Be a Passionate Fundraiser: Don’t Let Donors ‘Melt’ Away

One of the ways I have found to amuse my cat is to put an ice cube or two in her water bowl. She’ll sit and watch it melt away, occasionally batting at it or stirring the water until it is gone.

By watching her fascination with melting ice recently, I couldn’t help but make the correlation between her actions and a lot of what we do in fundraising today. We sit back and watch our donors melt away, occasionally stirring the water by sending an email reminding them to renew or providing a touch via a telephone call or a letter. But while we watch, they fade away, never to be seen again—hopefully to be replaced by new donors … the majority of who will melt away too.

Collectively, just over half of the donors who gave to us more than once in prior years will stop giving this year, and three of the four new donors we acquired in 2016 will never give again, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. They will melt away while we scramble to replace them with more events, more social media posts and more emails.

Or some of us will decide it’s just not worth the bother to keep replacing them. After all, the bulk of our income comes from government grants, foundations or a few major donors. We forget that none of those are guarantees; they can fade away in the next economic downturn or change in leadership. We don’t listen to facts, such as the one Jerry Panas recently pointed out: “When Harvard did a study after their last campaign, of their 254 donors who donated $1 million or more, two out of three started with first-time gifts of $100 or less.” After all, “our donors are different!”

Really? Numerous surveys say that donors pretty much want the same things—to feel appreciated, to feel like part of the solution and to know they made a difference. Surveys of people in general (regardless of their standing as donors) show that they want to find happiness, fulfillment and passion, among other things.

Passion is defined as compelling enthusiasm. Imagine if your donors simply oozed with excitement about the work you do at your organization (not just for the cause in general). How would they be different from the donors who just melt away, day after day, like the ice cube in the bowl?

These donors would be excited when they got a letter, newsletter or email from you. They would not just share your posts; they would tell people (verbally or electronically) why they are so excited about being on your team. They would be brand ambassadors on steroids, and you would be at or near the top of the list of nonprofit organizations they support.

But passion isn’t available on Amazon—just buy it and sprinkle it over your donors and presto! They are passionate. Passion takes work—more work than simply swishing around the donor file from time to time in hopes you can change the inevitable result.

Passionate fundraising is the opposite of passive fundraising. Passionate fundraisers give birth to passionate donors by:

  • Letting the donor be part of the story. They banish “we” and “I” from their communications and instead talk about “you.” Yes, that’s been said so much that it has almost become a cliché, but too many of us are still not taking it to heart. Your donor wants to know that the world is just a bit better because they gave. The only way they will know for sure is if you tell them what they accomplished.
  • Not taking any donor for granted. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the sorry state of saying “thank you” to our donors. At that time, only one of the seven organizations I donated to at year-end had even bothered to say “thank you.” I promised an update, and here it is: I have only been thanked by two of the seven organizations; despite the fact they were all happy enough to cash my checks. So thank you to Food for the Poor and Best Friends Animal Society—two organizations that aren’t taking donors for granted. But that means that less than 30 percent of organizations are passionate fundraisers. Is it any wonder our donors lack passion?
  • Giving donors stories they can tell to share their enthusiasm. Passionate fundraisers are not relying on their donors to seek out the stories. They don’t hope that Facebook’s algorithm just happens to put their story up at the top to the newsfeed. They are delivering stories to the donor’s mailbox and inbox. They are sending out videos that bring a tear to the eye or a smile to the face. They are never missing an opportunity to give the donor a reason to feel proud about giving and to want to brag about the great things happening because of their organization.

I recently met someone who, we learned through conversation, shared a mutual acquaintance with me. He asked how I knew him, and I mentioned through a nonprofit organization that they are involved with. He said, “Oh, I know that group. Bob talks about them all the time. They do great things!”

That’s a passionate donor. And this old dog knows that passionate donors aren’t anomalies or spontaneous occurrences. They are cultivated because passionate fundraisers aren’t content enough to sit and stir the water occasionally while watching their donors melt away. They have a strategy for creating passion so contagious that their donors just have to share it with others.

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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