Why nonprofits don’t focus on donors

by guest blogger Stephen Hitchcock, Senior Manager for Special Projects at Bread for the World. Steve is author of Open Immediately: Straight Talk on Direct Mail Fundraising and, with Mal Warwick, Ten Steps to Fundraising Success.

Given the rewards for being focused on donors, why are most nonprofits so steadily not doing that?

I’ve been in the business a long time, and I think it’s because nonprofits organize themselves around two purposes:


  1. To avoid focusing on their mission.
  2. To avoid asking people for money.

Most organizations have such big and difficult missions that it’s easier to spend time debating trendy typefaces and cool colors. And asking people for money gets you lots of rejection.

Compounding these systematic flaws are a few other factors:


  • Those who make gifts to nonprofits are two generations older than most nonprofit staff. Grandparents are nice to visit, but spending lots of time with them isn’t that much fun.
  • Effective fundraising entails doing the same thing over and over. And even when you do new things, you’d better mind the details. It’s hard, boring work.
  • Nonprofit staff are talkers (especially to each other). They’re not sustained readers. And they love photos. But most of those who respond to direct mail love to read, and they love to read stories and reports about real events.

This “great divide” between nonprofit and their donors is inherent in the way nonprofit organizations are staffed and funded. A helpful antidote is to get nonprofit staff out of the office. Ideally, meeting and talking with donors. Bribing donors to visit and talk with staff helps as well (and board meetings don’t count).

We should also pray for the good health and long lives of writers and graphic designers who know how to communicate with older readers who give to nonprofits.


Comments

2 responses to “Why nonprofits don’t focus on donors”

  1. Jeff,
    I think you know that focusing on donors is one of my passions as it is yours. The guest post by Stephen hits several key points that I like.
    His 3rd bullet about, “And they love photos.” is what I’ll expand on.
    I see this not only in direct mail, but also email and on websites.
    Let’s stick to websites: All images and tons of different colors, buttons, etc. The eye is confused and doesn’t know where to focus. Many times there isn’t any copy at all above the fold!
    Direct marketing principles, usability studies, eye-flow studies, and many others all point out the weaknesses of such an approach. Yet we see it over and over and over again.
    No wonder response is low in direct mail letters. No wonder click-through rates are low in email. And no wonder conversions are low on landing pages and websites.
    Donors and prospects know what they want. They also don’t want to struggle to find it. Deliver what THEY want and make it easy for donors. Period.
    – Karen Zapp

  2. Jeff,
    I think you know that focusing on donors is one of my passions as it is yours. The guest post by Stephen hits several key points that I like.
    His 3rd bullet about, “And they love photos.” is what I’ll expand on.
    I see this not only in direct mail, but also email and on websites.
    Let’s stick to websites: All images and tons of different colors, buttons, etc. The eye is confused and doesn’t know where to focus. Many times there isn’t any copy at all above the fold!
    Direct marketing principles, usability studies, eye-flow studies, and many others all point out the weaknesses of such an approach. Yet we see it over and over and over again.
    No wonder response is low in direct mail letters. No wonder click-through rates are low in email. And no wonder conversions are low on landing pages and websites.
    Donors and prospects know what they want. They also don’t want to struggle to find it. Deliver what THEY want and make it easy for donors. Period.
    – Karen Zapp

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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