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Five Steps to Meeting, and Persuading, Donor 3.0

University Business, Jan 2010

It's too early to prescribe a tried-and-true methodology for meeting Donor 3.0 actively. There's still much change and experimentation happening, and each college or university will have to tailor its strategy to the peculiarities of that community. But laying a strategic groundwork will help cut through the hype, navigate among options, and recognize (even create) new, less obvious opportunities.

Marketing, communications, and alumni relations functions might provide the strategic leadership and carry out the most regular and high profile communications, but in a complex university environment, many other brand stewards—on campus and off—have a responsibility to shape a coordinated brand story. Why start with your brand? When donors make a gift to you, it's thanks to your brand, or despite it. Your brand plays a role in donor behavior, and those who self-consciously identify with it are stronger allies. But no single organization at your institution owns your brand. (In fact, the institution doesn't entirely own its brand, but that's a different story.

This means developing clear profiles on who they are, what they care about, and where they are (digitally and physically). Understand their relative "distances" from the institution: what's keeping them close and interested, and what's keeping them away and disinterested. Keep quantitative and qualitative research up to date. Most importantly, watch and listen. How do they want to receive (and give) information? Whom do they trust?

These should be based on descriptions of your constituents and their interests and patterns of behavior. Keep in mind; the path from moderately curious prospect to engaged donor is rarely short or straight. Donor 3.0 will be cultivated through many interactions of various intensities, from becoming a fan of a relevant Facebook page to attending parties at a reunion. Deploy communications accordingly.

Facilitate discussions, seed them, but don't focus on broadcasting messages. If you are launching new communications, be sure their design provides ways for people to participate, give input, and feel they have a stake without it being disruptive to their habits and lives... and without setting unmeetable expectations. Keep it simple, fun, relevant, and human scale.

Prepare to tolerate greater risk, exposure, and uncertainty. You might feel as if you're ceding your message and losing control of the dialogue. But if you've done your homework and are prepared to change with your constituents, then you'll actually be more in touch with your message than ever before. You will have first-hand knowledge of how it's received, interpreted, and translated into change.