Learning Fundraising by Being a Donor

Fundraising, like most meaningful endeavors, needs to be learned. But not all learning has to come in a classroom or from a consultant (hard to believe I am saying that, isn’t it?). There are some best practices that you can learn every time you donate to a nonprofit, yes, learning fundraising by being a donor. You get a front row seat to see how you are solicited, stewarded, appreciated, and/or annoyed. Being perceived as annoyed is probably the most common reason that people who will seemingly ask anyone for anything will not fundraise.

Let’s focus on how you can be persistent without irritating donors.

Small Donations

If you give a small donation, let’s say $25-$50, to a nonprofit, you will see that it sets off a chain reaction (or it should).

In all likelihood it will place you on a mailing list for additional solicitations. That in turn will get a reaction from you. If it is an organization that you gave to because:

  • you support the mission but don’t know enough about, those additional solicitations may come with more information or additional ways to get involved. That could help you become more engaged and potentially give an additional gift or a larger gift in the future.
  • a mutual friend asked you to join them in supporting this seemingly good cause, you might not want to be bombarded with letters and emails. A bit of information is interesting but by the 3rd or 4th time in a year you start to wonder why they are wasting so much money sending additional solicitations so quickly or so often. You might think they anticipate you will become a bigger donor than you plan to be. You just gave your first gift – why would they think you would give another gift so quickly. In all probability you hadn’t decided whether you would give again. Into the recycling bin those additional letters go or you click onto the unsubscribe link.
  • you wanted to support a specific person who was running a fundraiser, participating in an event, or in honor of someone out of joy or sadness. That is when those additional contacts drive most donors crazy. You are not passionate about the cause yet and each additional ask for support pushes you further away.

What can you learn from these three scenarios?

Keep in mind that donor retention is greatly improved once a donor has offered a second gift but there are many potential pitfalls you should avoid.

      1. Give information when you are looking for a second gift, not just a letter asking for money. Send a brochure about the depth of your reach. If you have an email address it is even easier to send images with links with more details about your amazing work. But don’t send 3 letters or emails within 3 months and drop the donor if they haven’t responded. Space out your information and track what they are reading, then send a targeted appeal.
      2. Do you like it when a nonprofit sends you a thank you note with additional information? Do you respond when a second solicitation comes in the same year? Does it depend on the ask? Consider what appealed to you because you are a focus group of one. But don’t be too harsh on the nonprofit either. You might not love getting solicitations in October and December with additional emails but recognize that they all helped to build your interest in a donation.
      3. If someone donates to honor a person and their nonprofit work, do not place him or her in the main fundraising database as a general donor. You can try to solicit them once a year, but don’t barrage them with appeals. Your nonprofit will look insensitive to 99 donors for every 1 donor you get. You are better off slowly engaging those donors in your good work.  Consider how many solicitations you receive before you unsubscribe from a mailing list. Email is free, but should be used judiciously.
      4. Are you being stewarded in new and different ways. Have you received a phone call after your gift? How did it feel? Did you receive a personal note? Did you get invited to a special event for being a new donor? Were you listed someplace that a friend noticed? Strong fundraisers will treat you as if you will become a life-long donor with a grace and ease that makes you feel like you want to continue to be part of the organization. And then, the additional solicitations will seem organic.

If you are struggling to remember how you have been treated consider giving a small donation to a few organizations and see the results. Heifer International is one that handles their follow up extremely well. My children have chosen that as their Chanukah Tzedakah for three years in a row and while Heifer snail mails and emails a decent amount, it doesn’t annoy me. Choose large and small organizations and see the difference. And see what you can learn from the time you mail the check (or press the donate button).

Not all donors will see the line between stewardship and annoyance in the same way, but the large majority could easily tell your nonprofit when you have pushed it to far. Just ask some of the donors who never renewed their giving.