The New Donor

donor relations Feb 23, 2021

Gone are the days when people gave to the same old reliable charities because “It’s the thing to do,” or “My parents always supported this cause,” or “They have a great reputation.”

Today’s donors are looking for results, and they need to feel for passion in their own hearts for the cause or the project.

I’ve given lots of advice on how to donors on choose a charity with their head:

  • Read it’s 990 forms
  • Ask if the charity follows the Donor Bill of Rights and if it has a Code of Ethics
  • Make sure the charity is registered in your state if required to do so
  • Ask if it has a strategic plan
  • Check to see who is on the board.

I still argue that all of these things are important, but donors also choose with their heart.

Some of us naturally have a heart for certain organizations because we have a personal connection with either the organization or the cause.  Sometimes it is easy to identify with a disease-related organization if that disease claimed the life of a loved one. Or giving to your alma mater or local hospital because of the feeling of gratitude. But how do donor develop the passion for an organization that they might not have a close personal relationship with already—the kind of passion that might motivate them to serve on the board, to volunteer, to give an annual gifts, and eventually make your organization their charity of choice for the ultimate gift?

Donors Test the Charity

When donors read a letter from your organization does it “grab them by the throat” and more importantly, by the heartstrings? A letter is often the first contact the donor will have with your charity. But it will take more than words on a piece of paper to make them feel that passion.

They will most likely attend some events you run. Do you tell a story at your events, or do you just invite people to play golf, buy a silent auction gift, or attend an open house? If you’re smart you will tell a powerful emotional story. One classic example of an organization that did it all wrong:

A human service agency that served people with disabilities held an annual awards dinner, where they recognized donors, volunteers, and others. But did they have a person with a disability give a testimonial, tell a powerful story? No. And worse yet, the president of the organization wanted to recognize his board members so he asked them all to stand as he called out their name. After he mentioned the names of twenty-one board members, only four were in attendance and stood up to be recognized. Did this send a message that he had passionate caring board members? Absolutely not! In fact people commented about the fact that the board members, who should care more than the rest of the community about an organization, did not even bother to show up at this event. Hardly instilled passion in any of the attendees.

The new donor will want to talk to staff, to volunteers, to clients, to board members. They may ask what drives them to work with your organization. They’ll talk to their friends and find out if they support your organization, and why?

They may even visit your organization and see if the staff looks happy. Ask yourself if your staff has passion for your mission?

An example of an organization that got this message through loud and clear is a free medical clinic, whose staff are mostly volunteers, except for a paid medical director, and a few other administrative staff. This clinic holds weekly tours for potential volunteers and donors. It is so apparent that this group has a real passion for what they do every day that almost everyone who tours cannot help but catch that passion.  The clinic’s case for support quotes several clients whose stories are so compelling it is hard for the reader not to feel passion.

Let your donors interact with clients whenever possible. They will tell the “rest of the story.” For example, my late husband was in a long term care facility for four years, and it was so obvious to me that after talking to staff members and residents themselves, that this place is filled with passionate people who love what they do and that this passion is obvious to the residents and their families. I couldn’t help but feel that passion myself and have made donations of both volunteer time and money.

Today’s donors think with both mind and heart about the charities they want to support. Find out: What is their passion? What brings tears to their eyes? What makes them laugh with joy? What makes them feel inspired? What makes them angry enough to fight an injustice?

As Azeem said to Robin Hood in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: “Is she worth dying for?” This is passion! Is your charity worth dying for? Although no charity will likely ever ask donors to die for it, a smart charity is one that donors would remember in their will? Do your donors feel that much passion for your organization? If not, they will keep looking for one for which they do feel that passion!

If you want to learn more about how donors think, take my course Building Relations that Lead to Major Gifts. Sign up here

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