Your Donor Is Watching
It always is amazing how many nonprofit professionals actually believe that donors are not watching what they are doing. I’m not sure they actually believe that, but they behave that way.
This “donors are not watching” belief/behavior happens in a number of different ways. If you fall into this group, you actually believe that donors are:
- Not watching what you do with their money. It used to be that donors just gave you the money and then moved on to other things. Not anymore. Several weeks ago, I heard the story of a charity that lost a multimillion-dollar-per-year donor because the nonprofit could not account for how it spent the money. The funny thing was some people in the charity actually were bothered by the fact that the donor checked! Goodness.
- Not watching how you spend their money. You believe donors don’t read your annual reports and financials, so you don’t need to be concerned with how efficiently you are running your organization. Not anymore. Now, don’t confuse this statement with the amount of overhead your organization spends. Jeff and I have been telling you that any nonprofit that claims its overhead is less than 15 to 20 percent must be living on a different planet. You just cannot run a good organization and pay talented people what they should be paid by running it on air. Doesn’t happen. But I am not talking about overhead here. I just had to take that side trip on the subject because it is a pet peeve of mine. What I am talking about is how you spend the money other than overhead. Like stating in your appeals that your organization has an economic crisis—that “things are really tough,” then spending a wad of cash on buying a piece of property or redoing the building, etc. Donors can see what you are doing.
- Not watching how you treat them. I have in my possession a series of thank-you letters to a major donor who decided to give a local charity $500 a month—this is no small commitment! Over a year, this will turn into a $6,000 gift. I have four of the letters laid out on my desk right now. The executive director of the charity personally addressed and signed the letters, but the only difference between each of the letters is the date–one for every month the donor gave! Everything else is exactly the same. Exactly. Including the signature. Not one word has been changed. There is even a handwritten “Thank you” at the bottom. What do you think this executive director is thinking? One thought I had was that this gentleman is coming from the annual-giving philosophy. So in his mind, people only give once a year, therefore his whole system is set up for that. The other thought I have is that he actually believes the donor is not watching. Hmm ...
This “donors are not watching” behavior is symptomatic of an underlying belief system—on the part of a nonprofit’s leadership—that views donors as sources of cash rather than partners. How do I know this? Because the donor’s value in the equation is not lifted up, honored or valued.
We see examples of this every day in many nonprofits. We see it in program, in fundraising, in operations and in finance. It is an attitude of disregard that positions the donor as the least important part of the effort.
I really don’t know how this happens.
Think about it. The donor is delivering the cash that the nonprofit runs on. The donor is fueling the engine that makes everything happen. How is it we can just ignore this fact? I don’t know.
But it happens all too often. And then the leadership and the board wonder why there is such high-donor attrition in the organization–why are the donors going away?
There are two basic reasons why you need to pay more attention to donors in your organization:
- They are the critical part of what makes your cause happen. Without them, you do not exist. Without their financial input, you cannot function. This is 99 percent of the reason you should pay more attention to your donors.
- They are watching. They know what you are doing.
So, take a look at how you do things in your organization.
What attitudes do finance, program and operations people have about donors? What does your leadership think of donors? How are you treating them? What are your own attitudes about the donors on your caseload? Is your heart warm and open toward your donors? Do you care about what they think and how they are treated? If your answer to these questions is “no,” then you really need to find another job or change your attitude.
Look at it this way. The three most critical aspects of a nonprofit are:
- The cause itself and the clients you serve.
- The program you deliver.
All the rest of it is the system that puts these three things together. I am not saying the people involved in the system (i.e., the staff) are not important. I am saying that our service is to the cause and the donors.
So, do an attitude check right now on how you and others in your organization are behaving toward donors. Find those things that need changing. Then, create an action plan to change them. Your donors will appreciate it, you will be more authentic in your work and the organization will benefit financially from it.
If you’re hanging with Richard it won’t be long before you’ll be laughing.
He always finds something funny in everything. But when the conversation is about people, their money and giving, you’ll find a deeply caring counselor who helps donors fulfill their passions and interests. Richard believes that successful major-gift fundraising is not fundamentally about securing revenue for good causes. Instead it is about helping donors express who they are through their giving. The Connections blog will provide practical information on how to do this successfully. Richard has more than 30 years of nonprofit leadership and fundraising experience, and is founding partner of the Veritus Group.