Wants, Needs and Building Donor Relationships
I have been blessed in my career to have met truly informed and educated donors, volunteers and board members. I was at a chamber of commerce event the other day when I met a former board member I previously recruited for a prior employer. I always found this special individual amazingly thoughtful and knowledgeable about the nonprofit field. He mentioned he was very happy because he just joined a local board where the institution needs are amazingly apparent in the community they serve.
He said he left the board I recruited him for in the past because that institution only dealt with wants. I was blown away by his deep understanding of institutions. He was correct that my prior nonprofit was blessed with many resources and was in a position of want—not a position of need. I currently work for an organization that is focused on needs, not wants. That conversation with the former board member made me think. Do donors really make informed nonprofit sector decisions about the gifts they make where needs or wants come into play?
“Nonprofit organizations are formed for serving a public or mutual benefit, rather than the pursuit or accumulation of owner or investor profit,” writes Krisztina Tury, Ph.D., student researcher at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. “Over 1.4 million nonprofit organizations are registered with the IRS with combined annual contribution to the U.S. economy of $887.3 billion.”
Approximately 10 million people are employed in what is called the third sector and U.S. volunteers provide 8.1 billion hours of service annually. In their book, "Understanding Philanthropy: Its Meaning and Mission," Robert Payton and Michael Moody write that the nonprofit sector plays five roles—service, advocacy, culture, civic and vanguard. It fulfills crucial functions for modern societies and depends upon donor engagement and support to succeed. I am especially interested in the service role, which Payton and Moody define as “providing services (especially when the other sectors fail to provide them) and meeting needs.”
At Learning to Give, Lorren Clark, a philanthropic studies student at Grand Valley State University, explored the idea of dualism in want and need. The two are complementary and conflicting. Writes Clark:
The not-for-profit sector is mostly responsible for the needs of the society. The title of the sector can be misleading in some respects. ... Not-for-profits are mission-driven organizations. In this aspect, they vary little from mission-based for-profits. Yet, the missions of the not-for profits are usually socially and humanistically based whereas for-profit missions are driven by finance and commerce. This is the primary reason not-for-profits are more responsible for the needs of the population.
Some examples of a need include basic medical service, educational programs, funding for daycare, assistance in obtaining food, shelter, clothing, transportation, heat and job training. The not-for-profit sector deals with the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services needed by a population. Often the demand for these services far exceeds the supply. Unlike the private sector, the not-for-profit sector has difficulty in obtaining supplies of needed goods and services.
At the end of the day, fundraising is not just about meeting organizational wants or needs. It is about satisfying donors' wants and needs. The question is, how can you effectively marry these two compelling interests?
Alan Sharpe, CFRE, writing for Fundraiser Help, noted that the secret to getting donations for your nonprofit is to give donors what they want. "The secret to building long-term, profitable, mutually beneficial relationships with donors is to think the way donors think," he writes.
Sharpe listed several ways to build donor relationships:
- Thank donors promptly and personally
- Describe to donors how you are using their gifts
- Treat your donors as thoughtful investors
- Give your donors information to make an informed opinion about giving
- Help donors solve a problem
- Stress the importance of lives changed and problems solved
- Think of donors in long term ways
- State your organizational needs in human terms
Donors give to organizations for a variety of reasons. They also choose not to give to organizations for a variety of reasons. Successful nonprofit pros need to understand their organizations from both a need and want perspective, plus measure the impact their organizations are making in the communities they serve.
Going forward, try to understand what motivates donors to give, from their point of view. Take steps to marry your institutional case for support with your prospects' and donors' reasons for giving. These win-win scenarios will pay large future dividends for you!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.