The 5 Donor Love Languages
If love is the answer, what was the question? It seems the question on our minds these days is, “How do I raise more money” or “How do I retain my current donors and get them to give more?”
And understandably so. Whether you’re reading the latest research from Adrian Sargeant, PhD, or the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the overall U.S. donor retention rate averages just 46 percent and only 20 percent among first-time donors.
Love is the answer. Donor love to be precise. If the application of the best-selling book, “The Five Love Languages,” by Gary Chapman, PhD, strengthens romantic relationships, how would the five donor love languages read? I presented on that topic at the 54th Association of Fundraising Professionals International Conference in San Francisco.
Donors do have love languages, and here’s the summary:
1. Hands-on Service. Gone are the days when major donors want the white glove, red carpet treatment. Many donors want to roll-up their sleeves, engage in hands-on experiences and feel something. Whether it’s spending an afternoon at a summer camp for grieving children or a ride-a-long with program staff doing outreach to people experiencing homelessness in their community, hands-on service can be a life-changing and illuminating experience.
2. Words of Affirmation. Thank-you calls and handwritten notes of appreciation are priceless to many of our donors. Cygnus Research confirms 51 percent of donors report wanting their gift acknowledgment letters personalized with a handwritten note (bonus points if those notes and letters are signed by board members). And the data on the effect of board member thank-you calls to donors is even more compelling. Could you recruit a group of board members willing to make few phone calls or write some notes on a regular basis? Perhaps host an annual donor thank-a-thon annually with your board member callers?
3. Tokens of Appreciation. But not the typical branded lapel pin or padfolio variety of tokens. Rather, unique and mission-focused tokens of appreciation. Examples include handmade Valentine’s made by children in your programs or a framed and matted photo of your donors taken at the black-tie gala to benefit your organization. (Provide your event photographer and shot list with instructions to take these pictures early in the evening while donors are fresh!) How about hand-delivering a dozen cookies from the local bakery decorated with a simple thank-you message? Modest, inexpensive expressions that convey our gratitude. Not for every donor, of course, but what about one or two donors once a week or every two weeks?
4. Quality Time. For some donors, nothing replaces a face-to-face visit when it comes to spending quality time. The key is ensuring the quality in quality time. With the organizations I train and coach, we define what quality means and set metrics around the number of quality face-to-face visits. Each quality visit must meet two or more of the following criteria:
o Leave the donor feeling valued by our organization.
o Convey the impact of their giving to the cause we serve.
o Deepen the donor’s understanding of the needs we aim to meet through our work and, if appropriate, our plan to meet those needs.
o Strengthen the donor’s emotional connection to our work through storytelling.
5. Proof of Impact. Report the measurable outcomes of your organization’s work, which is possible through charitable contributions and other funding sources. Proof of impact may take the form of a stewardship report or an annual impact report (formerly known as the annual report), including stories, measurable outcomes and donor recognition rolls if you choose. Perhaps featuring two or three of the program areas, which made the most significant impact.
So, is this idea of donor love languages for real or just a clever spin on Chapman’s best-seller? I assure you, it’s the real deal. Cygnus Research reports a donor-centric approach to donor engagement has a significant effect on both donor retention and gift value upgrades. In fact, among the Cygnus Research participants who received focused attention, average gift values increased 39 percent and donor retention was 70 percent after 14 months. Donor attrition for the control group who didn’t receive focused attention exceeded 80 percent.
Isn’t it time to start loving our current donors and stop obsessing about wealthy strangers?