I can remember the exact moment I realized I didn’t know it all… at least where fundraising was involved. It happened while I was listening to Penelope Burk at an Association of Fundraising Professional’s annual conference. It was eye-opening, to say the least, and convinced me I knew nothing about the best way to communicate with donors and, ultimately, raise more money.
Ms. Burk, a Canadian fundraiser, researcher and author, had just written a book called Donor Centered Fundraising. Listening to Ms. Burk talk about her “statistically-based research … on the effect of communications on donor retention and gift value” was illuminating and gave me one of the biggest “a-hah” moments of my fundraising career.
Let me back up just a bit and tell you about a conversation I’d had before leaving to attend the conference. It illustrates how a lot of us in the nonprofit arena thought about donor communications (or the lack of it, as it turns out). I was talking with the facilities director at the nonprofit organization where I worked as the Director of Development.
She wanted me to revamp our newsletter, which was all about the clients we were helping and various fundraising efforts we had in the works, to include articles about her recent skydiving excursion, our executive director’s work with his church’s outreach program (that had nothing to do with our organization), and another staff member’s extracurricular activity as a choir member of a local men’s group. The facilities director thought it would help lend credibility to the people who worked at the nonprofit organization.
Except … none of these vignettes told the story of our organization or the stories of the people we were helping or the story of how our donors were making all our good work possible. But I didn’t have the statistics to back up my gut feeling that showcasing staff and staff’s accomplishments was not the best use of our newsletter.
Listening to Penelope recite her research findings gave me the arsenal I needed to fend off well-intentioned but inappropriate newsletter stories. The donor is the star of our show, and all our communications should reflect as much.
Another critical finding of Penelope’s research was: know what donors want (rather than assuming you know what they want) and you will increase donations. Build relationships with donors based on an understanding of what will compel them to stay involved with your organization and increase the amount of their donations.
Here are the three core findings from Ms. Burk’s research about what donors say they need to stay involved and increase their donations…
- prompt, personalized acknowledgment of their gifts,
- confirmation that their gifts have been set to work as intended, and
- measurable results on their gifts at work prior to being asked for another contribution.
Recently, Ms. Burk graciously agreed to a phone interview to discuss Donor Centered Fundraising. When I told her I was writing a blog post for WePay, she told me the “beauty of the donor-centered philosophy is that anyone can do it,” including small and startup nonprofit organizations. “This is so simple. It’s basic, good customer service.”
I confessed to Penelope that she’d made me look like a fundraising rock star because after listening to her presentation, I went back to my organization and implemented her findings in our day-to-day fundraising. In fact, I implemented all three of her core findings in one effort.
I asked my board members to call donors, simply thank them for their donations, tell them about the results of their donations, and ask if they had any questions about how their funds were being used. The board members enjoyed talking to donors (without having to ask for money), and the donors enjoyed the opportunity of visiting with board members and being thanked without being asked for more donations.
My annual appeal came soon after this, and it raised a significant amount of money. I owe it all to Penelope Burk and Donor Centered Fundraising.
Here are a few more findings from Ms. Burk’s research that I used to build better fundraising and marketing campaigns …
- 55% of corporations expect applicants to communicate with them prior to submitting a proposal.
- 70% of corporations in the study rate their charitable giving as very important or extremely important to their companies.
- 68% of donors would prefer to receive a short, one-page bulletin that concerned itself specifically with the program or service to which their donation had been targeted.
- 64% of donors felt newsletters (from charities they support) are too long.
- 69% of donors felt they did not have time to read newsletters thoroughly.
- 53% of donors were concerned about the cost of a newsletter.
- 47% of individual donors and 59% of corporate donors would like to receive information on their gifts at work via email.
- 61% of donors would definitely or probably support a charity again whose program had been unsuccessful as long as they knew what had gone wrong.
- 90% of individual donors said they would want to be asked first if a charity were planning to recognize them publicly.
If you can afford only one book for your fundraising library, I highly recommend Donor Centered Fundraising. It has changed how I fundraise and how I conduct nonprofit marketing. It’s helped me go from being a focus group of one (who thought she knew all there was to know about fundraising) to a better informed and more effective fundraiser.