Fundraising Lessons From the Rug Store

Last week, we had the recently uncovered, original oak living room floor that had been hidden under carpeting for a decade or two refinished. While the sanding, staining and varnishing was taking place, I did some online shopping for a rug to put in the room once it was completed.

What I found was a great lesson in Fundraising 101 — how to convert inquiries to donors.

The website I landed on after some Goggling and such claimed to feature 300,000 different rugs. But simple navigation got me quickly to the type I wanted, in the color family of my choice. I explored and ended up bookmarking the rug I wanted — but I did not place an order.

And then the learning began and the rug merchant …

Stayed front of mind. It seems that everywhere I’ve gone online for the last week, I’ve seen ads for this rug-selling website. It hasn’t felt like stalking — no three ads on one page. But when I went to Yahoo, there was an ad. Same with CBS News, Boston Business Journal, Facebook and a local hiking website. As I continued to think about buying a rug, I couldn’t help but think about this website. It became my “only” choice simply because it was always top of mind.

Lesson: Don’t ignore your prospects. You don’t have to overwhelm them — just find a way to remain in their minds.

Stuck with what I was interested in. Most of the ads I saw featured the rug in the style and color I had bookmarked. Out of 300,000 choices, this rug merchant figured out that I liked that one (not too hard since I bookmarked that page), so it kept it front and center. I’d estimate fewer than 15 percent of the ads showed a different style and color — and those were always similar in terms of style.

Lesson: When someone inquires or shows interest in a specific program, talk to him or her mainly about that program. We have a tendency to want to share all our great programs right away, but we risk overwhelming, confusing or even boring potential donors. Stay focused on what they indicated they were focused on.

Got me to take a nonthreatening step. One of the Facebook ads invited me to “Like” the merchant. Yes, “likes” don’t turn magically into donors (or rug buyers), but it was a way for me to learn a bit more by visiting its Facebook page. What I found most interesting was comments from others about their rug-buying experiences. After all, I was considering plunking down some dollars to a company across the continent (literally); my trust factor soared when I read comments from people just like me who shared their experiences.

Lesson: Is there some way to engage prospects that can help them feel assured that you are truly the best choice for their donation dollars? Does your Facebook page include “real people” comments or simply organizationally generated content? Are you encouraging two-way conversation through social media?

Offered me a premium. OK, it was really an incentive (10 percent off), but it made me take action. In fact (I admit it), I fell for it hook, line and sinker, as they say — and bought a second rug for the entry hall. Hey, I was saving money!!

Lesson: Is there something you can offer that is mission-related to encourage a prospect to give a first gift? A simple, low-cost but meaningful premium (remember to consider what is easy to ship) may be the trigger to encourage a donor to give.

None of these ideas are based on analytics or months of testing; they are simply how I reacted to a well-thought-out strategy to get me to move from prospect to customer. Now I have to see how this rug merchant treats me since I have crossed that line. Does it ask me to post comments after I get my purchase? What about inviting customers to post a photo to Facebook showing their new rugs in use?

Or in fundraising terms, how are you building a relationship by increasing opportunities for interaction? It’s more than “send money (please)” as we all know. Are we reinforcing donors’ good decision to give by sending out timely, accurate receipts? Are we inviting new donors to share comments with us and tell their friends about the organization through online and offline means? Are we offering more information but not overwhelming them with every brochure on our shelves?

Just some things this old dog is thinking about … as I sit back and admire my newly restored hardwood floor.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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