You could even say sales. (I know, that sounds so cold. But it’s true.)
I was reading a blog about arts marketing that I enjoy, Marketing the Arts to Death. In Arts Marketing Doesn’t Work Because It’s Irrational, Trevor explains why marketing – or really, ticket sales – is about matching what you offer to what your prospective patron wants.
But do you really know what your patron (or donor) wants? How do you know that your information (or probably assumptions) are right?
Trevor asks two questions:
Have we gathered enough objective, external evidence to know for a fact what our target audiences want?
Have we done a good job of describing how what we’re selling will satisfy our target audience’s stated yearnings?
We should be asking the same questions.
In fundraising, we spend a fair amount of time thinking about the second question.
Have we created a case for support that communicates our need? Are we using the right language to persuade our donors or prospective donors to give? Are we presenting our appeal in the best format?
All good questions, and all questions we should be constantly asking ourselves.
But how much time do you spend trying to learn what it is your donors want?
A quick story from my past
I worked for an organization that managed and created programming for urban parks.
Inside the organization, programming was king. A great deal of staff time and energy was spent arranging performances, races, and other reasons to bring people to the parks.
In a way, the parks became the backdrop to what was treated as the important part of the mission.
I decided to send my donors a survey.
It was a great success – probably because our very loyal donors hadn’t really been asked for their opinions.
But one thing that came through loud and clear was that donors gave for the parks. Even when they could no longer visit the parks themselves.
The events were nice. But the parks were meaningful. Emotional. Why they gave.
What they wanted in return for their gifts? Knowing the parks were cared for. That people in the city could have beautiful green space to enjoy. That another generation would have the parks.
In other words, our inside assumptions were all wrong. We needed to get back to putting parks first.
So how do you find out what your donors think?
You ask them!
Create a survey
You don’t have to create a statistically meaningful, complex survey to do this. You’re not going for that at all. You’re not going for science; you’re going for engagement and understanding.
If your donors are more responsive to print, then make it a print survey. (This is about them, remember, not what’s easier or cheaper for you.) And chances are, your donors are more responsive to print.
But what made the survey work were questions meant to help us understand our donors. The most important question, it turned out, was “Why does our organization matter?” (Leave lots of space!)
Try a print survey once a year, or even every couple of years, with new donors getting a survey in their first year.
But you don’t have to stop with a print survey.
You can also embed quick feedback questions on your website. (See DonorVoice’s feedback widget – its’ free!)
And you can include quick questions in your emails.
Talk to your donors
Of course, another great way to learn what matters to your donors is to talk to them and ask.
Try holding a Thankathon, and as part of your script, include questions meant to open that conversation.
People are usually happy to be asked about their thoughts – especially when you’re not asking for a donation at the same time. (Too often, that “what do you care about?” question can feel like a prelude to a request if not handled really well.)
Or ask to meet with some of your most loyal donors.
Or hold a small event and sit around and solicit their thoughts.
Of course, this all takes time.
But wouldn’t you like to know you’re on the right track?
How much better would your fundraising be if you were matching your organization’s needs to your donor’s desires?
The answer: a LOT.
Photo by Eunice Lituañas