How great nonprofits throw piles of money out the window

I may have broken the fundraising department of a very excellent nonprofit when I donated recently.

More likely, they were already broken when I showed up.

Here’s what happened. I was researching orgs involved in a cause that I care a lot about. I wanted to put a chunk of my Donor-Advised Fund to work for that cause. After I found what looked like a good choice, I made my grant. Not a huge amount, but enough to put me in the ranks of mid-value donors.

It was a fairly large organization with a good reputation. For them, it was an out-of-the-blue donation.

Then I waited.

After a couple of weeks, I got a standard acknowledgement letter.

A couple of months after that, I got a nice handwritten card (from a real person) thanking me and asking if they could have my email address. I didn’t give it to them.

Then nothing. For months.

Nothing about what my donation was helping make possible.

Not even an opportunity to get involved and do more in this cause I’m passionate about.

Now I’m wondering if my choice of organizations was a good one. I clearly signaled my interest in their work, and an above-average capacity for giving. And they did almost nothing about it. It felt like I hit the ball over the net and it never came back.

I know that many otherwise excellent organizations can handle donations poorly. I also know that mid-value donations (especially those coming from DAFs) can be especially confusing. Maybe they have the attitude that they shouldn’t “bug” donors who give $X or more with typical communications. Maybe someone told them mid-value donors only want to engage by email. Maybe I was put in the portfolio of a major donor rep who has way too many donors to steward, including some of a lot more potential than me.

Or maybe they’re sloppy or incompetent.

I haven’t yet decided my next move. Should I try to tell them it’s okay — even necessary — to communicate with me and hope they’ll give me a reason to give again? Or just move on and find someone else to donate to? (I welcome your suggestions.)

To be fair, I’m not a normal donor. I’m paying far more attention than most. Normal donors are less likely to notice they’re getting so little contact.

They’re more likely to just forget about it and move on without a second thought.

Someone who shows up with a mid-value donation has a high likelihood of making subsequent mid-value donations. Some of those donations are from people who can significantly scale up their giving, and they’re test-driving the org. (That’s not me, unfortunately!)

If my whiny story makes you worry, there’s a simple (but not easy) solution you can put to work.

It’s this: Have a plan for all new donors.

Know what you’re going to do with each donor giving every possible amount, from 1¢ to a billion dollars. That plan should include things like …

  • Call new donors to thank them. The impact of this is huge. Ideally, you call all new donors. But if that’s not possible, call donors who give $50 — or whatever amount makes calling possible.
  • Acknowledge donations quickly.
  • Thank donors as personally as possible. A handwritten card (like the one I got) is a great start. But think about sending a longer letter and other touch-points. It’s not a good investment for all donors, but it’s a big winner for some.
  • Report back. Every donor gives in hopes that something good will happen. They don’t know it happened until you tell them!
  • Put in writing a doable plan for every donor. For those mid-value donors, they may or may not merit having a rep, but if they do, make sure that rep has time (and is equipped) to do something with the relationship.

And here’s the big one:

  • Don’t go silent on any donor. Not unless they specifically tell you not to contact them. Never assume donors don’t want communication. Some want to be left alone, but most want to make a difference with you. Give them that chance by building a relationship around asking, thanking and reporting back.


Comments

2 responses to “How great nonprofits throw piles of money out the window”

  1. Hi Jeff,
    This is a great reminder to reach out to those new donors when they have the highest interest in your organization. However, I noticed that you gave through your DAF (yay for DAFs). I’ll bet that organization did not get a phone number with the documentation that came with your DAF check. We never do. Fidelity, or whatever org manages the DAF won’t provide it, so it’s really difficult to make that kind of contact. Do you have a suggestion that can help overcome that?
    THanks
    Jill
    P>S. Love your blog.

  2. Hi Jeff,
    This is a great reminder to reach out to those new donors when they have the highest interest in your organization. However, I noticed that you gave through your DAF (yay for DAFs). I’ll bet that organization did not get a phone number with the documentation that came with your DAF check. We never do. Fidelity, or whatever org manages the DAF won’t provide it, so it’s really difficult to make that kind of contact. Do you have a suggestion that can help overcome that?
    THanks
    Jill
    P>S. Love your blog.

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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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