Every time bad fundraising happens, it hurts all of us. Like a cheese slicer shaving off a thin layer of donor goodwill from the entire sector, eroding it away until we are left looking back saying “where’s the cheddar?” (I hope the double-meaning of cheddar for fundraisers isn’t lost here!)
It’s a hard truth that fundraisers must face. We’re forgetting about our donors. The numbers don’t lie. Donors are speaking out with their giving. According to the 2015 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report by AFP, as a sector, we lost 103 donors for every 100 gained and we lost $95 for every $100 gained.
Does anyone else have a problem with that? I sure do.
The root issue is the DX: The Donor eXperience.
Donor fatigue doesn’t exist. What donors get tired of is poor fundraising. Far too many donors have this experience with charities:
- Lack of prompt and proper gratitude: Often, there is no proper acknowledgement or thank you for a donation. Proper means at least one communication with no ask or implication of an ask. It isn’t sending a receipt which happens to say thank you in the letter. It isn’t a generic email sent 2 months later.
- Impersonal communication: We are in the information age, collecting more data than ever before, and yet donors receive so many generic appeals with no consideration of the donors relationship with the organization or their interests – information we already have in our hands. Plus the donors who receive “Dear Friend” letters, which is bad enough when a mail merge takes literally 5 minutes to set up – it’s even worse when the address label is customized, indicating the ability to do so.
- Uninspired messaging: When we forget about who our audience is, we end up with organization-centered, own-horn-tooting communication which forgets to give the donor credit for their role as a change agent and investor in good. Donors want to see and hear the impact in creative, tangible ways, and they want to feel good about giving.
- High ratio of asks to other touchpoints: While getting asked to donate multiple times a year per charity isn’t inherently bad, it’s brutal when coupled with all of the other issues outlined here. We’re drawing from the goodwill bank without putting anything back into it.
- Randomness: For example, mailings with random costly enclosures and swag that have nothing to do with the charity. I get it. This is intended to stimulate reciprocity – but if it has no meaning, then in my opinion, it is actually just stimulating guilt.
When we have so much evidence that personal, tangible, meaningful appeals followed by prompt gratitude and demonstration of impact are fundamental ways to strengthen the DX and raise more money, it’s amazing how much bad fundraising behaviour is still taking place.
Sure, sometimes, doing these things works in the short-term. But just because something works, it doesn’t mean it’s right…or that your DX is strong. Even if you can raise a few more dollars by using fundraising tactics that are manipulative, lazy and uninspired, you are not building trust in the Donor eXperience – and that hurts all of us. This is the cheese slicer whittling down the delicate block of positive affinity that the public has towards giving to charities. Having an insular, short-term view of fundraising sentences all of us to a world of low retention rates, lack of engagement and poor public perception.
Okay, that’s enough of the bad. Anyone who knows me knows I’m an optimistic, positive guy (my #1 Strength in the StrengthsFinder test was Positivity) – all hope is not lost!
There is a solution to all of this.
A big dose of #DonorLove. It is the single best way to enhance the DX and ultimately build stronger relationships with donors.
So what does #DonorLove look like? How can you create a better DX?
- Make donor relations a priority: It should already be a top priority in your fundraising and development departments, but for this to really work, you need coordination and buy-in across all areas of your organization – senior management, programming, marketing, finance and the Board of Directors to name a few. Engage them in the vision and discussions for the DX that you want to see.
- Listen to your donors: Whether it’s a focus group, a survey or just looking at their giving behaviour and response patterns, your donors will tell you what you need to make their experience better if you give them the chance.
- Invest in your systems: There is no excuse because we know doing this works. You might not be able to do everything at once, but once you start investing in the DX, your donors will respond positively, leading to better results and you can build from there. Plus, if you have done #1 well, it should be easier to get the financial and human resources you need to get things moving.
- Have a personality: There is no reason why fundraising can’t be creative, interesting, playful and fun. In fact, it is the best way to stand out and will draw your donors closer. It builds credibility and likability for your organization. Brands have a certain “feel” that you have the ability to influence.
- Inspire and wow at every opportunity: Every single interaction with a donor is a chance to build positive affinity, including an ask. What can you do that is different, unique and meaningful? It might take a bit longer to develop or be harder to implement, but the efforts will be rewarded.
- Be an advocate for #DonorLove: When donors feel good about giving, they give more everywhere. Encourage other fundraisers to take the high road and put donors first. Speak up when you see something happening that you don’t agree with or that could damage relationships with donors.
There is no doubt that part of our goal is to raise more money. However, we have to find the intersection of where achieving your financial metrics can actually strengthen donor relations, rather than depleting them.
While I am a strong advocate for #DonorLove, I cannot take credit for creating it. Some of this is the very basic, rudimentary, foundations of successful fundraising about which we must be constantly vigilant or be in danger of forgetting. I’m also not the only one speaking out about this. There are a number of people who are donor champions, standing up for their rights and a better DX.
An amazing team of disruptive, thoughtful and uber-passionate fundraisers, led by Rory Green (aka Fundraiser Grrl) and Maeve Strathy (What Gives Philanthropy) have put together the #DonorLove Rendezvous to address this issue exactly. It’s not your average conference. It will be a group of people who not only want to create a better DX, but want to see our sector push itself to be better too!
I hope you will join us at the #DonorLove Rendezvous on May 11, 2016. You can register and learn more at www.donorlove.ca. It will be one of the best investments you can make in your own development, your fundraising shop’s DX and in our sector.
Constant Questions: Do you think fundraising is doing alright the way it is? What examples can you share of a really strong DX? Will you join us at the #DonorLove Rendezvous? Did I confuse the wrestling fans who thought I would be posting about Degeneration X?