Learn before your donors leave
It is quite appropriate that the motto of The Future of Fundraising is “Learn or Leave” (Disce Aut Discede).
To me, this motto has two meanings.
First, fundraisers who are not committed to learning should simply get out of this trade. Ignorance and sloth won’t save the world.
Second – and the one I want to focus on here – is this: If fundraisers don’t learn – and learn quickly – the stream of donors who will leave is going to turn into a roaring river.
Few nations on Earth have a population as engaged and generous as The Netherlands. For 15+ years I had the privilege of working with many, many Dutch nonprofits. So, I know from first-hand experience how careful Dutch charities are when it comes to spending money.
BUT…if there’s one cost center that needs and deserves a greater expenditure of time and money in the Dutch market it’s that of donor care.
Most fundraisers are familiar with the term “donor-centric” and almost everyone these days pays lip service to it. “Oh yes, we’re donor centric”…”Oh yes, we care about donors”…”Oh yes, we send out thank you notes.”
But… as Grandma Craver used to say, “Everyone who talks about heaven ain’t going there.”
The fact is that most organizations are not donor-centric. A quick look at lousy retention rates and flat or declining revenues are clear evidence of that.
What’s even more important is that given the increased sophistication of customer-centric care in the commercial world, it is probably no longer good enough to simply settle for being donor-centric.
Irish customer care guru Gerry McGovern warns that even if a company is indeed “customer-centric” that may not be enough these days: “To truly be successful, you need to nurture a customer obsession culture within your organization.”, he warns.
It doesn’t matter whether you care to label your organization’s culture “donor-centric” or “donor-obsessed”, what is important is that you learn how to create a donor-centric culture before even more donors leave.
The essential question: What are the characteristics of a donor obsession culture?
Humility. Most organizations focus entirely too much on their own needs. Consequently, one of the most difficult tasks for many groups is to put the donor first. Sadly, too often the claims, needs and whims of the CEO or senior managers come first. That's Organization-Obsessive.
Here are some signs that you’re succeeding in becoming donor-obsessive:
- Constantly listening to and observing donors.
- Making decisions based on evidence of donor behavior and attitudes, not opinion or ego.
- Most importantly, it means measuring success based on donor commitment and satisfaction, not tactical or “meeting the numbers” success. In a donor-obsessed culture, the organization’s success flows from, and is dependent on, donor success.
There are many ways in which you can boost your humility quotient. Without question the best way is to seek donor feedback and then listen and act on your donors’ suggestions and complaints.
Please, don’t for a minute believe you “know” what your donors want and need based on “intuition” or discussions around the office. It’s important to remember this: We are not our donors. Even if we know we are not our donors, we don’t know how we are not our donors. Playacting that we know our donors' desires is pure folly.
Nimbleness. Donor-obsessed organizations understand that donors change faster than the organization itself. For example, many nonprofits are somewhere between arthritic and dead when it comes making changes in their websites based on donors’ changing needs or in their ability to listen to and quickly act on donor feedback.
Simplicity. If you want to be obsessed with one element of donor-centric then focus on simplicity. Make it as easy as possible for donors to get information, to get help, to make their thoughts and preferences known and to donate. Providing convenience and saving folks time is increasingly important in this e-commerce, Amazon-dominated age.
(See this Agitator post on The Complexity of Simplicity.)
In my experience nonprofits – especially Dutch nonprofits – spend far too much time figuring out how to save time and money for themselves. They devote precious little time to understanding and improving the donor experience.
In the past organizations could get away with ignoring the donor by focusing on “let’s-cost-cut-our-way-to-success” measures like automated phone systems and other impersonal, annoying tactics. (Like burying or not providing proper contact information on websites.) No more.
At a time when donors are increasingly skeptical and independent-minded, with access to the empowering world of the internet and social media, those “obsessed” organizations that listen to donors, heed what they’re saying, and act on that feedback will lead the way.
What actions are you taking to nurture a donor-obsession culture?