Your donors want to feel understood. Especially now.
Coronavirus has been here in the US for about 7 months now.
(Do you look at old television shows or movies and feel an urge to yell at the actors to get a mask on? Me too. I wonder how long we’ll have these reactions.)
Even after months of this, many of us are still feeling uncertain, afraid, and out of control. The whole situation, from medical concerns to financial worries, seems so huge. It’s hard to get our brains around it all.
Your donors are feeling that way, too. Whether we want to be or not, we’re all in this together now. My choices affect you and yours affect me.
Are you giving donors something to hold on to now?
In the face of such a huge problem, it’s natural for people to think, “what can one person do?” That’s where you come in. Because you can offer people the opportunity to feel a little bit more in control. You can give them the chance to feel useful. Understood. Generous.
A while back, I read an article about the need for empathy toward healthcare workers. I think all of us can agree that these brave people on the front lines of this awful pandemic deserve all our care and concern.
The piece was written by Helen Riess, M.D., a psychiatrist and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical Scho0l.
One paragraph stopped me, and I want to share it with you.
When I was in psychiatry residency training, I learned about Heinz Kohut’s theory of Self Psychology, which explains that empathy for patients with mental illness is an essential ingredient without which there could be no cure. In Kohut’s words, empathy is “psychological oxygen.” When people feel understood, they feel whole and integrated; when they feel misunderstood or neglected, they feel fragmented and find it hard to function optimally.Helen Riess, M.D.
See why I stopped? While her focus is on healthcare workers, what she describes is also what we need to keep in mind when communicating with our donors.
We could all use some psychological oxygen
Oxygen keeps us alive. It fuels our cells and helps build new ones.
When we’re all feeling stressed, some mental fuel and emotional revival sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
So how can you offer your donors some? Working to understand the people who support your organization’s work isn’t like flipping a switch. We learn what donors tell us – either outright, or (more often) through their actions.
To understand, you need to work at it. Record any information you gain in a way that someone new can understand. (If it’s not easy to search, it’s not useful.)
And don’t just wait, ask. People like to tell you what they think. But most won’t just email you. You need to find ways to make it easy to start the conversation. You can do a donor survey… though if you want to use email, you might need to think through strategy – a question here, another there.
Be strategic about the questions. If you tell your colleagues you’re doing a survey, in no time at all, you’ll find hundreds of things they’d like to know.
It’s a bit like online donation forms. Focus on what you need to know in order to develop relationships with donors. Relationships that help them feel seen.
Neglected is not understood
Don’t let this happen to you!
Has someone told you to “rest” your donors? Chances are that will only result in fewer donors. Donors do not have to give. But if you want them to give, you need to give them easy opportunities.
I get plenty of fast and cheap solicitations from charities. Often several in one month from the same charity. I have to assume at some level they work – maybe they’re using such huge lists that enough people respond each time.
But that’s not what I’m suggesting you do. No nickels. No renewal bills. Just human-sized communication that lets your donor feel important and seen.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money, either. It costs no more to write warm and grateful copy than to write… well, that other stuff. Little touches can go a long way – like mentioning a donor’s history of giving. Or bonding over something happening in your community.
And as long as asking is done with grace and gratitude, you can ask when you need help. Just be sure asking is not all of it. You have a duty to thank well and promptly. And to let donors know what they’re generosity accomplished.
This is no time to stop communicating
Donors want to be understood about money, too.
Right now, some people may be facing financial problems. So be clear that you understand that. Guilt works, but it can also corrode. No one wants to feel bad.
And while some are hurting, others have a bit more disposable income to spend. And if you’re not there when they want to give…
We can all continue to be careful and kind. And we can all hope that whatever it is about this year is done with us in 2021. But one thing that won’t be done is your opportunity to help people feel good and kind and needed.
And that’s a privilege.