I hear a lot of complaining about donors.
They should do this:
- Be more compliant.
- Not make us work so hard to please them.
- Treat us like we know what we’re doing.
- Give just because it’s the ‘right’ thing to do.
They shouldn’t do that:
- Give any way other than ‘unrestricted.
- Demand specifics on how their money was spent.
- Act like they know more than we do.
- Require reports that take us hours to complete.
What about what YOU should and should not do to build sustainable, fulfilling relationships with your supporters?
I don’t hear enough of “What can we do to delight our donors today?”
I hear too much of “We already sent a thank you; that’s enough, and they shouldn’t expect more.”
Donors are people first, philanthropists second. And people need to know they’re important to you.
Let me tell you a true story.
A close friend of mine used to complain to me about her husband all the time. Why? Because he didn’t tell her he loved her enough. Understatement of the year.
She told me, when pressed as to why, he said: “I told you I loved you on the day we were married. When it changes, I’ll let you know.” True to his word, 20 years later, he told her — and moved out the next day. She stayed with him way too long “for the sake of the children.” And now she is bitter, has trouble letting it go, and tells everyone she knows — and some she just met — what a rat her ex was.
If your nonprofit only thanks donors once, your donor may begin to feel like my friend. Insecure, under-appreciated and mistreated. The difference is your donor and you don’t have children together, so they’ve no reason to stick it out with you. They won’t leave you in 20 years, but right away. And the data on donor retention bears this out. Less than two in ten first-time donors stick. Even ongoing donors renew only at a rate of 45%. And some of the donors who leave you, like my friend, will bad mouth you. Which sullies the reputation you’re trying so hard to build.
This bears your serious consideration: What can you do to delight your donors?
Why You Must Commit to a Customer Service — aka Gratitude — Culture
In What is customer service for? Seth Godin reminds us customer service succeeds when it accomplishes what the organization sets out to accomplish.
The reason so many nonprofits do such a poor job delighting their donors is because they’ve made no commitment to do so.
In fact, they think it’s the donors who should be delighting them (with nice fat checks)!
But, guess what?
Donors make your mission possible. Without them, your organization has no raison d’etre. Similarly, without you, donors can’t find the meaning they seek. They want to see wrongs righted… find cures for diseases… keep people from starving… but they don’t have a clue how to do it on their own. They can only do it through you.
And your culture must recognize this core truth.
Nonprofit Customer Service Culture is about Gratitude
I implore you to shift your thinking – and the culture of your organization – in the direction of gratitude, rather than greed. What’s important about making this philosophical shift is it forces you to think very specifically about what you’re grateful to your donors for.
It’s not just about the money.
You’re neither simply asking donors for money, nor thanking your donors for money.
You’re engaging with donors because they imbue your cause with purpose, making your mission possible in numerous ways.
In Elizabeth Barret Browning’s famous sonnet she writes “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” You must count the ways you love your donors too.
- You love, and thank, Nancy because she ran a P2P fundraiser to save a grove of trees.
- You love, and thank, Liam because he helped put food on a hungry family’s table.
- You love, and thank, Taylor and Chris because they inspired their church group to give clean water to a village.
- You love, and thank, Marina because she bought a table to your event, introducing you to new potential supporters.
- You love, and thank, Sam because he regularly shares your social media posts, extending your reach and building cause awareness.
It is because you are so grateful that customer service becomes a breeze. These miraculous people voluntarily give of themselves to assure every single one of your nonprofit stories has a happy ending.
You want to serve these wonderful heroes – these philanthropists who demonstrate their love of humankind with every gift.
It’s a really good thing when you want to do something that turns out to be the very best thing you can do. Because we know from research (see Fundraising Management: Analysis, Planning and Practice, The Commission on the Donor Experience, and Donor-Centered Fundraising) that donor service is the single biggest driver of donor loyalty toward your organization.
It Takes a Village
Everyone must get on board to create a culture shift towards donor service. Which means you need buy-in, from the top down.
Donors only know ONE organization. They don’t care which department you work in. If the fundraiser treats the donor well, but the receptionist treats them rudely, all your hard work is destroyed.
- Make the practice of customer/donor service part of your new employee orientation.
- Make it part of everyone’s job description to interact with donors.
- Include the daily practice of gratitude in your employee handbook.
It takes a village, because gratitude must be repeated in order to stick.
If you want donors to stay uplifted by their philanthropy then you’ve got to practice gratitude as a way of life. Here’s why: psychological research on gratitude by Seligman and Steen indicates that one-time acts of gratitude quickly lose their effect. They found a one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produced an immediate 10% increase in happiness for folks who were the gratitude recipients, but the effect was cut in half within a week and was completely gone within six months.
Devote a portion of every day to gratitude.
You can’t simply pay gratitude lip service. You need a regimen. Ask everyone on your staff to participate. Ask your volunteers too. Show them the way; reap the rewards.
The Benefits of a Gratitude Culture
The importance of this shift towards a gratitude culture is it takes you away from the mercenary “all we care about is your money” perception often created by generic appeals that seem to be saying little more than “please send money.” [Paradoxically, once a donor begins to think of themselves as a family member they’re much more likely to “just send money” and make an unrestricted gift. That’s why appeal letters written to ongoing donors can be briefer and more generic than appeals directed towards new donor acquisition. But you’ve got to build the family relationship, through demonstrations of gratitude and love, first.]
The cultural shift takes you to a critically important “we care about you” culture, assuring when you communicate with donors you do so in a manner that is personal and relevant to them.
Every donor matters. Every donor is a unique person.
If your organization has a gratitude culture in place, then:
- When you asked for a gift, you were very clear about what that gift would accomplish.
- When the gift was given, you were equally clear about what that gift accomplished.
- When the donor demonstrated their generosity towards you, and showed they share your values, you warmly welcomed the donor into your family.
- Because the donor is a member of your family, you continued to shower your donor with unconditional love – even at times when they weren’t giving you a donation.
A family cares for its members.
7 Actionable Tips to Instill a Gratitude Culture
I often say “If you want gifts you must give them.”
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
— Maya Angelou
Let’s talk about what you can give – as nonprofit staff and board — to create happier supporters.
1. Keep a stack of five note cards on your desk.
Each day, write a little thank you to someone who did you a kindness that week. At the end of the week, replenish your stock. If you can, write two a day. Most important, make it manageable for you so you’ll do it!
You might also ask program staff to do this, and give them the contact information for donors who earmarked gifts for their program. Donors love hearing from the people with boots on the ground, plus it helps develop trust their gift will be used as per their intention.
2. Set aside 15 minutes each day for thank you calls, texts or social media shout-outs.
Choose the medium based on the communication preference of your recipient, if you know it (this is why it’s a good idea to survey your supporters at least annually, including a question about their communication preferences.)
You don’t have to limit your acts of gratitude to just major donors. Reach out to anyone who strikes you as deserving of a little hug that week.
3. Give your board members assignments to call and thank donors.
I’ve found they love doing this, because donors respond with genuine delight. In fact, often after doing these calls board members ask if they can do more! This has the added benefit of getting them comfortable talking with donors (and on a path to becoming more comfortable with fundraising).
You don’t need to wait until a donor makes a current gift. If they gave two months ago, especially if it was a major gift, you can still call today to check in, see how they’re doing, and let them know how much their support means to you.
4. Give your program staff assignments to call and thank donors.
This helps them to understand the importance of stewardship as they, too, begin to see that donors are just people. Nice folks. Caring human beings who aren’t stuffy or “above them” or anything else negative they may have imagined.
There are also services that let you make a quick personal thank you video. This can be texted or emailed for folks who aren’t comfortable making phone calls.
5. Institute a practice of “TYIF” (Thank You It’s Friday).
Set aside some time every Friday for “TYIF” note-writing, thank you calls, texts, tweets, emails or whatever medium you think will do the job with your particular intended recipients.
- Imagine someone coming over the loudspeaker every Friday at 4:00 p.m. and saying “It’s TYIF time!” You could even have some music piped in to set the proper mood.
- Also consider asking your board to join in the TYIF fun! Sending personal notes is something concrete they can do. Don’t be shy asking them. Inevitably when I’m called to consult with an organization staff tell me “board won’t do anything” and board tell me “staff never asks us to do anything.” Ask! And offer up samples of emails, texts and phone call scripts so they’re ready to hit the ground running.
6. Collect donor birthdays, anniversaries and other life cycle events.
Then, just like Starbucks, give supporters a little celebration treat! You can have cards printed to use precisely for this purpose (extra meaningful if you use hand-created art from clients, even if it’s paw prints!), or you can simply purchase a bunch of store greeting cards to have on hand. Whatever you send, make sure you handwrite the note and address so it’s super personal. Don’t just sign your name to a Hallmark card and slap on a printed label. Put some thought and effort into it, please!
- With board and committee members and direct service volunteers, send them a form where they have an opportunity to indicate their date of birth (tell them it’s okay to leave off the year).
- Whenever you hear a major donor talking about a lifecycle event (e.g., birthday, wedding anniversary, graduation, retirement), simply make a note in your database and calendar. You can even celebrate the anniversary of your donor’s first gift to you.
- You can also email or text a celebratory greeting. I prefer the mail as it’s more likely to get opened and noticed. Plus it’s likely to hang around longer, reminding your donor of your thoughtful act.
7. Collect news articles related to your cause.
These can be sent to donors you know care about what is covered, with a personal note from you.
- “I thought of you when I saw this.”
- (When you’re named in the article) “I wanted you to see how we’re fighting on this front.”
- “This reminded me of our recent discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
DON’T FORGET: The nonprofit/donor relationship is symbiotic.
You serve them; they serve you. Ad infinitum.
Make donors happy — because if donors are happy they’ll give again!
If you drop the ball, so will they.
There are plenty of other organizations out there ready, willing and able to serve them.
Serving donors is not a bad thing, once you understand fundraising — complete with the requisite stewardship that builds and sustains donor relationships — is servant to philanthropy. It’s not an end in itself. Rather, it serves noble ends.
Know what you want to achieve.
“Customer service, like everything an effective organization does, changes people. Announce the change you seek, then invest appropriately, in a system that is likely to actually produce the outcomes you just said you wanted.
Make promises and keep them.”
SPECIAL BONUS: The more you embody gratitude, the better you’ll feel. Yup. There’s psychological research on gratitude that shows the benefits are reciprocal. Gratitude is contagious — in a very good way! Nothing else will keep your donors in as continually a receptive frame of mind.
Stop Losing Donors – Shift to a Gratitude Culture
Get my comprehensive Donor Retention and Gratitude Playbook just in time for the final two months of the year — what I call “Gratitude Season.” It’s a time when Thanksgiving is celebrated in the U.S., and worldwide it’s a time for counting blessings. Why not count yours too, and consider how to demonstrate gratitude towards your donors?
You’ll get 6 separate companion guides (at a 30% off bargain if you buy the bundle)! Or you can purchase them individually. Taken together, they are a complete Donor Retention ‘Bible’ — everything you need to raise more money by keeping your current donors and increasing their average gift! It’s filled with hands-on, practical information garnered from my 30+ years working in the nonprofit trenches. This stuff works! The Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide alone is 98 full pages with lots of ready-to-use samples and templates, including “Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors” — with 72 ideas for your to steal!.
photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net