After decades together, I learned my husband didn’t like pineapple.
It was shocking, really, that I’d missed something like that.
Do you feel like that about your donors, too?
What clues might you have been missing?
A successful fundraiser is a detective.
The best retailers have created entire business models around getting to know their customers. Or about offering the most personalized service possible. Or both.
How well do you know your donors?
Chances are you have information – or access to information – right now.
Here are four ways you can gather clues:
Every interaction with a donor should yield information. Even if you don’t gather any facts, you will have the chance to absorb impressions. And those can also be important.
Ask donors how they got involved with your organization. If they’re willing to chat, ask why it’s important to them.
But maybe they want to talk about something else entirely. Their passion for collecting stamps. Their concern about the state of our country.
You don’t have to interrogate anyone. (Don’t do that!) But a conversation where you do less talking and more listening is almost always fruitful.
You can also use surveys to reach more donors.
The Agitator and Kevin Schulman of DonorVoice have written about specific processes that measure donor satisfaction. These work individually, as retailer’s customer surveys do: how was your experience? What could we do better?
But you can also collect information that’s more about donor engagement.
When I used a survey like that with donors, we learned so much! We learned about the individual donors who responded. But also, to some extent, what our average donor was like. What she cared about.
And as important, our donors were thrilled that we wanted their opinions! Asking – and then responding to what we learned – told donors they mattered.
Do you handle the actual responses that come in from donors? Do you look at the notes they might add on your response device? Do you see mail from donors addressed to your organization?
I hope the answer is yes. Because the donors who take those extra steps really want to be heard. Knowing a donor wants to be heard is important information itself. What she wants to tell you is also important.
Negative feedback is hard to take, but don’t ignore it! And don’t get defensive. Hear it with an open mind. Put yourself in that donor’s shoes. And remember, you’ll only hear if they care.
And then respond! Respond humbly and honestly. Even if you don’t agree, let the donor know her opinion is important.
What a donor chooses to give you and how he or she gives is also full of information.
Get to know (from public sources, like annual reports and programs) what donors in your community give to other organizations. I used to grab that information and keep a spreadsheet. If your donor’s gift to your organization is markedly larger or smaller than her norm, that says something.
If your donor signs on for monthly giving with you, that tells you your organization is important. And trusted.
If the donor consistently chooses one particular project or area to fund, of course, that points to interest there.
And if the donor has been giving for years, her loyalty should be noted. (And celebrated!)
Honorary and memorial gifts are packed with meaning, of course.
Likewise, if a consistent donor misses a gift, there might be a problem. It might have nothing to do with you. Or it might have everything to do with you. The only way to know is to ask.
Keep the information safe and organized
None of these clues will help you or your organization if they’re not captured and contained in a system.
Your fundraising database must be able to collect easy-to-categorize information (gift amounts and dates) and less easily organized information (donor comments or requests).
But no system will do the job if you and your colleagues don’t gather and record that information.
An organization where fundraising is everyone’s concern will lead to program staff eagerly passing along comments from the people they took on a tour.
Volunteers can be encouraged to pass along what they learn, too.
An organization built on trust also means fundraisers are good at keeping confidential information confidential.
Donors are a mystery you should be solving every day
Make the effort to know and understand your donors.
What you learn will allow you to communicate better. And allow your donors to feel known, special, important.
If you want people to give, they need to feel like important partners in the work.
And a great way to recognize that partnership is to treat your donors like individuals.