The Shocking Secret Ingredient to Growing Your Nonprofit’s Individual Donor Base
Why do your donors give?
It’s not because of your awesome mission or the 1,723 kids you served last year.
It is, in all simplicity, because of what they are doing through you.
Your donors are changing the world!
But so many nonprofit organizations miss the mark.
Case in point: Recently, I saw a post on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page. HONY photographer Brandon Stanton had photographed a young ex-con who was trying to put his life back together. In the comments, someone referred the fellow to an organization that gets these folks a college education. I looked up the organization online and impulsively made a $10 contribution. And I made that donation on a recurring basis (not a lot, mind you, but $120 a year).
The only acknowledgement of my donation was an emailed receipt.
I should back up and tell you a bit about what prompted my gift. Years ago, I served as a legislative aide for the chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on corrections. We were involved in some landmark legislation at the time, and I had the opportunity to visit a number of Michigan prisons. You could say I have a soft spot for individuals who are trying to put their lives back together following incarceration.
Several months passed after my donation. Because I appreciated the nonprofit’s mission enough to make a monthly gift, I sought it out and scheduled a call with the executive director.
Lovely man. Went on and on about the organization’s various programs in ways that anyone who didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the corrections system wouldn’t understand. He explained that government support was declining, and the organization was looking to grow its individual giving. I asked about response to the HONY post. Yes, he replied, the organization had received a number of donations as a result of the comment on that post, including a new $500 donation.
“Really?” I responded with enthusiasm, “What did you do?”
“Do?” he responded, clearly puzzled.
“Yes, did you phone them? How did you respond to the gift?”
“We sent an email,” he replied. “But never heard back.”
I suggested calling the donor to learn what prompted the gift—and was met with confused silence.
In “Keep Your Donors: The Guide to Better Communications and Stronger Relationships” by Tom Ahern and Simone P. Joyaux, No. 18 of the “Donor-Centric Pledge” is “Asking a donor why she or he gave a first gift to us will likely lead to an amazingly revealing conversation.”
If the executive director of the organization had bothered to ask, he would have learned exactly what prompted my gift and why I was so passionate about his mission. It’s exciting to think what he might have learned from that $500 donor.
Here are more, relevant insights from the “Donor-Centric Pledge.”
- No. 11: “We’ll have to work harder for the second gift than we did for the first.”
- No. 12: “A prerequisite for above-average donation retention is a well-planned, donor-centric communications program that begins with a welcome.”
When you’re making your calls to new donors, if you can, draw them out:
“Hi (donor’s name). I’m (your name) from (your organization). I’m calling today to thank you for your recent donation. It means so much, and we wanted to tell you personally how grateful we are.”
Pause for a moment.
“If you have just a few seconds, I’d love to know what prompted your gift?”
The key with donor calls is listening. Thank them again. Keep the conversation short and never intrusive.
Giving is deeply personal. The more you know about your donors’ motivations, the stronger your individual giving program will be. Follow up with a warm and personal welcome in the mail.
P.S. Several months later, I was hit with credit card fraud and my card was cancelled. So was my donation. And what have I heard from the organization? Crickets.
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.