FYI Blog

Choose Your Friends Wisely

My preteen son is 12—staring down (and trying on) his teenage years. Since he’s my oldest and this is a bit of uncharted territory, I’ve been reading up on how to best support him through this tumultuous time.

If you Google teens and peers, you’ll get findings and advice from thousands of sources, from WebMD to Scholastic to mom groups to the Dept. of Health and Human Services. They all say the same thing: from here on out, what I do and say will have little impact, compared to his peer group’s influence.

In other words, the friends he makes (and listens to) now could make or break him, depending on how they influence each other.

Translating this to my work life, the donors we partner with now will affect our revenue for years to come. Both adolescence and acquisition are inherently risky propositions, but with mitigating factors to help along the way.

I get to know my son’s friends, and if possible, their parents. I make sure the friends spend time at our house, so I can help my son evaluate their character and loyalty as friends. We talk about how people define friendship, and how friends treat each other. We talk about brain development (impulse control takes time!) and personalities. We also talk about the mistakes we humans make.

Direct marketing donor acquisition is all about carefully attracting the right donors, who are inspired to give by a nonprofit’s mission, and incentivized to keep giving as they learn more about an organization and its activities. A donor’s first gift is the best predictor of that donor value.

Our research has shown that donors who join an organization with a gift below $25 probably won’t become our BFFs—they’re unlikely to give again. So we ask for a more substantial gift from the get go, knowing we are less likely to recruit high numbers of donors—but the ones we recruit in this way are more likely to give again and stay with us over the long haul. We can move them along a continuum of support to solidify and upgrade their commitment, because they have shown a more significant financial commitment to our mission early on.

And we pay close attention to return on investment. We often recommend tough love when addressing ROI and donor value—in other words, closely target lists that produce higher-value donors, evaluated on both the front and back end. The list strategy can include using standard list segmentation, as well as demographic overlays, modeling (for outside lists, reinstatement files, and co-op lists), and other merge-optimization tools. We also recommend frequently testing offers and creative packages to support and refine these strategies.

Just like with my son, if we acquire our donors (or friends) wisely, we’ll likely have many good years together, helping each other along the way.

As kids get older, they rely more and more on their peer group to find their way in the world—trusting them to know the answers. As stewards, we’re able to educate our donors with ongoing cultivation and activism, so they are more and more primed to answer appeals for our annual fund, renewals, upgrades, and sustaining support.

Beyond the known pitfalls of peer pressure that kids face, trusted friends also give kids a sense of belonging and support. Just what we strive for in our donor relationships. And just like our kids’ relationships, our donors need ongoing education, cultivation, and communication to remind them of that belonging and support.

So we weigh the risks—for teenagers and for donor acquisition. Keep reviewing results: is our kid’s behavior acceptable? Do our upfront results hold up, in terms of donor value, list value, average gift? Are friends leading him down the wrong path? Are donors continuing their support? We adjust as necessary in our tactics and communications.

If we have built a good foundation of love and support in the way we have raised our children and stewarded our donors, we’ll move into the future with confidence and strength.