What do we mean by a ‘supporter engagement approach’ and what are the benefits of it?

What do we mean by a ‘supporter engagement approach’ and what are the benefits of it?

Guest Bloggers | 27 June 2019

Fundraising consultant Grahame Darnell takes a look at a supporter engagement approach to fundraising and why an integrated approach across fundraising, marketing and communications is critical to its success.

There has been a major focus on supporter engagement for some organisations for several years. Despite this, people often ask the question: What do we mean by supporter engagement and what are the benefits?

This confusion over what the term means stems partly from the fact that different organisations use it in different ways. For example: it is sometimes used simply as a new title for the individual giving team; it has also been used to describe the work of supporter care; while some organisations use it to describe an approach that is very supporter-centric and recognises multiple types of relationship that a person can have with a charity.

Recognising multiple types of support

In my consulting work I consider supporter engagement to be a way of working that is designed to move from categorising people by how they support  regular giver, community fundraiser, event participant, campaigner, sharer of content etc  to an approach that is more holistic. This approach is about recognising that someone can interact with, and support, the charity in a number of different ways, and that it is desirable to encourage this. This thinking isn’t particularly new but it has seen renewed emphasis post-GDPR. Partly this renewed emphasis is driven by a desire to build deeper and longer lasting relationships with supporters – to retain them and maximise the value of their support.

Having a holistic view of supporters requires a minimum of four critical success factors:

1. Solid supporter insight so that the charity understands the reasons that the supporter chooses to support and the specific areas of work he or she is interested in
2. Properly mapped supporter journeys that reflect the supporters interests and give them the opportunity to be involved in multiple ways
3. Clear objectives and metrics e.g. ‘to create an amazing supporter experience that will be measured via an annual supporter survey; increase in number of supporters; increase in supporter loyalty; increase in annual average value’
4. An integrated approach across fundraising, marketing and communications that takes on board all of the ways that someone can support a charity (i.e. thinking more broadly than financial support)

The first three items on this list are self-explanatory but the fourth one requires some further unpacking.

Integrated fundraising, marketing and communications

An integrated approach to fundraising, marketing and communications is key to implementing a supporter engagement approach. Seeking integration isn’t particularly new and many charities have been doing it for a long time. In 2013 I wrote a piece for Third Sector Magazine about how we had done this at Action for Children several years earlier.

Delivering an integrated approach requires fundraising, marketing and communications teams to work together and all pull in the same direction. It is therefore critical to align the objectives and measures that each of these teams will use in order to ensure everyone is aiming for the same thing i.e. there must be clarity about the desired outcome and how it will be achieved.

The primary measures relate to the desired outcomes. The desired outcomes are things like increased loyalty and increased annual value. These need to be understood and owned by all. There is no point having loads of reach – whether that is in terms of brand awareness, social media followers or contactable names on a database – if this doesn’t convert into something tangible (more income, government policy changes etc.). There will of course be a range of executions being carried out to achieve these outcomes. So a range of execution metrics will also be required. Execution metrics can include things like: email volume; open rates; click through rates; social media following; likes; shares; comments.

The important thing is understanding that the execution metrics are linked to, and help drive, the outcome metrics. The outcome metrics are the primary measures and trump everything else. Setting things up like this helps avoid situations where the execution becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end. The execution measures are important but they have to be considered in tandem with the outcome measures.

Achieving deeper commitment

What a supporter engagement approach seeks to do is deliver a consistent and coherent supporter experience across multiple touch points and drive a multi-layered relationship with the supporter. Such a multi-layered relationship, where a supporter is taking a range of financial and non-financial actions, strengthens commitment. Adrian Sargent has written about this several times; the idea is that the more actions people take the more actively committed they are (and therefore the more loyal and valuable they become). So if a person gives financially and does other things  takes a campaign action, shares your content online, adds their voice to your content via stories or comment  then they will be more loyal.

Spelling out the benefits

If a charity can put in place the four critical success factors above then it can implement a supporter engagement approach, which should deliver several tangible benefits as follows:

Increased Loyalty. A supporter engagement approach is about giving supporters an amazing experience and making them feel valued every time they take an action (financial or non-financial). Giving scope for multiple actions will deepen commitment and help ensure that these donors stay with you.
Greater value. Supporter engagement is about maximising value from supporters – both financial value and non-financial. Over time, a supporter engagement approach will drive up key measures like average gift and number of campaign actions taken.
More supporters. A supporter engagement strategy will amplify your messages and extend your reach, which will draw more people towards the organisation. This should lead to more supporters.

Apart from intuitively feeling like a good thing to do, a supporter engagement approach holds the scope driving up loyalty and value at a time when acquiring new supporters is difficult. Therefore it makes sound business sense even if the tactics aren’t actually new at all.

 Grahame Darnell is Managing Director of Darnell Consulting Ltd and a Partner Consultant with THINK.

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