Have you ever received confoundingly terrible customer service? Maybe at a restaurant, hotel, fast food restaurant or retail outlet? It happens all the time and, likely, you’ve thought to yourself: “Why on earth are they treating me like this? It’s so stupid! Don’t they realize I’ll never come here again?”
Sadly, this is exactly what many donors feel when:
- You make it difficult for them to give.
- They receive poor follow up from you.
- You don’t seem to know them, or even try to get to know them.
- You treat them as one of the masses, rather than making them feel special.
- You ignore what they’ve told you or shown you.
“Customer service, like everything an effective organization does, changes people.”
Part of the Problem is Culture
Think about it. When you experience poor service in the for-profit world, it’s likely because the person with whom you’re interacting has no stake in the business. They see their job as just a job, and really don’t care about the business as a whole. Whether or not a customer returns again means little to them.
This also happens at nonprofits without a donor-centered culture of philanthropy. While the customer, or donor, may not always be exactly “right,” it is imperative everyone in your organization recognizes and appreciates the value donors bring.
“Each person directly associated with your organization should value donors and implicitly or explicitly express that value with gratitude and appreciation. No exceptions.”
— Brian Lauterbach, fundraiser, consultant, entrepreneur
“Without tackling internal issues head-on, we believe the prospects for major fundraising progress are limited. In most organizations, fundraising is limited more by organizational culture and structure than by lack of strategic or tactical know-how.”
— Alia McKee and Mark Rovner, Founders, Sea Change Strategies
NOTE: How to instill a culture of philanthropy is a topic for another article (like this one), but at base it has to do with how people treat each other in your organization.
Do you care about one another, both internally and externally?
Are you focused on the common goal, or headed in different directions?
Are you considerate and cooperative, or siloed and competitive?
Do you come from a place of love, or feel downtrodden and disrespected?
Do you treat people well because you can, and it’s the right thing to do?
Per management guru Peter Drucker, the happiest, most productive cultures are those where no one has authority without responsibility or responsibility without authority. When you treat donors well because you can (authority), and it feels like the right thing to do (responsibility), you become a rare, donor-centric, Golden Rule-inspired enterprise.
Retention Requires a Donor-Centered Culture
In an excellent piece, Have You Tried Being a Donor?, Karen Kendrick of the Veritus Group lays out a number of unfortunate scenarios she has encountered as a donor. Each one of them should give you pause, because they’re all too common. Today I’d like to highlight five of them and suggest what you might do to ameliorate the situation – making giving to your nonprofit the opportunity for joy and meaningful connection that will keep donors engaged and invested for years to come.
REMINDER: I often say you are in the happiness delivery business. Giving makes people happy. And happiness makes people healthy. And healthy, happy people give more. You are not donor-centered because you’re coddling people or somehow making yourself less important. You’re doing so because it (1) helps people, (2) happens to drive your bottom line, and (3) makes the world a better, more caring place. Think of a donor-centric philanthropy culture as part and parcel of your social benefit sector mission.
5 Surefire Ways to Lose Donors
It’s not uncommon to focus most of your energy on donor acquisition, leaving acknowledgement, cultivation and ongoing stewardship on the back burner. But it’s a big, fat, dumb mistake. Because doing so leads to the abysmal donor retention rates the sector experiences. Year over year, only 2 out of 10 new donors give again. Even ongoing donors renew at only 6 out of 10.
That’s because of the unconscious, and unconscionable, nonprofit behaviors (among a slew listed in Kendrick’s aforementioned article) listed below:
- Donor makes a stretch gift, or gives an increase over their previous gift, but never receives a specific acknowledgement of their going above and beyond.
Donor may think: Why did I bother giving that much; they didn’t seem to care/notice.
- Donor attends a donor appreciation event, but no one from the organization greets them or introduces themselves.
Donor may think: Why am I here? I don’t feel appreciated/connected.
- No one asks the donor why they give, what they care about, and what they want to learn more about.
Donor may think: I wish they’d try to get to know me.
- No one asks the donor to give a specific amount to a certain project they care about.
Donor may think: I don’t know how much to give, or what their priorities are. I’m also not sure how this matches my own giving priorities.
- Fundraisers constantly leave; new ones are hired who call and ask the same set of questions the donor already answered for three previous fundraisers.
Donor may think: They aren’t listening! I’m frustrated, and wonder about their efficiency and effectiveness.
Have you been guilty of any of these behaviors? Don’t beat yourself up; we all have! Just vow to improve. I’m going to show you how (using these as specific examples).
5 Surefire Ways to Fire Donors Up
First, let’s consider the big picture. In Does Your Nonprofit Need a Donor Journey Map? on the Charity Engine blog, the topic of following and supporting the stages of giving — awareness, consideration, conversion, retention, and advocacy – is introduced so you can consider the ways you can positively, or negatively, influence donor behavior..
Each of the five bad behaviors listed above can be attributed to one or more of these stages. It’s such a useful graph, I’d encourage you to post a copy next to your computer so you can ask yourself these questions over and over and over – until it becomes second nature.
Now let’s consider what you can do to create positive outcomes in our five examples:
Donor makes a stretch gift, or gives an increase over their previous gift.
ACTION TIPS: Personally, and promptly, acknowledge any greater-than-expected generosity. For example:
Establish a threshold at which you will automatically make a phone call or send a text to immediately acknowledge an above-average gift. For example, I like to do this for (1) first-time gifts of $100+; (2) gifts of $500+ earmarked for a particular program, and (3) any gifts of $1,000+ (your thresholds may differ depending on your size and fundraising history).
Ask your gift processor to take note of increased gifts from renewing donors. Tag these to receive a variation of your thank you letter that acknowledges your appreciation for their increased gift!
Ask your gift processor to take notes of gifts that move donors from one giving society level to the next. Have these thank you letters pulled so you, the development officer, can write personal notes showing you noticed they stepped up!
Donor attends a donor appreciation event.
ACTION TIPS: Make it a point to personally greet every donor, and try to get to know them better. For example:
Review your guest list in advance so you can assign appropriate staff or volunteers to personally make a connection.
If a donor has shown an interest in a particular program, try to assign a representative of that program to meet them (e.g., staff member; another donor who supports the program; program volunteer or beneficiary).
If it’s a sit-down event with a seating chart, include people you believe your donor will enjoy at their table. Ask these assigned people to connect personally with the donor (and plan to debrief them later so you can add appropriate notes to your donor database).
Ask the person you assigned to connect to write a personal note or email after the event, letting the donor know how much they enjoyed meeting them and offering to answer any questions they might have.
No one asks the donor why they give or what they care about.
ACTION TIPS: Incorporate opportunities for donor feedback in your donor communication, cultivation and stewardship strategies. For example:
Periodically (at least annually) send a donor engagement survey. There are many ways to do this, but the point is it needn’t be expensive or difficult. If you want people to share their names and contact information, consider entering participants into a raffle to win a prize if they complete the survey.
Set up person-to-person meetings with targeted mid-level and major givers so you can directly ask what most floats their boat. (Virtual works swell too). Use the feedback you gather to inform future strategies, e.g. “I thought you’d enjoy this article!”
Ask for comments when you share information via blog, e-newsletter or social media. Always be asking doesn’t just apply to gift solicitation; show you have an interest and are open to supporter input.
No one asks the donor to give a specific amount to a certain project they care about.
ACTION TIPS: Many donors will give more passionately if they can choose where the money goes. If you know what they care about, ask them if this is where they’d like to direct their gift. In my experience, about half the people will let you make the decision, while half will make their own choice. Plus, give them something specific to chew on in terms of an amount.
If you’re too high, they’ll let you know.
If you’re too low, they won’t; you’ll miss out and they’ll feel a bit deflated.
If you’re too vague, they’ll feel uncomfortable – never a good outcome.
A revolving roster of fundraisers ask the same set of questions the donor already answered.
ACTION TIPS: Put in place a process of consistently, and promptly, adding donor information to your database in a place where everyone on your staff can easily find it. For example:
Maintain, and constantly update, a Data Entry/Reporting Manual.
Assure everyone on staff (and volunteers with database privileges) is entering the same type of information in the same fields. If one person enters info into “notes,” another into “actions,” and another into “campaigns,” it’s unlikely you’ll end up pulling complete donor profiles when they’re needed.
When you have staff turnover, be sure to debrief the fundraiser who is leaving. Ask them to print a report for donors in their cultivation portfolios and review it with you so you can ask questions and annotate.
When a new staff member arrives, sit down with them to review the report left by the previous staffer.
If you’re thinking some of these recommendations will just take too much time, how about a little reframing? What’s your time for?!
Think about this a minute.
Have an answer? Okay, here’s what I hope you thought:
My time is best spent doing the most effective job possible to make this donor feel really good about their giving here. So good, in fact, they’ll want to continue giving, do more over time, advocate on our behalf, and maybe even leave a legacy gift!
If you think about your time this way, and look at the big picture, then each of these action tips are merely tweaks to what you’re already doing. I’m not suggesting you introduce new fundraising strategies; merely to consider everything you’re currently doing as part and parcel of the donor’s journey. Do what you’re doing thoughtfully. Work smart, not just hard.
I think you’ll find these tweaks yield hugely positive results – over and above the time you spend enacting them.
Let me know in the comments if you’ve tried any of this. Likewise, let me know if you think this won’t be worth your effort. I’ll be happy to respond.
Want to Achieve Mindblowing Fundraising Results by Improving Retention?
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Image – Three San Francisco Hearts: Love-is-Contagious, San-Francisco-Glow, Transparent-Harmony. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation