Questions I Have for Nonprofit Organizations (As a Donor)

I get a lot of fundraising mail, which is good because to this fundraiser, that’s like food to a starving person. I receive great nourishment from other people’s mail (OPM)—creative stimulation, chuckles, thoughtful moments, emotional engagement, smiles and an occasional tear.

But I also have questions.

Now I know I am not the target audience. After all, I am a fundraiser, so I will never approach OPM like Sue Donor, who doesn’t even know that fundraising is a career, approaches it. But late at night (which is when I usually look at my accumulated stack of fundraising appeals), I feel much less like a fundraiser and more like an exhausted, multi-tasked woman who always has more ideas for how to use disposable income than actual funds available. Sound like your donors?

So while recently reviewing the OPM I had received in recent weeks, I jotted down these questions that I wish I could ask the people who so faithfully write to me every few weeks, monthly or merely occasionally.

Why did you spell my name wrong? I sent you a check that had my name clearly printed in block text. So I can only conclude that the reason you call me “Pamely” instead of “Pamela” is you just don’t care enough about me to bother getting my name right. It’s tough to be friends with someone who doesn’t even think my name matters.

Why didn’t you say “thank you”? Yes, my old, familiar rant… but if you appreciate my gift, it would be nice if I knew that. I am not assuming you are grateful; I am assuming that, once again, you really don’t care about me. You can’t be broke—you mail me address labels, cards and letters every few weeks. But no budget for a simple “thank you”? Shame on you.

Why don’t you call me by name? As a fundraiser, I understand three-way matches; economies that come from personalizing a reply form, but not the letter; and all those other production issues. But as a donor, I wonder why you can put my name on one piece, but on another I am merely “Caring Friend.” If I like you and believe in your work, I’ll get over it, but it does feel strange—from the point of view of someone who isn’t an insider—that you “forgot” my name on the letter by remembered it on the reply card.

Why do you keep talking to me like a current supporter years after I stopped giving to you? I received a letter recently that reminded me (through the window on the envelope) that I have been a “Supporter Since 1998.” The problem is I stopped being a supporter after that one gift 19 years ago. Another nonprofit to whom I donated a memorial gift 12 years ago—stating clearly that it was a memorial gift—still sends me an occasional letter. It’s one thing if it is a letter that treats me like a potential supporter (after all, as a donor, I have pretty much forgotten that I ever gave to them), but to talk to me like we’re picking up from a conversation a week ago feels phony.

Why don’t you ever mail to me? At the opposite end of the spectrum is the organization I gave to recently, but I never hear from. Sure, I can find you online if I want it badly enough, but I have a few thousand other things vying for my attention. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I kind of forgot about you. A polite interruption once in a while might be helpful—and just could result in a gift.

Why don’t you tell me I made a difference? Yeah, I get it—my lousy $25 or $50 is no big deal for your organization. But I was hoping it would do some little bit of good. But I never see anything that shows me that somewhere, somehow, something is better because I gave up some lattes to make a donation. A newsletter would be nice. (And don’t tell me to go online. Did I tell you I am too busy to remember to buy more milk, let alone to find your website?)

Sure, these are just the questions from a crabby old dog who needs to get a good night’s sleep instead of staying up even later to read OPM. (Like that’s gonna happen…) But wouldn’t it be telling to ask your donors what questions they have? I wonder what they would say. Or better yet, if you’re not already doing it, as a smart fundraiser, take time in the next few weeks to read the letters and emails and answer a few calls that come in from your donors. What are they grumbling about? How can you respond—without destroying your fundraising ROI, but still showing your donors you really do care?

Remember: You don’t deserve a donation. You earn it. And we have to work to earn it every day from every donor. The job of nurturing donors is never done… and the devil really is in the details.

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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