Engaging with your supporters

Photo credit: http://dumais.us

In my job, we’re always thinking about how to serve our constituents, our supporters, our donors, our followers, and fans, partners, and

champions. That means we frequently “engage with our supporters” which means wonky non-profit type stuff like “creating a dialogue,” “providing a platform for community-building,” “raising awareness,” and “reporting back.”

We tell our people that they THEY are the reason why our organization is successful, or that malaria deaths are down, or that more lives are saved. We run the operations and the behind-the-scenes show, but it’s the supporters who really make it happen, right?

I realized today that all of the things we online communications and non-profit people work on everyday also fits into the relationships in our lives. When you think about it, our supporters, constituents, and donors are our parents, boyfriends or girlfriends, husbands, wives, aunts, grandparents, and friends. And in the same way that those turns of phrase above are part of our daily professional to-do lists and goals, they are also, or should be, a part of our daily personal lives.

  • Creating a dialogue. Our loved ones want to hear from us, but they don’t want us to talk at them – they want to say something back. If we have a problem we’re trying to solve, we’re venting about a rough day, or we want to share exciting news, our “supporters” want to join the conversation, and provide feedback. Part of facilitating a successful dialogue means listening really well to what our people want or need from us – and in turn, telling them what we need or want from them.

  • Providing a platform for community-building. This doesn’t mean building a social network, website, or even a physical building to hang out in. It means that we need a place to have the dialogues above, a place to collaborate, inspire each other, tackle life’s challenges, and celebrate life’s special moments. It’s a safe space, where there are rules of respect, privacy, and trust, but not so many barriers that it’s uncomfortable and you can’t accomplish anything. So whether it’s keeping weekly date nights, monthly family game nights, or doing an activity you like with grandma, make it easy to support each other.
  • Raising awareness. If we want our “supporters” to care about us and take action on our behalf, we need to let them know what’s going on in our lives. We can’t expect mom and dad to know what’s bothering us if we don’t tell them, or our boyfriend or girlfriend to get us the cooking class we want if we don’t give a hint. We have to educate our family and friends on what’s important to us and let them know what we need them to help us with. It’s like those commercials – “the more you know…”
  • Report back. Donors love hearing where their money went and to hear success stories. Our own supporters are the same way. Parents want to know what happened after you took their advice, friends want to hear if you’re doing okay, and grandma wants to know what you bought with her birthday check. So tell them. Call people, email them, write letters, whatever you need to do, to keep your loved ones updated. In the non-profit world, if donors don’t hear back, they don’t donate again. Share how your family and friends made an impact and how they too, are awesome — so they keep coming back.

Relationship-building takes work — in the office, and at home. And these “best practices” are just that – practice. You test things, you analyze, and you optimize (yes, another non-profit thing). Your results aren’t quite donations, retweets, or email signups, but I think what you get instead is worth a lot more.


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