We Can’t Mandate a Donor’s Commitment

Last week, I served my mandatory “American privilege,” aka jury duty. I know all the arguments for why it’s a wonderful right we have in this country and how it allows us to experience grassroots democracy in action.

But it was a miserable day. There was no real concern for making it a positive experience for me; spending a day in a room without internet or cellphone coverage was a trip back to the 1980s—and resulted in a lot of wasted time. I felt like my contribution wasn’t enough when I was urged to donate to select charities the puny amount I would be paid if I had to come back another day. And identified only as juror No. 4088, I was just one of hundreds being moved through the system that day.

Not wanting to waste the experience, however, I started thinking about how my experience was similar to the way we sometimes treat our donors. We neglect even small things that would make their experiences more positive, like providing updates on what they made possible and responding to their calls, letters and emails. Secondly, we forget to show genuine appreciation before asking them to do more. And finally, once we get their names on our files, they become one of the masses instead of a valued partner.

Here’s what I concluded:

Donors want to feel valued

What did the donor’s gift do? Sure, $50 won’t solve world hunger, but did it do anything? Instead of expecting donors to search our website for stories that haven’t been updated in more than a year, we need to bring right to them the good news they helped to make possible. When they reach out to us, we should respond with genuine gratitude. Even a simple question, like, “Can you send me another envelope?” is an opportunity to strengthen the connection they feel with us. Even a computer-generated reply can accomplish this if we deliberately choose words that sound like they came from an individual, not a bureaucracy.

Donors want to feel appreciated

There are so many choices, and, like it or not, sometimes donors have as hard a time seeing our uniqueness as they do choosing from the 33,403 options that came up when I searched for “bottled water” on Wal-Mart’s website. Our choices when making a donation often come down to where we feel we get the most value or believe we are more valued. Mail receipts. Make automated responses to online gifts truly grateful. Neglecting saying “thank you” is not being a good manager of a donor’s contribution; it’s taking the donor for granted.

Donors want to be respected as people. This begins with something as simple as how we address a donor in an email or a letter. Some donor systems limit options so we end up sending a mailing that begins, “Dear Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Public.” That’s not friend-to-friend; in fact, it’s off-putting. Even if it means a few extra seconds for data entry, we need to work harder to find ways to record the information that lets us show a donor he or she is a special person, not just Donor No. 475823.

Since we can’t force a donor to give (no threat of fines and imprisonment if he or she fails to respond to the year-end appeal), all that individual has to judge us by is how he or she feels when making a gift. Yes, this old dog knows we have to be wise in where we invest our overhead expenses. And without question, it takes money to respond to a donor’s wants. But it takes far more money to find a new person to replace that donor. Surely, we can find a reasonable balance that allows us to treat even the small but faithful donor as a friend.

“True friendship is like sound health; the value of it is seldom known until it be lost.” ―Charles Caleb Colton, 19th century British writer

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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