What Your Donors Never Tell You

Donors communicate with us constantly. They e-mail us, write us, call us or even stop to chat if they see us around town. We hear what they like and what they don’t like, and often they have suggestions for us.
But there are some things donors (usually) don’t say — at least not verbally. But “listening” to these messages can improve your fundraising results and your decision-making. Let’s listen in on a few unspoken donor comments.

You mail to me just enough
“Too much mail” is the message that gets our attention. Oftentimes, that’s because the messenger is our board chair or a major donor.

But the reality is only a very small percentage of donors complain about mail volume. The majority read our mail and — shocking but true — respond to it! Our challenge is to make changes for those who want less mail from us without making wholesale strategy moves that jeopardize our fundraising.

So reduce the mail volume for those who ask. But for the majority who respond by sending in donations, keep mailing to them. Don’t fall victim to the unproven “fact” that for every one who complains, 100 more (or is it 1 million?) feel the same way. When donors respond with gifts, they are saying that you are doing things just right — or at least pretty well.

You are boring me
Donors often won’t tell us that our communications no longer interest them. They simply stop responding. Our e-mail open rates decline, and overall response rates drop.

Sometimes it’s because we forget we need to talk to the donor and not just talk about “us.” Are your subject lines engaging? Do your envelopes beg to be opened? Are you connecting with them from the first paragraph or ignoring them until it’s time to ask for money?

Other times we are so thrilled with our own work that we forget to ask ourselves if the donors are equally as enthralled. You’re not going to eventually wear them down by sending them the message over and over. If your response rates indicate a bored donor file, look at what donor are responding to and try to give them more of that.

I don’t feel appreciated
Here’s another message donors send by putting away their credit cards or checkbooks when they get our requests for support. “Why should I give you more money when you didn’t bother to thank me for the last gift?” Or maybe you did send them receipts, but you didn’t take the time to tell them that you were using the donation for what they requested.

Donors want to know that you received their gifts, you’re using them as they asked and that they are really making a difference. If you aren’t assuring your donors of these things, reassess your gift-acknowledgment program. This is especially critical for first-time donors but is important for your entire file.

I like being important to you
Few of us want to be “just one of the crowd.” While we know that you aren’t going to be able to fix the problem you are dealing with simply because of our donations, we want to know that our gifts are helping change the situation. Yes, need raises money, but “results” can prepare the donor to respond to your next request for another donation.

That’s why “show and tell” is so critical in our donor communications. Show them what you are accomplishing through photos and captivating stories, and tell them that it’s because of their gifts that these great things are happening. Your newsletter, annual report and even a small insert in your receipts are great places to include these messages.

The bottom line is most donors won’t tell us if they are unhappy — but they will make it clear by reducing or discontinuing their giving. Listen for these unspoken messages when you review your results; what is your donor file telling you?

And whatever you do, don’t let the vocal minority do your strategic planning for you.

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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