I’ll admit to being a political junkie. I’ll be glued to the set tonight, watching returns until I fall asleep. The drama is better than most entertainment television has to offer. And of course, the stakes are huge.
Think about all the people who don’t vote. In the US, only about 40% of people vote in mid-term elections. I never understood not voting.
But how many of our donors are quietly voting with their feet? How often do we not even notice their absence? Donor retention rates are as awful as voter turn-out. Are we even paying attention?
Political campaigning is all short-term. If you don’t win the election, it’s over. The goal is precise and immediate. Most of our organizations, however, expect to be needed for years to come. So why do we focus on today and sacrifice tomorrow?
Former Congressman Lee Hamilton offered a list of characteristics good politicians have. Maybe there’s a lesson here for our nonprofit organizations, too. This is what he says a good politician is:
Trust is so valuable and so easily lost. Don’t play around with your donors. They deserve – and want – to know about the organization’s successes and failures. And if they ever feel they’re not being treated honestly, you’ll lose them. And everyone they talk to!
Focused on the task
Yes, you should focus on your mission. But let me plead for the same focus on your donors. They should be where your energy is – not their dollars. Build relationships and the money will follow. Chase the money and you’ll waste those relationships and quickly run through the money. That’s why retention rates in the gutter are so frustrating. It’s short-term thinking and it’s terminal.
Good politicians know who they are and they know their own limits. Good organizations do, too. That’s where donors come in. If your messaging is all about your good news, there’s no room for donors. Donors need to know they’re needed. It’s ok to let them know.
Memorable politicians are skilled communicators. They find their message and they sell it. Showing donors how they’re needed is part of it. But you have to communicate that message repeatedly. In the US, mailboxes will replace political mail with year-end solicitations. Make sure you’re getting your message out. Worry more about your message and less about over-communicating. Here’s the truth: donors are not paying as much attention as you think to what you say. The few that are want to hear from you.
Genuinely like and are comfortable with people
We all know the aura that surrounds those politicians with true gifts in this area. Charisma isn’t so much about a person’s attractiveness as it is about how they make you feel. A great politician instinctively makes each person he or she talks to feel special. Do your donors feel that way about your organization? Do they feel special, unique, needed? Do staff members genuinely enjoy interacting with donors?
Sensitive – able to read their audience and quick to respond
Do you know how your donors are feeling? Do you know what matters to them? Do you understand how to communicate with them? Can you predict the best messaging to reach them and then use it quickly as circumstances demand?
And are you responsive? Make sure your contact information is easy to find. Respond immediately to calls or emails. Thank donors promptly and well.
This goes hand in hand with the two characteristics above. It’s an important skill for fundraisers, but also for organizations. How much of what you say is about your organization? How much is about your audience – your donors, prospective donors and the people you help? If you’re doing all the talking, that’s not communication.
Like politicians, nonprofit organizations can change lives for the better. That comes with responsibility. Regardless of how this election turns out, you have the chance every day to do something great. Give it your best.