I recently had the pleasure to present a talk on donor personas to my local Tech 4 Good community group. During the discussion that we had, I had made a comment that using a person’s first name in a communication was not going to cut it for the donor experience.
Someone asked me why that isn’t enough. Get ready, we’re about to take a ride.
The donor experience is lacking
According to Adrian Sargeant’s groundbreaking research, there is a direct correlation between the donor’s satisfaction with their giving and gratitude experience and whether they will give to your organization again. The majority of donors cite poor communication as a reason they no longer want to support a cause, which means we have a messaging and process problem to fix.
We need to address this soon. There is increasing evidence that donors are leaving our organizations in droves, with the most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project data showing that donors under $1000 dropped by over 4% in 2018.
Many organizations focus on receiving a quick gift in order to hit immediate cash flow projections and sacrifice building a long term relationship. There’s a lot of discussions about how effective a sales mentality is when it comes to fundraising, but the reality is that fundraising will always be about building a relationship that is beyond a transaction. When we lose sight of the core reason for existence as a sector, we can easily lose direction on creating the optimal donor experience.
Getting back to basics
One of the disheartening trends I’ve started seeing is that we are quick to blame nonprofit professionals for the donor retention numbers coming out. Ultimately, it is the fundraiser’s responsibility to ensure their donors are stewarded. Yet is our sector properly preparing and stewarding development staff to focus on the donor experience?
I recently spent an entire day unpacking donor retention and helping nonprofits perform a self assessment around where they are with their donors. One of the most heartbreaking stories was from a staff member of a nonprofit who was ordered by her board of directors to initiate two new fundraising events while cutting the budget entirely for her annual fund. In a review of her last year’s campaign successes, the only program that had any growth was the annual fund. Yet when I expressed my concern and surprise, many others in the room nodded their heads at her plight.
We need to avoid focusing on the quick transactions and the shiny objects that are cropping up and begging for our attention. Without proper stewardship of both our donors and the data that represents them, we will never be able to perform our responsibilities and deliver on the promise of our mission.
What donors want
So how does all this relate to why using just the first name in an appeal isn’t enough?
Studies have shown that 60% of donors cite personalization of their experience as an extremely important factor in supporting an organization. If poor communication is the reason they don’t give, personal communication is a reason that donors keep coming back.
Personalization is a delicate balance between making an authentic connection and being creepy. Yet some ways that your organization can invest in creating a personalized experience that is donor centric can start with broad changes to how you approach giving and lead into the more intimate ways that donors might interact with your mission.
Your organization should always assume that your donors will be asking the following three questions when you ask them to give:
- Why give?
- Why give now?
- Why me?
Ensuring you can answer all three questions quickly is the goal. There’s a lot of different ways to come at creating that answer, but it ultimately comes down to putting yourself in the shoes of the donor. Instead of relying on our own perceptions of the donor’s experience, we should be asking our donors what they think and what we can do better.
Investing in the donor experience
Let’s unpack a few concrete steps we can take to address the donor experience in a way that is data driven and donor friendly.
Take a good look at your organization’s website and attempt to donate. How many clicks does it take to get to the credit card entry fields? What happens if someone wants to send you a check, are there clear instructions? What about memorial gifts? Does your website invite people in to be part of the story you are telling?
How often do you update your appeal copy? Does it reflect your current priorities and passions? How often is the word YOU used in your appeals? How are you demonstrating impact through your messaging? How visual are your appeals? What channels are you engaging donors?
Do you only ask donors for money or do you communicate direct impact of your programming? Do you have a social media presence that is focused on inclusive storytelling? Are all your events transactional in nature or do you have any appreciation or information events as well? Do you have peer to peer fundraising to inspire champions of your cause?
How do you thank your donors? Is it just an automated email receipt or do you have a written follow up letter? Is that letter focused on the donor’s role in your organization or is it centered on your organization instead? Have you explored thank you videos or social media gratitude? Do you schedule phone calls to donors to thank them?
If you can’t tell, it’s a good idea to thank your donors and thank them a lot. If there’s one thing that your organization can do when it comes to the donor experience, take a deep look at your gratitude program and invest as many resources into it as possible.
Your donors will thank you.
Guest author: Tim Sarrantonio
Tim is a team member at Neon One and has more than 10 years of experience working for and volunteering with nonprofits. Tim has raised over $3 million for various causes, engaged and enhanced databases of all sizes, procured multiple successful grants, and formulated engaging communications and fundraising campaigns for several nonprofits. He has presented at international conferences and is a TEDx speaker on technology and philanthropy. He volunteers heavily in his home Niskayuna, NY.