5 Tips for Giving Donors What They Really Want

Do you know what your donors want?

Do they want a clever t-shirt? A fancy certificate? A lovely lapel pin? A practical coffee mug? A recognition lunch?

Maybe. However, while some donors will appreciate receiving trinkets or invitations to recognition events, others really don’t care and still others will view such items as a waste of money.

So, what do your donors really want?

Virtually all donors want to know that their donations will have a positive impact. In other words, donors of all sizes want to know that their contributions make a difference. The younger the donor, the more true this is. In addition, they want to feel like they are partners with the organizations they support.

Renata J. Rafferty, in her book Don’t Just Give It Away, advises philanthropists, “You truly want the charity to view you as a partner in its work, and partnerships are successful only when all parties can be candid with one another.”

The way to partner with donors and let them know they are having the desired impact is through solid stewardship. You need to be transparent. You need to candidly give them the information they want.

Stewardship is defined by the AFP Fundraising Dictionary as:

a process whereby an organization seeks to be worthy of continued philanthropic support, including the acknowledgment of gifts, donor recognition, the honoring of donor intent, prudent investment of gifts, and the effective and efficient use of funds to further the mission of the organization.”

As I mention in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

Stewardship will help the donor feel good about her commitment. It will ensure that revocable gifts (i.e., bequests) remain in force and, perhaps, increase in value over time. Good stewardship can also lead to another planned gift from the donor. For example, a donor who makes a bequest commitment may be impressed by the organization and a sufficient level of trust might have been developed through the process to allow the donor to feel comfortable making a donation to establish a charitable gift annuity (CGA). A donor who establishes a CGA may feel so comfortable having done so, he may decide to establish a second. Or, a CGA donor may make a bequest commitment.”

CIR Page One - JFGP-1Great stewardship can help strengthen your organization’s relationships with donors. The additional benefit is that solid stewardship of existing donors can also build relationships with prospective donors as well.

Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia has figured this out.

Rather than generating a bland, corporate annual report that examines the fiscal condition of the organization, Federation has produced a Community Impact Report that looks at the difference the organization is having on people’s lives.

There are a number of things worth noting about the Community Impact Report:

1. It exists. Perhaps the most noteworthy thing about the report is simply that it exists. Most nonprofit organizations thank donors for their support. However, far fewer charities report on how gifts are put to use.

Federation prepares a Community Impact Report each year. Actually, it usually prepares two reports, mid-year and end-of-year documents. Now on its fifth report, Federation uses the information to keep the community updated about its work toward mission fulfillment.

2. It focuses on outcomes. Unlike a typical annual report, the Community Impact Report is not a state-of-the-organization analysis. Instead, the report examines the impact the organization is having on its service area. It’s a report about mission fulfillment.

“Our donors really appreciate seeing the level of accountability we have achieved,” says Alex Stroker, Federation’s Chief Operating Officer. “They also like to know that we are focused on program outcomes.”

3. It’s widely distributed. Federation distributed a print version of the report through the weekly newspaper it owns and operates, The Jewish Exponent, reaching more than 23,000 households. In addition, development staff shares the printed report with prospects and donors during visits and in targeted, personalized mailings. The organization has also made the report available on its website 

The broad distribution of the report ensures that it reaches both donors and prospects, thereby maximizing its impact and value.

“[Nonprofits] should be concerned with transparency of their expenditures, high level of accountability for their successes, and be proud of the outcomes. Donors want to know how well their philanthropic investments are doing. With so many charities clamoring for attention of donors, the more impact you can articulate, the higher the likelihood you will be the beneficiary of those philanthropic investments,” asserts Stroker.

4. It’s easy to read. Federation designed the report to appeal to all types of readers. For those who are visually oriented, the report is full of pretty photographs and appealing graphs.

For those who are more verbally oriented but who are skimmers rather than readers, the report contains plenty of information in bullet form.

For those who are more analytical, the report contains more detailed information in a traditional text format.

For those who prefer to receive information via stories (and that’s just about everyone, whether they admit it or not), there are plenty of stories about individuals who have been helped by the organization.

The text itself is easy to read. Federation has used a serif font, a decent font size, and has limited the use of reverse type. When something other than a white background is used, the contrast between the color background and the type usually ensures good readability.

I strongly recommend that you look at the report pdf to see first-hand how skillfully Stroker, Dr. Kelly Romirowsky (Federation’s head of research and evaluation), and their staffs have woven together facts and stories in an attractive, accessible, meaningful fashion.

5. It gets results. While Stroker admits that it is impossible to quantify the impact of the report, he was able to share some insights.

“I would say our 2012 campaign revenues were highest since 2007 and our total revenues surpassed $63 million (that, of course, includes endowments for a specific year). While all Federations across the country are hemorrhaging donors (including us over the past 5-7 years), in 2012 we showed a modest increase,” says Stroker.

By providing information that donors want in a way that is easy for donors to absorb, Federation has ensured its report has the desired result.

Federation has implemented a number of new tactics and strategies in recent years. One of those has been to communicate more effectively with the community, both donors and prospects, about how donations are put to use.

By focusing less on the agencies it funds and more on specific programs, the organization hopes to better manage the outcomes of its efforts. By communicating those outcomes to the public, Federation hopes to attract and retain more donors and inspire greater levels of giving from supporters.

While the Community Impact Report is not likely the sole reason for increased support of Federation, Stroker does believe the report is an important part of the organization’s marketing efforts.

Solid stewardship is worth the investment. It should be part of any development program as you strive to build a partnership with your supporters.

How does your organization communicate the impact of donations?

To learn about Federation’s postcard campaign to market planned giving, read my post “16 Tips for Crafting a Powerful Postcard Campaign.”

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

11 Responses to “5 Tips for Giving Donors What They Really Want”

  1. Michael, I cannot agree with you more about the importance of stewardship to increase the involvement of donors. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia seems to be doing it right with their semi annual reports. Making the reports appeal to a variety of readers and its broad dissemination is an excellent example for other groups to follow. It is definitely something I will remember in my future endeavors.

    • Richard, thank you for commenting. As I was working on this post, I was reminded of two things:

      1. Year’s ago, there was a local discount clothing store that had the slogan: “An educated shopper is our best customer.” Applying it to the nonprofit world, it could easily read, “An educated philanthropist is our best donor.” Smart charities will, therefore, be sure to educate their prospects and donors about how effectively the organization uses resources.

      2. I was also reminded of The Spice Girls song “Wannabe.” It kept playing in my head. You’ve probably heard it before, even if you don’t want to admit it. It starts out:

      “Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
      So tell me what you want, what you really, really want
      I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want
      So tell me what you want, what you really, really want…”

      As a sector, nonprofit organizations are good about telling prospects what they really, really want: Money. And, for their part, donors have been pretty good about telling us what they really, really want. Unfortunately, many organizations just aren’t listening.

      However, Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia does listen to its donors. And, with its Community Impact Report, it’s giving donors what they really, really want: Information about outcomes. Who knew The Spice Girls were so wise?

  2. We are a manufacturer of bronze and aluminum donor recognition plaques and, of the thousands of recognition plaques we have made for various academic and philanthropic organizations, the main take away for us is that the people whose names are on the many plaques then have a certain ownership in the respective organization. They are inextricably tied to that location and demand they are well represented by a standard of education or service they are donating to. In conversation with donor organizations, the donors are very particular as to how they are portrayed in their community; not necessarily from a personal standpoint, but by the values of the organization they represent and in some cases that is communicated on the plaques along with their generosity.

    • Scott, thank you for raising the issue of donor recognition. Recognizing donors is certainly an important part of good stewardship. However, for certain donors and in certain cultures, the kind of recognition you have mentioned would not be appreciated. Before publicly recognizing a donor, it is essential to know whether or not such recognition is appropriate for the community as well as for the individual.

      You also mentioned that donors who are recognized on a plaque are greatly tied to the organization. While I’m not convinced of a causal relationship, recognition can enhance a relationship if appropriate.

      • Michael, Absolutely,that is exactly what we see in our donor plaque requests. In the majority of the donor recognition programs we participate in, the donors seem to appreciate recognition. However, in many cases they defer the recognition to honor family members. Also, we see, in ongoing donor programs, that many donors tend to recognize additional family members with each additional contribution.

      • Scott, I’ve also seen that happen. Some donors do prefer to honor other family members or the family as a whole rather than themselves. The key is to be donor-centered, identify how the donor wants to be recognized, and then, to the degree appropriate, act accordingly. When family can be engaged, even better.


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