Fundraising, Part 9: Conservation groups connect with donors

By Todd Cohen

[This article was written for Blackbaud.]

Conservation-oriented environmental groups have focused their fundraising on getting donors more involved in “places that matter,” and showing them the impact of their gifts, says Doug Barker, co-founder and principal at Barker & Scott Consulting, a firm that provides management consulting for nonprofits, including environmental organizations.

“We have results you can walk on,” says Barker, quoting John Sawhill, former CEO at The Nature Conservancy, where Barker was the chief information officer.

So environmental and conservation groups have been inviting donors and prospective donors to outings and talking to them about “what’s so special about those particular places.”

Those outings can include activities for families and children, and can pave the way for additional gifts.

Recognizing that the environment is “visually compelling,” Barker says, environmental organizations also are providing donors and prospective donors with images of “what’s at stake in terms of nature, and also what some of the threats are.”

And those groups are using traditional and digital media to reach a broad range of constituents.

“At the end of the day, and not just for environmental groups, you’re really looking at a multi-channel integrated strategy for how you’re going to engage your constituents,” Barker says. “Certain strategies resonate more with some groups than others. But it’s having full portfolios of ways to engage people that can be so effective.”

Those strategies, he says, depend on identifying the needs of individual donors and groups of donors.

For major donors, for example, “it’s all about relationship-building, figuring out what that particular donor is passionate about and how they really want to be engaged.”

Environmental and conservation groups can invite donors on trips, showing them first-hand areas that may be at risk, and developing a more personal relationship.

And organizations increasingly are working to show donors the impact of their giving.

Some groups are using research studies and reports to show the economic value of functioning ecological systems, and providing calculators that visitors to their websites can use to measure their carbon footprint through their diet and the use of home energy, driving, flying, recycling and waste.

They also provide tools, tips and information that people can use to take action, whether to reduce their carbon footprint or contact policymakers, as well as quizzes and adoption programs that can engage them.

World Wildlife Fund invites people to “test your elephant IQ,” for example, or to make a symbolic donation to adopt a snow leopard or penguin.

Those kinds of features can increase a donor’s “affinity and trust and overall respect for an organization that probably could also result in their increasing their support,” Barker says. “It’s a way to make a connection with what you’re doing, even if symbolically, in a more meaningful and tangible way.”

Next: Human services emphasize communication, planning

The series:

Part 1: Growth tied to capacity, cultivation, communication.

Part 2: Healthcare groups invest in capacity.

Part 3: Higher education cultivates major gifts.

Part 4: Data key for independent schools.

Part 5: International affairs groups refine message.

Part 6: Religion focuses on fundamentals.

Part 7: Arts and culture groups focus on donors.

Part 8: United Way diversifies.

Part 9: Conservation groups connect with donors.

Part 10: Communication, planning key for human services.

Part 11: Peer-to-peer strategy fuels medical research.

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