Donors And Gym Rats Have Plenty In Common

Gyms and monthly sustainer programs have plenty in common. Gym members are monthly givers, and a gym membership is a monthly contribution. Long-term value needs little explanation.

Leigh Kessler, Dana Bunke and Hossein Noshirvani explained to an audience during the recent Bridge to Integrated Marketing and Fundraising Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., how they can duplicate for their monthly giving programs best practices from fitness centers.

For both gyms and sustainer programs, “Engagement is about a brand,” said Kessler, vice president of communications for software maker BIS Global, in McLean, Va. “Who are you and why do people want to be with you?” He described a regional fitness chain whose attraction is that it’s for the everyman.

The monthly sustainer “brand” for Jacksonville, Fla.-based Wounded Warrior Project is the Advance Guard, according to Bunke, WWP’s direct response manager. “Consider what the brand for our monthly giving program looks like,” she said. “We wanted it to fit under the overall WWP brand and have it something to be a part of. The definition of ‘advance guard’ fit nicely with how we see these donors. It’s not a sub-brand; it’s not something different.”

Contracts are an area where nonprofits with monthly sustainer programs can learn from gyms. Signing a contract makes the monthly giving process real for a donor and represents their commitment. “There needs to be a physical representation of the process, financial buy-in and obligation,” said Noshirvani, BIS Global’s president. “The key to a good contract is make it simple. Gyms try to get you to sign up quickly before you realize you’re going to sign up and not go. Get the least amount of data necessary and shore it up on the back end.”

Wounded Warrior started the #IMEANIT campaign, meant for supporters to show their lifetime support to Wounded Warrior’s constituents. It’s also a way of creating ownership. “Part of my research was to join a number of monthly giving programs, and I was surprised how much I felt a part of something,” said Bunke. “We wanted to have people sign up and advocate for us, sign a contract of commitment.”

Both gyms and charities trade on first-person experience. The testimonials on a gym’s website are meant to show that if you join this gym, this could be you. “Creating that personal connection at the gym is having a first-person narrative,” said Noshirvani. “The thought process is this should, could and will be you if you join today.” Kessler added, “It’s not about the result, it’s about why are they there.”

“I suspect there is an opportunity for nonprofits to move one-time donors to sustainers,” said Noshirvani.

Another way to make a supporter feel like part of the team is with web personalization. A regional fitness center chain has a standard landing page for first-time users, but members get to see a special dashboard. “You visit, at the most, six websites; why not try to be my next website?” said Kessler. “Be a resource. If a gym can do it, there’s no reason why you can’t have: My fundraising page, my tax documents, my events. The more you give them ownership, the more you give them something to go back to, the better engagement is going to be.”