How concerned are you about your donors’ concerns?
Have you thought about what they’re owed from your organization – or from you?
How about something basic: how much control do they have over what communications they receive?
Can they request less mail or email – and have you respond?
Are they trying to make your life difficult? No. They’re not.
They’re trying to make their own lives less difficult.
Let me be clear: I believe donors have every right to control the messages you send them.
No more appeals? You comply, cheerfully.
One appeal a year? You ask what timing is best for them.
No newsletters? No holiday cards? No email? You politely acknowledge their preference and make sure it’s honored.
I understand tracking these requests takes work. And far too many systems don’t make it easy. (Why is that? Isn’t donor communication at the heart of fundraising?)
But you need to respond to their requests.
Here are a few reasons why.
1. You can’t predict the future.
Today’s $10 donor might be tomorrow’s $10,000 donor.
You don’t know how broadly their giving is distributed. And you may not know where their priorities are. Treating a donor well in this situation means your organization has the chance to stand out in the crowd.
Isn’t that what you want?
And even “small” donors are capable of leaving gifts in their wills. Many bequests are made by people of modest means.
Assumptions about a donor’s “worth” can be dangerous.
2. It’s not an annoying request, it’s the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
Shooting out X numbers of appeals a year – without regard to your audience’s response or desires – is transactional fundraising.
If you’ve got a list of zillions and the money to spend on churn and burn fundraising (nickel packs, anyone?), then maybe that’s fine with you.
Most organizations ought to be aiming at relationship building, though.
If a friend called to let you know that Friday nights are family time and she’d prefer you not text her then, would you be upset?
Would you heave a sigh and wonder if she’s worth the trouble?
I doubt it. You’d say “Of course! Thanks for letting me know.”
And when you complied your friend would understand you valued the friendship and her needs.
3. The request is probably a good sign.
Think about it: your donor hasn’t just tossed the appeal and grumbled. They didn’t hit “spam” on your email.
They’ve taken the time to ask you to change what they receive.
That probably means they care about what they receive. They’re likely reading it. Or at the least, they care enough about your organization to make their needs known.
That’s good. That’s actually thoughtful of them.
You should respond in kind. Thank them for letting you know. Make sure you’re clear on exactly what they’d like. And then find a way to do it.
4. It’s the right thing to do.
Our colleagues across the pond have been learning the hard way what happens when people get fed up with fundraising.
They’re now facing curbs on many well-used fundraising channels and more rules about what they can and cannot do to raise money.
Far better to do the right thing all the time, than to find the entire sector forced to operate with a hand tied behind its back.
Donors should have rights. And in fact, they do.
Here is the Donor Bill of Rights, from the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
And here are the National Council on Nonprofits rules for ethical fundraising.
The bottom line is that your donors aren’t required to give. They’re certainly not required to receive email or mail or phone calls they don’t wish to receive.
5. It could encourage loyal donors and increase your bottom line.
Are you looking for a strictly rational reason to give donors more control over communications?
Well, what if letting them decide when and how often to hear from you resulted in better returns and more loyal donors?
It might seem counter-intuitive at first – mail less, ask less… and get more money? But it can work.
Read this article by Jackie Fowler about the Camphill Village Trust in the UK.
The short version: CVT offers their donors, right from the first gift, a choice:
- Never hear from us again.
- Get info, but not appeals.
- Hear from us once a year at Christmas.
How do donors respond? I’ll quote Jackie here:
- One group of nearly 10,000 Christmas-only donors responding at over 61% with an average gift of over £64.
- 60,000 people raising £1.2 million after costs last Christmas, with an overall response rate of nearly 28% and an average gift of over £60.
- The average donor giving for over nine years, with many giving for much, much longer.
Now, this might be radical for many organizations. But responding to a donor’s request to moderate or change the communications they receive shouldn’t be.
Politely, happily responding to a donor’s request should be second nature for everyone in your organization.
It’s about communication, and communication only works when it’s two-way.
Years ago, I joined an organization and increased the number of annual solicitations, added a quarterly newsletter and a special thank you (not attached to a recent gift).
The result was increased giving and even better retention.
It also meant a few notes and phone calls from annoyed donors. (Remember, I live in the “land of steady habits”. Our donors would often give once a year, on the exact same day!)
I used these requests as an opportunity to clarify: “I have already marked your record to receive just one appeal a year – in the fall. Many of our donors enjoy the newsletter, though – do you want to continue to receive that?” Many did. Some did and gave in response to the newsletter as well as the one appeal.
The key is for donors to know they’re more than a check. They matter to your organization as individuals.
That doesn’t make them annoying.
That makes them donors who care. And those are the donors you want.
I wanted to add information from The Agitator. If you want evidence that listening to your donors matters, perhaps this will sway you. Quoting here:
Here’s one stat they might consider in choosing to ignore their donors. I’m talking about hard, empirical evidence that gets to the heart of what most nonprofits struggle with: retention, commitment, increasing lifetime value.
Consider just this one finding from research involving donors to 250+ nonprofits in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. As Kevin Schulman, CEO of DonorVoice, our sister firm that conducted the research, put it:
“For every donor who registers a complaint — i.e. provides feedback — their retention increases 15 points. That’s right, 15 points, say from a 30 to 45% retention rate.
“Notice I didn’t say the organization had to do anything to fix the complaint. All it had to do is ask that the complaint be voiced by the donor.”
Go read the whole article. What we do is customer service work. Listening to your donors – even if you don’t like what they have to say – is critical!