Growing your supporter base is an important goal for every nonprofit. Your supporters are your leverage with the powers that be. They’re your donors and source of income. They’re your bodies on the ground who are able to mobilize more people around specific campaigns. You need supporters to fulfill your mission. But recruitment of new supporters is only one half of the task. Once you have folks, you need to keep them engaged with your work.
That is a lot easier said than done. The truth is your organization is competing for people's time and energy, even among your most ardent supporters. Each of us has myriad commitments to work, family, friends, and our homes, and multiple causes that we care about. While our hearts may be in everything, we’re not actively involved with everything.
So how do you cut through the din to make your cause and work a priority? The truth is, there’s no quick fix. Building a relationship with your supporters is no different from building relationships with friends or spouses. If you can demonstrate why supporters should trust and invest in you, they’ll commit their time and dollars to your cause.
This is true of people who are new to your organization and those who have been on your lists, but are currently inactive. In fact, these inactive folks are your best untapped opportunity. You’ve already crossed the first hurdle: they know who you are, what you do, and have elected to learn more or get involved. That makes them an easier sell to get more involved as activists, donors and volunteers.
Speak to people as individuals
This advice may seem almost too basic, but many nonprofits still haven’t embraced personalization. Marketing writ large has moved toward learning more about individual people and targeting communications to meet their specific needs and interests. The same principles apply to nonprofits.
You can start by sprinkling personal information into your communications. All CRMs today allow you to drop people’s names into the salutation, but try adding other personal details. Rather than asking folks to support a nationwide carbon price, frame it as ensuring carbon polluters in Mississauga are paying their fair share.
What you’re moving to is segmentation -- a more sophisticated way target people based on their age, location, length or depth of engagement with your organization, past donor history or other data points you’ve found to be illustrative among your supporters. The expansion of online activism has created a wealth of data about your supporters that can help you better understand how to reach them. Use it.
Start small - give people ways to get involved that are low-commitment
Going back to that relationship analogy, you don’t want to come on too strong, even with folks who already know you. Imagine you went on a date, but then both of you got too busy to follow up for a few weeks. Even if you’re sure this is the love of your life, you wouldn’t lead off the next date with proposal to move in together.
You want to avoid similarly high-commitment asks of your inactive supporters. That doesn’t mean that these folks won’t become donors or volunteers in the future, but before your make a high-commitment ask, you want to first make them feel more knowledgeable about and connected to your work. Send a quiz about First Nations’ history or ask them to sign a petition to their MPs to do something about missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. These actions further your mission through advocacy or education and also prime your supporters to give or volunteer the next time.
Increase your touches with multichannel outreach
Outreach is as much about message as medium. Some supporters go quiet not because they don’t support you, but because you haven’t used the right method of communication. In my work at Care2 helping nonprofits recruit and retain donors online, we always recommend using a multichannel approach. Send your supporters an email. Then, send them a letter. Or give them a call. Or push Facebook ads or posts. Your supporters are using all of these methods and more to communicate in their daily lives, so you should meet them there. You won’t know which channel they prefer until you try them. Plus, a multichannel approach increases your touches, which keeps your issue and your organization’s approach to tackling it top of mind.
Take advantage of the opportunities that arise
Re-engagement can be a slow, deliberate process, but savvy nonprofits know when to break those rules. Few things motivate engagement more than a sense of urgency - that’s why you see so many dire headlines and artificial deadlines during election seasons. The urgency I’m talking about is driven by the news cycle. When stories about the crisis Syria or refugees arriving in Canada are dominating the news, organizations that work on resettlement and aid can and should solicit support - financial and otherwise - from inactive folks. A viral story about a woman being shamed for breastfeeding in public is the perfect time for women’s rights organizations to remind their inactive supporters why they joined in the first place.
The key to all of this is remembering who these inactive people are: supporters. You know they’re already on your side and that they care enough to have engaged with you in the first place. Your task is to find or build opportunities to engage in the future.
Eric is the Vice President of Business Development at Care2 and the ThePetitionSite where he advises on donor lead acquisition and multichannel conversion strategies. He has contributed to integrated conversion efforts on behalf of nonprofits in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom and over 100 other countries. Prior to joining Care2 Eric designed and executed integrated advocacy campaigns for environmental nonprofits for more than seven years. He also has extensive experience working on political and issue campaigns from Wyoming to South Africa. Eric has an MBA from the Carey School of Business at Johns Hopkins University, an M.A. in government and international studies from the University of South Carolina and a B.S. in political science from the University of Wyoming.