There. I said it.
You are probably not happy I said it – and I know my besties in the fundraising world won’t be – but I had to.
You know how much I believe in #donorlove. I think it’s such an important lens for us to look through when it comes to our fundraising practices. Putting the donor at the centre of what we do is critical in our work.
But #donorlove is not the be-all and end-all of successful or right fundraising.
Let me backtrack.
You probably know that Rory Green – a.k.a. Fundraiser Grrl – is one of my best friends. So you can imagine that when I get a fundraising appeal in the mail for one of my clients that I’m really excited about that Rory is the one I want to tell first.
So I did just that the other day. I took a photo of three envelopes for a client’s campaign (one control, two test packages) and sent it over to Rory for us to gush over together. The first thing Rory said was –
“It doesn’t say the word ‘you‘ on any of those envelopes.”
If you’ve learned anything about #donorlove, it’s the power of the word “YOU”. And Rory is right in that the word “you” is an incredibly important thing to look out for in fundraising. Traditionally organizations have spent far too much time in their fundraising talking about what “they” – the organization – do, rather than about what “you” – the donor – do. If we want to inspire – and even more importantly, retain – donors, we must celebrate them. We must make the donor the hero.
I am not questioning the importance of this type of #donorlove principle. Or any #donorlove principle.
What I’m questioning is the interpretation and application of these principles.
We need to acknowledge that there’s more in successful fundraising than #donorlove.
Let’s think about the donor journey. Why does the donor give to our organization in the first place?
Because they’re asked, yes.
But donors give because they believe in the need our organization meets, and that our organization needs their financial support to meet that need.
The vast majority of donors out there do not give because they need more love in their life.
Now don’t get me wrong – some donors actually do give to create a relationship and a connection between them and an organization. We often see this among our older donors, and this is an important donor need to acknowledge and to meet. #Donorlove is especially needed here.
#Donorlove is also needed to retain donors. There are a lot of great charities competing for donors, and if your gift to one of them goes unacknowledged for an unforgivably long time, I don’t blame you for saying, “No more, charity! No more gifts for you! I’m giving all my money to the charity that treats me right!”
But speaking of a lot of charities competing, let’s talk about acquisition.
And let me start by saying the dirtiest word there is in #donorlove:
That’s right. I’m talking about something included in a mail pack beyond a letter and maybe an insert. Maybe it’s a bookmark, maybe it’s holiday cards, maybe it’s a luggage tag.
If you believe in nothing but #donorlove, you’re not having this. Because you believe that donors just want to know they matter.
But if we go back to why donors give, then we’re talking about the fact that donors give because we need their support to do what we do. And so donors want us to do what it takes to get the funding that helps us do what we do.
And unfortunately – in this saturated marketplace, with this competition – we sometimes require premiums to get the package opened and the responses we need to bring in the new donors that we need.
No – I agree that it’s not ideal. And I really agree that it can create a transactional relationship that we need to work extra hard to change once the donor first gives to us.
But we don’t live in an ideal world. We work hard to make the premium at least mission-based, and we can make strategic decisions about what the premium is and test which ones lead to a longer-term relationship between the new donor and the charity. We also work to choose a premium that’s less costly so that we’re not bringing donors in on some kind of ridiculous trinket, but this is our reality.
Does it align with the sometimes rigid principles of #donorlove?! NO.
But does it align with the principle of getting as much funding as we can to meet the need that our donors care about?! YES.
So what’s my moral here? Walk the tightrope of #donorlove, my fundraiser friends. Don’t let your principles cripple you, but never let the donor out of your sight.
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Written by Maeve Strathy
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over nine years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.
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