Archive for February, 2021

February 24, 2021

Are You Annoying Your Donors Without Even Knowing It?

If you’re annoying your donors, it could be hurting your fundraising efforts. The challenge is that you might not even know you’re annoying them. Let me give you a personal example.

One of my favorite charities, for well over a decade, has been annoying me lately. I don’t remember when it started, perhaps a year or so ago. For some time, I couldn’t even articulate why I was annoyed. Then, several weeks ago, I received a letter that made me immediately understand the reason for my irritation. Even better, the letter immediately made me feel better by making me feel closer to the organization.

The charity is the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. The organization brings justice and healing to the survivors of child sex abuse. I have the utmost respect for the staff and the volunteers, including the board. They do heroic work helping children and their families cope successfully with a heinous crime. I’ve written about them here a number of times. I’ve shared insights from the PCA staff about child sex abuse. I’ve also shared their remarkable fundraising successes.

As a former PCA board member, I have remained a passionate supporter of the organization. Because PCA’s mission is so important to me, I have continued my support even when I became mildly annoyed with them. However, if other donors felt similarly annoyed, would they continue to give and, if so, how likely would they be to increase their support? The answer from psychology researchers reveals that it could be a big problem.

Let me tell you what was bothering me and how PCA was able to quickly and easily overcome it.

I had grown accustomed to receiving generic communications from PCA. I received the same cultivation messages and appeals as everyone else was sent. So, I was surprised one day not long ago when I received a hand-addressed, monarch-sized envelope. Inside (because of course I opened it) was a handwritten letter from someone with whom I served on the board.

While the letter was sent in December, I did not receive it until well into January thanks to problems at the US Post Office. Nevertheless, I appreciated the good wishes for happy holidays. I also appreciated that the letter went on to let me know that PCA’s spring fundraising event would take place either in-person, virtually, or as a hybrid. My former colleague, now the event co-chair, mentioned the date of the upcoming fundraiser and told me that more details would be forthcoming. He went on to say that he hoped to see me at the event. However, he did not make a specific ask and, therefore, did not include a response envelope. His communication was simply a cultivation piece designed to make me feel like an insider.

Yes, I appreciated the personal touch of this particular cultivation mailing. However, what I appreciated the most about the letter was that it acknowledged that I am an alumnus of the PCA board.

Bells went off in my head! I finally understood why I had been growing annoyed with PCA. Recent communications from PCA did not acknowledge my identity. I had been addressed just like every other donor. My former board service was rarely acknowledged, which made the handwritten letter particularly special to me.

By acknowledging my identity, PCA showed me they know who I am. They respect my prior service. They appreciate my support, not just my money. They rekindled the feelings I once had as a volunteer leader.

Should this matter? You might think it should not. Was I being childish or self-centered to be annoyed that PCA had not been acknowledging my identity? You might think I am. But, and I say this with full respect, your opinion doesn’t matter in this case. It’s MY feelings that determine which charities I support and how much I give them. As I learned by taking the certificate course Philanthropic Psychology, taught by the Institute for Sustainable Philanthropy, there is plenty of scientific research to back me up on this.

One reason most charitable organizations experience shamefully high donor-attrition rates is that they do not acknowledge the individual identities of donors. Let me give you a quick, simple example of what I mean.

When a donor contributes a $100 to your charity, do you thank her for her generous gift? Or, do you thank her for being a kind, caring person who made a gift. The former message describes the gift. The latter message describes the person. It’s a simple messaging shift that can have a massive effect.

In PCA’s case, an individual donor might identify as a Philadelphian, a parent, someone who cares about justice, someone who cares about children, etc. More generically, a PCA donor might identify as being kind, thoughtful, caring, concerned, angry, etc. In my case, one part of my identity as it relates to PCA is former board member. The key for you as a fundraising professional is to understand how your donors think of themselves. You can learn this through conversations with them, surveys, or their responses to appeals.

Here are four tips:

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