Posts tagged ‘The Whiny Donor’

December 15, 2020

Listen to The Whiny Donor and Raise More Money

If you want to raise more money, you need to listen to your donors. Unfortunately, many of your donors do not feel comfortable giving you feedback about your fundraising appeals. Or, if they do feel comfortable, they won’t put in the time and effort to tell you what they think.

Fortunately, The Whiny Donor can help you. “The Whiny Donor” is the name of a Twitter account belonging to a woman who, along with her husband, is a significant donor and who has served on a number of nonprofit boards. Whiny is passionately committed to the philanthropy world making her a fantastic resource for fundraising professionals.

“The Whiny Donor”

Whiny lovingly tweets about charity issues, especially what works and what does not when it comes to fundraising. She provides meaningful, often actionable, insights from the perspective of the donor that she is. She’ll give you feedback that your organization’s donors won’t. Also, she’ll answer questions you would never dare to ask your own donors.

Recently, Whiny and her husband went through the year-end appeals that have inundated them. Then, she shared her thoughts in a valuable Twitter thread. With her kind, thoughtful permission, I’m going to share her helpful insights with you now.

Despite the name of her Twitter account, Whiny seldom whines. Instead, she provides insightful critiques, positive and negative. Here are 10 insights about some year-end appeals she has received recently:

COVID-19 Pandemic: Fundraisers should not be afraid to honestly tell prospective donors about the challenges their organization faces. Whiny says, “A couple of the appeals make a very clear case for their need for funds during the pandemic, and we are increasing our donations to them over last year’s amount. I am actually dumbfounded by appeal letters that DON’T mention anything about being affected by the pandemic. Where have you been all year?”

Mission: When a nonprofit organization has a well-articulated mission that is meaningful to donors, missteps will more readily be excused. For example, Whiny says, “There’s one local cultural nonprofit that always sends a reply form  with no appeal letter at all, and I’m so offended by that, I want to cut them off, but my husband insists that we continue to support them.” Whiny had this reaction to another appeal, “We keep donating to them, but I never read the very long, small-print, no-margin, weird-font appeal letter from a small local nonprofit. I simply don’t have the fortitude to tackle it.” Just be aware that, for most organizations, a clear, powerful mission will work best when paired with a well-crafted appeal, particularly one that is easy to read.

Fake Deadlines: Many charities like to use artificial deadlines for giving as a way to create a sense of urgency, especially at year-end. However, donors tend to care little about your deadlines and more about when they want to give. As Whiny says, “I don’t know how long it’s been sitting unopened in my stack of appeals, but one letter mentions a deadline of December 4, which seems weirdly arbitrary. I think they’ll still accept my gift, though. Don’t you?” I suspect they will. So, what’s the point of the fake deadline? Arbitrary deadlines just come off as hucksterism. When a fake deadline is impractical, it can become downright annoying. As Whiny has observed, “Another one I’m just opening, and it says ‘Nov 30 deadline!’ right on the envelope. But the postmark is November 23! C’mon!”

Postage: Unless you’ve tested a postage-paid response envelope versus one requiring a donor to affix a stamp, you should opt for a postage-paid response envelope as your default. You’ll likely get a better response rate. When requiring the donor to affix a stamp, avoid being condescending in the envelope’s postage box. For example, Whiny doesn’t like statements like “Place Stamp Here” or “Postage Stamp Required.” Whiny says, “I do know how to mail an envelope, you know.” A postage-box statement she likes is “Thank You for Your Support.”

Gift-Amount Suggestions: It’s almost always a good idea to suggest how much you would like a prospect to contribute. If you’re asking a past donor, the amount you seek should be related to what the donor has given in the past. In other words, don’t ask a $5,000 donor for $25; conversely, don’t ask a $25 donor for $5,000. When presenting a gift chain, make it legitimate. “The four choices on this gift chain are $250, $260, $265 and $275, which has got to be the narrowest range I’ve ever seen. They had the good sense to add a ‘Surprise Us!’ box, just in case I want to bust loose,” says Whiny. Generally, your gift-chain amounts should vary by more than $5 or $10.

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November 21, 2019

Are You Making This Big Mistake When Mailing to Donors?

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches in the US, a conversation on Twitter caught my eye. I recently read a pair of tweets from two charity donors that made me want to scream. I must share what I read about how they were thanked for their support. I hope it keeps you from making the big mistake that the donors describe.

After nearly four decades as a fundraising professional, not much about the nonprofit sector surprises me. However, every so often, I still come across an item that stuns even me. The Twitter conversation between The Whiny Donor and Meghan Speer provides an illustration of this:

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After making a donation, Whiny received a thank-you letter from the charity she supported. The envelope was addressed to her and “or Current Resident.” Speer contributed to another charity. As a supporter, she was invited to attend a donor thank-you event. The invitation was addressed to Speer and “or Current Resident.”

Both donors were annoyed at how the mailings were addressed. Speer wrote sarcastically, “…makes me feel super appreciated.”

For her part, Whiny demanded, “Spend enough on postage, or we’ll let some other resident donate the next time around.”

I never would have guessed that this was a problem. Apparently it is.

Who can blame Whiny or Speer for being annoyed? When someone supports your organization, they feel good about helping to achieve its mission. As a fundraising professional, part of your job is to help donors continue to feel good about their decision to support. With a proper thank-you letter, relevant information, and meaningful opportunities for engagement, you can help preserve and even build that warm feeling. If you properly steward your donors, they’ll be more likely to renew their giving, upgrade their support and, possibly, make a planned gift. Conversely, if you fail when it comes to stewardship, you risk alienating your donors.

They gave you money. They already like you. Don’t give them a reason not to.

Addressing a thank-you letter or donor-appreciation event invitation to “or Current Resident” is a certain way to make donors feel less than special and less than valued by you. If Whiny and Speer are put off by such addressing, you can bet other donors are as well.

So, why do some nonprofit organizations do this?

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January 29, 2019

Are Donors Abandoning You, Or Are You Abandoning Them?

Donor retention rates for both new and renewing donors remain pathetically low and, actually, continue to decline. There are a number of reasons for this, many of which I’ve addressed in previous posts. However, just recently, I learned of a situation I had not considered previously. So, I want to make sure you’re aware of the problem and understand how to easily fix it.

I heard about the problem from The Whiny Donor, a thoughtful donor who uses Twitter to generously provide fundraising professionals with feedback and insights from a nonprofit-contributor’s perspective.

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The Whiny Donor wrote, “In December, we gave through our DAF to several nonprofits that we had supported for many years with direct donations. I suspect several of them won’t have the capacity to make the connection, and will now consider us lapsed donors…. Which means they will change the way our relationship moves forward. They will think we didn’t support them; we will think we have. It’s a stewardship conundrum.”

As a philanthropic tool, Donor Advised Funds offer people a number of financial advantages compared to giving directly to nonprofits or not giving at all. At the end of 2018, we saw significant growth in the number and size of DAFs, in part, as a result of the new tax code.

While donors can benefit in a variety of ways from using a DAF to realize their philanthropic aspirations, the use of DAFs can create a stewardship challenge for charities:

  • Should the charity thank the DAF or the individual supporter?
  • Who should the charity continue to steward, DAF or individual?
  • How should the charity track and report the donation?
  • Does the charity’s software help or hurt these efforts?

The Whiny Donor worries that charities will recognize the DAF and ignore the role she and her husband played in securing the gift. She fears some organizations will assume she has abandoned them when, in fact, she has not.

This is a very real concern. As DAF giving becomes more common, I’ve heard many examples of how nonprofit organizations have stumbled. Some thank the individual, but not the DAF. Some thank the DAF, but not the individual. Some thank both the individual and the DAF. Some don’t thank either or thank in the wrong way.

Here’s what you need to know: The DAF is the donor. The individual is not the donor when the gift comes from a DAF. Because of the way DAFs are structured and the laws regulating them, individuals can only make a contribution recommendation to the DAF administrator (e.g., Fidelity Charitable, National Philanthropic Trust, Schwab Charitable, etc.).

Because the DAF is the donor, you should thank and send receipts to the DAF. However, as The Whiny Donor suggests, that’s not good enough. You should also thank the individual who recommended the DAF gift.

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October 23, 2018

Do You Want to Avoid Being a Fundraising Horror Story?

With Halloween just days away, horror is in the air. You can watch any number of classic or recent horror films on your television, or other electronic device. You can also go to your local movie theater to see the latest scary movie.

However, if you want to avoid being a horror story yourself, I have some important advice for you borne out of my wife’s recent donor experience with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Allow me to tell you the frightening tale, and share what you can learn from it.

My wife regularly reads a blog written by a nutritionist who is focused on a particular health condition. Not long ago, the blogger published a post about the research being conducted at Cedars-Sinai for this particular health issue. The post contained a link for readers interested in donating to the research project.

My wife clicked the link and was taken to the appropriate donation page on the Cedar-Sinai website.

Here’s where things start to get a bit scary.

It’s a good thing that the blogger provided the link, because the Medical Center’s homepage does not contain a link to its donation page at the top of its homepage. To find it, you need to take the time to search for it; if you go looking, it’s at the very bottom of the page.

The other disturbing part of the organization’s website is that, when making a donation, you must select a Title from a drop-down menu. The options are Cantor, Dr., Father, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Pastor, Rabbi, and Reverend. Notice any missing options? Well, they are missing others such as Honorable, military ranks, and other religious titles. They are also missing Mx., the preferred Title of many transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, there’s no way to write-in one’s own preferred Title. Furthermore, this is a required field. In other words, a transgender person who prefers the Mx. Title is compelled to choose between the wrong Title or simply not donating online to Cedars-Sinai. That’s the very opposite of rolling out the welcome mat.

Because my wife was provided the appropriate link and prefers either the Mrs. or Ms. Title, she was able to make an online donation. When doing so, she restricted her gift to the particular research project mentioned by the blogger. She also included a note in the comment field alerting the Medical Center that this would be a one-time gift.

Now, the fundraising horror really began for my wife.

Despite having clearly indicated that the gift was a special, one-time event, Cedars-Sinai insisted on sending a number of appeals to her. Making matters worse, none of those appeals had anything to do with the health issue that my wife contributed to. The institutional magazine that was sent to her contained no information about the health issue of interest. She never received any information from Cedars-Sinai about the research project.

My wife contacted Cedars-Sinai to once again inform them that her donation was a one-time event. She requested that Cedars-Sinai remove her from its mailing list. Weeks later, she still receives mail from them. A lot of mail. All of it unwanted, none of it relevant to the initial restricted gift. With more of her donation wasted with each mailing, my wife’s level of frustration and annoyance continues to increase.

Are you writing a horror story for your donors? Don’t.

Here are three things you can learn from the Cedars-Sinai fundraising horror story:

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July 6, 2018

One of the Most Important Questions You Should Ask

Two recent mainstream news items, and one tweet about a charity, remind me of a powerful lesson I once learned from my father-in-law, Malcolm Rosenfeld. He taught me to ask myself the following important question before opening my mouth or taking action:

What is my objective?”

Now, before I illustrate the value of that question by reflecting on some news stories, I must warn you that the following examples include vulgar language. If you want to bypass the examples, you can skip down to the next boldfaced sentence several paragraphs below.

At The 72nd Annual Tony Awards (2018), actor Robert De Niro walked out on the stage after being introduced. He then said, “I’m gonna say one thing. Fuck Trump. It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘Fuck Trump.’”

What was De Niro’s objective? If he wanted the approval and praise of the Tony audience, he succeeded when his remarks received a standing ovation. However, if he wanted to convince some Trump supporters or independent voters to support the political positions of the Democratic Party rather than President Donald Trump, I doubt he moved anyone. To the contrary; he may have actually strengthened their resolve.

Comedian Michelle Wolf voiced her displeasure with Ivanka Trump in a recent episode of Wolf’s Netflix series The Break. She said, “If you see Ivanka on the street, first call her Tiffany. This will devastate her. Then talk to her in terms she’ll understand. Say, ‘Ivanka, you’re like vaginal mesh. You were supposed to support women but now you have blood all over you and you’re the center of a thousand lawsuits.’”

What was Wolf’s objective? If she wanted to solidify her base of liberal viewers, I suspect she might have succeeded. With the publicity she received for her comment, she may have even attracted some new viewers who share her liberal views. However, if she wants to use her humor to change the political policies of the Trump Administration or to drive independent voters to support Democratic Party candidates and positions, she probably failed.

Whether you’re pro-Trump or anti-Trump is not the issue. What the two examples above demonstrate is the importance of defining objectives. If De Niro and Wolf wanted to diminish Trump’s political support – and I recognize that might not have been their objective — they flopped even as their fans cheered and laughed.

Let me explain. In 2016, I participated in a focus group involving independent voters. It was clear that personal attacks on Trump led many participants to be more likely to support him. By contrast, discussion of specific issues led people to thoughtfully consider which candidate better aligned with their own thinking. Based on my experience with the focus group, I wasn’t surprised when I looked at recent poll numbers.

Despite recent harsh comments by De Niro, Wolf, and countless others in recent weeks, the RealClear Politics polling average shows that Trump’s disapproval rating continues to oscillate just above 50 percent, where it has been consistently since March 15, 2017.

While celebrities leave me wondering about their objectives, many nonprofit organizations also have me scratching my head. I recently read one puzzling example from The Whiny Donor (self-named) on Twitter:

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