Rochelle Nolan investigates how creating gravity wells can help you turn people who care into people who commit.

Rochelle Nolan investigates how creating gravity wells can help you turn people who care into people who commit.

Imagine that your organisation is a funnel.

On the outer rim of the funnel hover people who may care about or be interested in your cause. What nonprofits want are for people to enter this funnel and act – whether through financial or voluntary support.

It is very unlikely, however, that a nonprofit will be able to persuade any of these potential supporters by asking them to immediately take a leap to the very bottom of the funnel. Standing at the skinny-end of the well calling, “Come on! Jump in!” may, in fact, scare off some of those people who care.

What is a gravity well?

Roy H Williams, a marketing consultant who founded the Wizard Academy institute, coined the phrase ‘gravity well’ in relation to marketing. In his book ‘Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads’, Williams uses the term ‘gravity well’ to describe the process of helping customers (or donors) be drawn further into a buying (or giving) cycle, by giving them small steps to which they can commit.

Nonprofits want committed donors. But a potential supporter is far more likely to make a small commitment – or increase an existing commitment by a small degree – than they are to jump right in with a significant commitment immediately. This is because commitment, writes Williams, is rarely an “all-at-once thing.”

Different kinds of ‘no’

A complexity that arises for nonprofits is that there are acquisition costs to consider. But it is also useful to keep in mind that a “no” to the offer you are making to that person at that time is not always a flat “no”. They may simply be at a more infant stage of the donor-cycle.

Some people might want to jump into your well right away. But for those people circling the outer rim who do not, offer smaller steps they may feel more comfortable with, e.g.

No, I won’t sign up for regular giving at $25 a month right now, but I will make a cash donation No, I won’t respond to your direct mail appeal right now, but I might visit your website I won’t upgrade my regular gift, but I will sign your petition I’ll sign up for your free monthly newsletter I’ll take a flyer back to my workplace

Some of these steps are very minimal commitments, but each has the potential to draw people in. Do we overlook strategies with delayed gratification and forget to give people small steps in our haste to secure a more immediately profitable regular donation?

Each seemingly meaningless touch point with your organisation is an opportunity to draw people who care closer. Even very small interactions help to ‘hook’ people.

A smart tactic online

Jeff Brooks, director of TrueSense Marketing, says offering people smaller commitments in the hope of later converting them to donors is probably a smart tactic online.

Brooks says when nonprofits have online fundraising programs, they tend to gather the names and emails of non-donors (people who have signed up for something but have not given). As it costs almost nothing to communicate with these people, Brooks says this is where small steps can come into play.

“I’ve found that online non-donors that take any kind of action become more likely to subsequently give. So I like to go to them with easy, low-commitment actions, like sign a petition in support of the cause, click to unlock $1 worth of help, vote for something – things like that. It increases the very low conversion-to-donor rate of this group of people.”

Easy entry points and communication pathways

The Cerebral Palsy Alliance (formerly the Spastic Centre) has its own process for drawing people in and closer to the organisation, having established easy entry points and communication pathways. General manager of marketing and fundraising at Cerebral Palsy Alliance (CPA), Marcus Blease, says they have a broad number of entry points because every donor behaves differently and wants to interact with the organisation differently.

“We have a formalised pathway mapped out for every entry point, based on two key components: where do we want these supporters to end up? And what is the journey that will take them there?”

Raffles provide an easy first step

Blease says the organisation’s most successful entry point is its raffle program, where 120,000 people in NSW annually enter at a price point of $15 for the chance to win $20,000.

“After people sign up to this, we send them a letter with their lucky numbers,” says Blease. “Two weeks after that, we try to extend the feel-good ‘halo effect’ by sending them an inspiring ‘welcome book’, thanking them for supporting the organisation and telling them more about what their support helps to achieve.”

Two weeks later, CPA calls their raffle players and asks if they would consider becoming regular givers. “Of the people we call, around 12% convert to regular givers – which is quite phenomenal for a raffle program,” says Blease.

And the program doesn’t stop there – once those supporters are in the door, they are moved into other communication pathways over time.

From a $20 raffle to a major gift

CPA recently cold called someone to invite them to purchase a $20 lottery ticket. In line with their communication pathways, this was followed up with a call to encourage a monthly gift, which this man did at $500 a month. “At this same time, our new supporter received a mail appeal, to which he donated $5,000,” says Blease.

“We invited this donor, who turned out to be a senior executive in the banking sector, to a function. Then, in response to a capital campaign ask, he gave $250,000.”

Communication and conversion

That kind of success wasn’t the rationale behind the Cerebral Palsy Alliance establishing entry points, but has been the motivation behind creating communication pathways to maximise existing supporters.

“The communication pathway depends on finding good conversions. If a particular segment indicates that it doesn’t convert well, we don’t spend money on sending them a welcome book,” says Blease.

CPA has also had recent success in moving 1,800 people out of the raffle program and into its regular giving program. As raffle players, they would have contributed $38,000 annually to the organisation. As regular givers, Blease says they now contribute $417,000.

Other examples of easy entry levels offered by CPA include:

low value acquisition (mail, phone) raffles events mobile phone recycling – while people who donate their old mobiles don’t convert well to regular givers, Blease says they do well in terms of cash donations over the phone acquiring donors through City to Surf and CPA’s 20/Twenty endurance events. The organisation has converted 10% of people who support participants in the 20/Twenty event to donors

Make sure your fundraising strategy includes and encourages commitments for potential supporters who might not be willing to jump off the rim of your gravity well just yet. One step at a time, even people who enter on a free newsletter or a raffle could end up being some of your most valuable supporters.

Case Study: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

US mobile donations provider, mGive, has successfully been converting standard text alert subscribers to donors for the ASPCA.

The ASPCA offers free cat and dog ‘tips’ to mobile users if they send a message with ‘CAT’ or ‘DOG’ to a certain number. The ASPCA will reply with health or well-being tip for pet-owners to help keep their furry friends happy. At the bottom of these alerts, they ask subscribers to reply with ‘GIVE’ to make a $5 donation. On average, this has a 5% conversion, with 86% completing the donation, resulting in thousands of dollars of donations for the organisation so far.