What Nonprofits Can Learn About Donor Retention from David Letterman

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Are you the last kid on your nonprofit block to adopt social media as a tool to build relationships?

If you’re not using social media to get and retain more donors, be afraid. Be very afraid.

Social media has ceased to be a nice little “toy.”  An “add on thing.”  It’s the thing. If you’re not hanging out where the majority of your constituents are getting their information, you may as well fold up your tent and go home.  David Letterman didn’t “do social media.”    ( See “Do you use the Twitter device?” ).  He’s going home.

Letterman  may be ready to go off into the sunset. But you shouldn’t be. You can learn new tricks!

For years Dave was the undisputed king of late night ratings.  Now, a new wave of internet savvy hosts have upset his apple cart. Read more about how and why in the full CNN opinion piece, Is Internet Driving Letterman Away?

Before you think “oh, this doesn’t apply to me,” think again.  I’m not saying you should abandon all your old school tried-and-true donor acquisition and stewardship practices in favor of social media.  So don’t get scared! They still work.

But you’ve got to do more. You’ve got to do different. If you don’t, your donor pool is going to shrink, shrink, shrink.

Much like David Letterman’s audience.

Here’s what it boils down to for fundraisers and nonprofit communicators:

1. “Today’s late-night TV is about bite-size bits. Letterman liked to serve multicourse meals.”

Are you still mailing 20-page annual reports? 6-page newsletters? Brochures?  It’s time to rethink this. I’m not saying you absolutely should not do this. You may have a large group of loyal constituents who devour these things. I’m just saying it’s worth taking a step back and doing some research. Maybe send out a little survey. Make some random phone calls. These communications are costing you a pretty penny, and they may not be doing you much good.  ACTION TIP: Reevaluate your fundraising/nonprofit marketing communications budget. If you don’t have an active blog, reconsider. It can become a real work engine for all of your content marketing. Whenever you put resources into one basket, you lose the opportunity to put them in another basket — one that may be stronger, sexier and just more all-around useful to you.

2. “In the age of the Internet, the way viewers take in late-night TV is not what it was when Letterman was honing his style.”

Your battle to grab the attention of potential constituents must now be fought on multiple fronts. It’s not just the mailbox or the telephone. Or t.v. and radio ads.  Nonprofits who’ve mastered those forms of communication may be loathe to give them up, but… it’s time for a change.  ACTION TIP: Pick one new online media platform to explore. Consider reducing the share of resources you’re applying to old school communications and adding more resources to social media.

3. “Since the latest late-night talent shifts, Fallon’s “Tonight Show” has drawn about twice as many viewers as Letterman.”

Fallon frequently uses trending twitter hashtags as one of his “bits.” He’s getting 5.2 million to Letterman’s 2.7. In the coveted 18-49 demographic, Letterman comes in third, behind Kimmel as well as Fallon. There are certainly folks in that demographic your nonprofit wants to reach as well!  The real shift is that many folks, even older demographics, aren’t watching because they don’t need to.  Folks used to consider the late-night shows “must watch.” They were a way to get the monologuist’s “take” on what happened that day. Today folks have blogs, Twitter, Facebook, G+ and a multitude of real-time, live, of-the-moment ways to be in the know. You need to choose one or more of these platforms that will work for you. ACTION TIP: Develop an online content marketing plan.If your nonprofit isn’t offering up ways folks can feel “in the know”, you’re not going to attract people or get them to pay attention to what you have to say.

4.I ask my college students … how many of them watch any of the late-night shows as they’re first televised.  They are waiting for those pieces of the previous night’s talk shows spoon-fed to them, either as morning-show highlights or as viral videos on news sites or shared by Facebook friends.”

Regardless of what you think or feel about it, we’re in a spoon-feeding zeitgeist. Today, the popularity of a talk show – or of your nonprofit – is being measured by quick hits of brilliant comedy, inspiring stories, thought-provoking tid-bits, useful answers to frequently asked questions and other snippets of relevant content that make your audiences want more. ACTION TIP: Become a “drip storyteller.”  If you’re not constantly serving up little snacks to folks you’re not going to entice them. If you don’t entice them, you won’t captivate, inspire, engage and, ultimately, drive investment. Sadly, someone else will. And you’ll lose these folks to your competition.

5. “If no one is watching TV in real time any more, then what does being a “late-night” host even mean?”

If too few folks are reading your annual reports, newsletters, mail appeals, brochures, fact sheets, white papers, emails … you name it… then what are you going to do to get the folks you’re missing to pay attention? Maybe it’s a link to a YouTube video. Maybe it’s a compelling photo shared on Pinterest. Maybe it’s an inspiring quote on Twitter, with a link to a fuller article on your website. ACTION TIP: Learn more about, and embrace, inbound marketing. Don’t have a lopsided constituent engagement and donor retention program. You need one that reaches all your potential supporters, or you’ll wither, shrivel and die.

Please don’t blame the messenger.

Want an easy fix to get on board with digital communications and retain more donors?

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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.

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