I originally wrote this post BEFORE the horrific shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12. After the fact, it seems even more important for all nonprofits, no matter what your cause, to think about how you are speaking to your LGBT supporters–and how you’re supporting them. DF
Call it “relationship fundraising.” Or call it “donor-centered communications.” There’s even a hashtag for it: #donorlove.
In the nonprofit sector, we have lots of names for the same idea these days. That idea is that there’s only one way to get and keep support for our organizations. We can’t just say we do good work. And we can’t hard-sell our way to success.
We have to make ourselves known to our supporters as the kind of organization they can be proud of.
But how do we learn to do that? How do we find and embrace the people who have chosen to embrace the same cause we have?
Subaru Discovers Lesbians
Let me tell you a story. It’s the story of how Subaru became the car of choice for lesbians. By the end of the story (which I first heard from Alex Mayyasi in the Priceonomics blog), we’ll begin to see how nonprofits can build relationships with their supporters, too.
Once upon a time, the car maker Subaru was in trouble. Its cars were known as dependable but drab. A new, flashier model had failed miserably in the marketplace. Sales overall were down.
Subaru decided to focus on boosting sales among groups who already liked what it was selling. Those groups included four core groups who were responsible for half of the company’s American sales: teachers and educators, healthcare professionals, IT professionals, and “rugged individualists” (outdoorsy types).
Then they discovered a fifth: lesbians.
Embracing Lesbian Customers
Subaru didn’t have to persuade lesbians to buy their cars. “These women were practically commercials for Subaru,” John Nash, the creative director of the ad agency that ultimately made the company’s gay and lesbian advertisements, recalled in 2004.
What it did have to do was to accept lesbian support at a time before Ellen DeGeneres came out, at a time when “don’t ask, don’t tell” was the policy of the U.S. military…when GLBT people were stigmatized. To its credit, it did–and it jumped in with all four tires. The company did focus groups. It hired ad agencies that understood the GLBT audience. And Subaru:
- Aired special ads that spoke to lesbian customers in a language they would understand and enjoy.
- Sponsored events like gay pride parades.
- Partnered with the Rainbow Card, a credit card that (instead of cash back) offered donations to gay and lesbian causes. Card users contributed millions of dollars to HIV/AIDS research and LGBT causes that helped both Subaru’s customers and gay and lesbian people who could never afford a Subaru.
- Hired Martina Navratilova, a lesbian and former tennis pro, to appear in Subaru ads.
And lesbians bought a lot of Subarus, helping to put the company back in the black.
What Nonprofits Can Learn from Subaru
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month in the U.S. It’s a good time for your nonprofit to think: are LGBT people a key audience for our nonprofit? Shouldn’t we be? Are we treating our LGBT clients, volunteers, donors, and Board members as well as a company that just wants to sell them cars?
But your nonprofit can learn lessons from the Subaru story about how to build relationships with any group of supporters.
- Find out who already supports you. Do the research to understand your donors and volunteers, what motivates them, and what they care about besides you.
- Listen to them. What are they telling you they want to hear about, through what media, how often? Pay attention and give them what they want.
- Embrace them. Develop a communications strategy aimed at specific groups, not at a general public that isn’t interested yet.
- Develop content with them in mind. When you write your newsletter, your emails, or your blog, and when you post on social media, write to and for the audience you want to embrace.
- Support what matters to them. For instance, if your agency runs a preschool for kids of all ethnicities, but you know that you want to show Latino families you’re a place for them, then think about how you take part in your local Festival Puertoriqueño, or in Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). If you serve elders and you have a lot of bicyclists on your donor list, can you find one who teaches people to cycle who never learned to ride bikes when they were young?
Whoever your supporters are, show your pride in them. They will return the favor.
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