Here is some wisdom gleaned from many decades of personal nonprofit work.
It derives from both my stints as an in-the-trenches development professional (five different organizations, wearing many hats, over a 30-year career), and my past decade as a coach/consultant for nonprofits of all sizes and shapes.
I will also be sharing quotes from donors Penelope Burk surveyed (also here), as these authentic testimonials provide great insight into how donors think and feel.
Finally, we’ll conclude with seven relatively easy things you can do to connect more meaningfully with your supporters so they’ll stick with you through thick and thin!
1. LESS IS MORE
The less you tell your donor, the more likely they’ll absorb it.
You don’t necessarily need to be wordy to convey your message. Especially with email, research shows many folks stop reading anything below the scroll.
Think carefully about your SMIT (Single Most Important Thing you have to tell).
Don’t wait too long to get to it. Most fundraising appeals I read could stand to have their first several paragraphs eliminated. Look at last year’s appeal. Does the important messaging begin around the third or fourth paragraph? Start there. Eliminate the rest.
“Overall, the longer the letters and the more frequent the requests, the less likely I am to donate.”
2. SPECIFICS TRUMP GENERALITIES
The more specific the problem, the more likely donors will respond.
To which panhandler with a sign are you more likely to respond?
- NEED FOOD FOR MY 2 CHILDREN.
People respond better when they can visualize how their gift will be used. This holds true in good times and bad. A generic crisis appeal asking the donor simply to send money to because “we’re in desperate times” will likely not do as well as a targeted appeal to give money for a specific purpose (e.g., underwrite staff salaries and benefits; respond to increased demand; innovate to offer new programming; fund an ‘Emergency Response Fund,’ etc.) Burk’s research reveals nonprofits’ insistence on unrestricted vs. restricted giving drives away donations.
“I don’t connect with appeals that ask me to “fix poverty” in my community. But if I were asked to provide interim housing for 10 women and their families so that they could leave abusive situations, I could get my head around that and I would feel my giving had more of an impact.”
3. CONTENT OVER PROCESS
Currency is your best currency.
I’ll never forget when I first heard Penelope Burk speak and she said (I’m paraphrasing): Donors don’t care about monthly newsletters. They’d rather hear from you when you have one piece of current news to share. Real news; not just articles you were forced to write because ‘send a monthly newsletter’ was on your plan. Or appeals you sent because ‘send bimonthly appeals’ was on your plan.
“They send out identical appeals week after week – pages and pages of stuff. It doesn’t inspire me to give; it desensitizes me to their pleas for help.”
4. BENEFITS TRUMP FEATURES
Show the donor the benefit they will receive.
It’s an old adage in marketing that you do best when you sell the benefit, not the feature. Too many fundraising communications are feature-dense.
We have this program… that service… these offices… those staff… oh, and this other related program… and….
This isn’t what the donor cares about. They want to know if there’s a specific problem they can solve with their gift. Benefits do not mean tangible gifts. The benefit donors find meaningful is the outcome philanthropy can create. And it’s two-fold: (1) the demonstrable impacts that can be created, and (2) the ‘feel good,’ meaning and purpose they’ll get in return.
“I’m more inclined to give when I can see a direct benefit.”
“I don’t need another umbrella, t-shirt or tote bag; I want my donation to go to the cause.”
5. PERSONAL APPROACH IS APPRECIATED
Go the extra mile.
It will be more than worth the investment of your time.
People are starved for love and human connection.
“There were two instances this year where I made gifts over and above what I had intended and they both involved personal contact from someone in the development office.”
6. TAP INTO DONOR MOTIVATIONS
Why a donor gives differs; learning about your donors’ motivations will pay off.
Common motivators are aspiring to fulfill a moral or religious obligation; desiring to honor or memorialize a loved one; wanting to pay back someone who helped the donor or a loved one; wanting to pay it forward to further a cause the donor or a loved one may someday benefit from, and family tradition.
“Our 17-year old son, Drew, died by suicide in 2014. Since his death, we donate to some meaningful causes every year in his memory, on his birthday. It is our way of continuing to give a birthday present to our son.”
“I was fortunate that the college I attended was tuition-free. I felt I owed a debt of gratitude for my education.”
“Dad used to let me call in the pledge to PBS when I was a kid. I thought that was a very grown up thing to do. For me, it planted the seed which has grown into a lifetime of philanthropy.”
7. POSITIVE FEEDBACK INSPIRES FUTURE GIFTS
Sadly, giving isn’t always its own reward.
When a kid cleans up their room without being asked, they need you to notice and tell them they did a good job.
When donors give, they need you to notice and tell them they delivered a specific, positive outcome.
“I didn’t receive any information at all after making a gift to a not-for-profit last year. I wonder what they did with the money and whether it helped.”
“An update on what they are accomplishing with the gifts that I and other donors have already made is actually more effective than another appeal. The updates themselves make you want to give again.”
SUMMARY: Do These 7 Things to Connect Meaningfully with Donors
- Get right to the heart of the matter. Donor’s time is valuable; they appreciate it if you don’t pussyfoot. This doesn’t mean you must strong arm people, of course. Be kind, gracious and passionate. Match your passion to theirs.
- Describe a specific problem the donor can visualize. Present an approachable problem your donor can visualize.
- Speak to the now. Help the donor see how their gift will be used today, rather than constantly generalizing about your over-arching mission. Relevance to the donor is key to securing a current gift.
- Describe the benefit. Donors should experience a warm glow “feel good” when even contemplating giving. Consider what this might be for your prospect; specifically offer it up. Your donor’s motivation may be continuing lasting traditions, expressing a value, fulfilling a religious or moral obligation or just giving back.
- Get personal. The more automated our world becomes, the more people appreciate a human connection. Pick up the phone more. Send handwritten notes. Text. Thank a lot more to predispose people to want to stay connected to you.
- Get to know donors better. Send surveys, make phone calls, set up zoom or in-person meetings, and pay attention to everything you learn about the donor from media, social and otherwise.
- Express gratitude and share impact. One thank you letter or email has little lasting value. Connect more often, and really include the donor in your work; show them the impact their philanthropy has.
Want to Use Gratitude Purposefully to Build Stronger Donor Connections?
Get my Attitude of Gratitude Donor Guide if you really want to develop an organization-wide culture of showing your donors some love. It includes my Creative Ways to Thank Your Donors e-book, which you can also purchase separately if you just want some more quick inspiration.
As with all Clairification products, these guides come with my 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. You can’t lose. So… why not send a little more donor love this year?
I guarantee you, and your supporters, will be happy you did!
Photo by NIKLAS LINIGER on Unsplash
Lots of wisdom in this piece. Thanks, Claire!