What Rights Do Your Donors Have?
You know how it feels to be treated shabbily. You buy something, there’s a problem and you might as well be a pile of sawdust when you try to get someone to help you solve the problem. It feels terrible. And you would never treat anyone that way yourself.
That is what we hear from many leaders, managers and major gift officers (MGOs)—they would never treat others like they have been treated. And yet, when we dig into how the organization treats its donors, we find things like this:
- The organization banks the gift from the donor in a nanosecond, but lets the “thank you” process drag on for weeks and sometimes months. You cannot believe how often this happens: The money is valued. The donor isn’t.
- A donor gives a designated gift, but doesn’t have prompt or detailed enough information on what the gift actually did.
- A donor has a question—any question—but is put off and either not given the answer or not given the answer in a timely fashion or a partial answer.
- The donor is bothered by how the organization does things, like a process for funding projects or the fact that the organization is filled with family members and friends in governing positions. The donor is bothered by these things and wants to talk about them, but is shut down.
- The donor asks to be treated one way, but the organization ignores that request and does what they want.
And the list can go on and on. You know what I am talking about.
Now, to be fair, there are a lot of good organizations doing things right. But there are way too many organizations that are not donor-centered, where the donor is essentially thought of as a good place to get some money to “do what we want to do,” and then the internal attitude about the donor is, “Can you just keep quiet and go away? We have work to do!”
So, I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. And I researched consumer and donor bill of rights’ lists on the Internet and talked to Jeff about it. And we’ve come up with six rights that we think capture what every major donor should be entitled to in their relationship with the organization:
- To be treated as a partner versus a source of cash. Actually, if we just did this one right, we would not need all the rights in this list. If we treated a donor as a real partner, there would be mutuality, honesty, openness, etc. Things would be done on time. You have a true partner. Every donor wants this, to varying degrees. They want to be treated with respect and honor.
- To know how the funds they give are used and that a real difference is being made. The major cause for donor attrition and value attrition is that the donor did not know they made a difference. This is why they go away. This is such a simple thing to do, but most organizations either do not do it or do not do it in a timely fashion. Think about this: When a donor gives a gift, they actually expect that something good will be done with that gift. You can see that if we don’t fulfill that expectation, trouble starts. This is logical, right? Then why don’t we do it? This is one of the most interesting dynamics in the fundraising sector: A donor wanting to do good through an organization, and the organization not closing the loop on the transaction. It is so interesting how this happens and continues to happen month after month in too many nonprofits.
- To have any question they ask answered in a timely, courteous and professional manner. And we mean any Ask yourself this: Is there any question a donor could ask the leadership of your organization that they would not be willing to answer? OK, now you’ve identified it. Now ask yourself why? Why won’t they answer that question? Is it because it’s none of the donor’s business? Is it because they, not the donor, really think they “own” the nonprofit and, therefore, this is private info? It could be any of these. But you have to wonder how these leaders and managers got to this point-of-view? So interesting.
- To have access to organization’s information and program sites (this is much like No. 3 above). Just let the donor know what they want to know. And let them go to program sites. If you can’t do that, you have to ask yourself why. Why won’t you let them do that? They have the right.
- To know that there is a responsible, governing, independent board providing oversight. Goodness! This is a big one. Nepotism and cronyism is one of the biggest problems facing nonprofits today. Jeff and I can tell you story after story of “respectable” nonprofits out there that have “independent governing boards,” where the founders, leaders and managers have stacked the organization with family and friends to the point it is almost sickening. And the result is that employees and donors suffer. We need responsible, governing, independent board members who will not put up with founders and leaders who run the nonprofit, as if it were their own private company.
- To have their personal information kept confidential and private and their requests honored. This is a no-brainer, I know. But so many nonprofits do not respect what the donor has requested. This is not only about not renting or exchanging their private information; it is also about respecting their communication preferences. I will never forget giving a gift to a nonprofit, which put me into their major donor pool. The MGO talked to me at an event, told me she was going to be in my city and asked if she she come by and visit. I said, “No.” She came by anyway. Goodness. Why does this happen? I stopped giving to that organization.
To Jeff and I, a major donor’s bill of rights boils down to these six points. You can put every other “right” under one of these. I suggest you print these rights out and put them somewhere you can see every day to remind you of what your good donors want in their relationship to you. Granted, some of them will not want every single point. But the point of this whole exercise is more about you and your attitude toward them. That is what is good to check on for their sake.
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.