Resources Home

Cultivating Deeper Community with Donors | NIO Summit Live Interview

Published by Nathan Hill

NIO Award winners Ellica Church from Goodwill of Greater Washington and Kathryn Carpenter from the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy joined us at our annual NIO Summit last year to share how they cultivated existing and potential new donors. 

Ellica is an individual giving officer and works with all the individuals who give to support their mission, from online donors to major donors. Kathryn is a senior research fellow at the Institute and handles all the elements of experimental design, survey testing, and data analysis. 

Together they launched an initiative to address a cultivation issue Goodwill was experiencing.

Goodwill is known for their retail stores where you can donate clothes or shop donated items. But a lesser known service that Goodwill of Greater Washington provides is free workforce training programs for people in hospitality, security, and healthcare. When people shop at Goodwill, it’s doing more than just finding a great find for them, it’s helping people in the community. 

The Campaign to Communicate Donor Impact

They suspected shoppers didn’t know the impact their purchases had on their local community, and wanted to find out if shoppers saw themselves as part of their larger community. 

This was an opportunity to explain to their donors and potential donors what kind of support and programs they offered to the community. 

With the help of the Institute of Sustainable Philanthropy they created an initiative to find out if they could treat shoppers like donors. 

In 2018 they launched a change round-up program so that people could round up their change to the nearest dollar to support programs that help people with disabilities and disadvantages to gain greater independence. (In 2018 Goodwill of Greater Washington had 1.8 million transactions from 19 retail stores.) They tracked transactions to see if people were choosing to be a part of the solution to problems in the community. 

As part of this initiative, they started a thank you program for the people that donated. There had been no thank you emails to these donors/shoppers previously, so this was a big change.  Goodwill wanted to know, if people donated their change, did they want to be thanked for the impact they had, or did they just want to buy the products? 

To answer this question they set up three test emails to send to 92,000 people in their membership program. They sent three emails once a week for three weeks. They did this in three conditions. First they sent a simple thank you to each person for their impact. Then they hammed it up and really thanked each person for their impact. In the final email they also added a small community statement that said “You’ve helped thousands of others in the community.” 

Lastly they followed up these emails with a survey to see if shoppers felt better about themselves once they knew the impact their purchases made, and to see if it increased purchasing behavior. 

Growing Revenue While Growing Happiness

To measure and validate these results they used measures from academic literature from for-profit and nonprofit scales that have been used and tested over decades in marketing literature and psychology literature. 

The Institute put these measures into the survey and linked them back to the huge donation file provided by Goodwill (1.9 million transactions at the time), and also forward linked it to retail behavior post-emails. 

They not only saw an increase in the metrics they were trying to move, but they also saw an increase in positive feelings. Since that program started, they raised about 82,000 hours of training for people in the community. 

Their biggest takeaway from this campaign was that their research showed a lot of their shoppers did see themselves as having a bigger impact through their purchases, especially once they were thanked and received more communication from Goodwill about it. In their 2018 recap, Goodwill of Greater Washington shared with their audience the impact they were able to have thanks to their support. They got lots of great feedback from people who were excited to participate. 

What You Can Learn from Goodwill’s Campaign

Learnings from a specific campaign can transcend what you’re doing across the board. If you’re going to test a new strategy related to cultivation today, Ellica and Kathryn say to look at where there are opportunities to grow. For Goodwill of Greater Washington, they knew they had two different segments, shoppers and donors, but they hadn’t looked at that reciprocal relationship. 

Look for opportunities to leverage what your organization’s already doing. Tap into a new potential, don’t be afraid to ask questions, and see what you can learn from the process. 

Maybe your organization is zeroed in on donors right now, but there could be an opportunity with other channels too. Take a new, fresh, creative outlook on who you’re communicating to, and be sure to talk to people like a human. 

People want to feel good about themselves and feel like they’re making a difference, and that has been the crux to everything in Goodwill’s testing. 

About NIO Summit

Interested in learning more about the the Nonprofit Innovation & Optimization Summit? You’ll hear conversations like this, listen to 16+ renowned marketing and fundraising innovators, and get to network with other nonprofit marketers like yourself looking to grow generosity.

Check out the video to see how NIO Summit will blow your mind.

NIO Summit is a magical experience – and has been course altering for many fundraisers and marketers trying to figure out how to actually make a tangible impact on revenue growth.

Learn more about the summit and how you can be a part of it at

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Vice President, NextAfter Institute.