How to make your members and donors feel like they're at Disney World in September

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Six years ago, right around this week in September, I went to Disney World for the first time. 

Why late September? 

The timing was very carefully chosen: at the end of September, most kids are back in school, and it's too early in the school year to take a family vacation; therefore, the parks are relatively empty and lines for rides and food are dramatically shorter, if they exist at all. The weather is decidedly less sweltering, too (though you have to contend with the biannual lovebugs). 

Disney World has legendary customer service, even during the busy times of the year, of course, but during this calmer season I felt that my husband and I received a bit more pampering than we normally would have.

The royal treatment

When we arrived at the Port Orleans resort, the concierge asked if this was our first visit. When we confirmed that it was (a white lie on my husband's part, but he hadn't been there in at least 15 years), they gave us buttons that proclaimed our newbie status, and told us to wear them to the parks for some special perks.

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Thanks to the button, almost as soon as we arrived at the Magic Kingdom, a staff member started chatting with us and then escorted us to the front of the line for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (which became my husband's first roller coaster ride ever), giving us the "best seats on the coaster." 

We joyfully ran from attraction to attraction in each of the parks we visited, from Epcot to Typhoon Lagoon to MGM to Downtown Disney. Every place we went, we met friendly staff and short lines, to the point where we were able to go on Star Tours three times in the same day, and we got tons of pictures with the various characters wandering around the parks. We didn't have to worry about how to get from place to place, as the Disney World shuttle bus service and monorails took us wherever we wanted to go, even to and from the airport. (We didn't even have to carry our bags to our room - that was done for us.) We even made time each day to nap - a real luxury for 9-to-5ers! It was a wonderful trip.

So what does all this have to do with nonprofits and technology? 

This kind of vacation stands out in my memory as one where I really felt cared for and didn't have to worry about very much once I arrived. I think there are a few lessons that can be applied to how we engage our fans and critics on social media and other channels:

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  • Welcome newcomers with star treatment. Your welcome email for new donors and members is critical for building the future of your relationship with that person. Write it with a conversational tone that expresses your gratitude for them joining. Use their name in the email, and sign it from an actual human being.

  • Don't make them wait. Take a look at your average hold times on the phone system, average response lag times on social media, and how much information you require new members to provide before they join. How can you minimize the amount of waiting and work they have to do to connect with your organization? Particularly when it comes to customer service, short wait times combined with being friendly, having a personality, and being on the ball can create a lifetime of loyalty.

  • Surprise and delight them. When I needed to thank our clients who contributed content for our Thrive guide, I tried something new and different. I made "Tins of Awesomeness" and sent them along with a letter explaining what they were and how to use them. I still hear from people who were genuinely touched by this effort. Another example: Danielle Brigida of the National Wildlife Federation ran a blog post called "What a Squirrel Wants," which got great traction because it was whimsical and yet informative. It doesn't take a lot of time or money to offer your community members a surprise: it just takes creativity.

  • Make it easy for them to participate. Much like Disney runs the shuttle bus service to get you from the airport to your resort and from your resort to the parks, you want to minimize the amount of friction people encounter while trying to help your cause. If you want them to spread the word about a campaign on social media, give them sample tweets and Facebook posts. Be sure to have "share" buttons on your blog. Pay attention to SEO so your website gets the visibility it deserves. Do usability testing (it's cheaper than you think) to make sure your website's organizational structure makes it easy for users to find what they need. 

What tips would you share with others who want to give their community members the rock star treatment?