Allison Fine on making the pivot from transactions to relationships.
This year at the Peer-to-Peer Professional Forum Conference in New Orleans,
we invited Allison Fine, the author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age and co-author of The Networked Nonprofit to do the opening keynote. She stressed that supporter retention problems happen where nonprofits focus on transactions, not relationships.
The key takeaways from her talk were three questions that nonprofits need to ask their supporters that will help the organization move to away from a transactional model to one that values relationships:
“How do we make you feel?” Not, “How do you feel about us?” Ask “How do we make you feel when you’re engaged with us? Do you feel known as a person? Do you feel heard? Do you feel powerful? Do you feel like you matter? Or do you feel like an ATM machine? Do you feel like a data point in a large database of emails that are being churned out?”
“What is your story?” We know we have the digital platforms to scale storytelling. We need to ask people to tell their stories, and we have to listen to them. It’s one thing to just ask people to tell their stories and throw it out there wherever. It’s another to listen deeply to what they say. “Why are you here? What motivates you to work for this cause? What pain has happened in your life, or what joy do you want to bring? What do you want to share with other people?” Everybody has a story. Your job is to ask for it and listen to it.
“What problem can we solve together?” At the old legacy organizations, the ones that Beth Kanter and I in The Network Nonprofit called “Fortresses”, staff are supposed to have all of the answers. Well, if we had all the answers, we wouldn’t be doing the hardest work there is to do, which is social change work. We can’t possibly have all of the answers, and yet, day after day, non-profit staff feel like it’s their job to go out into the world and pretend to have the answers or the strategy all tied up with a bow.
People out there are smart, and they’re kind, and they’re generous. We need to tap into all of that good stuff, and ask for their real help. I would begin in a conversation with your people and ask: “What’s a problem that we could solve together?”
If you want to tie somebody in to becoming a long-term, loyal activist with you—make them into problem solvers. Now they’re with you forever. They’re invested in this. They’ve helped to create something. If you can ask those questions, what you’re doing is you’re moving from a network to an actual community. Although you’re working in a sea of causes right now, there is a dearth of communities—real communities, strong, respectful, caring communities—for people to engage in, and that’s your greatest opportunity right now.
Watch Allison’s inspiring keynote here.