Are you treating your donors like gumballs?
You are if you consume them in five minutes, then never think about them again.
Alas, too often nonprofits treat their donors exactly like a gumball dispensed from a machine.
Chew it up. Spit it out. Done.
Want your donors to sustain you? Then you can’t treat them this way!
Whatever size gift they make, they’re unlikely to make it again — let alone give more — unless you stop practicing your profession according to what I call “Gumball Theory.”
Gumballs are bright shiny objects. Kids can’t resist wanting one when they see a gumball machine.
So… they put in a coin, pop the gumball in their mouth, and spit it out once it loses its flavor and novelty.
Sure, maybe they offer a quick thanks to whoever gave them change to buy the gum. But that’s as far as gratitude takes them. They’re over it. They never even think about that gumball again. They probably can’t even remember what color it was. They’re off hunting down their next snack.
If you approach fundraising that way, your career will be short and sweet.
Little snacks are nice. But they won’t sustain you over time.
One-time donations are the same way. And they’ll stay that way – one time – if you treat them the way you treat your gumballs.
There’s a better way.
Think from the Gumball’s Perspective
It’s perfectly happy to have you enjoy it. That’s why it’s there. But it needs to know it made an impact.
- Tell it how happy you are with it.
- Tell it you think its color is pretty (that means, of course, that you have to take notice).
- Blow a bubble.
- Tuck it away to save it for later.
- Write it a note.
- Invite some of its friends over to your place.
- Find out more about it.
- Think of it fondly, and let it know now and again.
- Ask it for advice.
- Don’t wait until the next time you want a gumball to tell this one how you feel.
Okay… the metaphor may be breaking down a bit, but you get the picture.
Build a Relationship with your Gumball (aka donor).
No one enjoys being simply tossed into the trash (or your donor data base) and then being forgotten about.
If a donor makes a gift and you simply dispense an automated thank you, and nothing more, that’s not a donor relationship. That’s a transaction.
You can have 100 or 1,000 or 100,000 thousand transactions this year. But that’s just now. They may help you balance your annual ledgers, but they won’t move the needle on solving your overarching problem or achieving your ultimate vision.
One-time gifts are here today, gone tomorrow. In fact, a whopping 70% of first-time donors won’t give again. Zowie!
Transactions won’t help you next year or the year after that.
No. You’ve got to transform the transactions into something longer lasting.
Stop with the spitting out of snacks. Start with creating some nourishing meals.
Another Metaphor – Potluck Theory
When I’m asked to bring some snacks or paper goods or even a beverage, I run to the store at the last minute and grab something.
When you’re not too invested, you wing it.
However, when asked to bring a main course that will serve 10, then I get serious. I think about what I’ll make. I go to the store and buy enough ingredients to serve the full group. I come home and cook. I make sure I don’t flake out because people are depending on me for the main meal. Even if I get sick, I’ll make sure somehow the meal gets there.
I once invited 8 families to a potluck. I told them to bring whatever they wanted to share. As a result, they didn’t take this chore too seriously. They weren’t that invested, figuring (rightly) that I’d probably make sure we all had enough to eat. The result? Seven out of eight brought hummus. One friend even walked in with a can of chickpeas, some garlic and olive oil, asking me if she could use my blender! I was less than pleased with the thought my friends put into their offerings.
My mistake, of course, was not being specific about what was needed. Or that I was relying on them to do their specific part. Or that what they decided to contribute really mattered.
You want your donors to feel like you give a darn!
Donors Need to Know You Rely on Them
You’re all about solving problems, right? Well so is your donor. They need to know they’re essential to your survival.
It’s your job to let them know.
If they ask how much you need, don’t say “any gift helps.” That’s like telling me to bring “whatever” to the potluck. It makes me feel unimportant, and certainly doesn’t fire my imagination.
If you’ve been treating your donors like gumballs, start tomorrow to make them feel more important.
5 Tips to Keep Your Donors
1. Thank them immediately, and with gusto.
Savor the moment of this first gift. Remember, first gifts are where the relationship building begins. They aren’t where it ends. Thank you’s establish trust, which is the foundation of any lasting relationship. A study conducted by Charity Dynamics and NTEN shows that 21% of donors say they were never thanked for their support. Don’t be one of the bad guys.
2. Pay attention to any particularities.
Donors will give you a lot of unsolicited information, and they expect you to notice. Did they ask to remain anonymous? Do they want you to mail only once a year? Did they ask you not to send a written thank you? Is there contact information on their check that isn’t yet in your database? Make a record of whatever you notice and put this into your database so you can create reports and queries and donor segments later on (if you don’t notice the gumball is blue you can’t group it in your database with all other blue gumballs, nor can you indicate in your thank you what a lovely blue color they were sporting).
3. Develop and implement a meaningful donor stewardship plan.
Create and offer your donor opportunities of value to them. All donors want to know their money didn’t go into a black hole. Some donors want to be invited to volunteer, attend events, sign a petition, and so forth. Make sure you touch them more than once before you ask for another gift. Demonstrate the value of their giving to them more than once. Show them the impact of their gift through photos, videos, client thank you letters, etc.
4. Wrap engagement opportunities into your stewardship plan.
The goal is to learn more about your donor, and to reveal more of yourself to them. This is what’s called a relationship, and it requires an investment of your time. And the donor’s time. Once a donor becomes engaged they’re much more likely to become invested further. That’s why Publisher’s Clearinghouse makes you tear off and affix a zillion stickers to your sweepstakes entry. They want you to have some skin in the game. The wedding comes after the engagement. If you want folks to say “I do”, don’t rush it.
5. Always be donor-centered.
Meet donors where they are. Today’s donors can be found in many different places. Maybe your first gumball came from a machine. But gumballs also hang out in boxes on shelves in stores. And you can find them in piñatas. If you want to consistently find them, you have to look in all the places they are. It’s just common sense. So find out which media channels your supporters frequent (you can do a simple survey using Google Docs or Survey Monkey); then engage your donors where they are.
Donors are People, Not Gumballs
Now that you’ve learned to think about a gumball from the gumball’s perspective, and considered how to treat your main course potluck assignment as something more than a ‘wing it’ task, now it’s time to push the metaphors aside.
Donors are human beings.
Don’t you like it when people make an effort to get to know you?
And when they then show you they know you?
Of course donors are people!
It’s common sense, but for some reason most nonprofits don’t take this to heart.
If you become the exception, you’ll rock your fundraising next year — and beyond.
While in implementation/transaction mode, stop every now and then and take a breath. Remind yourself why you’re doing this work. Remind yourself why donors are partnering with you to do this work.
If you sustain your donors, they’ll sustain you.
If you spit them out, they’ll spit you out.
Of course donors aren’t gumballs!
It’s common sense, so why not make this wisdom operational?
This one simple lesson will super-charge your nonprofit career.
Be well, and treat your donors well.
Want to Learn More about How To Keep More Donors?
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To your success!
Photo credit: classroomcamera DSC03538 via photopin (license)
Many people donate to charity for many reasons. Some of the positive reasons people like to give to charity are because they feel great about it, it helps others who need help. All you’ve mentioned above is 100% true. Treat them the way they treat you. 1-1. Thanks for sharing this article. 🙂
Thanks for sharing, and sorry for the late reply. Just found all my comments were going to spam. 🙁