We are all about saving the whales in our house.
During a rainy day at summer camp, my 9 year old daughter and her friends watched the movie "Free Willy." She came home wide-eyed, on fire, wanting to know what she personally could do to protect the endangered whales.
That was a year ago.
Since then, she's conducted a mini-fundraising drive, soliciting donations from our friends and family in order to protect the whales. (Like mother, like daughter ... and this fundraising mother had to explain to said daughter the concept of the small return on direct mail appeals when she was dismayed that everyone didn't immediately respond with wallets wide open.) Undeterred, my daughter then created a blog called Orcas and Stuff ("so people would know about the whales and would donate" - her words, not mine) and mini-posters to give to her friends.
Dear Whale Museum Here is another email from me. As I said in my last email to you guys I have adopted Princess Angeline J 17. I wanted to ask you guys how do you know which whale is who?
In my professional capacity as the PR person for various nonprofits, I've been the recipient of several emails like my daughter's - and I'll admit, once upon a time I might not always have been as quick (or as thoughtful) with the reply as Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki have been. That was before becoming a parent (which changes your outlook on a great many things) and realizing that there are adults attached to these kids, adults who have the capacity to be donors and sustaining supporters of organizations that our kids believe in, wholeheartedly.
As development professionals, we talk a lot about engaging with our donors. Many of us struggle mightily with this, get frustrated when it seems like we're talking to ourselves, are puzzled about the best ways to use the newest social media tools (I'm so loving Google +, BTW) to connect more deeply with our constituents.
This morning, when I saw Connie's latest patient, ever-so-gracious emailed response to my daughter, I realized that The Whale Museum is an example of an organization that has this donor engagement thing down pat. Whether it's deliberate or not, they've successfully made my daughter believe that she and Princess Angeline, her beloved orca, are the most important thing in the world to them. She eagerly awaits their replies to her emails, prints them out, and saves them for when she becomes an orca trainer herself (or a veterinarian, depending on the day).
When you think about it, The Whale Museum is simply implementing the basics of donor engagement in their successful cultivation of my daughter as a supporter, and they're tenets that can work for your organization too.
1. Be Quick. When communicating one-on-one with your constituents, be prompt with the replies. We usually see a response from The Whale Museum within 24 hours of sending them an email.
2. Be a Human Being. The emails aren't signed from the impersonal "The Whale Museum." They're signed by Connie, Jeanne, and Nikki from the Orca Adoption Program of The Whale Museum. My daughter asked me if they were the women who look after her orca, Princess Angeline. They just might be.
3. Be Real. One of the oldest whales, Ruffles, has not been spotted for a long time and is presumed to be dead. My daughter has been constantly checking The Whale Museum's website as well as other Internet sources in hopes of receiving news that he is, indeed, still with us. Alas, it doesn't seem to be so - and when she discovered a YouTube video "in memory of" Ruffles, she immediately emailed The Whale Museum with her concerns that he was prematurely declared deceased. (This also prompted a timely lesson on how you can't always believe everything you read online.) Connie et al replied with a compassionate email in kid-appropriate terms about how they too were saddened over Ruffles' apparent death.
4. Be There. As part of the Orca Adoption Program, we receive a monthly e-newsletter about the well-being of all the orcas. It's highly anticipated in this house, with my daughter eagerly devouring every issue. It's timely, without any outdated information.
(And as a donor, it's a reminder each month of my support and encouragement to continue ... which we will absolutely be doing, since when you're 9, it's hard to top getting your own orca for your birthday.)