As old man winter swept through with a final hurrah, shovels and snow blowers across the country have been working overtime clearing paths in the snow.
But today we’re going to talk about a different kind of path — the kind that leads people to take action. The path to participation.
Participation can mean different things to different organizations — whether it’s getting people to donate, advocate or volunteer. What matters is that people are taking the important actions you need for your organization to thrive.
In our work, we’ve identified five steps on the path to participation to help you attract the right people and get them more deeply involved:
1. CREATE A CONNECTION.
Didn’t pay your cell phone bill? Don’t expect your phone to ring! The same thing applies when you’re trying to attract people to your cause. If there’s no connection, your audience can’t answer.
To get that line hot, it helps to start with a little self-reflection…
First, identify the URGENT and IMPORTANT need your organization tackles.
Do you address childhood hunger — or the fact that three-year-old Jane will have nothing to eat today?
Do you work to protect the environment — or are you trying to stop deforestation in your county or there will be no owls left in two years?
Do you help low-income students get a great education — or are you helping Jack learn to read before he loses interest in school like his brother who already dropped out?
Get the picture? It’s about vividly positioning the outcome of your work.
Next, think about what makes you uniquely able to deliver the solution.
Do you have first-hand knowledge of the situation in a particular geographic area? Experience with a certain sub-species of bird? Are you the only organization that offers 24-hour services in your sector?
Look for parameters can you put around your work that make you the one-and-only.
Once you’re clear on what urgent important needs you’re uniquely positioned to solve — things you’re proud your organization does better than any other — you’re ready to create a connection using messages, images and experiences that move your readers.
But to do that, you need to….
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.
If you’re afraid of dogs and allergic to cats, are you going to feel a strong inclination to support your local animal shelter? No matter what the messaging, the shelter’s time and money would be better spent wooing animal lovers.
It’s time to stop doing everything for everyone. Save your energy and effort for where it’s likely to pay dividends, and then laser-focus on what will help you connect with those people you want to reach.
The critical first step is to create a profile of your “perfect” person. And be specific. Don’t just stop at demographics like name and age. Get into her hopes and dreams.
Now imagine you’re speaking directly to this perfect person every time you write a letter, choose a website photo or post to social media. Let that image guide you.
You’ll find this approach shapes which of your projects you talk about, what details you include, who you profile, even what channels you use.
3. FACILITATE THEIR DREAMS.
When your supporters donate money, give of their time, or otherwise advance your organization’s mission, it’s not really about you. They’re pursing their dreams for the world they want to see. You’re job is to make it a reality.
Everything you say and do should reflect this reality by putting your audience at the center of the action.
You can check to see whether your messaging is all about your supporters by watching your pronouns. Take some copy from your website, your newsletter, or your last fundraising letter, and highlight every time you use “we/us/our,” and flip it to “you/your.”
Organization-centered: Dear audience, We did this. We changed this. We need donations to…
Becomes audience-centered: Dear audience, You made this happen. When you volunteered, you changed this. Your gift if critical because…
See how YOU’VE made YOUR audience central to YOUR story?
4. FOCUS THEIR ACTION.
So far you’ve connected with and engaged your target audience. But if they don’t actually DO anything — share with a friend, make a donation, sign up to volunteer — they’re not participating in bringing your mission to life.
Your audience moves from engagement to participation when you help them take ACTION.
We live in a world overloaded with information, decisions and distractions. To overcome these barriers to participation, your audience needs you to focus their attention.
So stop serving your audience an overwhelming buffet of action options. Instead, offer your supporters a chef-selected entrée you know your perfect person will find appealing.
Your gut (or your board) may push you to ask your community to tutor, sponsor a child, provide snacks during the school year or call their senators, all in one letter sent to everyone. Too many choices usually lead to no choice. Pick the one action that is most valuable to you right now and most moving to your intended audience. Focus on really driving the message home with a stirring story your perfect person will readily react to.
“The key is not always to market the biggest effort you are doing but what you are doing that most connects with your audience,” advises Jeff Miles, Director of Development of the Keystone Opportunity Center.
You might not get someone to participate through your first round of efforts. And even if you do, don’t expect an encore performance without ongoing outreach on your part.
As Sarah Gilman, Director of the National Resource Center on Lupus aptly put it, “For motivation to progress to action, repetition is required.”
Here are some of our favorite ongoing strategies:
Date your audience
Most people don’t get married on their first date. (Well, unless they happened to be in Vegas.) Relationships tend to progress through various levels of commitment before a couple says “I do.”
Take a similar approach to your relationship with your audience by inviting them to participate in stages.
One of our favorite ways to do this is through an email welcome series. When someone first signs up for your newsletter or takes some initial action, you can invite them more completely into your fold through a series of automated specialized emails that cater to their interests and invite future actions based on previous activity.
Work your thank you pages
Once someone’s made a donation or filled out a form on your website, don’t forget to work your thank you pages to create a deeper connection or a second action, whether that means sending them to your social sites, sharing a video, highlighting special content for them or giving them something special.
Use your data to look for inspiration and identify what’s working.
Was one campaign particularly successful? Experiment to see if you can identify the secret ingredient and incorporate it into future efforts.
Split your email list in half and see if you get better results sending out your appeal on different days of the week. Then try again with different subject lines.
The possibilities are endless. But you won’t know what works for your organization and your perfect person unless you try out new strategies.
Feed the connection
All this repetition takes us back to the beginning —pay your audience dues so you don’t get cut off!
Continuing to ask, ask, ask will only disillusion your participants, no matter how “perfect” they are.
When you remember to ooze gratitude and focus on delighting and amazing your audience, they’ll be more likely to take action the next time you ask them to participate.