The Heart of Donor-Centricity: Are Your Donors ‘Insiders’?
Have you been feeling like you don’t quite “get” this donor-centered stuff lately?
Have you even (maybe?) thought, “Hmmm. I think I’ve stumbled across some grade-A B.S.”
The truth is, you’re not alone. Many perplexed fundraisers walk alongside you. For countless fundraisers, “donor-centered fundraising” is just another jargon-loaded catchphrase.
And what’s that, I hear? Now, there’s talk about a shift from donor-centered to community-centered.
Not convinced? Well, look no further than my friend Vu Le’s post, “Winter Is Coming, and the Donor-Centric Fundraising Model Must Evolve,” on Nonprofit With Balls. After you’ve gleaned some wisdom from that, read this whip-smart response from my dear friend, Lisa Sargent: “Ushering in the Age of Donor Realism: 6 Ways My Donor-Centric Copy Is Shifting.”
Now, I ask you this: Is there really that much difference between the two? Your answer is probably “no,” or some variation of it.
Donor-centered fundraising has been a constant all my fundraising life. Over time, it’s become a nebulous sort of construct, and that might be where some of the confusion comes from. But to me, donor-centricity always has meant embracing your donors like the valuable friends and partners that they are.
My take on Vu? I get the distinct impression that he’s all for donor-centricity—except for when it’s poorly executed. So instead of focusing on executing or implementing exceptionally well, he claims that community is the way to go, rather than improvement.
But here’s the deal: Donor-centricity isn’t so much about counting the you’s or I’s or we’s in your direct mail or web copy (although that can’t hurt if you’re a newbie), nor is it about following a template. Nope, it’s not all about that at all.
So what’s at the heart of the matter? Donor-centricity is about making your donors feel overwhelmingly positive feelings—namely, that they’re wonderful, and that they’re a part of something wonderful.
Think, for just a moment, about your best friend. For me, it’s Dawn, who’s been my best friend since childhood. After going to five elementary schools in four years, meeting Dawn in the fourth grade felt like coming home. We walked to school every day. We each had a branch in the giant walnut tree in her backyard where we’d sit reading for hours in the summer—her mother even rigged up a pulley with a basket and sent up lunch. The surprise party she plotted for my 12th birthday goes down as one of my best memories. Ever. We’ve been together from Barbies and bicycles to our weddings and children.
If you’re working this donor-centered stuff from the right angle, that’s how you eventually will come to think of your best donors. Yes, seriously. Like true friends.
And perhaps more importantly, you’ll come to know them as organization “insiders” and members of your team. This does take thought, just like all of the important stuff does. It takes planning, focus and commitment. You’ll have to harness all of that and more, and channel it into systems that really work.
W. Edwards Deming said it best: “It does not happen all at once. There is no instant pudding.”
I love a good pudding, and if you know me at all, you know that I make mine from scratch. Jello? Oh, hell no. I want the good stuff, and so do you. In the case of pudding, it’s the kind that you’ve got to stand over and watch every second, whisking vigorously to prevent those pesky pudding lumps.
But I didn’t learn all of my pudding tricks overnight, and you won’t learn all of the “tricks” behind donor-centered fundraising overnight either. But you can buckle down, get your head in the game and start now. How to begin? Well, as Vu noted, you can:
Acknowledge donors quickly, communicate frequently, don’t treat people like ATMs, build relationships, appreciate every gift no matter the size, personalize, etc.
But it’s when you really get to know your donors (and they get to know you), when you lead with gratitude, and when you respect your donors’ input and intelligence that your fundraising will flow positively. Take notes, study this stuff, listen to it in your sleep—whatever you’ve got to do to master it. And, of course, some of the best ways to truly get to the heart of donor-centricity:
- Make your thank-you calls with a religious kind of dedication, and add this practice to your daily habits.
- Send out that latest impact update, along with a thank-you note. Always keep it ultra-personal.
- Round up your board, along with its collective enthusiasm, to make those thank-you calls.
Yes, your donors, just like you, are part of a greater community. And we’re all in this together!
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.