Who are your best supporters? [8 of 15]

fans[This is part eight of our 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree Step-by-Step series, written by our fabulous intern, Vicki. If you’re new to the series, you can catch up on previous posts. If you haven’t already gotten a 1, 2, 3 Marketing Tree, now is a great time to either buy the awesome poster-size version or download the free version, so you can follow along. You can find the free version in Claxon’s DIY tools a la carte menu or in the Marketing 101 Toolkit. You can buy the super spiffy poster here.]supporters

Now that you’ve figured out WHAT success looks like for your organization, we’re going to move on to WHO you need to reach in order to be successful.

Have you ever wondered what your future supporters will be like? Probably a lot like your current supporters.

In the next three branches of the 1, 2, 3, Marketing Tree, you will:

  • Name some common characteristics of your best supporters – past and present.
  • Figure out why your best supporters say they like you, and
  • Also identify how your best supporters find out about you.

In working through this part of the Tree, there really is no substitute for good data. There are many ways for your perceptions to be biased. Consider creating a survey. I have worked on projects where I thought I knew what supporters wanted. Then I did a survey. It turned out that the most vocal supporters weren’t actually representative of the majority. With this new knowledge I was able to adjust programming to match the interests of the target audience as a whole and check future suggestions for improvements against those broader interests.

The impact of gender differences is an interesting case in point. Women volunteer more than men, but you may be hearing from more men. Men and women talk about the same amount, but they talk about different things. Studies show that men tend to talk in more assertive ways, sometimes interrupting women (no offense, guys). It may just be, however, that women have different conversational conventions from men; being more talkative in small groups or when the topic is children, and more assertive with compliments. The take home point? It’s complicated, so do a survey.

Talking with supporters, one-on-one or in groups, can be another powerful way to connect with your supporters and to learn from their perspective on your organization. In addition to being able to learn what drives their engagement on a deeper level, a conversation can make them feel valued and strengthen the emotional bond they feel with you and your organization.

If you are trying to learn about your supporters in this way, there are a few things you should be mindful of (yes, I know that’s a dangling participle…cut me some slack):

  1. Listen more than you talk.
  2. Give them explicit permission to say what they aren’t happy about. Many people are afraid to mention these things for fear of hurting feeling or seeming rude, but it is often the most important thing to hear. Ask them for negative feedback and tell them how valuable you find it. You’ll still want to focus on what they do like. You are looking for things to use in marketing after all. But, don’t miss this valuable opportunity to learn ways to improve.
  3. Listen more than you talk.
  4. Select people at random. You probably can’t talk to all of your supporters, and if you pick the first people to come to mind you will just confirm the misperceptions you already have from hearing the most vocal people. If you take a list of your best supporters in Excel (all, major donors, long term donors, or however it makes sense for you to define “best”), you can create a column of random numbers using =RAND() and then sort by that column to put them in random order. This is super easy. I promise.
  5. Listen more than you talk. Am I revealing too much about my own weakness here? Seriously though, this is a common bad habit. Let’s work on it together.


Let’s look at how Chirp, the school for birds founded by Claxon’s mascot, Roxie, identifies its best supporters. (Check out previous posts for the full back-story.)

For Chirp’s first avian cohort, the students all came through personal connections with school founders. Birds also came as a whole flock, rather than enrolling just a few students from each group. This exemplifies the social nature of bird culture.

Because Chirp is small, it is possible to talk to all their students. Since the founders were already having regular one-on-one interactions with them in the school, however, they decided that the benefits of an anonymous survey outweighed the benefits of discussing the organization in person.

The lack of opposable thumbs makes writing difficult for birds. To compensate, they took advantage of an online survey builder so that the students could peck their answers out on a keyboard.

When the results came in, they found that the students enjoyed classes where they were mixed with members of other flocks. They most valued the way their new wordy knowledge enabled them to engage with birds from other communities. Not at all what the executive team at Chirp would’ve predicted!

In the coming year, in order to expand, Chirp will have to reach new and different flocks. Thinking about this problem has their feathers ruffled. You may be wondering what to do if you want to expand into a new demographic, raise general awareness, or convert people who are opposed to your organization. We’ll cover that next week. In the meantime: enjoy getting to know your supporters!

Do you communicate as effectively as you think?


Do you communicate as effectively as you think?