Unsatisfied: Do Your Donors Feel Like They’ve Been Swindled After Giving?
I was wandering through a pop-up farmers market and had no intention of buying olive oil. But the woman drew me in with her chatty, welcoming demeanor. She talked about the area in the Mediterranean where it was handmade by her family. It was like nothing I’d ever tasted — a superior product. I paused as she chatted. Did I really need olive oil? But she was so friendly, I could hardly say no.
I selected the olive oil and a tapenade. As soon as my payment cleared, she focused on a new family passing by, as if I’d suddenly become invisible. I don’t even think she said “thank you” or “goodbye.” In fact, I said, “thank you,” and she didn’t even respond. She was fully focused on the new target.
I was incensed. I felt like I’d just been swindled. Not to mention that the metal cap of the olive oil was hard to remove and cut my finger. Twice.
A few tables down, I bought a jar of kimchi from another vendor. He was casual and kind. He chatted about the weather, the incredible evolution of payment processors, and he said thanks: “I really appreciate it.” And then he asked me to come again.
I will buy more kimchi. I will not buy more olive oil.
Does this sound familiar? We’ve all been there. A purchase that seemed like a good idea at the time but with such terrible follow up, we’ve vowed never to shop or visit again.
Here is the hard truth, unfortunately. Is this how our donors feel? Unsatisfied and regretting their gift to our organizations almost as soon as they make it?
The Donor Perspective
Sometimes donors will let us know how they feel. They might post negative comments on social media. Perhaps they send angry letters with direct mail reply forms. I remember receiving a reply envelope stuffed to the max with junk mail. The addresses were carefully removed from all the brochures and flyers in passive protest.
A broader indicator of unsatisfied donors can be found in our data. They can be found in the number of our lapsed donors and gauged by our retention rates. (The average retention rate, by the way, is 45%.)
Take, for example, the online experience. When was the last time you took a spin through your online donation form? What is in your autoresponder? Do you have any follow up messages or thank-you letters that express the true gratitude of your organization? Or, like my olive oil hustler, are you taking the money only to turn on a dime and focus on the next campaign?
I’m afraid the latter is much more common than the former.
There is no shame here. I’m as guilty as the next fundraiser. We get caught up in the frenzy of our campaign calendar, our budget cycle and the ever-present pressure of meeting goals. Our stewardship and user journeys are neglected. They become distant to-do items that never get done.
Optimal Online Experience Tips
At a national conference several years ago, Scott Harrison, the founder of charity: water, was presenting. His story was so compelling and moving, filled with tragedy and passion. There was not a dry eye in the house. I became a monthly donor immediately and bought a copy of his book before I even left the main ballroom. I’ve been a monthly “spring” member since 2019 and have not regretted a dime of that investment. I get periodic emails with inspiring stories, project updates and beautiful videos. The emails include a calculation of how many families I have helped in total since joining. Compare that to organizations to which I’ve given and haven’t heard a word since. My dollars are lost in the void.
How can we improve? Here are my quick tips for an optimal online donor experience:
- Ensure you provide a compelling reason to give.
- Design your donation form with the campaign branding and a message of impact.
- Make the form easy – avoid “decision friction” with too many questions or choices. Less is more.
- Ensure that the thank-you autoresponder conveys your gratitude and offers more ways to get involved.
- Replicate the same grateful message in email confirmations.
- Follow up a few days later with additional thank-you messages and statements of impact.
- Keep a consistent flow of communication with your donor repeatedly recognizing them for their support.
I know we’re frazzled. And this past year has been the worst for so many of us. But consider taking an hour out of your day to do a quick user journey audit. If we can make a few simple changes to our processes, our donors will not be unsatisfied. They will be delighted to give. They will keep giving. And they will be proud to be associated with our organizations, knowing that their gifts are meaningful.
Let’s work to be a little less oil and a little more kimchi.
Jen Newmeyer, CFRE, is a digital fundraising strategist specializing in integrated campaigns and online engagement. Through her groundbreaking work and creative approaches during her more than 20-year tenure, she's raised more than $10 million in online revenue for nonprofit organizations while managing development budgets of more than $25 million and leading teams through collaborative campaign projects.
She is the author of "The Insider's Guide to Online Fundraising: Finding Success When Surrounded by Skeptics" and host of the podcast “From The Nest with CharityJen: Where Fundraising Takes Flight.” Jen is the director of digital fundraising strategy at the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the vice president of education for the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Washington, D.C., Metro Area Chapter.