There was an interesting discussion at The Agitator last month. (I think it began with Who Gets Fired? but I can’t promise I’m right. The conversation continued over days because it’s important.) It raised a question: who’s to blame for lousy fundraising? Development staff, executive directors, consultants… we ran through the gamut.
It evolved through a dismissal of donor-centricity as a platitude. Something that fundraisers all claim to believe in, but don’t do (or understand).
At one point, it seemed like focusing on donors was dismissed as so much talk. That the real key should be data and good systems. Forget the fuzzy stuff.
But that couldn’t be right.
Maybe I was taking it personally?
Because I’ll admit I’m an unabashed believer in focusing on donors. Fundraising is NOT just about money.
Your organization benefits beyond the bucks when you look for relationships, not just donations.
Don’t get me wrong: good systems matter a lot. And I’m grateful for examples of great processes.
But finely honed systems are bunk if your organization lacks a genuine desire to connect to donors as people.
What you measure matters, not just how you’re measuring.
If you think your job is to extract the most money with the least expense from a database, you might be missing the forest for the green.
Because if it’s all about the benjamins, then you might as well get a job in the for-profit sector.
You’ll make more of those benjamins yourself.
But I don’t want to sell widgets. And I don’t want to do fundraising that isn’t about connecting donors to causes they care about.
What if you used good systems to measure what donors really think?
You can be both hard-headed and donor-focused, I think.
An organization that sees the donor’s role as “send us the money and get out of the way” isn’t sustainable.
An organization that communicates often, but badly, isn’t donor-centric. One that doesn’t communicate much at all probably isn’t, either.
Do you know your donors well enough to know what they want from you?
What are you doing to find out?
Measuring what you bring in can tell you some things. And you need to track those things.
But it’s not the whole story.
How long are your donors sticking around? How do they feel about the process of giving? How’s your customer service?
To learn what really matters, you have to ask the right questions, at the right times, to the right people.
Kevin Schulman’s from DonorVoice has important things to say on this topic. He is often cited at The Agitator. You should read this piece to understand more.
So yes, it takes a system. And data, meticulously captured and applied.
Do donors matter to you?
If donor-centricity is just something we talk about to make ourselves feel better, then it won’t work.
If it’s just what the cool kids are wearing this year, it won’t work.
If it’s only about the surface things – the number of mailings, pronouns, etc. – then it won’t work all that well.
So is donor love just a fad?
I don’t think donor-centricity is a fad, though the words we use to describe it may be.
Here’s the bottom line: effective fundraisers understand their donors.
They want to know what makes donors tick.
And they communicate well.
So if some of us get a little effusive, that’s a good thing.
There’s so much bad fundraising out there it can cloud our view.
Churn and burn fundraising may work for a while – especially if you have the budget and lists. But I doubt it works in the long-term.
Raise your hand if you’ve gotten a nickel pack in the mail in the last 2 months. Me too.
can you even remember which organization it was? Did you want to rush to your checkbook? Me either.
It’s a gimmick. Who likes to feel they’re falling for that?
(Smaller organizations can’t indulge in those things as easily. So maybe they have an advantage?)
You have to believe donors are partners, not just providers.
Can you build smart procedures for every step of a donor’s experience with your organization, based on real data? Yes.
And DonorVoice has plenty of information on how they’ve figured it out.
But that’s not instead of focusing on donors. That’s a smart way to focus on donors.
I don’t think loving your donors means you ignore data. I don’t think a systematic way to fundraise has to be cold-hearted.
But sincerity and intentions matter.
Use your brain. But don’t forget your heart.
Photo by condesign