Whither the Winds of Change
Today’s donors also are more cynical. They have a streak of doubt that shades their perception, and they don’t automatically trust you. Perhaps more than in any generation preceeding them, they have experienced deception from the institutions they value — religion, journalism, government and corporate America.
Nonprofit organizations that are in sync with donors’ or members’ expectations, needs, wants and — yes — even their demands will thrive.
There are several phrases or descriptions being tossed around today to explain the behaviors of new donors and how nonprofit organizations should respond to them. My colleagues and I tend to talk in terms of empowering donors, being donor focused. Others refer to being donor centered. No matter how you describe it, the reality is that donors are changing, and our response to them needs to change as well.
Here’s a quick test you can use to determine whether you are donor focused or not:
- Do you give donors the ability to engage with your organization on multiple levels? Examples: contributing their money, volunteering their time, sharing their ideas and opinions, advocating on your behalf with their friends or public officials. If you are focused solely on raising money from your donors, you are bound by a traditional approach to fundraising and not fully donor focused. Today’s new donor wants multiple engagement opportunities.
- Do you give donors control and choice over their communication relationship with you? Example: allowing donors to specify what communication channels they prefer and frequency of communication. If your communication stream is solely driven by organization needs and desires, then you’re not fully donor focused. Today’s new donors want to know you respect and trust them, and they want control and choice.
- Do you “prove” the value of your donors’ investments — money, time, ideas, advocacy — with your organization? Examples: detailed performance reports, specific case studies, stories of success, an open-door policy with regard to successes and failures in your organization. If your communications are organizationally focused (e.g., pictures of your building or board of directors, endless stories about fundraising cocktail parties, a constant focus on the methodology of your work), then you’re not donor focused. Today’s new donors want to see proof that their investments are making a difference.
- Do you and your colleagues accept the fact that your donors are significant stakeholders in, and in many ways “own,” your organization? I’m amazed at the low view some fundraisers hold of their donors. Suggestions that they need to be “educated” and changed reflect a disrespect of donors. Viewing donors as walking cash machines is just as disparaging. Failing to give donors opportunity for participation with your organization, including providing a sufficient number of fundraising appeals, reflects a low view of donors and of the overall fundraising enterprise.
Your donors love you because of what you accomplish with their investments. They see you as an extension of themselves; you’re doing what they want to do but can’t. And that’s why your donors want to give, share their ideas and opinions, volunteer their time, and become your advocate with others.