Friday, March 2, 2012

They Could Have Given More

"I could have given more."

That is what was revealed in just released preliminary results from the fourth annual Cygnus Donor Survey. Close to 50% of donors surveyed agreed that they could have given more money last year but held back.

The big question is - why?

Tabulation of all the data is not yet complete so Cygnus President Penelope Burk cautions that these preliminary findings are not statistically relevant. But they do begin to hint at what donors are thinking, specifically in relation to the survey question, What could unleash your philanthropy at a whole new level?

Here are a few feedback snippets from this question:

Being reminded of how long I have been giving and what that has added up to over time would, in itself, be a new incentive to giving more.
...having more control over managing my giving through an online portal available on the websites of charities I support.

...knowing that the money I give is making a real difference in people's lives (not just a drop in the ocean of need).

...having the names and phone numbers of real people on not-for-profit websites so that I can contact someone if I need information. It would also be good to have the names and photos of Board members...

...seeing charities with similar goals come together in a single organization with a unified fundraising program.

...knowing that my giving produces results...providing measurable results.

...helping believe there is something I can do.

I think people are tired of hearing about big insoluble problems and interested in hearing about people who say: "Yes, but there is a way to get at this and we are going to start the ball rolling!"

...showing donors they are connected to the people who need our help.

...having the need for funds translated into personal stories.

So what does this preliminary feedback tell us about why donors could have given more last year but didn't? Here's what I believe donors want:
  • Empowerment: Make the giving experience easier and give the donor some control. Retail institutions like banks, investment firms, e-vendors and others are providing the consumer with online tools to pay bills and manage their budgets, identify wish-list items, or receive purchase suggestions based upon past actions. Donors want and expect this sort of control with their philanthropic activities as well. Imagine if they could log onto your website, view their giving to date, find out exactly what your charity has done with their money, and receive suggestions of other projects they might be interested in based upon their past giving.
  • Impact: There is more and more talk about "charitable fatigue". Some issues seem so overwhelming that they might never be solved. Communicate to supporters that they really are making a difference and illustrate how in a compelling, genuine way. Report back to them on a regular basis. Have the information come from field workers, program directors, or aid recipients.  Assure them that there are solutions to critical issues and they are helping to advance those solutions through your charity. 
  • Transparency: Prove to them that you are using their funds in an effective and efficient way. If that means partnering with similar institutions, do it. If it comes down to justifying increased funding for infrastructure in order to serve the mission better, so be it. Respect their intelligence and tell them straightforward what you need in order to be successful. Be honest and forthright.
  • Authenticity: Don't feed supporters blathering generalities. Don't ply them with self-congratulatory drivel. Provide exhilarating and bona fide tales of transformation. There is a reason why storytelling has been foundational to every civilization down through history. It makes your mission come alive. Surely, you have scores of great stories. Share them!
  • Immediacy: Help establish a robust and uninfringeable connection between the donor and the beneficiary of their giving. 21st Century philanthropists want to hear directly from someone they helped, see a video of their contribution at work, or even go out into the field to experience firsthand the impact of their funding. 
Do these things and you will be less likely to hear, "You know, I could have given more."

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