Why it Pays to Be Kind to Your Nonprofit Donors
|How do you show donors you’re thankful?|
November culminates [in the United States] with a feast of Thanksgiving for all with which we are blessed. Our greatest blessing in the public benefit sector is the donors who support our work and enable us to fulfill our vital missions. Last month I talked a lot about fundraising from the perspective of your board. This month I want to talk about fundraising from the perspective of your donors and would-be donors.
This month’s Clairification will be dedicated to those to whom nonprofits owe thanksgiving — our donors. They are at the heart of what we do, yet sometimes we don’t really show them the love they deserve. Remember: fundraising is essentially a value-for-value exchange. When your donor gives you something of value, what are you giving them in return? Don’t just guess. Think about it. Really think.
We should endeavor to repay our donors by lifting them up and connecting them to the broader picture. Most people want to part of something larger than themselves. They want to join your community… to make their mark… to leave a legacy. Will you help them to see the ways they’ve made a difference? They’re good people who are giving, voluntarily, for the public good.
We toss the term ‘donor-centric’ around a lot, but it’s important to carefully consider what this means. The ‘center’ for one donor may be different than for another. It may be different for donors to arts organizations than it is for donors to social services organizations. It may be different for grandparents than for parents or students. It may be different for constituents living in rural counties than for those living in urban centers. It may be different for supporters of one of your programs than it is for supporters of another. Here’s what I mean:
· I once worked for a music organization. We had gift societies with benefits at different levels. Pins, parties, tickets, backstage passes, tête-à-têtes with musicians, etc. Donors loved this. Then I moved to a human services organization. I tried to do the same thing. Donors hated it. They wanted every penny to go directly to services and had little interest in rubbing shoulders with their peers or receiving special perks.
· I once tried to cajole a supporter to increase his gift to the next level, promising him tickets to the Gala if he did so. His response: “I won’t give to you at all if you make me wear a penguin suit.”
· I once gave a donor a pin to thank her for increasing her gift to a new level. She brought it back to me and gave me a lecture about spending donated dollars on tchotchkes. Another donor asked me if she could have pins for everyone in her family!
All gifts are meaningful and appreciated; those most valued, however, are those that resonate deeply with the recipient. Giving is a two-way street. Too often in development we think only about the gifts being given to our organization. We must also think about the gifts we give to our supporters. When the holidays roll around, think about who you most enjoy exchanging gifts with. Most likely it’s that special person who always seems to know exactly what you want. You feel special… appreciated… touched. And you want to give back in kind. What would your donor treasure?
Gift exchange relationships with donors should be equally thoughtful and reciprocal. Just as you shouldn’t give an apron to Aunt Sally who hates to cook, you shouldn’t give a big fat annual report to a donor who’s made it clear they are an environmentalist and hate waste. Of all things donors want, the main thing is “show me that you know me .” And for evidence-based studies on the topic, check out Penelope Burke and Donor Centered Fundraising. I totally changed my approach to development work after I attended one of her seminars about a dozen years ago (thanks Penelope!).
A lot of our success comes from being empathic. It’s just common sense; a version of the ‘golden rule’ of do unto others as you would want to be done to. So… don’t leave your common sense at the door when you come to the office! Put yourselves in your donor’s shoes and you will be way ahead of the game.