Courtesy of Scott Henderson, publisher of Rally the Cause
#1 Thing You Need To Know from This Post:
The single most important asset of any non-profit organization is its relationships with its volunteers, donors, and other stakeholders. If you treat these relationships like sacred data collections instead of an engaged community, you are at risk of becoming irrelevant.
A More Detailed Exploration:
I spend a good portion of my time traveling across the country to attend conferences and meet with clients and prospective clients. Even in this digital era, the custom of exchanging printed business cards is alive and well. As you can see from the photo to the right, I have quite the collection.
But don’t confuse that collection of cards for a robust network of strong relationships. Getting the card is just like adding a new person to your organization’s database. If you do nothing to build the relationship, that business card becomes an artifact proving very little other than that you once had contact with the person.
The Historical Role of the Database
Common wisdom says that you can measure an organization by the number of people who are in its database. Historically, a central staff maintained this database and treated it like a sacred collection of artifacts. In an era when information didn’t flow so easily and it was very difficult to connect with people you’d never met, protecting that collection of records at all costs was a self-evident truth. After all, these records had taken a great deal of work to assemble and represented the lifeblood of your organization.
The Fundamental Shift Happening
Then something funny happened. The Internet made it much easier for individuals to connect with each other. With 1 billion owning personal computers, 1.5 billion having Internet access, almost 4 billion owning mobile phones, and easy-to-use software tools to connect and communicate using these devices, your expectations of the world around you have changed.
You expect to have much greater intimacy and immediacy with those people and organizations you care about. And, you’re not alone. Your donors, volunteers, and potential key stakeholders have the same growing expectations. Now, we can all search for long-lost friends as well as new and interesting people. It just takes a Google search or looking around on Facebook or Twitter to make them magically appear in front of you.
With the advent of opt-in communications, you now have access to a meta-database that includes much more robust information about your stakeholders, which they are freely sharing with you across many different online platforms…if you are on these sites and actively listening.
Accepting the Reality of Self-Organized Swarms
Perhaps the most revolutionary aspect of this Interconnected Age is how easy it has become for a small group of people to reach out thru their existing network of relationships to create awareness for a cause, layout the vision for leading this cause, and then assemble a mass of champions to achieve their goals.
No longer are these people waiting for non-profit organizations to reach out to them with your glossy annual report and well-crafted annual appeal letter. They are seeing the need and organizing their own armies. These self-organized swarms are a reality and will become even more prevalent.
“Mr. or Mrs. Non-Profiteer, Tear Down This Wall!”
The time has come to tear down the mental walls that you and your leadership team have constructed around the relationships most important to you. I’m NOT saying that you put your database out on the web naked as a jay bird for all to see. What I am saying is:
Stop treating your database as a sacred collection of data controlled by you and begin to see it for what it has always been: a dynamic record of the engaged community who want to help you achieve your mission.
You can’t just measure that community based on database records. You need to also consider the interaction you have with the people who have joined your Facebook Fan page, subscribe to your Flickr account, watch your YouTube channel, follow your Twitter stream, and choose to invite you into their lives from their online platform of choice.
This is critical for your organization to stay relevant, because it is this mosaic of relationships that you can use to mobilize people to rally around your cause. If you’re not doing it, someone else will.
A Sneak Peak of the Pledge to End Hunger Campaign Case Study
This spring when we launched the Pledge to End Hunger campaign (www.pledgetoendhunger.com) to coincide with the South By Southwest Interactive Festival, one of our main goals was to better understand how social media can be used to help non-profit organizations and cause marketing campaigns. [For a campaign summary, I recommend this post on Beth Kanter’s Blog.)
While we’re in the process of finalizing the campaign case study to share with you and the rest of the world, I do have some interesting data to share with you now regarding this topic of databases. One key thing we were seeking to determine was which would generate more traffic to the campaign website: existing email databases or Twitter followers.
Cultivated vs. Non-Cultivated Emails
Between the for-profit and non-profit organizations leading the Pledge to End Hunger, we had seven existing email address databases. Five of the seven databases had been cultivated thru ongoing email correspondences and had a demonstrated affinity for one of the organizations leading the campaign. The other two databases were a collection of people who had participated in eBay charity auctions and had little to no affinity to the organization keeping the database.
We consider the first five to be cultivated databases and the other two non-cultivated. All together, these databases totaled 132,831 names, with 57,831 from cultivated databases and 75,000 from non-cultivated databases.
Email Databases vs. Meta-Databases
To compare the results of these email databases, we put them against the Twitter audience of the fifty people who stepped forward as #HungerPledge champions. These were individuals from different geographic areas representing many different industry verticals who were willing to promote the campaign thru Twitter and blogs (if they published one). Collectively, they had contact with almost 208,000 people thru Twitter alone.
In the first seven days of the campaign, we used email and Twitter equally, so let’s compare the three in that period of time. So which database prevailed: cultivated emails, non-cultivated emails, or Twitter?
- 57,831 cultivated email addresses generated 2,204 visitors at a 3.8% conversion rate.
- 75,000 non-cultivated email addresses generated 19 visitors at a .03% conversion rate.
- 207,426 Twitter followers generated 4,154 visitors at a 2.0% conversion rate.
Conclusions from This Data
1. All Databases Are Not Created Equal - Organizations who cultivate their relationships with those in their email databases can mobilize a higher percentage of their known stakeholders when compared to individuals who mobilized their general Twitter audiences and even more than non-cultivated email databases.
2. You Don’t Need an Email Database – Social media makes it easier to tap into people’s existing relationships. Using fifty individuals, we amassed a larger audience and generated more site visitors than the seven existing email databases.
I’m sure there are many more great conclusions to be made here, so let me know what you think. Plus, here’s your chance to add to my broader thoughts about databases or (even better) challenge my notions.
Find me on Twitter: @scottyhendo
This article was originally posted on Rally the Cause at http://rallythecause.com/2009/07/05/rethinking-your-database-from-sacred-collection-to-engaged-community/ by Scott Henderson:
Scott is a cause marketing director for MediaSauce, helping non-profits and corporations use online media to pull off their next big thing.