What are you saying to donors without words?
My friend Clay wrote a terrific piece about the importance of data in your fundraising program.
You can – and should – read it here. (Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)
Clay makes an important argument for not overlooking the “little” things. Hand data entry over to a novice, or the receptionist, and you may regret it.
The point isn’t that some people aren’t capable of doing good work. Rather, it’s the opposite: jobs we might think of as entry-level aren’t something we should hand off without thinking.
Clay got me thinking about other tasks we take for granted or assume are not important enough to worry about. I spent many years, at several organizations, handling data entry. I didn’t mind it, because I wanted that information recorded correctly. And I understood our donor management systems (even when they were awful) well enough to correctly enter and update information. After all, if I messed up, I would be the person to have to answer for it and fix it.
But what other positions do we downplay as less than critical to our fundraising operations?
How about the receptionist?
Sure, you could assume the person filling this spot doesn’t need a great deal of experience. But what happens if that lack of experience meets your donor’s needs?
Imagine: a regular donor decides it’s time to change her will. She calls to speak with someone at your organization about this important, and highly personal, situation. Does the person answering her call understand what she needs? Can the receptionist handle the call with the degree of sensitivity it requires? Or does your donor get put through to voice mail with a curt, “hold, please”?
First impressions matter. If donors’ first impression is created by the person who answers the phone, or who staffs the front desk, what first impression do they get?
You may not need someone with advanced fundraising experience. But you do need someone with excellent people skills, patience, and warmth.
Or the volunteer coordinator?
Who in your organization has been assigned responsibility for volunteers? Is it someone with experience in that area? Or just the newest person on the team?
Volunteers are donors, too, even if they never give you money. And volunteers are community representatives. That goes both ways. What are they saying about your organization? Are they committed and raving about your work? Or are they disgruntled?
They can also play an important role inside the organization.
Years ago, I was the person who raised my hand to manage our volunteer group. Management was getting tired of dealing with them. But I had grown to like the people in this group.
They were largely women. The group included some board members as well as potential board members. They were connected in the community. In short – they might have driven our boss mad, but they were too important to disband because they were a bother.
Each year, they created a big gala. And yes, events take a huge amount of time and work. But each year, their friends sat at tables and learned more about us. And each year, these volunteers got to spend a lot of time interacting with key staff members, including artistic staff. (This was a theater.)
They mattered. And the relationships I developed with these volunteers helped enormously when I began leading our development office.
Meeting the public is a privilege, not an undesirable job
And how you meet your donors and potential donors matters – a lot.
Spell their name wrong or record the wrong gift amount and you signal you haven’t taken them or their gift seriously.
Shunt them automatically to voice mail, and you’re telling them you don’t find them important enough to respond to on their time.
Ignore them and expect them to work hard without any support or encouragement and you risk your organization’s reputation in the community.
I often write about donor communications – meaning written communication. But it’s broader than that. Every touchpoint with a donor or a potential donor can affect your fundraising success. We talk about a donor journey, but that journey doesn’t happen only on a screen or on paper. And it doesn’t really start with a gift.