s the most important thing. It’s one of my favorites. Lastly let’s turn the table. You get to ask me one question. I have no clue what it is in advance. Go ahead.
Mimosa: Okay. So it might seem dark but I hope it’s not and it is: If you knew that one year from today you would die, what would you change about your life if anything at all and why?
Ephraim: I’m gonna tell you. It’s not dark at all because actually, I have a friend who asked me this a couple weeks ago. Not the same thing but said, what if you die tomorrow and I said I’m good. I am a father of three kids and I think that I’ve left them enough. Not financially but with other stuff that they will be able to survive and thrive and so I’m good. I would say I believe that I’ve lived a good life. Now if I had a year, there are things maybe I would change. Yeah, there’s no way I’m putting in all this work for the next year. You like to be a globetrotter. I have a couple things on my bucket list that I want to do. I always wanted to go coast to coast in the U.S. Boston to LA, drive it.
Mimosa: Route 66?
Ephraim: That would definitely be part of it, yes. I’ve actually been in St. Louis on the route 66 part and I’ve been at the end at Santa Monica Pier. So I would totally take that, would be part of it. But if I had a year, the things I change would be less work, more play. I just think we spend way too much time with the work thing and not enough time on the play side or the relaxing or whatever it is. That’s what I would do because I know that my time is up. I might as well take most advantage of it but I don’t think that… no, there isn’t a lot more than that that I would change because I honestly, I really feel like I’ve done a couple of good things with my life. I’ve got my kids. There isn’t much more that I need. I don’t know if that is a good answer but that’s kind of how I feel about it.
Mimosa: A great answer. I love that. It’s positive and at the same time, there’s still things that hopefully maybe you can find ways to add more play to your day, because if that’s important, I say go for it.
Ephraim: I would very much like to… so if anybody listening, reading or watching has the winning lotto numbers and you’d like to share it with me so I can have more playtime, please get in touch pronto.
Mimosa: I’d like to take a cut too.
Ephraim: Absolutely! Listen, you raised the issue here publicly, so you will absolutely get a nice cut. Totally. And then you can do a full trip to Nicaragua and then go globetrotting. You can go see whatever countries…
Ephraim: Yeah, that sounds awesome actually. Mimosa, thank you very very much for appearing on the podcast. You can connect with Mimosa on LinkedIn and on Twitter at @MimosaKabir. Mimosa, it was a pleasure learning from you today. Thank you.
Mimosa: Thank you for having me.
Ephraim: A pleasure. Have a good day.
Mimosa: You too.