Why Do Your Donors Give? Knowing Is the Smart Fundraiser’s Best Tool
When I ask most fundraisers this question, their responses are usually litanies of details about their organizations’ various programs. I’ll hear about the marvelous work they’re doing in their communities. How unique they are. That there’s no other organization doing what they’re doing.
You already have heard my story.
About how, after seven years working in programming and communications for a grant-making foundation, I landed in a 15-hour-a-week (and, yes, $15 an hour) development job for a regional nonprofit.
All I actually knew at the time was how to write a solid grant proposal. And I only knew how to do that, not from any classes I’d taken, but from personally reviewing hundreds of grant proposals, most of them horrendous.
And that, in a nutshell, is all I knew about nonprofit fundraising.
The organization I landed in was an absolute mess. Thanks to a successful local businessman, it had run a hugely successful capital campaign just five years prior, raising more than $5 million for a new facility. And what had it done since?
Major donors were ignored. Not a single foundation grant proposal had been written in five years. The organization’s annual membership campaign had been outsourced to a succession of different mail-houses. The resulting product left supporters angry, and the campaign had steadily lost donors and dollars for the past five years. The businessman who had spearheaded the capital campaign had passed away, and none of the records were available to me.
Frankly, I thought that I’d taken on more—much more—than I could handle.
I can still recall today how, two weeks after starting and close to tears, I called a good friend and mentor to share all the negatives I was uncovering on a daily basis. I had no idea where to start. Talk about a pity party.
“How many people get to create their own job?”
That was a light bulb moment for me. And that’s when I mapped out a strategy. A plan for grants, a plan for public relations, a plan for a website (the organization didn’t have one), a plan for growing individual donors.
And then, I did one of the smartest things I’ve ever done and something that I continue to do 16 years later.
You see, I knew that the heart and soul of my fundraising plan would be to learn what our donors’ motivations were.
So, after querying our database for 20 loyal donors who had given more than $250 a year during the past five years, I wrote a letter of introduction asking why they had supported the organization. I sent it out, along with a brief survey and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Eighteen responded. Several sent in checks, even though I hadn’t asked for money. Three eventually became major donors. The donor testimonials guided my fundraising and marketing efforts, and resulted in turning around our annual campaign.
It’s amazing what occurs when people feel valued and appreciated.
Over the years, many of my subscribers have written in, asking me for the letter.
I wish I still had it!
But I've got the next best thing, and you can add it to your arsenal of tools. I’ve written up a sample letter that you can use as a guide. Tailor it to your donors and your mission, and give it your own creative flair. Click here to download it.
A variation of this letter could also be used to set up donor appointments. The point is to reach out personally to two to 10 donors a week.
And don’t stop there. Incorporate additional methods of listening, such as making it a habit to call your first-time donors, always asking what prompted their gifts.
Regularly request feedback on your website, and include short surveys in your donor communications.
This work of relationship building is actually fairly simple. There’s no need to make it so complex. How are you listening to your donors?
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.