Let me start with a story
Many years ago, when we were first married and before kids, my husband and I took a trip out to California. We wanted to see San Francisco and visit my brother, then in Salinas.
When we got to San Francisco, we were looking around when a cab driver approached us. He could tell we were new in town. He proposed a ride to show us around. Something about him – maybe that he looked like an aging hippy, maybe that he reminded us of our favorite college professor – made us say, “sure”.
He took us all over town, hitting all the tourist attractions. But best of all was his entertaining personality – we chatted throughout the ride. He was a terrific storyteller and proud of his city. When we finally arrived back at our hotel, he handed us his card. I hung on to that one for a while… just in case.
We certainly paid more for that trip than a more straightforward ride to our hotel. But we also got so much more from it.
It was a journey I remember all these years later. Whenever I head down a steep slope, I can hear him saying “Pray for the brakes!”
What does this have to do with fundraising?
We often talk about the donor’s journey. But how seriously do we take that idea?
If your fundraising program has stalled – or maybe never started – here are some reasons why.
You don’t turn on the light
A cab often has a light on top to let you know it’s available. In the same way, you must let donors and prospective donors know that you need them.
It’s the oldest axiom in fundraising: you don’t get if you don’t ask. And it’s true – gifts rarely come to organizations that don’t request them. I suspect that’s even more true in our distracted age.
Today, someone with a big heart and the desire to give has millions of options. Why should they choose you?
That’s the question you need to answer – and keep answering. But add another couple to the list: Why now? Why me? (The donor).
You have to ask.
And when you do, you have to cut through the noise. Like that cabby, you need to be open for business and compelling.
A well-written appeal lets a prospective donor know there’s a need, it’s urgent, and she can do something about it.
When you opt to communicate irregularly (like the once a year appeal too many organizations put their hope in), you’re saying the need isn’t that urgent. The donor isn’t that needed.
When you dance around an ask instead of being clear, you confuse a prospective donor. When you don’t share an emotional case for a gift, you telegraph “we’re not serious.”
Be clear. Be serious. And ask for help often enough to stay in prospective donors’ minds.
You don’t show donors they matter
If like a cab driver, you pick up a new donor but they get out before their destination, you’ve failed to pay attention to their journey.
If you don’t follow up a gift promptly with a warm, grateful thank you letter and/or call, you’re dumping that donor on the side of the road.
If you’ve been honest with your appeal for support, then the donor might want to stay with you.
Make that more likely by continuing the journey.
They should be thanked well. And they should be shown what their contribution has done.
That cab ride was fun not just because we’d found a real character. He was enjoying the heck out of the ride, too. It was mutually satisfying.
Do you donors feel that way about giving to you?
You make it hard to give
Have you ever tried to hail a cab in the rain? Somehow they all seem to disappear with the sun.
Are you doing that with your requests?
Let’s start with your mail appeals.
- Is your package missing a return envelope?
- Did you provide a response form?
- Is the form easy to use? (Have as much as possible filled out to begin with, for instance.)
How about your website.
- Is the call to action on the homepage obvious and clear?
- Is there a donate button they can’t miss?
- Does that button take a donor right to a donation form, or do you make her read another page or two first?
- Is the donation form as easy to fill in as possible – or are you asking for too much information?
- Can it be filled out easily on a phone?
- Does your donation page make your case clearly, visually, emotionally?
If it’s hard to give, people won’t give. So if you can’t answer yes to the questions above, start fixing the problems today!
You don’t really know where you’re going
So maybe you’ve succeeding in attracting a new passenger, or in this case, donor. You’re both eager to begin your journey together. Awesome!
Do you know where you’re going?
So, the gift is in. Have you thought about your next steps?
- When will they hear from you next?
- How will they continue to feel they’re important to you?
- Are they enjoying the scenery and chatting with you or reading their phones and wondering when they can get out?
Plan the trip in advance.
Begin by thanking them well and promptly. If at all possible, add a thank you call. (Board members or volunteers can also do this for you.) In your thank you, you can tell them what they can expect on their journey with you.
Then be sure they understand what happened because they gave. They sent you a gift to accomplish something – show them they did. (And please, oh please, remember to credit them, not your organization!)
Have you asked them to get more involved? Opportunities to volunteer, or sign a petition or maybe recommend you to a friend?
And after you’ve done all of that, have you asked them to give again?
Giving again dramatically increases the odds that they will stick around.
To create the journey, you also need information.
Think of metrics as your road map. You need to know things about your passengers: donor retention rate, lifetime value, whether they’re new donors or have given in the past.
And along the way, watch for signs:
- Have they given again?
- Have they increased their gift amount?
- Have they called with a question or to update their address?
- Taken you up on the offer to volunteer or visit?
All of these signs help you know where you’re headed.
And if you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?
Are you loving your loyal donors?
You can bet had we returned to San Francisco, we would have called that cabby again. But I’ll bet you have made local connections that matter to you.
At two, my oldest desperately wanted “a real guitar” for Christmas. Being somewhat foolish first-time parents, we walked into a music shop.
The owner didn’t treat us like nuts. He produced a half-size acoustic. That guitar was never played properly. But it ignited dreams – in both kids. They’re amazing musicians now.
My oldest studied guitar there years later. My youngest took piano lessons forever.
When I go into the store, I’m greeted like an old friend. The owner knows my name. And he often mentions how grateful he is that we’re one of his oldest customers.
Now there’s a new, chain music store down the street. It’s bigger. But you can bet I’ll always head to the smaller shop that treats me like family.
Do you donors feel like that? Do you value them? And if you do, do they know it?
Don’t stop wooing them once the gift is in, or once you can feel sure they’ll stick with you. Treat them like the amazing people they are.
- Call or write them just to say thanks.
- Recognize loyalty, not just gift size.
- Invite them over to see the work in action.
- Get to know them as people – because that’s really what we all want.
If your fundraising program is out of gas, you might need to tune it up. Here’s what you should think about:
- Show them they’re needed
- Show them the impact of their giving
- Make it easy to give
- Know where you’re going
- Celebrate loyalty
Go hit the gas. You won’t have to pray for the brakes.
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography