There are no small donors
Fundraisers can often talk in shorthand that sounds bad when exposed to the general public. “Small donors” is one of those shortcuts.
When you care about donors, you know that sounds bad. It implies some donors matter, and some donors… not so much.
Changing how you think about donors – and trying not to use those terms even with your colleagues – is important.
Donors – giving any amount – are important
There are donors who give more and give less, but anyone who gives is important.
A report published by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI looked at U.S. charitable giving from the great recession in 2008 to 2016. The study shows “continued attrition in the percent of American households who gave to charity, from about two-thirds in 2000 to just over half in 2016”.
That is, half of us are donors. Half of us in the U.S. are not. So anyone who chooses to become a donor is doing something special.
Donors choose the relationship they want with your organization
How your organization treats donors can affect how they treat you. Remember that they’re in the driver’s seat.
Treat someone like a stranger and they may choose to be one.
Treat someone like they matter, and they may stick around.
When finances are tight, donors may need to prioritize their giving. Where will you fall? If you’re treating Jane Donor like a cog in the machine, you’re making it easy for her to cross you off the list.
I stumbled on a presentation recently by Talk Triggers called Why Chatter Matters. In it, they address how people make buying decisions. I think it’s fair to extrapolate a bit to giving decisions.
- 50% of Americans would choose word of mouth if they had to pick one source of information when making a purchase.
- 83% of us have made a word of mouth recommendation
- And the three most valued sources of information are: personal experience, familiarity with the brand and word of mouth
Why am I telling you this? Because your organization’s reputation matters to your fundraising success. And the only way you can control what people say about you is how you behave toward them.
We think of giving as a very personal act. But imagine what happens if a friend recounts a bad experience with a local organization. You will probably begin seeing this organization with different eyes.
On the other hand, if that friend tells you about how much Organization Z means to her, you’re likely to listen.
What you can do
Of course, you’re polite, right? Anyone who gives gets their thank you letter and a tax receipt. And you never talk badly about donors… at least in public.
But consider if you’re really alone. Talk spreads. What about the colleague who isn’t so concerned about donors? Or the volunteer in the office who overhears something less than positive? (Remember that volunteers are also donors!)
Changing our mindset is important. Fundraisers serve the mission and donors. If dealing with donors is a chore, that may telegraph itself in ways you can’t see. (This goes for everyone in the organization, not just fundraisers.)
Then think about how you can show donors – of every donation amount – that they matter.
Think about these things
Do donors who give less get less personal attention? Sure. There are only so many staff members to care for donors. And some donors don’t want a truly personal relationship. Even donors who make very large gifts may want to hear from you via direct mail, and not through a major gifts officer.
No donor should ever feel less than.
Do you need to send anonymous “Dear friend” appeals? No. You don’t. It’s just cheaper and easier. Consider the longer-term costs, though.
1. Thank well
Are your thanks formal and feelings-free? It costs no more to do that right. It’s just a change in mindset.
2. Show them how they matter
Is your program all about the next gift, and not about letting donors know they made a difference with their last gift? Think about showing impact – and more gratitude – before you ask again.
3. Ask them what they think
Have you ever asked all your donors what they think? A survey can give you insight – and strengthen donors’ sense of connection to your mission.
4. “Just because” thanks
Have you ever tried thanking donors – just because? Not only when they’ve just made a gift, but just to let them know you’re thinking of them? A simple letter is not terribly expensive. And you can even try email for this. Don’t include an ask. Just say thanks.
5. Special gifts need special care
Are you treating special gifts with sensitivity? How well are you handling memorial or tribute gifts? Are you asking the donor to do the work? Or are you sending warm thanks to the donor and warm acknowledgments to the family or person being honored?
All your donors matter. And if you want more of them – and more of them to stick around – you need believe they do.