Keep Your Eyes on the Road and Your Donors in the Fold

We’re going to talk about brand. In just a second. First, we’re going to talk about cycling crashes.

In case you didn’t know, there are 2 types of bike crashes:

The Tough Guy: (“Guy,” in this usage, is gender-neutral.) Here, the cyclist is doing something rad…say, digging into a downhill turn at high-speed in an aero tuck…but something unforeseen, like a poorly placed gravel patch, causes a spectacular wipeout. While physically this is bad, the cyclist wins Cool Points for a Tough Guy wreck.

The Total Loser: Here, the cyclist isn’t paying attention or hasn’t adjusted to a new piece of equipment (classic — new clipless pedals), and has a slow-speed goofball wreck. Physically, there is usually little damage but many, many Cool Points are lost due to the high humiliation factor.

I had a Total Loser bike wreck the other day.

There’s no need to go into details. All that matters is that only 1 person saw it, and he is one of the few people in my life who won’t joyously tell all of our friends and acquaintances in order to enjoy mutual revelry in my humiliation.

My Total Loser bike wreck ruined my front tire, so I went to the bike shop to get a new one. Tire brand didn’t even occur to me — I was obviously going to replace my Continental Gatorskin with another Continental Gatorskin.

The shop, though, didn’t have a Continental Gatorskin in stock. BUT they did have a 2-for-1 deal on an equivalent tire from another leading brand. This was the obvious deal to take. I could get equal quality. Immediately. No waiting for a special order from Continental. My vain aesthetic needs would be met, as the tires would match perfectly. And, practically, I would replace a half-worn rear tire for no extra charge.

Nope.  Couldn’t do it.

I even found myself saying out loud, “I know that’s a better deal…but I just can’t do it…I’ve been riding Continentals since college.”

My brand loyalty came down to mere nostalgia. Nothing rational. And I walked away from a plainly better financial deal, due to this irrational preference.

We, in the non-profit community, would do well to remember the irrationality of human decision-making when we think about our donors. They don’t make their giving decisions merely based upon rational value. Sure, they have their practical reasons why they give to you, but practical reasons won’t keep them with you for the long haul. At some point, an emotional brand connection has to be made if you hope to retain these donors over time.

Do you know what your donors love about you?

Do you know what your donors value most about your organization? And who they think you are?

Do you know what adjectives come to mind when your donors think about you (far less often than you suspect, btw)?

If you don’t know these nonrational motivators for your donors’ participation, you may very likely make strategic missteps that pull you off-brand for your loyal donors, threatening these lifeline relationships.

What might pull you off-brand? Ohhhh…just about anything, including:

      • Financial management: Your donors likely have a subconscious idea of how your organization does and does not use the money they’re given. Do you measure up?
      • Hiring: Most of your donors probably have not met anyone from your organization, yet they have an idea as to who you are. Your hiring decisions — especially your high-profile staff hires — either affirm or counter that subconscious notion.
      • Programs: Donors think they know how you “do what you do.” If you develop a new program, or revamp an old one, are you matching or countering their expectations?

A lot of non-profit leaders think they know how donors think about their organization’s brand because they talk to board members and event participants. Or simply because they’ve been around a long time. Undoubtedly, such lenses on an organization are important. But views from “pressing the flesh” only go so far. Without proper research, there will still be significant gaps in understanding the donors’ view of your brand, and these gaps will eventually cost you.

Loyal donors are gold. Wonderful. Treasures. When you care to understand what they love about you and what they might dislike, you rightly honor their sacrificial investments in your good work.

And you improve your chances of keeping them around a lot longer.