Launch a New Nonprofit in Spring 2020
Lisa Evans Johnson is the Chief of Staff at Heidi’s Village, overseeing all fundraising, marketing, and development. As she approached the organization’s official launch, she had a strategy in place. A private launch phase for individual donors, a big launch event to introduce Heidi’s Village and its facility to the community, and then building on those activities as the year went on.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and canceled almost every part of her plan.
“It was kind of a scary year,” Lisa says. “We didn’t really know what to expect, but you either dig in and pivot where you need to, or you bury your head in the sand. We couldn’t bury our heads in the sand–we got our first intake of animals on April 8, 2020. When you have little beings living on site, there’s no giving up.”
So, with a pool of about 20 donors to start with, Heidi’s Village pivoted to change their entire fundraising strategy.
Instead of an in-person large events approach, Heidi’s Village switched to a digital strategy, a process simplified by Virtuous Automation and Virtuous’ capabilities to personalize interactions with every donor. They focused completely on new donor acquisition, with social media, Google ad grants, and Facebook ads. As they acquired new contacts, they funneled them into workflows in Virtuous to continue engagement and convert interested community members into donors.
Lisa knew this was a new way of doing things. “Typically, digital is not where you focus as much. Usually, you really focus on individual fundraising, but when you have no donors, no one to talk to, and you can’t have an event – we just went all in.”
Using tasks and workflows in Virtuous to keep track of everything, Lisa committed herself to personalized engagement. “I wrote a handwritten thank you note to every single donor that made a donation to us and invited them for a private tour. We were constantly inviting people in and trying to make them feel that this was something special.”
Heidi’s Village’s new strategy relied on Virtuous’ personalization and responsiveness.
How We Helped
With more than 20 years in nonprofit leadership, Lisa knew what she needed in a nonprofit CRM. She needed something user-friendly and robust. More than that, she needed a platform that supported the kind of fundraising she believed in: personalized and responsive, focused on donors. She chose Virtuous before the pandemic hit, but when she had to pivot quickly to a digital strategy, the value of Virtuous became even more clear.
Throughout her career, Lisa has championed what she calls, “Obsessive stewardship.” She explains, “You don’t have to support us, you don’t have to support anyone. If you give time, or talent, or money to an organization, just by your own free will, that’s huge! You should feel honored and thanked for that.”
Virtuous makes it easy to personalize donor communications and interactions. All of a donor’s data and engagement are easily visible within one platform, from gift history to event attendance. It’s simple to search, filter, and segment data, and to create donor segments for marketing and engagement.
With Virtuous, Heidi’s Village could deliver the personalization they needed for donor relationships. “That personal relationship is so important,” Lisa says. “Connecting with donors in a personal way and making them feel valued and noticed. That’s always been kind of huge for me. If you’re a donor, you’re probably going to get five or six different thank you notes, handwritten from various members of our board, me, my CEO. That’s just really important to me. I liked being able to personalize and automate a lot of that functionality.”
Automation and Workflows
“We had to build everything from the ground up,” Lisa says, “not just the building, but all our processes and the platforms we use for various components.” Previously in her career, Lisa had experienced the frustration of hard-to-use CRMS, so she had very specific requirements for choosing one for Heidi’s Village. “When I checked into Virtuous, it checked all the boxes.”
As part of a small team, Lisa knew she needed technology that would increase her reach. “It was important to me that whatever software we chose was robust in functions. I was very interested in workflows and how you can create automations and tasks in the same system. Then, it’s doing some of the work for me, while still appearing very personalized.”
Heidi’s Village began using workflows immediately. “The first thing I did was I set up a workflow for people that newly subscribed,” says Lisa. “The workflow is focused on, ‘How do I turn you into a donor? And how do I personalize that? And how do I create reminders for myself to do the non-automated pieces of that workflow?’” She followed it with a first-time donor workflow, that people were folded into as soon as they made their first gift. “We can do all of those things that we know we need to do that are so hard to keep on top of if you’re trying to track it manually.”
With workflows established, and donors receiving regular communications, “It felt like we had another staff person helping us with our work,” says Lisa.
Launching a nonprofit during a pandemic is enough work on its own. The team at Heidi’s Village didn’t have time to spare on wrestling with clunky software. “Virtuous is very user-friendly,” says Lisa. “I think it’s very intuitive, which is a benefit over a lot of other platforms. Virtuous was a nice way to get user-friendliness from a system that’s also very robust and has a lot of functionality.”
Lisa also regularly uses Virtuous features like social scoring integration and location mapping. “I love that I can look at a map and see which donors are close to other donors. That, to me, is just money. I love that feature. With Virtuous, there’s little stuff that just makes my job so much easier.”
When Heidi’s Village launched in 2020, they had under 20 donors. They intended on inviting 150 prospective donors to their launch event, which was unfortunately canceled. Now, a year later, they have more than 350 donors.
Lisa credits this rapid growth to the personalized engagement she prioritized for all of 2020. Now, she’s able to move from a pure acquisition strategy into more donor cultivation, retention, and stewardship efforts.
Virtuous is essential for Heidi’s Village at this stage, too. “Now, we actually have a pool of donors to work with,” says Lisa. “This year, we have stats for a year where we can track and share about how many animals we’ve helped, how many were adopted, and how many surgical procedures we did.” In addition to providing evidence of effectiveness that will be useful for foundation fundraising, this kind of storytelling opportunity gives Heidi’s Village more to share with donors about their impact.
Building a Strong Foundation
“We have some donors now that have been monthly donors for six or eight months, or others that have given us two or three gifts over the year. So we need to now start moving into that moves management side of things,” says Lisa. The team at Heidi’s Village is focusing on cultivating and stewarding monthly donors and major gift prospects, along with creating meaningful donor experiences.
With Virtuous, it’s easy to recognize donor milestones, a key part of Lisa’s strategy. “I’m focusing on donors that have hit certain milestones,” she says. “We’ve started to create a story around closing the loop for our donors. Now we can send emails with specific information and how that relates to our cause.” Heidi’s Village is working to connect donors to the impact of their dollars. This will help bridge the gap between their gifts and highlight the good that is accomplished.