It happens too often. You might want to check yourself. Here are some signs:
It’s happened more than once. I make a thank you phone call, only to hear the person on the other end protest. “You don’t need to call me! I’m not important enough for that.”
Of course, the reaction only underlines how important it was to me to make the call.
Now, I do understand it’s a bit Animal Farm. All donors are equal; some are just more equal than others. I get it. It’s impossible to offer the same level of personal care to every donor. And if you want to develop a good major gifts program, those donors will receive more attention.
But we don’t need to treat smaller donors like smaller people. It’s possible to put systems into place to make sure every donor feels valued. But it only happens when gratitude is part of the organization’s culture. And if you must prove the importance of making every donor feel valued to some powers-that-be, point to donor retention studies. Finding a new donor is far more expensive than keeping the one you have. And then there’s the lifetime value of the donors’ gifts. Loyal, happy donors’ gifts add up – even if they come to you in smaller amounts at a time.
You want to “educate” your donors
This idea comes around time and again. I’ve seen it recently in articles about the Ice Bucket Challenge. “Donors aren’t making good choices!” “They’re giving where it won’t have the greatest impact!” “We need to educate them so they’ll give better!”
It’s hard to find a more patronizing idea.
Donors don’t need us to educate them. Their decisions don’t have to be carefully vetted, logical ones. In fact, they’re usually not. Donors give from their hearts. Sometimes, they even give on a whim. Does it matter? Only if you’re experiencing some big sour grapes about this latest viral fundraising trend. Yes, ALSA got a boat load of money. Good for them! I hope they can make the most of it. Just remember: that wasn’t your money going to ALSA instead of your cause. Donors always get to choose how they give.
You don’t have to educate donors. But you can offer them great reasons to think of your own cause. You can show them what a gift could do. You can show them how they could help someone. You can and should offer them the chance to make a difference through your organization. So quit whining and get on with making the best, most emotional case you can.
Donors will decide if it’s good enough.
You do a bad job recognizing their gifts
So, you’ve received a gift. Wonderful! But what do you do from there? If you answer “cash the check, put the donor on a list, and send a receipt when we get to it”, you answered wrong. If you answer “send out a generic postcard and a receipt slip”, you answered wrong.
Get their name wrong. Neglect to update your records when requested or when you have new information. (Marriage, death, divorce…) Incorrect recognition listing. Record the gift for the wrong area so the money isn’t spent in the way requested. None of this is acceptable as a practice. If you do it, stop!
Yes, we’re all busy. Yes, getting the data right and creating a warm, genuine, personal thank you process takes time. But mostly, it takes focus. You and your organization have to choose to do it well. It matters to your donors.
Donors aren’t a means to our ends. Our organizations are the means to their ends. Our organizations exist so they can invest in a better world. Keep your priorities in the right place and remember to treat people like people, not numbers.
Let’s stamp out donor abuse. What do you say?