Want More Donors and More Money?

Would you like to find more donors?

Would you like to have more donors renew and upgrade their support?

Would you like to raise more money for your nonprofit organization?

If so, avoid de-motivating people by making them think their support is insignificant, unnecessary, and unwanted.

Donors want to feel their contributions are making a difference. If they do not feel that is the case, they’ll take their support elsewhere. Consider the following representative comment voiced in a focus group hosted by researchers Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Dr. Jen Shang:

[W]e feel this strong sense of wanting to make a difference.”

Yet, despite this simple truth, many charities regularly alienate prospects and donors. Although the alienation is almost always unintentional, it remains a very real problem. Reflect on the following representative comment heard in a focus group study conducted by The George Washington University:

When you see bequests given to universities they are substantial. You really feel embarrassed that you don’t have that money.”

So, what are nonprofit organizations doing that is embarrassing and alienating donors? Well, many things. For now, I’ll focus on just one action that underscores the point raised by the GW alumnus.

money-in-hands-by-401k-2012-via-flickrMany organizations celebrate the support of mega-philanthropists. They profile these individuals in institutional publications; they recognize them on donor walls; they thank them at public events. While all of this is perfectly appropriate, a problem arises when an organization recognizes mega-donors to the exclusion of all other supporters.

When people see that only mega-donors are celebrated, they can begin to think that their support is unnecessary and not genuinely appreciated. This is true for annual giving, planned giving, capital campaign giving, and other types of campaigns.

If you want a diverse group of supporters, be sure to celebrate a diverse group of supporters. When people see people like themselves supporting your organization, research shows they’ll be more likely to support as well. When I speak of cultivating a diverse group of supporters, I mean in every sense of the term: gender, race, religion, age, philanthropic means, etc.

That’s an idea that the folks at the Arizona State University School of Nursing and Health Innovation understand. As I shared in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

To promote the point that bequest giving is for everyone, the Arizona State University School of Nursing and Health Innovation did an article in its alumni magazine that focused on an average nurse, an alumna who made a generous but not particularly dramatic bequest commitment. The message was a simple one: All bequest gifts are greatly appreciated, and people just like you are making such gifts.”

If you want to acquire and retain more donors and raise more money, follow these tips:

  • Thank mega-donors, but not to the exclusion of others.
  • Recognize a broad mix of supporters.
  • Communicate that all gifts are important and explain why.
  • Tell prospects and donors how their gift will make a difference.
  • Take a few moments to list the ways your organization shows prospects and donors that it truly cares about and values them. Then, list 10 things your organization can do to show it cares, but that it is not yet doing.

Lou Holtz, the NCAA Hall of Fame coach, once said something about his football program that is amazingly relevant for fundraising professionals:

It’s not my job to motivate players. They bring extraordinary motivation to our program. It’s my job not to de-motivate them.”

Follow the coach’s example; avoid de-motivating your prospects and donors.

What are some of the ways you remind all of your supporters that they’re valued and making a difference?

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

8 Comments to “Want More Donors and More Money?”

  1. Good points, as usual!

  2. Good advice, my friend. Major donors do deserve public acknowledgment (unless they prefer keeping their generosity private. Always ask!) but small and mid level donors are the meat and potatoes of an organization’s support. To keep them coming back year after year and hopefully increasing the size of the gifts, they must be thanked appropriately and respected, not neglected.

  3. Agree! Years ago, the local YMCA in the community where I worked did a study and found that for every 50 bequests they received they raised $1million. Some were large gifts; some were $1,000. They added up. Celebrating donors of all sizes makes sense — and this is especially true with legacy donors who are making a statement about their values, which they hope will be eternal.

    • Claire, thank you for sharing some spot-on planned giving insight. I’ve long said that legacy gifts are the major gifts of the middle class. However, as you well know, prospective donors need to know they’ll be making a difference with their gifts and preserving their values. It’s one of those common sense things that, unfortunately, is not nearly as common in practice as it should be.

  4. Great insights as always Michael. It may look like a $50.00 check in an envelope, but to the donor, it represents their regard for the work you’ve done and their hopes for the good you will effect. Acknowledging that simple fact alone can let the donor know you don’t think of them as an ATM. Great donors don’t want you putting on a parade in their honor, but they do want you to know who they are and that their relationship with you is meaningful. Something so simple as acknowledging a donor’s faithful annual support can speak volumes. “Jeff, you’ve been a friend and supporter for five years now; that was around the time Lily came to us with her world shattered by her father’s suicide. This year, Lily was accepted to college and is very excited about her future. I hope you feel proud of helping to give Lily a place to go when she had nobody else in the world.” It’s not only the driver that makes the journey possible. It’s not only the major donor that makes philanthropy happen.

    • Gina, thank you for sharing your insight and tips. Your example tells a compelling story and makes the donor the hero of that story. The story also lets donors know the impact they’re having. Sometimes development pros overthink these things. You’ve shown how a simple, straight forward approach can have a huge impact. Well done!

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