Continuing commentary (mine are in italics) based upon Ken Burnett's 15 things I would do if I were the new head of donor development as shared on the SOFII (Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration) website:
9. I’d work on strategies that build our donors’ trust and confidence in us and our organization. I’d make our nonprofit a model of proactive accountability, to show we are effective and well-run.
Perhaps our greatest responsibility to the donor and one often poorly executed involves earning the donor’s trust. This will involve focusing on establishing superb communications, being transparent regarding our operations, and being guided by a set of principles that are donor-centric. An excellent place to start is encapsulated in the Donor Bill of Rights as outlined on the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) website.
10. I’d focus on the major motivations that have attracted our donors to our cause in the first place. I’d try to understand these, and make the best possible use of them.
Do you know what the main motivators are for your donors? Is that an assumption or have you asked them? Distribute surveys, provide opportunities to assemble small groups of supporters for feedback sessions, and establish groups of volunteers that can provide ongoing input. And don’t forget to communicate with the beneficiaries of your organization since they often hear first hand from donors why they give. Keep an open mind. Motivating triggers may be quite different than what you assume – or even think you want.
11. I’d have our donor database properly profiled at least once a year.
Your most valuable source of information is right in your own database. Consider having it profiled for demographic and response information as frequently as possible. I have had great success utilizing the resources of Marts and Lundy and Target Analytics but there are other excellent services and resources available that will provide invaluable insights and benchmarks. Do it. It is well worth it. Then make sure you act upon what you have learned.
12. I’d offer donors and other supporters the chance to choose when and how often they hear from us and what they might want to hear about.
As Ken Burnett states, “Donors will always be more responsive if what we send them is what they want to receive.” And as Burnett adds, “When this strategy starts to work, I’ll try introducing other choices for our donors, so they can in effect choose their own personal communications programs.”
I would reiterate that allowing a donor to “choose their communication program” is not the same as removing the donor from a communication stream in the mistaken belief that they will be grateful “not hear from you”. Remember, donors like to give. If they aren’t giving to your organization they are likely giving to another. Shouldn’t they be given the opportunity to give to you? It is the rare donor indeed that will search you out to send you a contribution unsolicited.
13. I’d create an environment where innovation and creativity can flourish, so I could readily develop appropriate products and propositions designed to suit our donors.
There are over 1.5 million non-profits in the US and a new nonprofit organization registers with the IRS every 15 minutes. It is the responsibility of each nonprofit to create programs that are compelling, unique, and deserve the support of donors. It will take talented communicators to make sure your nonprofit stands out and establishes a clear niche.
Likewise, fundraisers must balance utilizing “best practices” in their appeals for these nonprofits with innovation and creativity. This will require testing our “tried and true” against new ideas. Test, test, test and test some more.
14. I’d make our organization the best communicator anywhere.
Communication can take place through many different channels. It could be through your website, fundraising appeals, thank you letters, public events or publications.
Let’s consider nonprofit websites. A significant percentage of donors go to a nonprofit’s website to research the organization prior to making a gift. Yet, recent research has found that donors find giving online far more difficult than what they are accustomed to when utilizing commercial sites. Researcher Jakob Nielsen found that a top priority for nonprofit websites should be to “write clearer content”. As he states in a recent Jakob Nielsen Alert posting, “Non-profits must clearly communicate their value proposition if they want to attract volunteers and online donations. Sadly, such communication is the sore point in the non-profit user experience.”
All areas of communication require the sort of scrutiny that ensures top-notch clarity.
Scrutinize everything you do. “Mystery shop” your branch offices, run your communications past your beneficiaries for their perspective, call donors after appeals and ask for their input. Try to make an online gift and see what the process is like. Remove all impediments from engaging your supporters.
15. Finally, I’d give a little bit extra.
Going “above and beyond” expectations will set your organization apart from your 1.5 million nonprofit friends. Establish a culture that encourages each of your employees, volunteers, and representatives to exceed expectations. Your mission deserves it. Your donors deserve it.