Leadership, Philanthropy, Vision

A Donor’s Merry Christmas

In conversations with a few charities this week there has been a repeated theme of how to engage and appreciate donors. It’s been encouraging that the ones I met with have moved beyond simply seeing their supporters as cash machines they can get funds out of if they push the right buttons. Still, there does seem to be a lot of confusion about how to relate to the people who’s generosity makes all the good work possible. In keeping with the season, let me use the themes of Advent to make a few simple suggestions. Provide your donors with Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, and they’ll be looking forward to your arrival they way believers anticipate holy days. HOPE: Hope is the emotion that allows all of us to face current hardship and frustration. We can imagine a better future, so we can deal with the immediate hassles. Your donors want to hear about the difference their giving makes in terms of real change. You need to be able to measure and articulate the impact of your programs, not just the amount of work you’re doing. Give me a vague sense that you’ll use my money to keep doing stuff and I’ll passively give or not at all. Paint a clear and compelling picture of how my dollars will be used to make something better and if it connects with my dreams I’ll be enthusiastic. PEACE: The Hebrew word Shalom is about much more than the absence of war or a time of rest. It brings to mind a vision of everything in all the universe being in proper relation to every other thing. It’s the absolute rightness of being that we deeply long for, even as it is so hard to imagine coming true. That’s too much for even the best nonprofit to offer, but at the least you can strive to not add stress to an already complicated and hectic time of year. Do your donors really want to hear from you? Have they chosen to opt in to your direct mail, email blast, free calendar, or year end phone blitz? December is the wrong time to send uninvited communication. We’re already swamped with appeals, yours is just another piece of the clutter unless I’ve previously decided to hear from you. JOY: A lot of us give out of guilt or the vague sense that we should. Some charities have been able to build surprisingly sustainable funding off these emotions; but they haven’t built the kind of advocates and fans that refer other donors, dig deep, and will stick with you through challenges. That kind of engagement comes when you offer something more. Distinguish yourself from the rest by being the organization that brings joy to your donors. People’s faces light up when they talk about giving to things that they really believe in, things that connect with something at the core of their being, things that ignite joy. It means you need to stop taking a lowest common denominator approach to fundraising and start to deliberately identify what it is your organization offers that is powerfully meaningful to people, and then find those who share that heart. LOVE: Over time do donors become friends, or is that just the greeting you put on form letters? Every charity has at least two core constituencies, those who benefit from your existence (clients), and those who empower your existence (donors). Too often there is passion only for the first group. Build relationships with your donors, get to know them as well as you reasonably can, ask questions and really listen to the answers, understand why they give, treat them with respect and dignity, appreciate them, and thank them for their donations like you’d thank a friend for a Christmas present. Do it with sincerity so it’s not manipulation or just another sales job. Understand the person behind the chequebook and you might be surprised at what can happen. Like Christmas, fundraising can be reduced to the repetition of a series of activities and obligations on an annual basis that just keep things going with as little effort as possible. Also like Christmas at it’s best, fundraising can be welcome interaction between people who celebrate what they have in common and mutually wish they could do so more deeply and more often. Wishing you and your donors the very best celebration in this season and the year to come.