Do Everything You Can To Tell Your Donor They Made A Difference

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By Richard Perry

“How come I can’t get them to tell me how they used my money,” the donor asked?

That one question alone captures a huge problem in fundraising — a problem you can address in your major gift program.

In the 40 years I have been involved in fundraising, I have only seen a couple of instances where a donor required a very strict accounting of how their money was used. On the other hand, over all of these years, I have seen hundreds — perhaps thousands — of situations where donors are wondering if their giving really made a difference.

So, when a donor asks how you used their money, they are simply wanting to be assured that actual good was done — that the problem you asked them to solve was addressed, even in part. That’s all. Nothing more. It isn’t difficult. Perhaps it requires more information from the program folks or finance. Or, perhaps, the collective defensiveness in your organization is preventing a very simple answer, one that could be answered if everyone put their minds and will to do it.

In major gifts, the key to keeping your qualified caseload donor happy with you and your organization is to give feedback on how things are going. You can’t do this enough. And you can’t do it too frequently.

This is why I was so interested to read, in an article published by The Guardian, that Oxfam, a very large and successful international relief and development organization, plans to harness the power of the smartphone to bring donors closer to its work. While this initiative was announced several years ago, the concept is still worth talking about which is why I am presenting it to you now.

The app they are launching is called My Oxfam. It “will make donating easy and rewarding. The app will also bring supporters closer to the charity’s projects, offer a new level of transparency around its work … the app aims to build trust among supporters by giving them an insight into the charity’s work and the way funds are spent, through video diaries from Oxfam staff on the ground, stories about the people the charity is supporting, and live updates on emergencies.”

Oxfam’s head of fundraising, Paul Vanags, said: “Charities are striving to meet the public’s demand for a closer, more modern and responsive relationship with the charities they support … My Oxfam provides a window on to the lives changed by our supporters’ generosity and allows users to control their giving from the palm of their hand.”

The Guardian article further explained:

Users can track how much they have donated through sponsorship, items donated to shops, or cash payments, and can adjust their monthly donations. When there is a humanitarian emergency, Oxfam can issue an appeal through the app, and then allow donors to follow the charity’s work on the issue long after the initial crisis is over.

This is absolutely amazing! And it is what is needed to bring donors closer to the organizations they support.

You might not be able to pull this off in your organization, but you can, on a regular basis:

  1. Give your caseload donor frequent updates on how the area they are giving to is doing. This can be good or bad news. Do not be afraid to talk about setbacks or rough times. Many programs do not go as planned: they change direction or they are cancelled. It is important for the donor to know. They WILL find out and your secret exposed is the worst damage you can do to your relationship. And, of course, talk about the good news — a life changed, a forest saved, an animal rescued, a music program expanded, an arts program preserved, a student given opportunity, etc. These are good things your donor needs to hear about.
  2. Engage your donor in conversations and exchanges on why they give to the program(s) they give to. This second point is critical, here’s why: You always want to keep finding out more and more about the donor, why they give, and what their core drivers and motivations are. This information will help you do two things: (a) it will help you thank them more effectively as you will be giving them more specific information that matches their core motivations, and (b) it will help you craft future asks for the donor.

Remember this. You cannot do enough — you cannot go overboard — on giving your donor information on what their giving accomplished. You can easily not do enough. So be alert to that. The main reason donors stop giving, give less or go away is because they did not know their giving made a difference. It’s up to you to make sure that doesn’t happen. Just commit to tell them what is going on.

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