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Answering the Eternal Question: Why?

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tom-davidson-head-shot_revised Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Tom Davidson

The value proposition: Take away the makeup, the fancy lighting, and the well-crafted logo. All things being equal, have you ever wondered what makes one organization appear to be more attractive, while similar ones not so much? 

douglas-shaw-logo_revisedThe 2016 Value Proposition Index Study just released by Douglas Shaw & Associates and NextAfter answers this age-old question through qualitative and quantitative research, measuring the effectiveness of nonprofit institutions and their digital strategies across several industry categories. In this study, a simple question was posed to 127 top nonprofits. The insights were then put to the test in a series of digital online experiments.

The shocking results reveal most organizations do not provide a great reason why someone should donate. In most organizations that did make the attempt, we discovered their answers were inconsistent across all communication channels including: website, email, phone, and social media. Within the 127 participants in this blind study, the vast majority received a C-level rating. Furthermore, responding Christian ministries appear to fall even shorter in the mix due to inconsistencies in the ability to communicate a convincing and consistent value proposition across all communication channels.

These inconsistencies would seem to support an industry benchmark for nonprofits called “The 1-in-4 Fundraising Principle.” In other words, only one in four people who visit your website will go the extra step in making a donation to support. That means most people who visit your site are not falling into your fundraising funnel; they’re actually falling out. Gravity, meaning organic forces in the marketplace, is not leading people to convert—it’s actually turning donors away.

These determining factors include:

  • Weak or ineffective value proposition
  • Inconsistently communicating value proposition across channels
  • Unnecessary clutter and donor friction impeding the “ASK”

For the purposes of this article, we are going to focus on the first—the ever-elusive value proposition. 

What Is The Value Proposition?

value-proposition-article-image-1_revisedIf you spend any time in donor fundraising you will soon find yourself asking this question: Why did this appeal work and that one didn’t? Even better, why is one charitable organization better at attracting donors than others? At the heart of these questions is: “The Value Proposition.”

It’s the same fundamental question jobseekers must ultimately ask themselves: Why should an employer consider hiring you? Your ability to effectively answer this question will ultimately determine your success. That success can therefore be defined as a sacred pact between you and the donor…just as it is between a jobseeker and employer.

Savvy fundraisers recognize this pact of trust must be earned every day. If you’re worried your organization may be nearing the bottom of the grading scale, consider that the following steps may improve your value proposition messaging:

Just Like An Elevator Speech, Know Your Answer!

If someone were to ask you right now why they should give to your organization, what would you say? Start by providing a reason that is inspiring, appealing, exclusive, credible, and clear. Try asking your staff how they would answer this question as a potential supporter—from the front desk, to the executive staff, to your volunteers, right down to the accounting team. Sift these answers and you’ll begin to identify what truly makes your organization unique—and why someone should really consider donating to your cause. Measure that insight against your answer to these metrics:

  • Offer something that your donor can “believe in”
  • Make that “Reason to Believe” so unique people will be
    hard-pressed to look elsewhere
  • Ensure your answer is credible—would you believe in it?
  • Make sure others understand it, especially if they don’t work
    for your organization
  • Reinforce “why” you are unique

Now that you are on your way to a convincing and compelling Value Proposition, perhaps it’s time for a little road test.

Self-Evaluation Is Like Golf: Consistency Wins The Game

Now it’s time to look at all the different ways donors can receive information and connect with your organization. Ensure that your online and offline communications answer why a donor should respond to your appeal mailing, press releases, and in the digital space, your email, website, and social media.

  • Ensure they can understand the “Why” without having to drill down several webpages or wade five minutes into a one-minute phone conversation
  • Make sure your supporters can submit and receive questions from your website or social media experience and that your responses are timely
  • Incorporate active, direct messaging on your social media platforms
  • Make it all easy and seamless for the inquiring donor or prospect

The sad fact is almost one third of organizations surveyed don’t respond to questions when submitted—ever! On Facebook, 27% of organizations even disabled the ability for someone to submit direct messages. This clearly communicates to your donor that you are not interested in them, and it actually chases people away.

But you don’t have to be included in that statistic!

Build A Value Story Throughout The Organization

Now that you’ve taken steps to address the Value Proposition and checked it out across all your communication channels, what’s next?

Do a little dress rehearsing. Any person involved in public contact within your organization, from answering phones to posting social media, should be very comfortable with your Value Proposition and have the ability to effectively communicate it through their channel of responsibility. Offline and online, identify donor friction points and eliminate them immediately. This extremely valuable practice will not only impact traditional and digital appeals, it will have wide-ranging implications in volunteer coordination and in-kind donation. Monitor all online feedback and reply promptly to questions.

Finally, share your Value Proposition in engaging and meaningful ways as often as you possibly can. Then you will be on the road to answering the eternal question “Why” with a resounding “Why Not?”

Unlocking the hidden value of the value proposition could be the single most important step in sending your fundraising efforts soaring!


Tom Davidson is Creative Director at Douglas Shaw & Associates (DSA), a leader in custom fundraising for causes and nonprofits. Prior to taking the day-to-day helm at DSA, Tom served as Senior Vice President & Creative Director for ad agencies like Leo Burnett, working on advertising and brand engaging experience for companies that include: Cadillac, AAA Insurance, OnStar, Eight O’clock Coffee, Shedd’s Spread Country Crock®.  At DSA, he is helping craft a unique approach to fundraising that optimizes messaging strategies, offer summits and innovative creative solutions into proven and tested reasons to give for a variety of organizations and non-profits.

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