Pay Attention to What Your Major Donors Do, Not What They Say
I love this post from Seth Godin as it captures not only my experience with opinions, but it is an important point you need to pay attention in major gifts, especially during this time:
“It doesn't matter what people say. Watch what they do.
The story is told of a focus group for a new $100 electronic gadget. The response in the focus group was fabulous, people all talked about the features of the new device with excitement.
At the end of the session, the moderator said, ‘Thanks for coming. As our gift to you, you can have your choice of the device or $25.’
Everyone took the cash.
Surveys that ask your customers about their preferences, their net promoter intent, their media habits — they're essentially useless compared to watching what people actually do when they have a chance. The media wastes their time and ours handicapping politics based on polls, on changes in polls, on expectations based on polls — it's sad. Polls are always wrong.
The best part of show and tell has never been the telling part.”
Jeff and I have seen more donor surveys than we can stomach, not to mention the scores of development leaders who craft their major gift strategies on the opinions of others versus the actual behavior of the donors.
Our bias in this direction comes from our direct marketing background where we measured everything. Everything. We tested channels, donor offers, creative approaches, seasonality, gift amounts and scores of other variables in the fundraising transaction. Why did we test? To see what the donor would do.
In major gifts, when you are trying to figure out what to do, the best source of information is your donor, which is why, especially now, you need to talk to them. While it is helpful to pay attention to the experiences of others (our info and that of other advisors), nothing trumps the personal knowledge you can secure from each individual donor on your caseload and the personal information you can observe about what the donor does.
This is why we are constantly talking about securing basic and important information from your donor like:
- Their passion and interest: What are they really interested in?
- Their communication preference: Do they prefer in person meetings, email, phone, etc.?
- What information they want to receive from you.
- Personal info on family, hobbies, politics, etc.
- What bugs and impresses them about nonprofits.
- And anything else you can secure that helps you understand the donor and how to relate and serve them outrageously.
- And during this crisis, what they are concerned and care about as relates your organization.
Each one of the major donors on your caseload is a unique individual with very special characteristics, leanings and preferences. You must get to know (information plus observation of behavior) each one, so you can be effective in serving them.
There are two important points about the information you secure from your donor:
- You are not securing this information to manipulate and maneuver the donor toward you. You are securing it to understand who the donor is, so you can do the right things in your relationship.
- Once you have secured the information, and you are using it to inform and shape your strategies with the donor, you need to carefully observe what the donor does and let that be your guide as to the accuracy and practicality of the information the donor gave you. Here’s an example of what I mean: A donor told a major gift officer not to send him any information that had emotional stories or pictures. He strongly stated: “I do not like that tactic and feel you are trying to manipulate me when you do it.” So the MGO started editing what she sent to this donor, extracting all the real-life experiences of the people the organization served and reducing the communication down to sterile, cold numbers and words. The result? Nothing. No action. No engagement. No giving. Nothing. Then the MGO decided to change course. And knowing the interests and passions of this donor, she sent him a real-life story of a person who needed help. The result? Engagement and a gift, plus a deeper and more meaningful relationship between the donor and the MGO.
There is a fine line between taking what a donor says and following it blindly and without question, and using your judgment to discern a course of action that represents how the donor really feels. You must walk this line very carefully, showing respect and maintaining integrity.
To summarize, the main point of this post goes back to what Seth said at the top of this blog post. Know your donor, then pay attention to what the donor does. That is what will guide your path. Talk to them. Most of them are sequestered at home and, in our experience with hundreds of MGOs around the country, are eager to talk and visit.
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.