Home / Retail and Non-Profits Have More In Common Than You Would Think

Retail and Non-Profits Have More In Common Than You Would Think

One of the main reasons I got into marketing, and specifically marketing for commerce, is because people fascinate me. How does a consumer make a purchase decision? Why then? Why that product? Why is Target ‘Le Target’ while Wal-Mart is ‘Wally World’? I’ve spent my whole career digging through those questions, only to come up with more.

A few weeks ago my Facebook feed, along with yours I’m sure, became jammed with people dumping an ice bucket over their head to raise money for ALS. My co-worker Sean even wrote an Acquia blog about it. Prior to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I’d never really given much though as to why people give away their hard-earned cash. What is their motivation? What do they get in return?

Turns out, as I’m sure many non-profit development officers are well aware, this is even a harder nut to crack than understanding why people purchase. Fundraising123.org outlines 15 reasons why people donate, ranging from social pressure, to a desire to be connected to the larger world, to a need to be recognized. The article points out that “giving is a personal act” and advises non-profits to positional all messaging on how donating affects “YOU”.

Although on a very different level, this was something I could relate to. Shopping is also a persona act. With a non-profits however, it’s a bit more complicated. When a consumer purchases something at Old Navy they receive a product. In the non-profit world on the surface, there seems to be no such product, but there is still an exchange of sorts. I donate to your non-profit, and I get some value in return. This value exchange has a much wider variety of valuables than a simple retail transaction. It could be a t-shirt or a mug, but it could also be what The Boston Globe calls a “warm glow”.

When I think of the Ice Bucket Challenge, the value here is social currency. I dump a bucket of ice over my head, and then I have something to post on Facebook that my social network considers valuable. Then I have something to talk about at work and with my friends. If I’m one of the lucky ones who was challenged early on, then all of a sudden I’m a trendsetter. The value is different for each non-profit, each donation drive and each donor, but there is clear value being exchanged.

The more I thought about it, and the more I talked to Sean, the more I realized there are many common threads between non-profits and retail, and a lot that can be brought into the non-profit world.

What Non-Profits Can Learn From Retailers

Understand your Donors

While non-profits have a true understanding of how to appeal to a potential donor’s emotional side (something many retailers could learn from), many fail to understand how donors differ from each other and how to properly segment their audience. Retailers have been sifting through their data for years, and many have created anywhere from three or four to a dozen or more different personas based on all sorts of data points. Businesses that are currently personalizing web experiences are seeing an increase in sales of 19%.

  • Follow the retailer’s lead: understand your data and create donor personas based on it.
  • Talk to your personas differently, both in your marketing materials and by personalizing your website content.
  • Test, test, test. As you’re getting to know your personas, test offers, messaging and call-to-actions to determine what works best.

Make it easy to purchase

Retailers know that each step in the purchase journey is one where you risk losing your customer. Countless hours of usability testing and optimization have been spent ensuring the purchase flow is as easy and seamless as possible. A few lessons they’ve learned:

  • Make sure the site and purchase flow are mobile-friendly or responsive. As Sean pointed out in his blog, having a responsive site is critical to donating via a mobile device. 50% of mobile donors give up because the process is too hard.
  • The cart and purchase flow should be seamlessly integrated in to the site itself. Any clunky handoff from content site to purchase flow is a risk.
  • Make sure the donation form is clear, easy to use and a well-branded experience. Most non-profit sites see a donation form abandonment rate of 50%-70%. Even a slight improvement will lead to significant incremental donations.

Be Ready

The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge seemed to come out of nowhere, and as a result the organization received $92 million MORE than it did in 2013 (as of 8/27). With some quick back-of-the-napkin math, that amounts to over $1,000 per minute. Had the site crashed or had any blips of any kind this would have resulted in a significant impact on donations. Although events like this are rare (and often unpredictable) there are many planned events that cause spikes in traffic like this. Telethons, walkathons, and whatever-else-a-thons non-profits can dream up will cause huge spikes in traffic. Ensuring your site is up for the challenge is critical to ensuring success during these events.

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