You have a bucket at home that you need to fill with water, but there’s a problem. Your bucket has a hole, and it leaks water. You need to make it from the back of the house to the front of the house with a full bucket, so what do you do? You have a few options.

Option one, you fill the bucket as fast as you can, and you run at full speed to the front of the house hoping that little water will leak out and you don’t have any spills. This option seems like a lot of fun for a grade school fun fair competition, but not so much for a job you need to get well done. It involves a lot of trouble with a minimal guarantee that there will still be water in the bucket.

Option two, you plug the bucket with duct tape on both sides. Before adhering the tape, you make sure the surface of the bucket is dry, you cut the tape neatly, and once set, you apply heat with a hairdryer. This option will do the trick, is a cost-effective solution, and chances are you’ll have all the supplies you need at home.

Option three, you give up on your bucket and toss it in the trash. You’ll go to the store and purchase a new bucket. This option will cost you time and money, but that’s ok, it’s “just a bucket” anyway.

Which option do you choose?

Body 1


Apply the Analogy to Your Organization

Now, use the bucket as an analogy for your nonprofit organization. Imagine that your customers are the water, and the holes on your bucket are the areas where your business processes need fixing. You’re losing donors at an alarming rate because you’re not staying up to date with technology trends, your donors’ expectations, or your community’s needs. Which option do you choose now?

Option three seems a little extreme. You can’t “just” close your organization because there are areas that need improvement. Option one involves continuing with business as usual. You work extra hard to get new donors to replace the ones you lost. It’s a constant flow of donors, and keeping them is exhausting and unproductive. The best option left is number two. You decide to identify the areas that your organization needs to improve, and you get right to it because donor retention affects your organization’s success.

What Is An “Option Two” Solution?

You might be able to identify a few holes or areas that need improvement in your organizatison, but we’d like to share one with you that’s often overlooked. One way to make sure you don’t lose donors is by maintaining a consistent online brand experience with your audience. Brands are often ignored because they seem superficial and they take a lot of time (and sometimes money) to get right. The fact is that your brand plays a huge role in influencing people’s feelings about your organization, and believe it or not, emotions are very powerful decision-making tools.

One way to make sure you don’t lose donors is by maintaining a consistent online brand experience with your audience.

Most people make decisions based on emotions. We like to think we make decisions based on logical thinking, and sometimes that can be the case, but most decision making is ruled by the emotional part of the brain and occurs subconsciously. Research studies have shown that scientists could predict what decisions people were going to make seconds before they knew the answers. Researchers realized that when presented with a decision to make, the subject’s brain would show activity in the prefrontal and parietal cortex before the decision enters awareness. All of this means that we first make decisions subconsciously, and then come up with rational explanations to back them up. You’ve experienced this yourself when you’ve had that “gut feeling” about something. That gut feeling was your subconscious mind deciding for you.


Video of Aness Symons Explaining the reason behind their nonprofit brand refresh

Hear how Aness Symons, Associate Director of Communications at United Way of London and Middlesex, is fixing her organization’s leaky bucket.


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Help Donors Feel Good About Your Brand

Your organization’s brand needs to be authentic for people to feel great about it. The word “authentic” gets tossed around a lot these days, what does it even mean in the context of a nonprofit organization?

1. Consistency
To be authentic, you have to have one voice and one look. Think of it this way, if your organization was a person, and it was inconsistent in the way it says things and changed its mind all the time, would you trust that person? It would be tough to have confidence in a person like that, and the same goes for a nonprofit that acts the same way. Make sure all of your communications adhere to your brand guidelines -- including the appropriate use of logos, colors, and voice. A well-crafted combination of all three make up your organization’s personality, so if you need to reference back to your brand guidelines before you go live with any communications, then do so! All departments in your organization should follow the same rules. Consistency is key in building brand awareness and trust.


Make all your touchpoints similar. If someone receives an email with a link to your website, but when they visit your site it looks and reads differently than your email, they’ll immediately wonder if they’re in the right place. Those few seconds of wondering and getting their bearings will subliminally affect whether they feel safe in your space.


2. Transparency
Build trust by sharing stories about how your organization is affecting change but be mindful about how you do this. Place the spotlight on the efforts and charities you support rather than placing it on yourself. A great place to share stories is on your blog or news page – if you don’t have either, make one now! Make your posts useful and informational to build trust.

3. Approachability
Thanks to social media, interacting with your audience is easier than ever before. The best part about this medium is that it’s not a one-way street; your audience can now engage with you in real-time. Plus, they can become your advocates as they promote your brand by sharing your posts with their social circles. When posting on social media, your focus should be on enriching the experience for your followers by sharing information that will make them feel good, teach them something new, and give them meaning to their lives.


“On a lifetime value basis, emotionally connected customers are more than twice as valuable as highly satisfied customers.”

Harvard Business Review


Use this chart of “high-impact motivators” to understand the factors that affect donor value. The information is from a Harvard Business Review article, “The New Science of Customer Emotions.” The entire article is a valuable read that provides insight into making emotional connections with your audience.

I am inspired by a desire to: Brands can leverage this motivator by helping customers:
Stand out from the crowd Project a unique social identity; be seen as special
Have confidence in the future Perceive the future as better than the past; have a positive mental picture of what’s to come
Enjoy a sense of well-being Feel that life measures up to expectations and that balance has been achieved; seek a stress-free state without conflicts or threats
Feel a sense of freedom Act independently, without obligations or restrictions
Feel a sense of thrill Experience visceral, overwhelming pleasure and excitement; participate in exciting, fun events
Feel a sense of belonging Have an affiliation with people they relate to or aspire to be like; feel part of a group
Protect the environment Sustain the belief that the environment is sacred; take action to improve their surroundings
Be the person I want to be Fulfill a desire for ongoing self-improvement; live up to their ideal self-image
Feel secure Believe that what they have today will be there tomorrow; pursue goals and dreams without worry
Succeed in life Feel that they lead meaningful lives; find worth that goes beyond financial or socioeconomic measures

Source: Scott Magids, Alan Zorfas, And Daniel Leemon. From: “The New Science of Customer Emotions,” November 2015.

What Is Your Donor’s Online Experience?

Are you tracking your donor’s experiences? Are your pledge pages easy to navigate? How are recipients reacting to your emails?

Before jumping into action to make changes to your brand, you should do some research. You should base your brand refresh strategy on feedback from different stakeholders. You should solicit four different levels of feedback to get a full picture of how your brand is currently perceived. The four levels are:

  1. Yourself – How do you see your brand
  2. Your colleagues – How do colleagues from different departments and levels of seniority see your brand
  3. Other nonprofits – How do affiliate organizations see your brand
  4. Your donors and community – How do your “customers” see your brand

The feedback you receive can include many different types of questions. Below are some samples to get you started.

  • Do you know what [Organization’s Name’s] goals are?
  • Does [Organization’s Name’s] website do an excellent job of communicating its goals?
  • How would you describe [Organization’s Name] brand image?
  • Does [Organization’s Name’s] website promote the image you describe above?
  • Do [Organization’s Name’s] emails promote the image you describe above?
  • If [Organization’s Name] was a person, what qualities would they have?
  • If [Organization’s Name] was a person, what would its personality be?
  • Do you feel that [Organization’s Name] is making a difference in your community?
  • Does [Organization’s Name’s] website do a good job of communicating the impact made in the community?
  • Is [Organization’s Name’s] website easy to navigate?
  • As it easy to find what you were looking for in [Organization’s Name’s] website?
  • Does [Organization’s Name’s] website look nice?
  • What would you like to see on [Organization’s Name’s] website?
  • Are [Organization’s Name’s] emails informative?
  • Do you trust the information shared by [Organization’s Name]?


TIP: Set up a survey using Andar/360 so that when it comes time to see the results, it will be easy to pull all of the data into a report or dashboard.


Now It’s Your Turn to Fix the Online Experience Hole in Your Bucket

You can avoid having a leaky bucket of donors by maintaining an online brand that is authentic and connects with people’s emotions. To build trust with your audience, every touchpoint you put out in the world should be, 1. Consistent, 2. Transparent, and 3. Approachable. But, before you make any changes, find out how your current online brand is perceived by soliciting feedback.

You’ve got this. Good luck!


Learn ways you can optimize your online brand.

Download a Free Guide to Help You Increase Donations by Optimizing Online Brand Presence


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