I recently had the opportunity to meet an interesting major donor.
She’s a full-time philanthropist, volunteering her time and resources, and making significant donations to help create the change she wants to see in the world.
We were chatting about some of the projects close to her heart, when she shared something that stopped me in my tracks.
She described her most common experience as a donor as feeling like she’d been in a hit and run.
Ouch. Straight from the donor’s mouth, folks.
How did giving go from a joyful and fulfilling act, to feeling like a serious motor vehicle accident?
Too much short-term thinking about the bottom line
I’ll never forget a stewardship meeting I had with a major donor I had never met.
New to the organization, I had booked a time to get to know him better, find out about his interests, and understand what motivated his long-time support.
The meeting was a success, and when I shared this with my boss at the time, she had only one question for me.
“How much did you ask for?”
If you’re a leader in a non-profit, think about the messages you are sending to your fundraisers.
The message I got that day? If you’re getting face to face with a donor, you’d better be asking for money.
When your organization is too focused on the bottom line, your relationships become transactional, and your donor can end up feeling like an ATM.
Do you only see your donors once a year when you are ready to ask for more money? Unless the donor has explicitly stated that as their preference, that’s hit and run fundraiser behavior.
Not using the right systems to support relationship building
Building a relationship with a donor needs to be natural and authentic – but that doesn’t mean it’s not supported by effective systems, and lots of strategy and planning.
It astonishes me how many organizations leave their donor relationships to chance, not effectively using tools to stay organized, note donor interests and preferences, and schedule reminders for future actions to continue developing the relationship.
I get the sense that some fundraisers feel like “letting relationships unfold organically” is somehow more respectful than taking a methodical approach to building relationships.
That kind of thinking does a disservice to donors.
It’s one of our most important roles as fundraisers to use our expertise to lead the strategic development of effective and fulfilling relationships with our supporters.
Of course, not all donors want a relationship with you – and having good systems in place can ensure that you are respecting those equally valid wishes as well.
A sense of entitlement to donors’ money
There’s another interesting theme that has emerged from my conversations with major donors: they sometimes sense that certain organizations feel entitled to their money.
It goes something like this:
“We’re doing great work, and you have lots of money – so we deserve some of it."
Don’t forget that no one is ever obligated to support you.
There’s no doubt you have a worthwhile cause – but so do countless other organizations doing similar work to you.
Now, I’m a strong critic of the scarcity mindset that’s so prevalent in our sector – but the reality is, your organization is going to be left behind if your sense of entitlement is preventing you from strategically building respectful relationships with donors.
We’ve all been guilty of hit and run fundraising behaviour at some point in our fundraising careers – myself included.
How can we work together with our organizations to help everyone understand how damaging short-term, entitled, bottom line thinking can be to one our most precious resources – strong and healthy relationships with our donors?