I’ve always been a huge college football fan. I grew up in Florida in the 90’s; the peak of the UF vs. FSU rivalry. My uncle was a graduate of Florida State, and I could always count on getting some pretty sweet FSU gear for Christmas from him every year. I would watch games every week, cut out newspaper clippings of my favorite players to hang on my wall, and I distinctly remember being heartbroken following a certain loss in 1998.
Despite all that, I hadn’t actually attended a college football game yet. One year my Dad’s alma mater, Georgia Tech, was playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game within a few hours drive of our house. So he bought tickets for our whole family, and off we drove to Jacksonville to watch the Yellow Jackets play.
That’s when I really caught the bug. You see, I got to witness my normally quiet Dad stand up and sing Georgia Tech’s...colorful...fight song. Most kids would be mortified, but I had the opposite reaction. It was awesome. Seeing him be filled with such a huge amount of pride, high fiving strangers just because they were wearing the same logo on their shirt as him, I was in.
I remained a fervent FSU fan all through high school, and when the time came to pick a college, I had the great privilege to attend the my dream school. The school whose logo had adorned my t-shirts since grade school.
I’d be lying if I said football played no role in my decision. It was far from the only factor, but it definitely counted for something. Sports had shaped my identity as a “Florida State Fan”, it was part of who I was. Getting to now also be a Florida State student was a huge draw.
I experienced something similar recently in an interaction with a nonprofit.
The Power of Teams for Nonprofits
Last month, I decided I was going to raise money for Parkinson’s Disease research. My Dad (you know, the guy singing the fight song) has Parkinson’s, and my birthday was that month. I wanted to do something to honor him that I could surprise him with, and I figured my birthday was a good excuse to ask people to give money to something. So I partnered up with my brother and we set to work reaching out to our friends to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.
We started with an easy goal of $500, but quickly blew through that, so we upped it to $750. Then we smashed that goal. Along with our goals of $1,000, $1,500, $1750. We ended up raising over $2,000, four times our goal!
Beyond the thrill of beating our goal and surprising our Dad by making a sizeable donation in his honor to a well-known charity, something changed for me. I suddenly felt connected to this nonprofit. I felt like I was a part of their team, fighting alongside with them. I had no prior contact with this organization, nor did they reach out to me. I just decided I wanted to try it, and was immediately hooked.
The Fox Foundation does a phenomenal job of making this happen for volunteer fundraisers. First, they call their volunteer fundraising army “Team Fox.” Participants get a t-shirt and a fridge magnet, they offer lots of help and support in hosting events, and actively engage team members on social media. They aren’t afraid to put their volunteers on center stage and lend their support.
A photo posted by Andrew Littlefield (@fsuandrew) on
This approach functions in very much the same way Apple and Toyota build brand loyalty: being a part of their tribe is about more than just the product/mission. It’s about creating an identity.
By doing this, nonprofits can accomplish three major donor stewardship goals:
1. It Causes Donors to Overlook Misteps
We all make mistakes, right? No charity is perfect, but if you’ve fostered a team feel with your supporters, they’re going to be quick to forgive you when you mess up. Not only that, they’re far less likely to blame you for mistakes, and simply chalk them up as bad luck, an honest goof, or simply just not-that-big-a-deal.
It all comes down to confirmation bias.
When I have a problem with any Apple device I own, I shrug, get it fixed, and attribute it to normal tech problems. When I’m using a PC and something goes wrong, I immediately think “Well, that’s a PC for you.” Neither statement is 100% true, but Apple had turned me into a loyal customer. I’m much quicker to forgive mistakes.
By fostering a team feel, charities can be forgiven for occasional slip-ups like tech troubles, a forgotten thank you, or PR blunder. Their loyal supporters will shrug and say “Hey, it happens. We know you’re still trustworthy.” That is, of course, until it becomes a recurring problem.
2. It Strengthens Retention
Am I going to do another fundraiser next year? You bet I am! The team feel puts a sense of responsibility on my end, in a healthy way. I don’t want to feel like I’m letting the team down or not pulling my weight. Besides the responsibility, being on the team let me feel like I’m a part of something bigger, so I’m more than happy to use my time and talents to raise money again.
3. It Fosters Community
When I see someone on the street here in NYC wearing a Florida State shirt, I always give them a nice, hearty “Go Noles!” and they always return it.
Similarly, I feel a sense of community with other members of Team Fox. When my wife and I went to watch a friend of ours run in the New York City Marathon, we saw someone running by wearing a Team Fox shirt. Nevermind that this man was a total stranger in a sea of thousands of other strangers, we both clapped wildly and yelled “Team Fox!” as he ran by. I feel a connection with him, based on his affiliation with the group, and what I perceive that to mean.
A video posted by Andrew Littlefield (@fsuandrew) on
Donor Stewardship, Supercharged
We all know the basics of good donor stewardship: always say thank you, don’t overask, engage in more ways than just financially. But to really kick your stewardship into high gear, make your donors feel like they’re part of a team. If you do, they’ll be more than happy to continue lending their support, not out of obligation, but out of pure fandom.