Candace asked: “Print vs. digital?”

Tom Ahern

In 2020, her .org will celebrate its 30th anniversary of doing inspiring good. Candace wondered, Is it finally time? In 2020, should we switch our annual report from print to digital?

Candace, forgive me: this will not be a yes/no answer.

It can’t be, really. Instead, it’s a rambling discussion about decision-making and donor communications.

1. Every communication of this type is an investment (as you well know).

The .org puts time and money in, hoping to see a return (ROI) of some kind (more donations, more volunteers, happier funders, and so on).

The first question, then, goes something like this: “What do we hope will happen when they read this … and is there any way to gauge that response?”

At this stage, the question isn’t yet, “Do we continue doing print to celebrate our 30th, as we might have automatically done on our 20th and 10th anniversary?”

2. You build successful (i.e., worth the ROI) publications BACKWARDS from your target audience(s).

What does your primary target audience need to hear?

What do they enjoy hearing, what makes them feel good, what makes them want to tell others about this work, what nudges them to increase their support?

You mention that you’re trying to please BOTH individual donors and funders.

So, right there, you might arrive at 2 solutions, because those are different target audiences.

I would also include volunteers, since you use them a lot. Now you might have 3 solutions because you have 3 target audiences.

Let’s assume you’re a Habitat for Humanity with a $5 million annual income stream, half of which comes from sales of donated materials through your retail outlet, Restore.

Then you have yet another potentially important audience: shoppers.

Presumably, you collect their email addresses. In the past couple of years, Dr.s Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang conducted some revenue-raising research for Goodwill Industries and their stores. Sargeant/Shang found that by treating these shoppers as important members of the philanthropic community (via special thank you emails), they could significantly boost subsequent purchases.

Now you’re up to 4 possible comms solutions for 4 different target audiences … except in this last case, the communications channel of choice is pretty obvious: since you speak to shoppers primarily through email and maybe social media.

3. Impact doesn’t always mean what .orgs assume it means … not in the Age of Donor-Centricity 3.0.

It’s not a bunch of stats, for one thing.
For the last 20 years, practitioners who’ve adopted donor-centricity as their default voice in donor communications have seen amazing leaps in revenue … from the very same donor base using the very same communications.

There’s no magic: it’s just applied research, from psychology, neuroscience, and the world of commercial marketing, etc.

There’s an easy test for how much donor-centricity you currently display, by the way: look at the home page of your website, at the tabs alone (which are high visibility and the first thing a new visitor will glance at).

Count the pronouns.

How much “we” and how much “you” content do those tabs proclaim?

All “we”, no “you”? Congratulations: you’ve just won the lottery > because there’s a huge opportunity on your doorstep to raise far more money from your existing donors.
Charities that have adopted rigorous donor-centricity TYPICALLY see their comms program produce TWICE as much revenue within 12-18 months. There is 20 years of testing in North America, the UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand behind that claim. And all you have to do is talk a bit differently.

Most charities speak THIS way (based on the thousands of items I’ve audited over the years): “We did this great thing. We did that great thing. Oh, by the way, if you sent in a gift, thank you very much. We put your name on a list.”

The donor-centered way to speak flips that around, putting the donor first. “Thanks to you, this great thing got done. And, without you, it can’t be done. You’re wonderful. Will you continue to help?”

In other words, is this proposed IMPACT report about your .org’s impact … or is it about the donors’?

If it IS about how great your .org is, spend as little time and money on it as you can … because its emotional impact on recipients will be minimal, hence its ROI will be low.

If, on the other hand, you’re embracing donor-centricity and making it about the donors’ IMPACT on the world they care about … well, then, segment by preferred channel and give each of your 4 target audiences something they can be proud of … can easily read … and can easily share.

Most U.S. donors are 55 and older; they like print with bigger type; they’re also HEAVILY online, especially via social media.

Most volunteers swinging hammers at a Habitat site are younger; maybe they’d like a quick video they can share via social media, showing how: “I helped build a great first home for this great family in our backyard!”

Just a note: in 2020, some .orgs are already up to Donor-Centricity 3.0. That latest iteration is backed by recent research into “identity-based giving.” (We’re each the sum of 6-10 identities; connecting with those identities produces deeper commitment.)

Donor-Centricity 2.0 was basically about adopting donor customer-service habits that tend to improve retention and loyalty.

Donor-Centricity 1.0 is the obvious stuff like the ratio of “you” to “we” in your public language.

Anyway, apologies for the ramble, Candace.

If I were to directly answer your initial question, I’d say this: “The nonprofit industry is not a leader, generally speaking, in communications. So borrowing from other nonprofits’ practice is an iffy proposition UNLESS the .org you borrow from has data showing that their donor comms are producing excellent results.”
Case in point: I once had 50 nonprofit “donor” newsletters spread out around my office: it was revealing to see so many at once. More than half of them had the same basic, income-suppressing error on their front covers (which is a newsletter’s most-important, “first-impression” real estate).

Why? They’d borrowed each other’s formula for donor newsletters … and the formula was dead wrong, based on accepted wisdom not research.

Yet a print donor newsletter, built on research not common nonprofit practice, can be … yes! in 2020!! … a “license to print money” (to quote one ED of a large charity).

Good luck!!! ~ tom
Response from Candace….

Thanks, Tom. This is a really thoughtful response, and I really appreciate it. Sometimes we get so caught up in “what” we have to do, we miss the boat on the “who” and “why”. I’m going to share this with the rest of the anniversary team, and shift the focus to the audiences as our starting point. Thanks, again. 

  • : Tom Ahern