American donors are passionate and positive about the charities and nonprofits they support. But at the same time, according to the focus groups queried by the research organization Public Agenda for this new report, The Charitable Impulse, they hold strong feelings about what is the right way for nonprofits to market themselves.
Most important for us nonprofit communicators is the finding that there are strong and spontaneous negative reactions when nonprofits adopt big-business type marketing and sales techniques. Examples cited by focus group members include "highly-polished direct mail campaigns, unsolicited premiums, telemarketing, and sending multiple or duplicate appeals in a short amount of time." Donors, especially those at the lower levels, conveyed disdain at being "sold" to by nonprofits seeking giving.
According to the report, typical giving is largely motivated by personal experience and emotional connections. But givers also have a long memory for scandal and waste. And the current Congressional debate over accounting changes and increased regulation and reporting for nonprofits scarcely registers at all with this group.
What this means for us is that we have to pay more attention then ever to meet our audiences where they are, rather than imposing the nonprofit sector’s concerns such as accountability on them or railroading through an inappropriate marketing strategy. So pay close attention to honing nonprofit messages focused on stories and other people-based content, and presenting them in a high-impact but not overly expensive or sophisticated vehicles.
Better yet launch some of your own audience research to find out how your stakeholders, current and prospective, view your organization now, and what’s important to them. Then your nonprofit will be ultimately equipped to foster the "charitable impulse."
Take a look at these articles for more insight into audience research:
- Getting Great Audience and Stakeholder Feedback, at Little Cost (Case Study)
- Get to Know Your Audiences Via a Web-based Survey
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