A few months back I wrote a post called “What Does Your First Date with A Volunteer Look Like?” I identified several parallels between a first date and that initial connection with new volunteers or board members. These included the need for clear and honest communication and the fact both parties come to the table with lots of expectations, both spoken and unspoken. (you can find it here: http://www.trainingforgoodinc.com/blog-basic-training/whats-your-first-date-with-a-volunteer-look-like )
In recent conversations with colleagues though I’ve noticed a struggle with how to get that date in the first place. And in particular dates with P2P participants - volunteer fundraisers. By this I mean: the organization wants to offer P2P options but haven’t exactly figured out the how, who or of most concern, the WHY of starting this process. As one example of a potential “dating mismatch” I recently had a conversation with a charity leader that had decided to launch a walk. As we had further discussions, I learned that her interest in introducing the walk had little to do with identifying it as a fit for their fundraising mix or constituency. Rather, it was because they’d heard that (fill in name of charity) raised a ton of money doing a walk and they wanted in. I’m sure this story isn’t unique.
To keep the dating analogy going, developing the optimal portfolio of P2P events and connecting with a supportive audience starts with answering some questions:
What’s Your Type? Who are you trying to attract? If you’re thinking of launching a walk – which tends to connect with the more cause related supporters – will those constituents truly embrace your event? The charity I mentioned above that was eager to launch the walk was located in New York City but all of their potential participants happened to be international visitors and a few ex-pats. That makes for a tough start! Conversely, if you have a strong walk in place, are you better off scaling your walk program or can you introduce a compelling endurance event or series of events to complement it? Ultimately, you need to know who you want to attract, why you’re trying to attract them and what might get them interested.
What Are You Doing to Get Noticed? Are you sending out the right signals to potential participants? Once you’ve identified who you’re trying to attract, how are you showing off your strengths and responding to challenges? If you’re trying to find a cause related audience for a new walk, highlight your quality of research, depth of service and model for change as a starting point. If you’re launching a new cycling event in a community with multiple rides, what can you offer in terms of an event experience to stand out from the crowd? Maybe it’s the venue (think: vineyard, hard-to-access locale) or an incredibly different or challenging course. You can’t be all things to all people so figure out how to standout from the crowd and connect.
What’s Your Big Pick-Up Line? Come here often? What’s your sign? Do you know the pick-up lines that attract (and better yet KEEP) your P2P participants? One sure fire way to do this is to ask your long-term volunteers what attracted them to your organization and amplify their responses in your messaging. And keep it real. If you’re betting the house on free registration and lots of giveaways to reach endurance fundraisers, you’ll do great with one-timers but your retention may be hit or miss. It’s worth taking the time to build out your event experience so that you’re attracting – and retaining - participants that can move beyond fundraisers to become long term friends and future leaders of your organization.
Yep, that’s right, your P2P event participants aren’t registering by email. Sure, you may get a few who had already planned to do it, but an email alone rarely generates enough registrants for a really successful event. No matter how pithy your email blast, how powerful your event imagery is or how motivational your quote, emails only go so far in getting new people to take the leap of faith and join up. This holds true whether you’re talking about attracting your cause related audience and perhaps even more so when trying to recruit athletes you hope to bring out to your endurance events. To build and grow a sustainable event, you have to be where the people are.
I had a wonderful experience this past Saturday that highlights the power of “Being There.” I was at an open house hosted by one of our local bike shops. At one point, a cyclist came to my table and was clearly familiar with our NJ Ride. It turns out that one of his neighbors, who happens to be one of our top volunteers, had been trying to get him to join his riding team. The cyclist had been on the fence - he had another event the week before, a few concerns about the fundraising – nothing I haven’t heard before. I shared a bit more about why our ride was special and joked about what a coup it would be if after this coincidence, he ended up signing on. And he did, right on the spot.
No email, e-blast or incentive could have made this story happen. And there are more stories like this waiting to happen.
My suggestion that emails don’t get people registered is of course extreme. I’ve shared it to illustrate that relying purely on digital marketing as a driver for P2P participation is a mistake. We, as P2P leaders need to go beyond the classic “I sent an email and am waiting to hear” as the primary method of attracting participants. Here are a few good steps
Go Where the People Are: Whenever possible, be a part of the communities you’re trying to engage. If you’re trying to reach walkers – usually thought of as cause-motivated participants - attend informational sessions, workshops, panels etc. related to the cause. Maybe even the mall or the park. If you want to reach runners, you know the drill: expos, running stores, and of course running events. The list goes on. I realize there are limitations and we still need mass efforts to reach the masses. Nevertheless, becoming a part of the community, someone that is seen to be around, makes a difference.
Pick Your Spot(s): It’s a hard call to define those few perfect points of engagement so you’ll need to experiment through trial and error. For example, communities often have several cycling shops that attract riders with different interests. Some cater to big clubs while others bring in the tri-set. Ask an owner if you can table at their place, try the expo for a big ride or join the group ride. See what works for you and your event. And then stick with it.
Pick Up the Phone: OK, so you can’t be everywhere all the time. But again, stop relying on emails and e-blasts to do the fun part of our job: connecting with people. If you can’t be there – out in the community – pick up the phone! Long ago, in a galaxy far away, we used to pick up the phone and call people without even setting up an appointment on Outlook. Try it. You’ll be amazed how cool it is to actually talk to your volunteers and participants live.
Usually, my posts and suggestions are connected to my experiences in the charitable sector. Traveling in Southeast Asia last week, though, triggered some thoughts on how we as nonprofits communicate and why volunteers and donors might find our terminology foreign, leaving gaps in their understanding.
My wife and I were celebrating our 15th wedding anniversary with a trip that to Bangkok, Thailand, followed by a visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, one of the 7 Wonders of the World. While we’d typically fly between destinations, my wife really wanted to see the countryside and suggested we travel from Bangkok to Cambodia by train. Given that the train had no A/C and temperatures were 90+, our compromise was the bus. We had read travel blogs that warned of the potential challenges of crossing by land at the Thai/Cambodia border. These included a range of pricing variations and requirements for entry into the country and of most concern, rip-offs and scams to take advantage of naive tourists and their inability to speak the native tongue.
The first part of the journey went well. We enjoyed the scenery, were relatively comfortable and got to meet a few fellow travelers. At the border, our driver shooed everyone off the bus, using his best English to convey that we should “go through Customs, cross the border, walk to the casino and the bus will be waiting for you." On the ground, in the sweltering sun and dust stirred up by the myriad of motorcycles, bikes, carts, stands selling crispy crickets to snack on, and vendors proposing all forms of assistance and products, we found our way to the Thai customs office and received our outgoing stamp. Easy…and then we went outside and saw not one but at least six casinos lining the border road. Our bus – with all of our luggage and possessions on it - was nowhere to be found.
I'm embarrassed to say that I immediately went into panic mode. I was having visions of the movie "Midnight Express" (though that takes place in Turkey) and a new home and career in the Cambodian casino industry. Fortunately, my wife is the calmer member of our team and after taking some pictures of the border chaos, we wandered around and found the bus, only to be told we could not get back on until we went and found the Cambodian Customs office and got that stamp as well. Actually, this was conveyed through hand signals more than English but that seemed to be the gist of it. Wandering through the dusty road once more, we found this office, got the stamp and were rewarded with clearance to re-board our bus.
We ended up having a fantastic trip and loved seeing Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. Beyond that, my momentary scare got me thinking about the charitable sector and the potential for misunderstanding and need for clarity in communication. Here are three thoughts I came away with:
Speak in an agreed upon language: I'll be the first to say that our bus driver was doing his best to speak English and I appreciated it. After all, we were guests in their country. As nonprofit professionals we tend to be very comfortable using our own language (and occasionally lingo) associated with our profession. We're fluent in theories of change, funding objectives and evaluation criteria. But is this the language our volunteers and donors speak? Chances are they'd rather talk in terms of the social movement you're working towards, the change you want to see in the world and what their hard work and dollars can do to make that happen.
Provide translation when necessary: OK, so you're probably going to have to use nonprofit terminology some time and not just when talking to institutional donors. If you have to, then use it to educate and engage your volunteers and donors. As one opportunity, consider inviting volunteers to have a voice in grant or sponsorship proposals. While you're explaining the need to have a theory of change, help them see how vital their inputs (volunteer hours, network connections, funds and/or in-kind support) are to the outputs - real change and the potential to achieve your mission and vision.
Have an agreed upon and specific destination (a.k.a. GOAL): My experience would have been very different if we had agreed upon a more specific destination. Something as simple as we'll meet at 1:00 at the sixth casino on the right side of the road would have worked. S.M.A.R.T. Goals - those that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-sensitive - are the Gold Standard since they leave little room for misunderstanding or confusion. Make sure your constituents are clear on the SMART goals of your organization and their importance in achieving them.
And it's nice to be home...
Robert Grabel is the President of Nonprofit Now! You can find his posts here and at www.robertgrabel.com
Want to keep getting the latest New Thinking? Click Below...