Pardon Me, But Your Reputation is Showing (and It May Be Hurting Your Fundraising)

Over the past few months, I have had three products fail well before I felt was reasonable. In every case, I contacted the company via an online form or the telephone—and in every case, I received a replacement product and an apology for failing to live up to my expectations. So, I did what many of us do now: I posted a status on Facebook praising Waterpik, Fitbit and Kohler. (And yes, I just did it again, telling my sphere of influence that these are customer-focused companies.)

But I couldn’t help but ask myself: When was the last time I praised a nonprofit organization? Sure, I liked a few of their pages on Facebook, and I read some of their direct mail and email. But why am I not regularly telling my friends about the great work Organization X is doing? Why am I not sharing their stories?

In a recent article in The Agitator, Roger Craver wrote, “I fear the nonprofit sector has not kept pace with those consumer/donor expectations.” Sadly, I agree. In the name of “being cost-conscious,” we have overlooked the fact that donors—like consumers—have choices, and instead we assumed they would be loyal to us, no matter what.

The good news is that some donors are incredibly loyal. Through thick or thin, events that run too long, copy that is boring, projects they support but never hear about again (so did my gift really help or not?) and turnover in our major gift staff, they keep giving.

But, we all know that isn’t true for all our donors. Donor retention is abysmal as they take advantage of the revolving door we unintentionally have built with our poor service—or had built by other nonprofit organizations whose unethical practices have tainted all of us in the minds of some would-be donors.

These days, we have to give our donors a reason to talk positively about our organization to others. Here is my six-step plan to help that become a reality:

1. Accept that there are a lot of good causes. You have to work harder than the others to earn your donors’ loyalty.

2. Differentiate your product (mission) so you stand out. You won’t appeal to everyone, but you’ll also be less of an interchangeable part when a donor is looking for a cause that is addressing the need he or she also wants to address.

3. Avoid being, as the old saying goes, “penny wise and pound foolish.” In the name of cutting overhead, are you failing to meet the minimum expectations of your donors?

4. Empower the person answering a donor’s call, letter or email to truly be helpful. I am now a lapsed donor to the organization that told me, when I called for some information, to just go online and look it up. Imagine if that person had used that contact to tell me how much my support was appreciated, and then told me what I wanted to know (and continued by telling me where I could find out even more online if I wanted to).

5. Surprise your donor once in a while by saying thank you—and not asking for a gift. I’m a fundraiser and I am an advocate for asking for a gift, but an occasional phone call or note that says “Thanks!” can positively impact future fundraising efforts.

6. Report back on success (even if the job isn’t done yet). Give your donors a reason to brag to their friends: “You know, I actually had a part in that!”

Today, there are 1.44 billion active Facebook users. This old dog, fundraiser and donor is one of them—and there’s a good chance you are, too. Wouldn’t it be great if we all were bragging about the causes we support? As fundraisers, let’s make sure we are meeting our donors’ expectations, and maybe they will find more reasons to share our story with their social networks, both online and face-to-face.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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