How to Boost Employee Support for Nonprofit Fundraising

Employee Support for Nonprofit FundraisingHow to Boost Employee Support for Nonprofit Fundraising reveals that, although employees can be tremendous supporters of nonprofit fundraisers, managers have to navigate some subtle waters to engage employees.

The key to “engagement” is making it voluntary and meaningful to employees as people. I say this because many organizations expect support, but expectation diminishes the voluntary requirement. When management harbors the attitude that employees owe them to promote the fundraiser, this will backfire. Here’s my response to a situation in the Nonprofit Technology Network forums. 

A web/social media specialist for family services nonprofit sought advice for increasing employee participation in their annual fundraiser. Most of the responses explained how to use email signatures (someone even suggested appending promotional text to employees’ email signatures globally!). Someone else suggested gift certificates. I took a different tack.

Most employee engagement initiatives underperform because they are organization-focused, not employee-focused. Yes, employees work for you, and you can “expect” their support, but that’s not terribly voluntary. And if your organization falls anywhere near the norm for U.S. orgs for employee engagement, many of your employees aren’t very engaged (for one, see For-Profit vs. Not-for-Profit../Gallup).

How to Build True Employee Support for Nonprofit Fundraising

First, the suggestions for email signatures are undoubtedly effective in generating some web traffic, but they are not true engagement because they are tools for helping the organization nudge/coerce employees. I’m sure this sounds harsh to some, but if you want true engagement you need to be honest and put employees first. You need to trust them to support you when it’s truly voluntary. You can give them tools, but your attitude must stem from trusting them. They feel it when you trust them. And when you don’t.

I see in your title that you’re involved in social media, so you’ve probably experienced some of the effects of digital social behavior. Use this to help spread engagement among employees.

  1. I’d start by developing a simple format for videos. Have a couple people go around with their iPhones and interview employees, starting with people they know and trust.
  2. Give them a choice of questions like: what’s your favorite project right now and why? what’s the most inspiring thing that you’ve seen in our work this year? where do we need to improve and why? why do you work here? how does our mission/program touch you personally?
  3. Make the videos 1-3 minutes max, and honor employees with a page on your website; make sure it has social media sharing buttons on the page. Get a few example videos up, so other employees feel how they look. Fight the urge to make them too pretty; don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Authentic trumps all.
  4. Feature these videos in your email communications.
  5. Also give employees the chance to have a text response, along with their picture, if they don’t want to be on video.
  6. Train the interviewers to create an open trusted emotional space for the interviews; they should not try to coerce “positive” videos. Do not fall prey to the urge marketing, PR or spinning. Employees have to feel that you really want to know. When you do this right, you’ll be amazed and inspired, and your donors will be, too.
  7. Most people yearn for meaning in their lives, and this initiative, when done with sensitivity, curiosity, and trust, gives employees the opportunity to share how their work is meaningful to them personally. I think you’ll be blown away by the response.

The Third Question

My inclusion of the third question was very deliberate: “Where do we need to improve and why?” Most managers would be aghast and afraid to have that question as a prompt. But guess what it communicates to employees? “We trust you. We want your true experience.” It’s a beautiful way to show people, emotionally, that this is real. It creates a space of honesty for all interviews.

And employees who choose that prompt will be moved that you’re trusting them. We all know that every person or group of people (a.k.a organization) can improve, so let’s learn from it, be open about it, especially in front of potential donors. Donors yearn for honesty, too. So if an employee chooses that prompt, and you promote it with the others, you’re sending a very powerful emotional message: “We trust you to accept us, even in our imperfection. We care more about honesty than ‘looking good.'” They are deluged by all the polished messaging, so this stands out.

I have learned that, in the age of hypermarketing, honesty and being real are distinctive because they are rare. People yearn for real. What is your experience?

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