There is No “OR” in Champion Engagement

For this month’s Connect theme, a number of speakers are previewing the great breakout sessions they are preparing for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference in Austin, TX March 4-6. Following is a preview of one of over 100 breakout sessions.

Does your organization label your supporters and potential supporters as either “donors” or “volunteers?”


Are the databases and other technologies you use to manage and track these things — and maybe even the departments and staff themselves —kept separate?


The donor and the volunteer experiences are two of the biggest ways people can help your nonprofit. In the nonprofit sector, there’s been an enduring separation between the two that seems to be as old as time. It’s a classic dichotomy, like peanut butter and jelly, or apples and oranges.

These days, this has expanded; as the Internet and social media have created more ways for people to get involved, there are so many more ways to label your supporters: donors, volunteers, followers, fans, pinners, ‘grammers, snappers….you get the idea.

The truth is, if these distinctions ever really existed, they don’t anymore. We all know how delicious peanut butter and jelly can be if you just swirl them around together. And so they shouldn’t be separate at your organization, either. And here’s one reason why:

Research from VolunteerMatch and the Fidelity® Charitable Gift Fund shows an empirical link between volunteering and donating. Volunteers donate on average 10X more than those who do not volunteer. In addition, nearly 70% of folks report that they donate to the organization for which they volunteer.

Fundraising and volunteer engagement are both all about building relationships. In today’s connected world, there should be no “or” when it comes to how folks support your organization, so why would you put up an artificial wall that limits your relationships?

It’s time to stop pigeon-holing your supporters into buckets like “donor” or “volunteer” or even “follower.” Instead, let’s learn how to use multi-channel content marketing to empower and inspire potential community members to provide the help we need most, so they’ll become whatever you need them to be; turning donors into volunteers…into donors.

Let’s Talk Tactics

Engagement success is first and foremost about the people. And you need the technology to support your relationships with these people—in other words, a rockstar database.  At this point, we all know from personal experience how tough it is to find the perfect fit, though. A database is either too slow, too expensive, too complicated, etc. Choosing a supporter database can make the typical nonprofit professional feel like Goldilocks.

But here’s the thing—your database, or CRM, or Excel spreadsheet, or whatever you call it—is the keystone technology for engaging your supporters. So you need to make it a good one. If you’re just getting started, find a system that allows you to include both volunteer and donor information. And, if at all possible, seek social media integration, as well.

If you can’t find something that integrates everything, then create a system to connect them, even if it involves exporting into Excel, running a v-lookup, and re-uploading the data. At the end of the day, you shouldn’t have two systems running in parallel without ever talking to each other.

The Business – and Pleasure – of Engagement

Okay, once you’ve got the back end squared away, what about the business of actually engaging people? The first step is to get their attention – which, as most of us know who haven’t been doing our best ostrich impressions for the past 5-10 years, is not easy. Cutting through the noise requires something extra-special to hook the emotions and spark the zeal of potential supporters.

Fortunately, as nonprofit organizations, we’re starting out with a pretty great advantage. The key is to find the people who get all mushy inside when they think about your cause.

Social media enables you to connect directly to people who perhaps never would have heard of you and engage them on an emotional level. The best way to make the most of social media is to tell stories. Social media has increased the ways in which we can engage new supporters and the number and types of people we can reach.

Take advantage of social media as a storytelling medium by putting out your story—the emotional hook of your organization’s cause—in different forms and in different places. Do some research to find out where your target demographic hangs out in the social media sphere, and choose a bunch of likely platforms to test out. Have some fun with it, and adopt the most successful few platforms to focus your valuable time on. This will take you a couple weeks, tops.

(For some great examples of organizations and initiatives using social media storytelling to engage Champions, register now for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference and attend my session!)

Nurturing a Champion

Once you’ve hooked potential supporters with your story on social media, the best way to get them more involved is to get their email addresses. Email is still the best way to reach people; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So how do you use email to further cultivate these folks into passionate supporters who could be just as likely to donate as to volunteer?

Use your email marketing to make the strong connection between what these folks care about and what your organization stands for. Email newsletters should contain interesting news, events, and trends from the outside world that relate to your cause.

When you do include internal news items and calls to action, give people multiple ways to take action – putting a choice in their hands gives them ownership over the situation. When they choose what they’ll be doing, they become emotionally tied to the result. They may even share it so their particular choice of action then has even more impact.

Providing multiple options for action also increases the probability that they’ll choose at least one of them. It’s tougher to say no three times than it is to say no once.

(For more strategies for nurturing Champions for your nonprofit organization, register now for the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference and attend my session!)

The final step that will lock in these turbo-supporters for life is the best technology you’ll ever have – your smile. Whether they’ve volunteered their time, attended a fundraising event, or even just logged in to a Google Hangout or something, give them a big smile and a thank you. Let them see that a real person at the organization recognizes and appreciates their contribution.

In the end, whether they decide to donate, volunteer, follow, like, snapchat, or text, they’re still people. So treat them like people, not labels, and they’ll devote all the passion, energy, and resources they’ve got to help you.

Shari Tishman
Director of Engagement
Shari Tishman runs communications and business development at VolunteerMatch, the Web’s largest volunteer engagement network. Previously, Shari led marketing and outreach at GreatNonprofits, and worked with Net Impact and the Stanford Office of Development. You can find her online @VolunteerMatch and @heystish.