AdvoTalk: Robots make bad fundraisers


Sarah Durham (00:00:01):

Hey everybody. Welcome to the webinar today. It is, depending where you are, two o’clock, one o’clock, 11 o’clock and we’re delighted you’re joining us this afternoon. I am Sarah Durham. I am the CEO of Big Duck and also Big Duck’s sister agency, Advomatic. Big Duck is the host of this webinar, but we’re doing it in partnership across both businesses. And I’ll chat out to you links to Big Duck and to Advomatic. If you’re not familiar with our work, you can poke around and get a sense of what we do. But one of the things we try to do at both agencies is bring you great, helpful content that helps you be a more effective communicator. And that’s why we are here today. I invited Steven to join us so he can talk about his new book, which we will talk about in a minute.


Sarah Durham (00:00:50):

But before we do that, a few pieces of housekeeping. First of all, take a minute if you are comfortable, and chat to everybody your name, your title, the organization you work for and your location or any of those things that you’re comfortable sharing. So who are you and where are you? It’s always really fun to get a sense of who’s in the room. And it’s always kind of a neat way to see, see the ethics community that we’re forming here together for an hour unfold. And then I want to talk to you a little bit about some housekeeping pieces first. If you’ve never been in a webinar on Zoom before, there are two features you may want to play around with at the bottom of your screen, you will probably see a chat and you will see a Q&A.


Sarah Durham (00:01:37):

So if you want to ask Steven a question, you can drop it in the Q&A, and I will be monitoring the Q&A, and the chat throughout our conversation today. We’re going to save some time at the end, in the last 15, 20 minutes. And I will facilitate a discussion with Steven. We’ll get to your questions then, but chat them along as we go. As soon as it pops up into your mind, don’t hesitate to pop it into the Q&A or into the chat. You also have the option to chat either to everybody as you’re probably seeing, or just to panelists, I believe. So where I’m seeing chats coming in from people right now, who are saying that they are, we’ve got somebody here from Buffalo, New York, somebody from Atlanta, somebody in Mexico City, Torrance, California Decatur, Georgia. Go Georgia. New York City, which is usually where I am, although I’m in Massachusetts, Carmen, San Diego lots of people from LA and New York even somebody here from the Canadian Prairies and somebody from South Carolina. So feel free to take advantage of all these features in Zoom. Theresa, do you want to introduce yourself and say a couple of words before we dig in?


Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs (00:02:49):

Sure. I’m Theresa Gutierrez Jacobs. I am a project manager at Advomatic. And let me just chat to you with my email address. If for any reason you have any tech issues during this webinar, please feel free to reach out. 


Sarah Durham (00:03:00):

So what we are going to do is in a minute, we’re going to get started with Steven’s presentation and Theresa and I are going to go off camera, but we’ll come back in a bit. We’re going to be monitoring the chat as we go from behind the scenes, but this is really Steven’s spiel. And I invited Steven to join us because he is the Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang. I’ve known him in that capacity for many years, and I have found him to be one of the most insightful and well-informed people in the fundraising world. And one of the things I love about Steven is that he takes a really, really kind of pragmatic and hard look at data, about what’s really happening with fundraising. And then he marries it with some innovation and you know, kind of pragmatism about what’s happening in the digital world.


Sarah Durham (00:03:54):

And a few months ago he released a terrific book called Robots Make Bad Fundraisers: How Nonprofits Can Maintain the Heart in the Digital Age. And I read the book right away when it came out. I’ve interviewed him for the podcast that we do at Big Duck, which is called The Smart Communications podcast. And I wanted to invite him here to walk through some of the things he’s thinking about and he talks about in his terrific book with you. So with that, I will hand it over to Steven. He will screen-share and we will dig in.


Steven Shattuck (00:04:28):

Cool, thanks, Sarah. That was such a lovely introduction. I will try my best to live up to it. You’re way too kind. Thanks for having me, and Theresa, thanks for making this happen. I’m excited cause I love this topic and I’m just happy to hang out with you all. So thanks for taking the time. I know you’re probably super busy with all this going on in the world and, and getting close to year-end fundraising, but we’ll keep it kind of light and fun. Hopefully it’ll be a little bit of a bright spot of your week. So like Sarah said, I work at Bloomerang, which is not super relevant to this conversation. If you don’t know, Bloomerang, we’re a donor management software provider, so you can check that out. We’re pretty easy to find. And they really support me in doing these kinds of things.


Steven Shattuck (00:05:13):

They were supportive of me writing the book and I do a lot of external volunteer work with some groups doing research and talking about fundraising and I’ll weave some of that into this presentation, but yeah, this is really kind of the companion to the book. So if you get the book you may find some of this content to be familiar as you read through it. But let’s dive in. I want to tell you a kind of a quick story to kind of set the table. So a couple of years back we wanted to get standing desks for all of the employees here at Bloomerang. We were, you know, really growing and we had just moved this building that I’m in now, which is completely empty now because we’re in a zombie apocalypse.


Steven Shattuck (00:06:01):

So I’m staying safe, even though I’m in the office, I’m all alone here. So we checked out a few companies that offer standing desks and they let me be the guinea pig for trying out a couple of them. So we bought some and we’re going to see which ones we’d like to get for all the employees. So we bought a couple of desks. We bought some from a few companies. I ordered them personally. And one of the groups that we ordered the desk from, they had just been in like Mashable or some big publication. And they were just swamped with orders. That’s actually how we heard about them. So when I ordered the desk, I knew it was going to be like a couple months actually, before I got the desk. So it was no big deal.


Steven Shattuck (00:06:44):

I just kind of ordered it, forgot about it because I knew it was gonna be awhile, but a couple of weeks before the desk was scheduled to arrive, I got this email from them saying, “Hey, Steven, thanks again for your order, but there’s been a little bit of a delay in in the manufacturing of the desk. And it’s going to take about a couple more weeks for you to get it beyond what you had originally thought.” I thought, no big deal. I’ve already waited two months. I can wait, you know, a couple more weeks. But as I was looking at this email, there was something about it that caught my eye because I’m kind of a dorky guy you’re really gonna, you know, surmise that over the next hour or so, it was the email address that the email came from the sending email address.


Steven Shattuck (00:07:29):

You can see it there, So the name of the company is Autonomous which is, you know, we can talk about, but there were these other elements in the email address that were kind of odd. It kind of caught my eye and was creating this cognitive dissonance in my mind, you know. Human, which, you know, ostensibly does not pair with the other words in the email address, autonomous you know, automated, automatic and AI which is artificial intelligence, the opposite of a human. So I thought, wow, that’s really interesting what an interesting choice on their parts to make that the email address to communicate to customers with. So I was kind of sitting there thinking, boy, I think I want to have some fun with these people. I’m going to mess with them a little bit.


Steven Shattuck (00:08:22):

So I replied to this email. I wanted to see what would happen if me, a real human being, replied to an email address, So I replied to the name with a simple message. I just kinda wanted to show that maybe I was a little upset about the delay. I wasn’t actually upset, but I wanted to convey some emotion to them to see what kind of response I wouldn’t garner from this email address. And if I was with you live, I would ask, you know, are there any guesses what happened by replying to this email address? And you’re probably already thinking of it, but I got an automatic, very non-human, very robotic, automatic email from these people. You know, Hey, we’re working on your request, you know, number three, five, oh, seven, six. So never good, by the way, to downgrade your customer into like a serial number, which is what they did, you know. We’ll be back in touch soon, but if you want to add additional comments, just reply to this email.


Steven Shattuck (00:09:23):

And I thought, okay, let’s do that. And I replied, and then I got caught in this endless automatic response that was never ending. Definitely not human, pretty robotic, right. You know, not even that intelligent, even though the AI in their address kind of you know, made a little bit of a promise that there’ll be some intelligence happening there. So that wasn’t the end of the saga. I did eventually get the desk. And by the way, I’m teasing this company a little bit, but the desk is very fabulous and we have them all over the office. And I recommend that if you are in the market for a standing desk, that’s a very good product. The customer communication, maybe not so much. So in between this email and getting the desk a couple weeks later, they continue to communicate to me as a new customer, specifically they pushed another product of theirs on me.


Steven Shattuck (00:10:21):

While I was waiting for the original desks that I purchased and the product that they pushed on me was also very interesting in addition to the little story I just told here, what they didn’t market to me was their floor mat. They also sell a floor mat, which is a good thing to get, by the way, if you, if you have a standing desk, you know, it’s good to stand on a floor mat because it can be kind of hard on your feet and knees to stand all day, especially around, you know, concrete or hardwood or whatever. That to me would have made sense to say, Hey, Steven, you know, we notice you didn’t get a floor mat. You might want to grab one of these for when your desk arrives because they’ll be much more comfortable to you. That was not what was communicated to me.


Steven Shattuck (00:11:03):

They also did not solicit me to buy their little like tray cable holder that would mount under the desk and keep everything nice and neat. I’m a little bit of a neat freak. And that would have been good. What they did rather aggressively suggest that I purchase was their chair. They also sell a chair and hopefully you’re chuckling because I thought it was a little strange that someone who bought a standing desk, now to be fair, it is a desk that goes up and down. So for some of the time you would need a chair but not the main need, right? I bought a standing desk. I think they can assume that, you know, I’m already sitting at a sit down desk. I already have a chair, but I want to stand up. I want to stand up.


Steven Shattuck (00:11:52):

That’s why I bought the product, but no, they want me to buy their chair and the marketing language on this email I think is a little corny, you know, the “advanced art of seating.” Wow, there’s some good copywriting happening there, maybe a little bit overboard. But they were aggressive. I got no less than a dozen emails between that original, you know, customer service email, and getting the desks. Very aggressive, get the chair and only 48 hours left. It’s interesting. The clock kept resetting, so there wasn’t too much urgency there, you know, the only office chair you ever need. And I thought, wow, really interesting choices on their part. Doesn’t feel very human, right? The discernment perhaps was not there that I think a real human would have been able to employ, you know, Hey there, he’s waiting on his desk.


Steven Shattuck (00:12:44):

Let’s not push the chair until maybe a little bit after he gets the desk, especially since he’s been waiting and there was a delay, you know, maybe push the floor mat and the cable holder, you know. That’s kind of contextual. That makes a lot of sense. Multiple check-ins. They did eventually email me as a person. But again, to kind of scold me for not buying the chair. And I finally just said, stop, you know, about the dang chair. I’m still waiting on the desk. Now again, I’ve been teasing them, but, props to them for making a good product in the end. Maybe you’re wondering what the heck does this have to do with fundraising, Steven? Well, this, you know, you may have a story in your mind or an experience that kind of mirrors this one. We’ve all been down that rabbit hole of talking to a chat bot or getting on some automated phone board where we’re trying to get to the right person.


Steven Shattuck (00:13:46):

We’re trying to talk to a human being, but we just cannot get to that person. There’s always like a robot or a chat bot in the way or a message system. And it’s just really hard and it’s only getting harder. Like it’s almost impossible to get a human being on the phone. When you have a question, when you have a problem, in fact, we’ve gotten so used to this, that we can’t even tell the difference between real human beings and robots. I saw this Twitter thread by, I think it was probably last year when I was first writing the book. And it just sort of perfectly encapsulated what I wanted to say in the book. This is someone who thought that they were responding to a robot because of how plain and boring the messaging was. And kind of, you know, wrote back a little bit in a silly way, only for a human to respond.


Steven Shattuck (00:14:38):

It’s like, Oh, geez, sorry. Yes. you know, we can’t even tell the difference. And again, what’s the parallel with fundraising? Well, my concern is, is that the nonprofit sector is the last holdout in terms of being able to maintain a real personal connection with our supporters. Even with our prospects a lot of times, as the years go by and, I’ve been watching this, you know, from my Bloomerang perch for the past eight years, with tens of thousands of users, I’m starting to see it slip a little bit. And you know, we’re about a month away from Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is like the one day a year where all of this seems to culminate, where it’s our most robotic day. It’s our least human day. It’s our most automated day, one-size-fits-all day, not making a personal connection day.


Steven Shattuck (00:15:33):

We’re all just saying basically the same things. And if we as a sector lose that, I mean, we’re probably the only, you know, business entity that a person can have an interaction with that hasn’t totally gone automated, perhaps other than maybe a very small business that you patronize. And this manifests in a lot of ways, not just on Giving Tuesday. But I see this on social media where it’s very clear that a nonprofit is totally automating everything. You know, maybe they’re typing in a status update into a piece of software. And it just blasts that to all of their social media networks rather than saying, well, you know, let’s do something different on Twitter versus Instagram versus Facebook. And my radar is always up on these things. I like to collect the kind of weird things technology-wise that have happened to me.


Steven Shattuck (00:16:23):

I unsubscribed to a nonprofit’s email newsletter. And when you do that for some technology tools, by the way, if you use MailChimp, that’s maybe something you want to look at, it will actually tell the user the name of the list that they were on. And I subscribed to this newsletter and it told me that I was on the Restaurants and Bars Cleaned list. And I thought, that’s weird. Why would they name that their newsletter? And again, I’m already unsubscribed. So, you know, I don’t know how much more they could do to lose me, but it just kind of left me thinking that that’s kinda weird. I have been thanked for $0 donation in the past. I got this in the mail. I actually was making a monthly donation and for whatever reason it stopped. Maybe the technology couldn’t keep me going for a certain amount of years or whatever, but the automatic receipt and thank you is persistent.


Steven Shattuck (00:17:12):

And I was thanked for, for a $0 donation and it kind of reads kind of sarcastic like, “Hey, thanks a lot, you jerk, for not giving us any money.” And I know some of this may seem a little petty and a little picky and unfair because as long as we use any kind of technology, there’s going to be times when it lets us down. I mean, it’s totally unavoidable, right? We’re infallible creatures or we’re fallible creatures. I wish we weren’t fallible. We’re fallible, which means that the technology we create is also going to be fallible and it’s going to happen. I was curious about this. I went out on one of the big Facebook groups for fundraisers, and I posed a question to the group. I wanted to collect some stories and I said, Hey, can you remember a time when maybe technology let you down in kind of a hilarious or unexpected way?


Steven Shattuck (00:18:06):

Maybe it wasn’t hilarious in the moment. It may have actually caused you stress, but kind of looking back you know, was it funny? And I got a ton of responses. Some of them made them into the book. Some of them didn’t, I’ll share some here with you, but one person said that they were going to set up a birthday card to be sent by email to all of their volunteers on their birthday. So they had the data on their volunteers and they wanted that to just automatically go out. Nice idea, right? Say happy birthday to the volunteers, you know, set it, and it happens automatically. That’s good. But something went wrong and they ended up sending a birthday card to all of their volunteers on that one day they set it up regardless. And of course it was, you know, no one’s birthday that day, except maybe a couple people.


Steven Shattuck (00:18:52):

And the conclusion there was, I’ve been weary of automated messages ever since. And I don’t, I don’t blame them. That’s kind of why I wrote the book. Sometimes, a lot of times, it’s these automated messages that kind of get us into trouble. Another one where they were trying to write “public relations” on a piece of material, and there was an unfortunate typo. You can kind of see where that’s going there. But the funny thing was no one, no one really noticed or at least didn’t say anything that they hadn’t noticed. Maybe they’re just being nice. Spellcheck, you know, it’s gonna happen. Another one I thought was kind of fun, again, a good thought, you know, their heart was in the right place, they wanted to filter out anyone in their database that had been marked as deceased.


Steven Shattuck (00:19:38):

So they wouldn’t mail those people, you know, waste money, mailing them. And probably more importantly, not making a surviving household member feel bad to get mail delivered to their deceased family member. But instead of filtering them out, it actually still mailed them, but also marked them as deceased on the address. We received no feedback from the mailing and unfortunately no money either, which you can probably understand, you know, why they didn’t get any money. So these things happen and these people were good sports, of course. But I think the other side of the coin is sometimes it is our fault in how we approach technology and how we leverage it and how we choose how we use technology versus how we’re going to do something perhaps manually. And I’ve gotten, you know, weird appeals that I thought were kind of interesting.


Steven Shattuck (00:20:32):

This was one that I got through an email appeal and they wanted me to text my donations. So they had emailed everyone on the list, I assume, cause it didn’t seem very segmented. And the call-to-action was either to text a gift or to Venmo the donation. Now I’m 36, I’m right there at the edge of being a millennial or kind of young gen X. And I don’t have Venmo. I don’t really know how to do that. I’m kind of scared of Venmo, actually. I feel like an old man from that regard. And I imagined, you know, maybe people similar to me, perhaps older, and I don’t mean to make, you know, age designations or generalizations about people. But, you know, imagine someone perhaps of an older generation getting that and definitely being uncomfortable with texting a gift. Whatever happened to sending in a good old fashioned check or clicking a link and filling out an online form?


Steven Shattuck (00:21:30):

And I know that sometimes we want to introduce these giving channels to reduce the barrier to giving, but in doing so, it can also have the opposite effect where it’s like, well, I don’t want to give through those channels. I don’t trust them. I don’t know how to leverage them. And that also can walk people out. I was on a nonprofit’s website and I clicked donate, and I was presented with almost a dozen different ways to donate it. And actually it took me a little bit of time to find the actual, you know, traditional donation form where I could just fill it out and put my credit card information in. And I think that the idea here again comes from a good place. You want to give people every possible avenue to donate in the way that they’re comfortable with, but the opposite actually happens.


Steven Shattuck (00:22:19):

A lot of times, there are people who study web design and user experience who say that actually the more options you give people, it can kind of paralyzes them. And they’re not really sure what to do. So in the goal of reducing friction, we’re actually creating a lot of friction. There’s all these things that kind of want to get in between us and the donor, right? I think that there is a little bit of a myth that there is a technological barrier to giving. It’s why these companies will say, don’t make it hard, don’t make it hard. Here’s another avenue people can do it through when there may not have actually been a problem to begin with. And if you can finally get through these websites and these online giving pages, you know, there is a tendency to have some friction there.


Steven Shattuck (00:23:08):

I was on this beautiful website. I clicked donate. I was ready to give, and I was redirected offsite. I was no longer on the nonprofit’s website. I got brought to this world pay page. I don’t know what that is. There’s a scary padlock there. I have to create a username and password to donate. So it’s kind of like I’m out of here. I don’t feel comfortable doing this. I don’t know who has my username and password. You know, my giving information. If you’re creating these questions in people’s mind, it’s over. I mean, every step they have to take, it’s not good. Another similar place where I was ready to donate, but it actually brought me to a shopping cart. I had to add a donation to a shopping cart as if it was a gallon of milk. This is really prevalent, right?


Steven Shattuck (00:23:53):

All this friction that we are presenting to donors in the hopes of actually reducing friction and giving people more ways to donate actually has the opposite effect. And then after people donate, what do they get? They get very robotic, automated, sometimes scary looking messaging that is automatically sent from the technology or the robots that we’re using rather than before a human can reach out. Personally, I made a donation and actually, I think the donation page was pretty good on this one, but I got this receipt, you know, a couple of nanoseconds later that was kind of, you know, it’s red letters. There’s an important exclamation point. It doesn’t even say thank you. All it says is how it’s gonna appear on my bank statement. Imagine if I’m a brand new donor to this organization, this is the very first thing that I’m ever going to hear from this organization as a new donor, how it’s going to appear in my bank statement.


Steven Shattuck (00:24:47):

No, thank you. No links to maybe check out and keep engaging or anything like that. No previewing what’s gonna come next. Other things, there was maybe a thank you letter kind of embedded here as an attachment, but again, spam filters didn’t like it. And I’m out of there, you know, there’s no way I’m opening that or looking at it. So as I was kind of having these experiences, I’m kind of thinking to myself, you know, there’s never been more tools available to us as fundraisers. I mean, there are amazing technologies out there and this isn’t meant to be anti-technology. I mean, there are just incredible things that are actually very affordable now for the first time, finally, to even small shops where you can A/B test emails and you can look at how people move through your website. You can do wealth screening on anyone.


Steven Shattuck (00:25:38):

You have their name practically. You can have your online giving form, you know, suggest different gift amounts based on who it is that’s visiting those webpages, this amazing software. It’s really kind of a golden age for fundraisers. I can’t think of a more fun time to leverage these things. Whereas even 10 years ago, maybe even five years ago, it was harder to do a lot of these things. And yet, and this is kind of the nagging question that I had that led me to write the book, the fundraising itself in terms of results hasn’t really changed significantly since these tools have been brought down, you know. That percentage of GDP, it’s always 2%. I’ve got to get a new one of these. It’s not 2015, but every single year, it’s like 2% TV, 2% GDP, the retention rates, at least in North America, don’t really change.


Steven Shattuck (00:26:34):

And this isn’t a renovation that I volunteer with directly. I see them every time they come out, 43%, 45% retention rate, you know, high forties on the gift retention rate, not really changing. And I’m wondering, well, if we have all these cool things at our disposal, why aren’t they improving, right? We can zero in on the perfect gift amount for an appeal for an individual donor. We can send a video thank you across the country in a nanosecond. Why aren’t these things getting better? And in some ways there are some metrics that are actually getting worse. One that I’m particularly and personally worried about is the percentage of brand new donors who come back and give for a second time. Most brand new donors don’t. This is from the FEP data: 20%. So 80% of people who make their first gift never come back and make a second one.


Steven Shattuck (00:27:32):

And that’s been dropping over the last five years. And my personal theory on this is that, yes, it’s never been easier to become a donor, right? That technological barrier has absolutely dropped to, to almost nothing. You can go on Facebook and click donate in one click and be donating. You can donate on your phone. Peer-to-peer online giving of course is always on the rise. You know, Giving Tuesday every year, it gets bigger and bigger. Why is it though that we aren’t able to get a lot of these people to give again? And my theory on this, this was really the light bulb moment for me. It’s actually not my theory. My buddy Simon, who was one of the top fundraisers in Ireland, I saw him speak at a conference and he said something that has been in my head for three years.


Steven Shattuck (00:28:25):

And that’s why I had to write the book. It’s just to get it out of my head. He said, anything in fundraising that takes the human out of it is bad. I think he’s right. And I think it’s why these metrics are getting worse every single year as more fundraising happens digitally, as it happens online. That’s great. And don’t get me wrong, more donors, lower costs of acquisition. But I think the flip side and the thing that we have to deal with is that most of those donors get really crappy, automated, boring, robotic, and sometimes scary messaging very soon after donating. And it can be hard to communicate with these people. Looking back at some of the stories I told before, you know, looking at it through this lens and I, I’m going to be a little hard on this person in particular. I kind of think, well, wait a minute, what’s wrong with sitting down and writing a birthday card for that one person personally, when it’s their birthday, you know? Why not just run a report and maybe have something that pings you to say, Hey, this person’s birthday is coming up.


Steven Shattuck (00:29:40):

When I sit down and write them a card, rather than saying, I’m going to get this tool, I’m going to load in all the birthdays and it’s just going to do it for me. And I’m going to set it and forget it. This idea of setting and forgetting I think, is the biggest clearest and present danger to fundraisers. A lot of the technology that’s being pushed on us. And I work at a technology firm. Believe me that that’s really one of the top things that a lot of these firms, you know, promise people is we’ll do it for you. We’ll save time for you. We’ll free up your time. So you can do something else. And I’ve kept thinking, well, wait a minute, this is the thing they should be doing. Maybe it’s something else that should be automated, too, right? And I think a lot of this is because of the messaging that we get from these technology providers. And it’s not totally nefarious. They want to help us save time as fundraisers. They want to increase our capacity. They want us to lower the costs. But if it comes at a cost of personalization, making a human connection, that’s bad because that’s really what makes fundraising so magical is those personal connections. So instead of templatizing everything, or maybe allowing all of these tech firms to try to get in between us and the donors, that’s what so many of them want to do. It’s like, Hey, wow, we’ll talk to your donor for you. Don’t worry, you don’t need anything else.  


Steven Shattuck (00:31:13):

So you’re just going to have us. You’re gonna insert us and we’ll take care of it. And I think that that is a main driver of what we’re kind of experiencing right now. So my advice to you, at least on this point is squint your eyes. And when, you know, when maybe you see an advertisement, or maybe you get an email from a salesperson, or you see someone at a trade show, whenever we can get back to conferences and they say, we’re going to help save time. We’re going to automate this for you. We’re going to take care of it. Before you think to yourself, well, wait a minute, should this be automated? Or would it be better served if I did it personally? Where is the best use of our time?


Steven Shattuck (00:31:55):

And I know we’re super busy and there’s tons of people like me, who in webinars and blog posts and podcasts are saying, you’re not doing enough, you’re doing the wrong thing. But my advice to you is think critically, you know, what are these firms actually saying to you? And I see them, and some of them just break my heart. This is from a company that serves nonprofits that actually has a good product when applied correctly. But it’s the application so often. And the marketing message really drives that poor application. No one answers the phone anymore. Direct mail and email go unopened. This is false. This is objectively not true. And I have personal data to back it up. People do answer the phone, direct mail and email are great. And this I think was a text messaging service and text messaging.


Steven Shattuck (00:32:50):

Donors are also good. But just because one thing is good, doesn’t mean that you should say, Oh, geez, let’s ditch the print newsletter and let’s stop emailing people and let’s stop calling donors. No, don’t fall for it. You know, a lot of times these people don’t have really any fundraising experience, you know, dirty little secret. That’s another question you might ask, you know, why are you saying this? You know, what are you, what data are you using to back it up? And the content marketing, you know, a complete engine that’s out there from all of these firms is really pushing these things. I saw this blog post, which was just like, it hurt my head, reading it, you know, 90% of millennials prefer Bitcoin over gold. Can you accept their donations? It’s like, wait a minute. First of all, I, the millennial, I, I don’t have gold or Bitcoin to give.


Steven Shattuck (00:33:40):

And I imagine like maybe a board member seeing this blog post, maybe in their feed or getting an email to them and then forwarding it on to the poor development team and asking, can we take Bitcoin donations? Should we look into this? And then suddenly everyone’s thrown into a tizzy, right? Because we’re worried about Bitcoin. And yes, there may be some nonprofits maybe in Southern California who should worry about Bitcoin, but probably by and large, most of you guys and gals listening, probably not a huge priority right now. But oftentimes it’s this content marketing that kind of drives these bad priorities right now. Emails are so yesterday it’s like, email is really good. Like email is still really good. It’s nothing against text messaging. Text messaging is also good. But they’re not always at odds with one another. Again, I think I’m belaboring the point of this, but look at these things, you know, think twice about them, cash checks and paper pledge cards are so 20th century.


Steven Shattuck (00:34:43):

It’s like, no they’re not, they’re still really good. Now in this age of quarantine, this is a pre-COVID marketing messaging. They may have a point here. And again, technology I think is good. You know, being able to have an easy point-of-sale system, that’s good in certain applications, but not because you don’t want to accept cash checks or paper budget cards anytime. So be careful, you know, keep your radar up on some of these things, because a lot of these people who are in charge of developing things, these products and marketing them, they don’t have fundraising experience. Usually it’s just in my experience. So again, that may be a question that you want to ask. And we looked at this among our customers during COVID, you know, ostensibly the hardest you know, time that we have ever gone through in the modern era and these personal connections, personal communication channels, they were really the driver of revenue, at least in those early days of the pandemic. March through the beginning of June, we saw the organizations who were calling donors, who were emailing people personally a one-to-one email.


Steven Shattuck (00:36:01):

So I’m going to email Sarah. I’m not going to email a thousand people through MailChimp or Bloomerang on an email. One person, and then virtual in-person interaction. So things like this, you know, Zoom calls, FaceTime calls, Google Hangouts, you know, live streams. The people who did those, who put an emphasis on making a personal connection either by phone, by email, they did better than the organizations who didn’t do those things. And not only that, but they did, they outperformed themselves from the previous year. This is a great time. This is probably the best time to be employing these kinds of low tech, sometimes analog communication channels. And text messaging was also on the radar. Nothing against texting, you know, sending videos to people. There are good ways to leverage technology. But it’s not all automation.


Steven Shattuck (00:37:03):

It’s not all, you know, virtual reality or whatever. Even now in 2020, but especially in 2020 these things still work. And I think they work because that’s what donors have told us is good. There is a mountain of research out there from Penelope Burke to Adrian Sargent, to Jen Shang, all of the people who are studying donor psychology, donor motivation, that donor voice is another one that basically comes to the same conclusion that donors want a personal connection. They want to be thanked. They want to feel like they’re talking to a real person. They want to feel like they’re right there in the fight with you as a nonprofit. It’s really hard to do the things that comes up time and time again, and do all of this research in an automated way. In fact, it’s almost impossible. And I think that goes back to Simon’s point that if you automate too much of this, you’re going to lose that ability to make a personal connection with people.


Steven Shattuck (00:38:05):

People want to be thanked. They want to be saying quickly, they want a dialogue. I mean that fourth bullet point, they want feedback mechanisms. They want to be able to talk to a certain person. So my advice to you, as we kind of wrap up this, you know, long-winded soap boxes, do whatever you can to humanize any technology you are currently using. Now for a lot of people that’s going to fall into basically two main buckets, your online giving and your email marketing. But I would also impart upon you, you know, kind of looking back at that data you know, pick up the phone. This is a great time to be calling people. Hey, Sarah, thanks for being a monthly donor, you know. Hey Theresa, thanks so much for your support over the last many years, you know, we so appreciated it, especially this year.


Steven Shattuck (00:38:55):

It’s been such a challenging year. Write an email, you know, Hey Sarah, just thinking about you and just wanted to say thanks for being a monthly donor. Quick story: we had a kid come through our program this week and you know, here’s a photograph, here’s a story that would happen, personal connections, really when in normal times, but they really win. You know, during this era of social distancing and quarantine and all the things that you know, we’ve been through our need to belabor online giving. I know we’re recording this in mid November, we’re getting close to Giving Tuesday. We’re getting close to year-end. Donate to yourself online and look at the page, you know, is it kind of a cold robotic intake form? Or is it something like this online giving page, which I love, which is almost cheering the donor along as they’re kind of filling it out, you know. You’re doing something amazing.


Steven Shattuck (00:39:54):

How many people will you help us save today? You see the kid and the mom, you kind of see where the money goes, which you know, I’m not a big overhead guy. I think there’s a lot of problems with that, but I like that the donor can get kind of a sense of the tangible impact that their gift is going to have. And then after donating, what are you sending people? What does that landing page look like? That confirmation page that people are sent to? Is it basically a cold kind of robotic thing? The automatic receipt, you know, what is it that they’re getting in their email inbox right away? Is it again like a CVS receipt or does it look like something that you could, you know, perhaps print and send in the mail as if it was a nice, thank you letter to serve the recipient, photos, you know, some impact statements. Look at these things critically and probably no matter what technology you’re using, you should be able to go in and modify these things and kind of warm them up.


Steven Shattuck (00:40:52):

You know, they have to stay generic at some level because it’s going to be seen by every single online donor, but you can still tell stories. You can still make that donor feel like, hey, they really did something awesome. And don’t be afraid to reach out personally. You know, we mentioned the power of phone calls, personal emails. Here’s a personal email I got from an organization after I started to become a monthly donor with them. By the way, that’s a signal you’d want to look for, you know, Hey Steven, thanks so much for becoming a monthly donor. You’re going to do so many great things for the organization. This didn’t come from MailChimp, didn’t come from the donor database. It came from Gmail or his outlook, and there’s a couple typos in there. I think that’s fine. It kind of makes it look a little more authentic.


Steven Shattuck (00:41:38):

But what I really thought was cool, especially in this age of social distancing, was the video. I made you a quick, thank you video to tell you what your monthly gift means for our organization. I clicked on that and it’s just, you know, him talking to the camera, you know, Hey, Steven, thanks so much for becoming a monthly donor. I want to tell you a quick story about what monthly donors mean for our organization. And he told me this story about how every quarter they take a day off work and all the employees gather, and they have a strategic planning session where they kind of take a long-view look at the organization and stop working. They put everything else aside. And he said, you know, monthly donors specifically, because it’s kind of a sustained giving. They really make that happen. So I thought it was a very clever way of tying my specific gift type to something that the organization does specifically because of that donation and again, right into the camera.


Steven Shattuck (00:42:33):

And there’s a ton of products that will let you do webcam videos. Don’t let the technology be a barrier. I mean, just use your good old fashioned cell phone if all else fails. But when people hear your voice, let them see your face. You know, write a handwritten note, send that quick email. It’s a really good time to do these things. And again, we’ve got the data to support that it’s really working right now. And I wrote the book pre-COVID and I’ve been saying these things, but it really kind of came true. You know, since March and since April. So reach out, don’t leave it all to automation. And there are good things that can be automated, you know, running reports can be automated, certainly. But what you do with that information, I wouldn’t put that into some, you know, automatic cadence or sequence, because there’s never going to be a replacement for you personally reaching out to someone and making that connection. But technology can help you. We can tell you who you should reach out to, and perhaps maybe give you some pointers of what you should say based on what it’s gleaned. Either through prospect research that I think is the real key to applying technology in not just a responsible way, but in a way that’s going to be really effective and move the needle for you. 


Steven Shattuck (00:43:48):

So, that’s my spiel, you know, humanize anything you’ve got, that’s automated. I think probably job one. There is the online giving, especially since there’s going to be so much online giving happening over the next, you know, 45 days or so. Multi-Channel is good. Don’t listen to those people who get you to ditch email, the phone, direct mail, it’s all texts. Now you get all texts. Anyone that says that you should be all in on one channel, one channel only, run for the hills because it’s not true. In fact, there’s a lot of research that shows the more channels you can engage people on, the better. Make it about thanking and show appreciation. And I know you can go overboard with donors, you know, and I believe that, but what I’m talking about here really is the difference between sending a PayPal receipt versus just a nice, personal email.


Steven Shattuck (00:44:43):

You know, I don’t think that’s going overboard by any means. As you are looking at maybe new software technology, or maybe you’re being solicited and you want to investigate what those offerings are, you know, ask yourself, is this going to help us retain donors? Is this going to help us make a donor feel like they’re making a difference? Is it going to help us communicate to them better versus is it gonna, you know, take all that work away and automate it and free us up to do, you know, whatever. Those things are important. Those things are still worthy of your time. So just be careful there. And any time you can kind of walk through that process as a donor, and that’s why I suggested donating to yourself online, what does that look like? From the donor perspective, is it cold?


Steven Shattuck (00:45:34):

Is it robotic? Is it not warm and friendly? And what can we do to maybe improve those things? And a lot of these things can probably be pretty quick fixes. Honestly, you’re just going in and changing those default settings or those templates and making them just a little bit warmer. I think, you know, anything we can do to make things a little bit warmer, especially now. And again, when so many other industries are in customer service, the business world, let’s make sure that we stay perhaps that last hold out of an industry that still does it right and puts the person first. So that’s it for me. If you like this, I’ve had Sarah on my webinar series. I like to have super smart people. You don’t have to hear from me. You do have to hear from me for like a minute to introduce people, but every Thursday, you know, totally free.


Steven Shattuck (00:46:22):

We’ve got a great one this Thursday on grants. My buddy Margaret is coming on, talking about grant fundraising. It’s gonna be good. I got all kinds of, I barely scratched the surface of some of the COVID data that we’ve seen, but we’ve been talking to successful fundraisers since March. What are they doing? What are the things they’ve been trying? I’ve got tons of interviews with people that I’ve done that have been raising just tons of money since March and kind of bucking that trend. And it’s not just food banks that are doing real well. It’s all kinds of different organizations. So check those out. Even though it’s been a few months, I think you’ll still find some inspiration from what those folks are doing. And then if you’re interested in software, you know, we’re pretty easy to find on the Bloomerang side. So Sarah, any questions? I think we’ve got what maybe 10 minutes for questions, but I’m cool. Yeah.


Sarah Durham (00:47:12):

Yep. We’ve got 10, 10 or so minutes. And Steven, for the book people can find the book on Amazon?


Steven Shattuck (00:47:21):

Yeah. It’s on Amazon, there’s a Kindle and there’s the print version, which I’ve got one up there. We’re working on the audio version. So that’ll be out soon. 

Sarah Durham (00:47:30):

Okay. And I want to remind everybody to feel free to chat in questions. The easiest place to do that is there’s a little button on the bottom of your screen that says Q&A. So if you send those into me, I will address them with Steven. I also just chatted out a few Big Duck resources on topics that Steven has touched on today. We wrote a free guide to calling your donors a few years ago that you can download. And also two recent articles that the team at Big Duck has produced that I think are really helpful. I think this week, Laura Fisher, who’s one of our strategists, wrote a piece called Appealing to donor values while avoiding donor centrism. That’s a new term, Steven just used it. And if it’s a new term to you or you haven’t really started thinking about donor centrism versus community centrism, check out that blog.


Sarah Durham (00:48:21):

Also, I highly recommend some of the resources that are coming out from Community Centric Fundraising, people like Vu Le. I was telling Steven earlier that I think a must listen to is the Ethical Rainmaker podcast by Michelle Shireen Muri. Also a great blog by Hannah Thomas who’s a strategist at Big Duck about bringing a spirit of abundance to Giving Tuesday. Okay, let’s get into some of your questions for Steven. And there’s a couple here. One of the questions we got in is about which donors you should prioritize when you are trying to be human. And, and actually before you answer that question, I want to share a story that to me is like a really fascinating case study in this because what I have seen over the years is that often the donors who get the most personalized attention, human touch, tend to be the bigger donors.


Sarah Durham (00:49:19):

But, you know, I think that perpetuates some inequities in terms of, you know, who holds power in your organization. And also I think it overlooks the fact that sometimes those lower level donors really are the sustainers. They’re really the people who become the heart and soul and keep things moving. And years ago, I had a meeting with an organization. I did not work with them, but I had a meeting with an organization that raised a huge amount of money every year from low level donors. And one of the ways they did that was they maintained a call center with 20 or 30 employees in it. And all those 20 or 30 employees did was essentially manage a portfolio of individuals, all low level donors, people giving $20, $30 a year. They knew their birthdays. They knew where they lived. They got Google alerts for when there was a flood in somebody’s town and they’d pick up the phone and they called them. And these call center people over the course of the year called these, these small donors, at least two or three times a year. And many of these donors graduated from being a one-time giver to a sustaining giver, to a larger and larger giver. They really built a, kind of a human relationship with each of these donors that over time had actually grown their fundraising base exponentially. I thought that was kind of an awesome story. But most organizations can’t start a call center. So Steven where do you recommend people prioritize the human touch?


Steven Shattuck (00:50:42):

I agree with everything you said. I mean, so often what you said is true where the attention goes to the top of the pyramid, which is not equitable, and it’s also not strategic because a lot of, a lot of brand new donors specifically don’t give to capacity, right? And it’s very rare that a brand new donor is going to drop, you know, a four or five figure gift in your lap. It does happen. And when it does happen, it seems to kind of, you know, make the news where, you know, the sweet, old, white librarian who lived a very modest life, suddenly donates $2 million to her library. That happens, but that’s not really a sustained strategy. So most new donors don’t give it capacity. And, and this is where technology can really help you. Again, this is where, you know, things like a wealth screening tool can look at all your donors and say, Hey, you know, this person, they only gave you $20, but gee, they’re giving $20,000 to this other organization you know, in the community or maybe in the same cause type elsewhere. That’s the power where it can kind of guide your efforts.


Steven Shattuck (00:51:50):

But your main question, I would say, brand new donors, right? For a couple of reasons. One is that the retention rate is so low, right? And again, because new donors don’t typically give it capacity. Someone may give you five bucks or 20 bucks. They tend to go on ignored. I think that’s one of the reasons why this rate is so low is because exactly what you were talking about, Sarah, we kind of judge donors by dollar amounts and not necessarily interest or engagement or even really capacity. And I think I would put capacity kind of lower on the list. I think the engagement is the real piece there, and I’ve given variations of this presentation and I’ve heard things like, yeah, our board doesn’t allow us to acknowledge gifts under $50. It’s just too small potatoes for us. And I just, that breaks my heart because that $50 may be really significant to that donor.


Steven Shattuck (00:52:47):

That may be, that may actually hurt them economically, or they’ll feel it, you know, as the percentage of their wealth or their income. And that should be acknowledged. And if you’re getting to know these people, and if you’re making those personal connections, if you’re calling brand new donors, just to say, thanks, you may get some of that information just from the course of conversing with them. And then that may lead you to maybe circle that donor or star that donor as someone who’s really engaged, even though they only gave you 20 bucks, because they’re a college student, they don’t have two nickels to rub together or whatever, but they would, they would walk on fiery coals for you. I mean, maybe they would volunteer for you. Maybe they’d go out and do a peer to peer campaign for you, or, you know, do a letter writing campaign.


Steven Shattuck (00:53:35):

Don’t judge people on their gift amount. Look at frequency. So I would do brand new donors. I would also do monthly donors for the same reason. It’s like, Oh, they only give $5 a month. Well, wait a minute. That’s $70 a year, I think. I was an English major. I think that’s right. And at a 90% retention rate, which is what most monthly donors are, that’s a four figure lifetime value. So you got to kind of look at the long term you know, lifetime value of these folks too sometimes. And to be a monthly donor at any giving amount, that’s significant. They trust you. They’ve given you their payment information. They’re just letting you take it every month. That’s significant. So pay attention to those people. And their reason for giving, you know, if you are doing things like surveys or making phone calls or getting to know people, you know, someone that maybe they had a family member who died from the disease that you’re trying to fight, that’s significant, right?


Steven Shattuck (00:54:36):

Regardless of how much they give. So I put them out way low. Now, if you’re an NGO who works at a big hospital or college, you’re going to look at the gift amount. I mean, I think there’s some common sensing. You’ve probably got your portfolio of donors, but for most people that is just kind of their annual fund. Look at those things, you know, engage in signals, frequency, and recency of the gift and capacity. And there’s a lot of really cheap technology out there that will eliminate the capacity thing for you. Tons of wealth screening tools. 


Sarah Durham (00:55:10):

I really agree that picking up the phone and calling or communicating in more personal ways with first-time donors is great. A first time gift is kind of like a first date, you know, you’re trying something out, you’re forming potentially a new relationship. And I think there’s a really, really nice opportunity through that phone call or that email exchange to validate that investment that the person has made in you. We have a kind of a related question here, which is what’s your best advice for small shops with limited staff and resources for ongoing personal touches? And this person notes they strive to be authentic, but it’s challenging to have ongoing personal touches, particularly right now.


Steven Shattuck (00:55:54):

I would lean on board members. If you’ve got a board that is willing to participate in this, this act of stewardship. There’s a lot of research. I mean, Penelope Burke, every single year, it seems like mentions the power of board members doing these things. So lean on your volunteers. It doesn’t just have to be you and the paid staff. It’s a great thing for board members to do because they’re, they’re unpaid. They are hopefully very engaged with the organization. I don’t think they’d be a board member if they weren’t, and maybe they have some name recognition in the community. So if you know, you get a call from the CEO of whatever business in town who happens to be a board member. I think that’s one of the reasons why that stewardship is perhaps more effective from them. And it scales really well.


Steven Shattuck (00:56:39):

If you’ve got a board of, you know, six, 10, 12 people, you can suddenly touch a lot of donors you know, in kind of a small amount of time. And I would lean on other types of volunteers. Perhaps now, when, you know, you haven’t been able to have in-person volunteers because you’re trying to say stay safe and it’s, you know, you can’t have them on site, maybe that could be their volunteer activity. I mean, I’m wondering if people listening to this, maybe they’ve got volunteers that all year practically have gone under utilized because you don’t have any barns to come and paint. You can have them come and hang out with the animals or whatever. Hey, maybe they could write some notes, too, to donors or to service recipients you know, those kinds of things. So I think that, you know, don’t be afraid to look beyond just your employees and yourself because a lot of this may seem overwhelming. I mean, you, geez, we have to call every brand new donor. Like, you know, I can barely provide the services we’re supposed to be doing, let alone call these donors. There’s help out there. But you gotta 

ask for it. And I think the board is probably the first group of people I would go to.


Sarah Durham (00:57:49):

Yeah. And I can say as a former board member of an organization that did some of that, it’s a great way to keep eager volunteers and eager board members busy and feeling like they’re doing important work. So you can download that free thank you script, make it your own, give it to your board members, give them a list of people to call, set them loose. We’re just about at the top of the hour. So before we wrap up, I want to just mention a couple of things. First of all, again, you can find Steven’s book on Amazon. The podcast that I recorded with him about the book is a kind of a supplement to this conversation. We talked more about these issues of capacity in the podcast. It comes out in a couple of weeks. If you’re looking for a counterpoint, if you’re thinking about technology and you’re trying to learn more about these things, I also recorded a podcast with Alice Hendricks who is one of the originators behind the Springboard platform.


Sarah Durham (00:58:43):

And she was a co-founder at Jackson River where she talks about the use of chatbots, things like Alexa for fundraising and things like that, which is also eye opening if you’re, if you’re still learning about some of those technologies. And next week Advomatic is doing another upcoming webinar that I think will be really interesting perhaps for some of you. It’s called iterate or overhaul. And it’s about thinking about your website, particularly now that people are communicating so much digitally and so much through the website. And whether if you have a website that’s not working, you should iterate and try to fix it, or whether you should throw it out and start again. So Rose is going to give us some of the pros and cons of both and hopefully that will be helpful to make decisions as you go into what might be a challenging economic climate for 2021.


Sarah Durham (00:59:34):

Steven, thank you so much for joining me here today. It’s been a delight to, to learn from you and we’ll be sending out a link to this recording and the transcription of this session to everybody who participated. So if there are parts of it you want to reference in the future, you’ll get that from Theresa probably next week. And thank you to everybody who took the time to participate today and to share your questions and your thoughts and for the awesome work you do to make the world a better place. Be well, everybody. Thanks, Steven.