That’s what we all really want, isn’t it? Someone who sees us.
We want to be known for ourselves, as people. To be recognized.
That’s what our donors are looking for as well. So why is so much communication impersonal and generic?
The lazy answer is because it’s easier that way. Large organizations might think: there’s no way we can know every donor anyway, right? So let’s just get something generic out and hope it works for enough people to make a dent. Small ones think: we don’t have the staff!
I don’t know about you, but that bugs me.
Everyone you’ll solicit isn’t a personal friend. So how do you let donors know you see and value them as individuals?
It takes a little bit of effort, but nothing superhuman. Just human.
Here are some things I think help.
Start by writing to a person, from a person. Address your letters or emails with a name. (Remember, they’re not your “friend”, right?)
Write about your donor. Talk about what she’s done and what he can do when he supports your organization. Imagine you’re at a party. Do you want to be stuck next to the person talking about themselves all night? Yeah, don’t let your organization be that person. No one is that into you.
Talk the way your donors do; don’t use jargon or generic phrases like “make a difference”. Think about how your donor would describe what you do. Want to show off your flowery prose? Save it for your novel. Want to show off your impressive vocabulary? Save it for your grandma. Write simply, clearly, and emotionally.
You might not know everything, but you absolutely know some things. Find a way to use those things. What programs have they supported in the past? Where do they live? How long have they been giving? Back to our party: you’d use that information to start a conversation, right?
Ask them to tell you more about themselves. I love surveys – and so do donors. People like the chance to tell you what they think. And you’ll be gathering great information.
Simple things matter. Like “how do you like to be addressed?” For example, a former employer still sends me letters with a formal salutation. I spent nearly twelve years there. I’m sure they think they’re being polite. But it always makes me feel like a stranger. That hurts a little bit. If they’d ever asked, they’d know that.
Then be sure you keep the conversation going once you ask. Back to our party: you know that person who asks you a question and then wanders off while you’re answering? Yeah, don’t be that person, either.
And please, please, don’t let the conversation end after the gift! The gift is a beginning, not an end. Thank your donor graciously and personally. Have a real person sign the letter. Add a handwritten note. Thank them every once in a while for no particular reason. Believe me, people will respond!
We’re in the business of building relationships.
Real people have relationships. Treat your donors like real people. You’ll be happily surprised, I promise!
Share your ideas! What do you do to treat your donors like individuals?
Photo: By Laitr Keiows (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Gelinne Deirdre says
Great blog! It’s not rocket science, after all. but it’s amazing how many organizations overlook the simple things … which brings me to my agencies meeting … have you been able to identify a date? Sorry to bug you, but I have to let them know pretty soon!
Mary Cahalane says
Let’s do the 22nd of March. Would that still work?
Helen Brown says
Great blog post, Mary. As a prospect researcher, the tip about using surveys really resonated with me. You’re right, people want to be related to, and they also love to give their opinions. If you ask, they will tell you what they particularly love about an organization, or why they give, or how – and when – they want to be asked. Affinity is some of the hardest information to infer, but it can be easily gotten if we just ask. The donors that take the time to reply are the ones that get an extra +1 on the affinity scale. Thanks for starting this party conversation!
Mary Cahalane says
Yes, absolutely, Helen! I make sure I do two things when I get survey responses: mark anyone that answered as more likely to give/worthy of more attention, and make sure that we show them we’ve heard what they told us. I usually send small notes thanking them for returning the survey, and in the note, mention something they’d said. Closing the circle…
And thank you for the kind comments! Donor relationships – fundraising conversations I never tire of!
Yes, a personalized message does make a difference. I do think it is good to talk about the organization too. Recently I donated a very small amount to my high school as a classmate encouraged us all to do it and I used a prepaid card with a small amount on it. I received a lovely thank had bulletin points of great things that the high school was doing to make me feel part of it. It probably would have been even better if they had a way of recognizing me as an individual or maybe at least say some things about the class the year that I graduated.