A lot of our time in the nonprofit fund development world is focused on building and maintaining donor relationships, as it should be! Relationships are central to any long-term fund development program.
But many times, we get tunnel vision when we look at our donors....we simply look at their relationship with us. We fail to visualize their entire network of connections, except perhaps the times we ask our board members to engage their networks. One of the most powerful, and oft overlooked, strategies to building a powerful donor base is investing time and energy into developing advocates, not just donors.
Let's take a look at Charlene. She is a current donor and occasional volunteer. We know her son's name and that her husband works at a local real estate agency. We know her birthday. What we don't know is that Charlene is a member of a large women's group at her church, a group she shares with the wife of the mayor and two local prominent female attorneys. She is also a member of a professional women's group with several other prominent businesswomen in the community. Her son is on a soccer team with the son of an executive at a local corporation and they are close family friends. Charlene has occasionally asked for prayer requests for some thing or another at your organization, but she has not felt empowered or educated enough to really speak up about supporting the cause.
Developing advocates gives your organization a clear, educated voice in your community far beyond what paid marketing and advertising will provide. You can empower Charlene through tours of your facilities and a printed page of statistics and facts to then go out to her network, invite them to a tour, and supply hard facts to draw others to find out more about you. Those "second degree" contacts then go on to become volunteers, donors, and advocates themselves, thus compounding your initial investment of time with empowering Charlene as an advocate!
Some easy ways to build an advocates program:
-Begin with your board. Draft up some one-page, easy to read Fact Sheets with statistics and fun facts about the organization. Help them use these to develop their own "elevator speech".
-Consider a physical tour of a facility you own, if at all possible. If you serve children, use a camp or classroom. Something that shows the tangible results of your mission in action. Schedule tours during the "networking hour"- between 5-7, depending on your city, or consider a working lunch hour and provide sandwiches with chips. Keep it simple. The lunch isn't the focus- the tour is.
-Request your board, or the established advocates, to "host" a tour. They won't be responsible for actually giving the tour- a staff member will do the heavy lifting- but people are more likely to come to a tour if their friend is hosting. Try to aim for 2 guests per host and 4 hosts total, so your whole tour group is no more than 12 individuals. Begin with a schedule of twice a quarter for these tours and work to having them once or twice a month, depending on staff and board capacity.
-Do not ask for money on these tours or networking hours. This is not a hard ask event, this is an inform and empower event. Printed materials and signage can direct them to the website, where of course you will have a wonderful online giving portal set up, but no one will ask for a donation.
-Begin your program with board or staff being the hosts and inviting long-time volunteers, donors, even former clients/beneficiaries or family of clients.....many times, the best advocates are mothers of former clients or even the client themselves who can attest, personally, to the change in their lives because of your programs.
If you don't have a physical facility in which to host a tour, or you think it logistically impossible to do so, you can definitely still develop an advocacy program with some creative thinking and great marketing. Perhaps we can dig into that in a future post.
So get on your thinking caps and start brainstorming how you can turn those occasional donors or seasonal holiday volunteers into true vocal advocates for your cause and expand your messaging organically!