What Do Donors Really Want?

June 25, 2018

There have been several reports circulating over the last few months looking at charitable giving in Canada. These reports do a deep dive into how donors are feeling about charitable giving, donor motivations, what they want to receive from the charities and causes they choose to support, as well as things like how often they give, how much they give, communication preferences, and much more.

This got me thinking about what donors really want – the basics. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but just a checklist of 5 essentials you really need to be doing to acquire, renew, and retain donors in a highly crowded and competitive market.

Although integrated fundraising is the name of the game, we know that many donors continue to make charitable donations by mail and by phone. And face-to-face fundraising has blown up with Point of Sale transactions (think Costco’s Children’s Miracle Network paper balloons or the #SmileCookie campaign at Tim Hortons).

So what does this all mean? It means that every day, people are approached by multiple organizations and asked to give – at the cash, in their inbox and mailbox, or on the phone, and that’s just to name a few. But what motivates people to make that first gift and how do they choose which organizations they’ll continue to give to?

Here are my top 5 tips to give your donors what they want:

  1. Keep up the snail mail
  2. Make stewardship your key priority (and assign budget)
  3. Be authentic
  4. Share stories (real stories)
  5. Provide donors with options to engage, give, and share their thoughts/feedback

Keep up the snail mail

All of us receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails every single day. Just recently, one of my colleagues was lamenting about the impossible task of getting her inbox down to zero. Every time we hit “delete”, a new email pops into view.  Email definitely has its place in today’s integrated fundraising programs, and if you aren’t sending them, you’re definitely missing out. That said, if you want to stand out, you need to meet donors where they are and the truth is, many donors are still at the mailbox!

Make stewardship your key priority (and assign budget)

I can’t tell you how often I get into conversations with organizations about the latest tactic for acquiring new donors and believe me, they’re willing to throw money at it! But when I shift the conversation to their existing donors, those who’ve been giving for years — how they’re treating them, how they’re engaging them, how they’re thanking them — and how much budget they’ve set aside to do those things — I’m often met with blank stares.

What would happen if all charitable organizations spent the same amount of money on stewardship as they do on solicitation?

Be authentic

This one kind of goes without saying but donors want to hear from you. Who’s behind the thank you letter they’re receiving? Hopefully, not a robot.

I know that you need to balance your corporate/brand messaging with what you want to share with donors but you CAN do both and still manage to retain some genuineness. Just be honest about how grateful you are for their support and what they’ve accomplished.

Share stories (real stories)

Storytelling has been around since the dawn of time. No doubt you’ve heard us Good Workers talk about how important stories are in connecting donors to your cause. Stories get at the heart of your mission — why you do the work you do.

If you’re starting from scratch, there are 3 stories you can share right now: 1) Share your origin story (how your organization came to be, the problem you’re trying to solve, and why you’re best positioned to do this work), 2) The story of one life impacted by your donor’s support (Who are you helping?), and 3) Share your our own personal story (why you work for this organization in particular, and how your values and beliefs align with the cause).

Provide donors with options to engage, give, and share their thoughts/feedback

As much as I love direct mail (and I do), most successful fundraising programs are using various channels to connect with donors including mail, phone, and email to name just a few. Many donors now receive a direct mail package and choose to make a donation online, or your email may remind them that they received a mailing a while back and never responded. All of the various channels work in tandem to help create a seamless donor experience.

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Heather Brown

Heather Brown

Passionate about direct mail and legacy marketing and strives to help her clients make a positive impact on the community.