What I Learned About Online Donor Engagement from Fundraisers in Brasil | Beth's Blog

What I Learned About Online Donor Engagement from Fundraisers in Brasil


Last week, I was in Sao Paolo for the ABCR Festival, the leading conference in Brasil for fundraising for nonprofit organizations. This was my third visit to the country. I delivered a keynote for Social Good Brasil in 2012 and for a conference on volunteering hosted by Fundação Telefônica in 2014.

My last visit to Brasil coincided with the Brasil’s version of GivingTuesday called DiadeDoar and I was lucky enough to attend a fundraiser with Brasil’s Giving Tuesday leader João Paulo Vergueiro. João is also the executive director of ABCR, the professional association for fundraisers in Brasil and the host of the annual ABCR Festival.

I presented a master class on The Networked Nonprofit as pre-conference session, a mini-workshop on the Happy Healthy Nonprofit, and a plenary session on engaging donors moderated by Macelo Jambeiro, a talented digital strategist that works for an agency called Alder & Lang and previously with Change.org. My co-presenter for the plenary was the amazing Marcelo Iniarra, who is a digital mobilization pioneer and fantastic presenter/facilitator. The last time I shared a plenary stage with Marcelo Iniarra was in 2014 at the International Fundraising Congress where he rode a bicycle on stage!

The official title of the session was “Donor Engagement in An Age of Complexity.”  The unofficial title was “Beth and the Two Marcelos.”  A wink and nod to a famous novel and movie in Brasil about a women with two husbands named Marcleo.  The audience laughed.

The moderator, Marcelo Jamberio, organized a set of questions that other Marcelo and I responded to with slides and audience interaction.   Marcelo set up the overall context:  How can NGOs effectively engage donors online in an ever-growing age of complexity and connectivity?   The challenges:

Some things have not changed:

Some points and examples we shared in response to questions:

  • Fundraisers need to be experts in transmedia storytelling techniques and exploring new possibilities for sharing stories

Transmedia storytelling it is the technique of telling a story across multiple online platforms and formats using current digital technologies.  The stories are told in the best way for the platform or what we called “optimized” and the narrative is aligned.     It is also important to learn how to experiment telling your story in new and emerging channels.

I gave the example of charity:water that tells the story about how clean drinking water can change people’s lives in development country. I showed examples of how charity:water shares the story across different platforms and how it supports their fundraising.   One compelling example is how charity:water is telling the story through the use of “bots” using Facebook Messenger, including its “Walk with Yeshi” that allows donors to interact with an Ethiopian girl on her daily walk to get water from a well.   The UN Global Report  is also using Facebook Messenger bots to engage young people around different issues.

It raises the question, though – Will the robots take over fundraising?

  • Stories need to be compelling, immersive, human, funny, or provocative to capture attention

Marcelo Iniarra pointed out that people have limited attention, but simple human experiences like this video of an interrupted skype interview with Robert Kelly from Korean caught people’s attention around the globe.   Marcelo talked about how humor can capture attention.   He shared a campaign called Testi-monials, created by FCB Cape Town for CANSA which is setting out to remove the awkwardness around talking about testicular cancer, and drive awareness about “how important it is that men not only talk balls but take care of them too.”

The campaign, which has global appeal, features testicles giving their own testi-monials about cancer and how they have been personally affected. The campaign provides advice on how to self-examine and help detect signs and symptoms.

  • Engagement with a purpose and knowing your audience

I shared an example of “360 campaigns” that have online and offline components, that may engage with supporters online but inspires them to take an offline action.    I shared an example of a campaign from DoSomething that encouraged young people to download an app and go into shelters to take photos of the dogs and cats and share online.  I also discussed the importance of laying out the supporter journey and having metrics to understand and improve conversion rates.

I also shared some points about the importance of creating audience personas before you start crafting stories.  A persona is a fictional person created to represent a target audience. Audience personas  help you identify the needs and interests of your top audience segments and make them come to live.  Building personas allows you to have empathy for the audience, to put yourself in their shoes. It makes content creation more effective. I facilitated a brief interactive exercise with the audience to better understand the process.

  • Fundraisers need to be trend watchers and adapt their engagement strategy based on larger understanding of the environment emerging trends

Marcelo talked about the importance of observing trends that are unfolding around us and adapting your strategy based on that.    He called this “trend-driven innovation” and shared resource email and book with the same title.    The most recent trend is something called “Truthful Consumerism,” which is described in the brief video above.  The bottom for shaping online engagement is:

“Amid all the change and uncertainty of this moment, a set of core truths about our shared future are as relevant as ever. Transparency. Aspiration. Positive Impact. Tolerance. Empowerment. These truths are powerful – and positive – directions of travel sweeping through many advanced and emerging economies. Ground your innovation in one (or more!) of these forces, and you will ground it in something meaningful and lasting.”

  • Harness the power of staff/board personal brands and social media champions

I shared some points about rise of personal brand, especially a nonprofits leadership and staff  and personal and professional value of developing their own “brands” through media presence.  By using their voices to support their organization’s mission, they boost trust and inspire meaningful conversation and debate.   I shared some examples of how development officers and CEO’s are leveraging their personal brand to encourage donor engagement and did an interactive exercise with the audience to help them understand this point.

  • Cultivating Gen Y and Gen Z – the next generation of donors

We discussed the importance of cultivating the next generation of donors – not just Millennials, but also Gen z (age 12-20).  This generation can be particularly valuable in any crowdfunding campaigns and I offered a few examples.   To be successful, fundraisers need to learn how to speak “emoji.”


  • Understand the nature of distributed trust

Marcelo talk about the erosion of trust. Conventions of how trust is built, managed, lost and repaired – in brands, leaders, and entire systems is being turned upside down. Technology is creating new mechanisms that are enabling us to trust unknown people, companies and ideas.  At the same time, trust in institutions is fading.  Global trust in government, media, business and NGOs has fallen to its lowest levels ever.   A shift is underway from the 20th century defined by ‘institutional trust’ towards the 21st century that will be defined by ‘distributed trust’ across huge networks of people, organisations and intelligent machines.

He gave an overview of Rachel Botsman concept of distributed trust. You can learn more from her Ted Talk, “We’ve Stopped Trusting Institutions and Trust Strangers” or her wired article “Technology is Making Easy to Trust Strangers.”

I enjoy teaching workshops and presenting internationally because of the opportunity to learn from global peers.   What would you add to this conversation about donor engagement?

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