How to help skeptical donors to give

by guest blogger George Crankovic. He blogs at The Clued-in Copywriter.

Is your nonprofit one of the “good” ones? Of course it is! And that’s how we fall into the “nonprofit mindset.”

We know that our nonprofit is honest, doing good work, and focused intensely on the mission. There’s no question about it. We know that the people working at our nonprofit do it because they want to make a difference … in it for the psychic rewards, not to become captains of industry and masters of the universe. Our motives are laudable. We know all this to be true. So we naturally assume that donors know it too.

But do they? Not so much!

In fact, donors are skeptical about charities and about their own giving. Even jaded. They WANT to trust nonprofits, and they WANT to know their donations are actually doing something positive. But there’s that little voice in their heads whispering, “Am I being duped here?” That’s most if not all donors, probably including your regular donors.

You don’t have to look any further than the questions about the activity of the Red Cross in its response to the Haiti Earthquake and the scandal involving top executives at Wounded Warrior Project for lavish spending. Whenever something like this happens, it’s usually a big story in the news, and it paints all nonprofits with the same brush.

That’s why we have to do everything we can to establish and build credibility. This issue came up in a recent NPR program with their listeners asking questions about charitable giving. More and more, donors demand accountability and transparency. So, here are some credibility builders to think about:

  • Donor testimonials. This might seem old hat, but donor testimonials are vital credibility builders. Get as many as you can.
  • Ratings. If you have good ratings from Charity Navigator, Guidestar, and others, present them. Donors use these as a shorthand way of evaluating nonprofits.
  • Financial transparency. You’ll probably want to make your annual reports and IRS form 990 available. Donors expect it.
  • Stories. Stories about the work you do show that you do what you say. Get as many as you can, but they should be donor focused.
  • Notable past successes. If your charity was involved in a national or regional event like recovery after a big disaster, getting some new law enacted, or whatever it may be, remind you donors about it. It’ll build trust by association.
  • Organizational scale. Donors may wonder whether your nonprofit is equipped to handle the action you’re asking them to fund. You can reassure donors by, say, talking about a similar past effort, profiling experts on staff (maybe in your newsletter), explaining that you have offices around the world or across the country, and so on. Don’t get caught up in reciting the number of programs, offices, or staff, etc. But do give an indication of size and scope.
  • Number of years in existence. This isn’t the most compelling credibility builder in the world. In some cases, it can work. In others, it can backfire on you. If you say your charity has been in operation since, say, 1975, you may be thinking, WOW, that’s 42 years! But 1975 is within the experiential background of baby boomers, so for most of your donors, it won’t seem all that long ago.

The problem is that credibility builders like these often get put on the website and then forgotten about, especially when it comes to financial transparency. But try working them into appeals, and see if that doesn’t make a difference for those donors who are feeling a bit twitchy.


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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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About the blogger

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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