That goes for your organization’s relationships with its donors, too.
Trust is precious. And fragile.
In a 2015 poll, the Chronicle of Philanthropy found that “A third (of those polled) said charities do a “not too good” or “not at all good” job spending money wisely; 41 percent said their leaders are paid too much.”
It might not be fair, but trust in the entire sector erodes every time an organization finds itself in the headlines for wrongdoing. Think about the damage the story about Olive Cooke did to the entire sector in the UK.
Trust takes time to build and is easily broken. I see it as analogous to focusing on retention. If you don’t prioritize retaining donors, you will always be behind, struggling to add new donors to make up for those that leave. And it’s harder to attract new donors than to take good care of those you have.
With trust, you work to build it, and you work to keep it. Because once it’s gone, it’s very hard to rebuild.
But what builds it?
Honesty is key to trust
If you fudge the facts to make your need seem dire or to make your organization seem more important, you take a big risk.
Being seen as honest is the baseline. It’s not an ideal; it’s the expectation. So you don’t have much room here.
That’s why crying wolf, when done year after year, isn’t a good idea. After a while, your donors and potential donors tune you out. You’re no longer worth listening to because you’re no longer being honest.
Offer information about impact
It’s not enough to make your case and secure the gift. You’re about halfway through the cycle at that point. You still need to thank your donor well. And you still need to show them what their gift accomplished.
It’s best if this isn’t a one-time report, too. Keep thanking donors and keep showing them how they make a difference.
Reinforce that you do what you say you do
What is the value proposition you offer your donors?
Are you actually doing what you say you do?
If you ask for money to help people in Haiti, then that money had better go to your program to help people in Haiti. If what you need is general operating funds, then tell your donor his gift will go where it’s needed most.
Then there are matching gift offers. If you say a generous donor will donate $10,000 only if you raise that amount and make the match, be sure that’s true. (That means the donor’s $10,000 really happens only if the match is met.)
Admitting mistakes builds trust
We all screw up. We get names wrong. We forget to send the thank you letter or return a call promptly.
Donors are pretty forgiving. But that doesn’t mean you can just shrug it off.
Apologize. And mean it. And promise to do better.
Then do better.
I’ve found situations where our systems led to small mistakes like forgotten thank you letters. When that happens, don’t just fix the immediate problem – dig for the underlying cause and fix that.
Then thank the donor for helping you do better.
Consistency is key to trust
Roger Craver often cites a problem like this:
A donor gives to an environmental organization because of an appeal to save the whales. But the thank you letter, or the next appeal, asks them to stop climate change.
The organization may work on a host of environmental issues – but your donor was drawn to you because of the whales. Be sure she knows how her gift did go to work saving whales. Then you can introduce her to other projects she might find interesting.
Consistency is why a case for support isn’t just for big campaigns. Refine your message. Then use it – over and over again.
Behaving with integrity is the key to being trustworthy
Nonprofit organizations often begin in donors’ good graces. But don’t take that trust for granted. Work for it, every day.
It’s worth it.
Photo by Cristina Gottardi