I remember well the day I realized a fact of life. It was gloomy with a cloudy sky that threatened rain. But that was nothing compared to the gloom that settled over me when I discovered the truth: My donors weren’t waking up thinking about my organization, thinking about us all day long and going to sleep with my latest direct-mail ask circulating in their minds.
OK, so it wasn’t that dramatic. But the truth is, our donors probably support multiple nonprofits and are approached by many others searching for new donors. Boring them over and over or deciding that we won’t mail or e-mail because “we don’t want to bother them” gives them a great opportunity to think about other nonprofits and perhaps make their donations to those other (also worthy) groups.
While we shouldn’t begrudge the fundraising success of any legitimate charity, it hurts when it takes money away from us. Yet we let weeks, even months, go by without a meaningful conversation with our donors. It’s hard to maintain a relationship with someone that you aren’t connecting with for months at a time, even with Facebook to help us share the sometimes trivial events of our lives.
As you plan your strategy for 2013, ask yourself these questions:
Question 1: Are our communications interesting to the donoror just to us?
Are you regularly posting blogs — which no one is reading? Are you sending out newsletters — that generate no response? Is your Facebook page generating responses — but only from your employees? If so, you need to ask yourself why no one else is paying attention.
There is no “one size fits all” answer here. Sometimes it’s just a matter of inviting people to check out a blog or social-media page, or including your URL prominently on all your mailings. It could be a lack of interest is because what we write or post is simply boring and doesn’t make the donor feel proud to be a partner in the work. And sometimes what we send out is just too hard to read.
I received a year-end mailing a few days ago; it was a catalog that offered various program needs for me to help meet by sending a donation. Unfortunately, the copy on all 28 pages was about 9-point type, and it was reversed out of color — including white type reversed out of light mustard yellow. The end result was nearly impossible for a 50-something to read. Lesson: Unless your target audience is in its 20s and 30s, use a minimum of a 12-point type and only reverse out headlines or a short block of copy. The readability factor must be considered above the “great design” factor.
Question 2: Are we constantly making a good case to give?
Donors forget. They aren’t focused on our mission 24/7. So we have to remind them — over and over — that we are doing important work and their gifts are needed and do make a difference. Newsletters should report on the great progress but also reaffirm that the job isn’t done and there is more we can do. Direct mail and e-appeals should ask for a specific amount to do a specific thing.
The days of “trust us; we’ll take your gift and use it wisely” are gone. Donors are skeptical. Unfortunately, it seems that scandals in the nonprofit industry have a shelf life that exceedsthat of peanut butter. So treat every communication as your first and only chance to lay out the case for support.
Question 3: Do we have alternatives for people who complain about hearing from us too much?
“All or nothing” is no longer an acceptable set of options. With computers to help us manage donor preferences, we can offer a wide range of options, from quarterly mail, newsletters only, no phone calls, or another arrangement that you can manage and that will please the donor who raises this concern.
If a donor calls and says some variation of “you contact me too much; take me off your mailing list” and he or she isn’t irate, you may be successful in offering the option to receive less. And let’s face it — less beats “none” in the world of fundraising communication.
Some donors are deeply committed to our nonprofits. But for all the others, let’s make our offers clear and even interesting, and let’s give our donors what they want in terms of communication — not simply what is easiest for us to manage.
And then maybe a few will wake up thinking about us!
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.