Photo by Victoire Joncheray on Unsplash
November 20, 2019

Who is your Director of Second Impressions?

Making sure your participants and other key stakeholders are happy can be difficult. What do they really need and want from you? Tune in to understand how to be more mindful about engaging donors and clients every step of the way with Sarah Durham and Farra Trompeter.


Sarah Durham: Farra Trompeter is back with me today to talk about a really interesting thing that I think we are increasingly obsessed with here, which has to do with the experiences that people have with your organization. And our conversation today was sparked by a story Farra told me recently about a trip to a physical therapist. What happened Farra?

Farra Trompeter: Well, as a native New Yorker, I’m blessed with flat feet and the need to walk around the lot. And I have uncovered, I have plantar fasciitis, hence the need to go to physical therapy. So a few months ago I started going on a weekly basis and I noticed that when I was first asking questions about my insurance and what was covered, the front desk staff, the receptionist had a business card that said Director of First Impressions. And I thought, Oh, how great they are prioritizing what does the new patient or the client think of when they come into this space. And then as the year changed and my insurance changed, I kept asking them what was going on with my coverage and I didn’t hear from them as much and I haven’t gone in a few weeks and I’m surprised they haven’t called me and said, “Hey, where are you? Aren’t your feet and knees in pain?” And I thought: Why don’t they have a Director of Second Impressions? Organizations and sort of then, obviously, extrapolating it to the nonprofit world and our clients, I see so many cases where organizations are so focused on bringing people in that they don’t put as much attention on keeping them there, you know, make new friends but keep the old.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. And in the fundraising world we see a lot of studies done and a lot of focus by top-tier fundraisers on donor retention for exactly this reason.

Farra Trompeter: Right? Every year the AFP puts out the Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report, which we can link to in the show notes, which shows the latest data. But, typically, we see organizations are lucky if they keep 50% of their donors. So if you think about the size of your donor file now and how hard you work to get those donors and to get those dollars imagining that year over year, you’re going to lose half of them and maybe you’re lucky if you hold on to 30% of first time donors.

Sarah Durham: Yeah, maybe even more than that. I think the number of donors who give a second gift, it might even be closer to 19 or 20% many years.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. It’s low.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. So that means the vast majority, actually, of people you acquire kind of slip away before they make that second gift, but if they make the second gift, they’re much more likely to give against the second gift or a second impression. It’s much more important really than the first gift or the first impression.

Farra Trompeter: And it’s actually more affordable, right, to communicate with the people who are already on your list, already following you on social, reading your emails, coming to your events- they’re already in your database. You can communicate with them as opposed to the people who aren’t there, who you have to somehow capture through advertising, exhibiting, whatever it may take. Buying lists, so actually cultivating the people who are already on your list, you will see better value from and better return.

Sarah Durham: So whose job is this? Is this the job of the communications team? Is it the job of the development team, the programs team? Whose job is it to make sure that people keep coming back?

Farra Trompeter: That’s a big question. It’s everybody’s job. I mean I think this is the debate and something that we’re seeing. I know you wrote a piece recently about having a Chief Experience Officer and I think the idea of having somebody to really think about someone’s beginning to end experience with the organization or the different touch points, you know those are really important to consider. One of the things that I’ve seen in organizations is where development and communications work together and they think about where that individual is on their journey. You often hear in the for-profit world: the customer journey, right? Where is somebody from when they’re considering getting to know you to participating in your programs or giving or engaging and take an action to becoming a regular supporter to becoming someone who is your biggest fan? Where are they on their journey and who’s talking to them? Typically we see the communications team are thinking about those more mass communications, those acquiring the names, bringing people in, but then as people are on the list and we’re trying to get them to do more with us, they might shift to programs or advocacy or development who are then, I think you used the phrase chumming the waters that communications has created to kind of go fishing and pull people into the organization.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. Often it is the job of the communications team to chum the waters or to feed the bottom of the ladder of engagement and then at a certain point, once that relationship is established or the acquisition occurs, is it sort of gets handed off to other teams or other departments. Although where that line is is blurry and I think we’ve seen a lot of examples, particularly as organizations get a little bit bigger where it can be a little confusing whose turf it is. One interesting story I heard about this a few years ago came from Catherine Glass who is a communications senior level nonprofit professional I’ve known for years. And Catherine accepted a new job at the YMCA of greater New York, which oversees 26 different YMCAs throughout New York City and she decided to spend her first few months on the job really digging into the member experience. If you are a member of the Y, what would your experience be like?

And so to dig into that she just walked into Y’s where people didn’t know who she was and she saw how she was greeted or she saw what the facility looked like. She called the organization’s main number to see how easy it was to get questions. She had some of her friends call and say see if you can get information about this or that. What do you do? How does it work? And through that she surfaced all kinds of interesting issues that either made the experience of joining and remaining as a member really, really positive or maybe really frustrating, but they were issues that spanned way beyond communications. They got into operations and facilities and membership and other departments and that’s that murky middle.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. I often tell organizations be a secret shopper, exactly what you’re talking about. Even making a donation on your website or having your best friend or significant other sit on their own computer and do that and watch their facial expressions, see what shows up on screen, what shows up in their mailbox or inbox and see how soon they hear from you and ask them what their impression is. When I’ve done that with organizations- sometimes they’re surprised that the name that the thank you comes from, they no longer work at the organization. Where things have changed and we forget once we set up these systems to go back and update them or even think about what that experience is once we’ve crafted it.

Sarah Durham: In some ways I think the web tech world has been way ahead of most other industries in terms of really doing user testing and with websites or other digital tools, making sure that people are testing the website and you’re recording it and you’re really learning from that. But I can’t think of very many organizations I know of who have thought about the second impression as you call it, you know, the Director of Second Impressions or the Chief Experience Officer in a formal sense. Although I do think this is emerging more and more, I’ve heard more and more people talking about the Chief Experience Officer as this kind of multidisciplinary role. And in a few cases, one of them is our client caring bridge where there actually is a person who comes out of the marketing and communications team whose title is Chief Experience Officer, where I think that gets codified a bit. What recommendations would you have for an organization that is trying to be more mindful about how it engages its donors, its clients, its other audiences and in deeper experiences?

Farra Trompeter: The first thing I would do is start by getting to know my community and who I’m trying to engage with, so whether that is through interviews, surveys, we often talk about the idea of creating personas. You mentioned sort of the web tech world. In a website process you almost always start by creating user personas and talk about user journeys through the website and the tasks they’re trying to complete. Bringing that to wider communications, really thinking about who the audiences are, what are the typical profiles of the people who you’re trying to engage and build relationships with and talking to them and really rounding out what their mindsets are. What is it that they need to hear or see or do in order to connect with your organization again and to come back? Who else are they hearing from and communicating with? Because it’s important to also keep an eye on your peers and see who’s putting things out there and how that’s influencing your audiences.

So really getting to know your audiences. Some organizations create a donor advisory board or an ongoing focus group where they have members of their community continuing to give feedback on what they’re doing. Maybe whether that’s reviewing drafts of an email or giving feedback or being part of planning an upcoming event to really engage with them. But I think first start by knowing your people. Then getting into things like what you were talking about, doing some secret shopping, trying to really see what is the world through their eyes. I mean if you can do real user testing or walking alongside a potential member or donor and seeing their experience, that’s great. And then I think from there prioritizing what changes make the most sense to do. What can we tackle from both? What’s our capacity, what do we have the staff for, what do we have the time for, where are we going to get, you know, the proverbial biggest bang for our buck. What’s gonna make the most sense for us to change and what can we keep up with? Cause again, what you don’t want to do is totally change how you are engaging in communicating with people, building around let’s say one person or one idea and then when you lose that it all goes to pot and people forget what you set up to do.

Sarah Durham: There are some interesting shifts I think happening in the larger world and particularly in the corporate world that the nonprofit sector hasn’t yet been able to, I think afford or catch up with. But I think we’re going to start to see soon. And it’s sort of a shift towards using data to inform how you communicate, not necessarily by having to ask people what they want from you, but by literally monitoring what they’re doing. You know, how are they spending time on your site? How are they engaging with your emails? What are they doing with their events? Sort of the overlap of the engagement piece and the development piece all coming together into this very robust profile of who people are. And I think that’s going to be an interesting shift as we see more and more organizations start to integrate data science into what they do. Organizations like Crisis Text Line have done this very effectively, but it’s a model that I think for most smaller organizations really is not yet there. It’s not affordable yet.

Farra Trompeter: Think about Amazon and Netflix, right? I am an active consumer of both of those channels. Amazon for years sends me emails and says, “Hey, because she bought this book, we thought you might be interested in this.” Or now on Instagram I see ads for certain products because I was looking at a related product on their site. Or Netflix recommends a new TV show I should binge. Not that I binge TV shows. Just kidding. And because it knows what my behavior is and the kind of things that I like and now I’m getting used to kind of almost being spoon-fed what I should consume next. And I think your audiences are sort of getting used to that and appreciate that convenience. Right? It’s not seen as intrusive. Well by some it is, but for many people it’s seen as helpful. And so I think even asking your question of, you know, sitting around the table and saying what would it be like if we offered Amazon or Netflix, like recommendations to our community, what would that look like? What would make sense for us? And just seeing what kind of thinking that triggers.

Sarah Durham: And even if you don’t have the team or the capacity to start to use data in those kinds of sophisticated ways yet studying what they’re doing, which is your point, I think can surface some useful things. And you can always ask- there are a lot of examples in the nonprofit sector and the for-profit sector of just developing a lot of mechanisms to get feedback, to ask people when they come in for a program or they come to an event, what they think, what’s on their mind, what they want from you. And I think there are a lot of examples of organizations, even those that do have access to a lot of data. One that comes to my mind is SoulCycle, which has been written about a lot as a pioneering brand. One of the reasons they do it is, yes they have data on all the people who take their classes, but more importantly they ask people who come in all the time: What do you think? Which instructors do you like? Or if you like this person, you like that person? And that just being asked what you think about something deepens your relationship to it.

Farra Trompeter: Yeah. And I think when you ask, think about the wording of those questions. So I often will highlight different kinds of surveys that people use. And one of my favorites for many years has been a survey from Mercy Corps. Every year in January they send out a survey to their entire list: Tell us what’s important to you. And they don’t say things like, “What do you like about what we do?” They say, which aspects of our mission are most important to you? Right. They make it about me, the person who’s on their email list, who’s taken action with them, who’s made a gift, what’s important to me, and I think again that classic marketing adage, you know: What’s in it for me? We don’t like to think about marketing in the way that feels too slick or consumer oriented I think in the nonprofit world. But these days more and more we are competing not just with other nonprofits but for-profits or enterprises, socially good organizations for people’s attention and I think getting on people’s radar and staying there is just becoming harder.

Sarah Durham: Yeah. Great. Well there’s a lot to dig into here and this actually is a topic that dovetails into another podcast I recorded recently with Alice Hendricks from Jackson River, so I’ll cross link to those podcasts if this is a topic that you’re particularly interested in. Farra Trompeter, thanks for joining me.

Farra Trompeter: Thank you, Sarah Durham.