Make ‘Do Unto Others’ Your Nonprofit’s Golden Rule
It’s time to bring a bit of "clairity" to your nonprofit culture.
Is it an empathic one? Or an indifferent one?
Is it a giving one? Or a greedy one?
If you want gifts, you must give them
"Do unto your donors as you would have them do unto you."
There must be a reason that this concept is found, in some form, in almost every religion and ethical tradition—and that all versions and forms of the proverbial golden rule have one aspect in common: they demand that people treat others in a manner in which they themselves would like to be treated.
I’m reminded of Darwin and his theory of survival of the most caring. Yes, this is true! As Dacher Keltner, founder of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley, notes:
"‘Survival of the fittest’ was not Darwin’s phrase, but Herbert Spencer’s and that of Social Darwinists who used Darwin to justify their wished-for superiority of different classes and races. ‘Survival of the kindest’ better captures Darwin’s thinking about his own kind.”
The essence of a relationship is reciprocity—give and take.
When you are kind and giving, people want to reciprocate. In fact, reciprocity is one of Robert Cialdini’s six principles of influence and persuasion.
Yet too often nonprofits put "taking" at the center of their development strategies.
Do you ask, “What can we do today for our donors?” Or, do you fall into the camp that asks, “What can our donors do for us?”
Sadly, all too often here’s what transpires:
- Too much fundraising; too little “friend-raising.”
- Too much “we”; too little “you.”
- Too much greed; too little gratitude.
- Too many features; too few benefits.
- Too much “we know best”; too little “what do you think?”
Why it’s important to shift to a donor-centered, gratitude culture
If you’re like most nonprofits, you’re retaining less than 70 percent of first-time donors.
The most recent Fundraising Effectiveness Project reveals you’re losing current donors faster than you can recruit new ones (103 lapse for every 100 you acquire). Median retention for all donors is just 43 percent.
If you want to keep your donors, you’ve got to keep them happy.
People who give don’t stop being philanthropic without a reason. You can’t lay the blame at their feet. No. You’re in control of how your donors feel and, to a large extent, how they behave.
Your donors don’t suddenly become scrooges.
They simply stop giving to you because they aren’t satisfied with how you treat them. Then they move on to another nonprofit that provides them with a better—more meaningful—experience.
So what can you do to take control?
Include donors in your mission
This is a fundamental concept.
And I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Very few nonprofits understand this. If you can embrace this fundamental idea, you will succeed where others will fail.
So stay with me, and allow me to explain.
It’s common for retail businesses to adopt the mantra: “The customer is always right.” But when’s the last time you heard “The donor is always right?” Too often the opposite is true.
This is because nonprofits don’t put donors at the center of their missions; they keep four of 10 donors versus 94 percent (nine of 10 customers) in business.
Miserable donor retention is not inevitable. It’s your own fault.
I hear a lot of complaining about donors. They should do this (e.g., give because it’s the “right” thing to do; be compliant and not make us work so hard); they shouldn’t do that (e.g., give any way other than “unrestricted”; require reports that take us hours to complete). I don’t hear enough of, “What can we do to delight our donors today?”
Commit to delighting your donors
The key to a sustainable fundraising strategy is so simple that it’s mind-boggling so few nonprofits get this right. As the inimitable Seth Godin reminds us in “What Is Customer Service For?”:
"Customer service succeeds when it accomplishes what the organization sets out to accomplish."
Let that sink in.
The reason so many nonprofits do such a poor job delighting their donors is they’ve made no commitment to do so.
In fact, most nonprofits think it’s the donors who should be delighting them (with nice fat checks)!
The truth will set you free
TRUTH: Your nonprofit cannot survive unless you satisfy donors’ needs.
Donors make your mission possible. Without them, your organization has no “raison d’etre.”
Donors don’t give because you have needs. They give because you meet needs that align with their values. Your mission resonates with theirs.
TRUTH: Donors can only achieve their yearned-for potential through you.
Donors want to see themselves as good people who care about more than just themselves. Donors want to see wrongs righted … find cures for diseases … keep people from starving … but they don’t have a clue how to do it on their own.
TRUTH: The donor/nonprofit relationship is symbiotic.
It’s as much a part of your mission to help your donors as it is for you to help your clients.
Because you can’t do one without the other—at least not effectively.
The successful donor/nonprofit relationship is based on mutual-value exchange.
Donors give to get their needs met. They rely on your stewardship of their philanthropy and your satisfaction of their needs, which vary.
If your nonprofit doesn’t meet your donors’ needs and complete the value-exchange circuit for them, their search for meaning gets cut short. They get gypped. You don’t fulfill your part of the bargain. You don’t deliver on your promise.
Stop letting your donors down!
All it takes to keep your donors from leaving is to embrace the golden rule. Make it the golden rule of your nonprofit’s culture. Create an empathic environment that puts you in your donors’ shoes.
Stay tuned for my next post, “Why You Need to Know about the Donor Hierarchy of Needs,” to learn more about how to shift your culture to put donors at the heart of your mission.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.