What happens if you listen to your donors TOO MUCH

Maybe you’re listening to your donors too much.

Surprised to hear me ask that?

After all, fundraisers are in the business of supplying donors with what they want and need. The problem is, what they tell you they want is so often not at all what really motivates them to respond.

Virtuous blog tells the sad tale of some customer-listening done by Walmart, at When Not Listening to Your Donors Is the Right Thing to Do.

Seems the retail giant did some research and found out that most customers wished the stores were “less cluttered.” I get that. I would have said the same thing.

So Walmart got less cluttered. And sales dropped $1.9 billion. Why?

… they listened to the wrong data — what customers said instead of what customers did. Not to pile on … but they took this critical mistake and decided to make it exponentially worse. They decided to take the response as gospel and forget everything they previously knew about customer purchasing behavior.

(I think they’ve since gone back to clutter.)

Here’s the thing. Those people who wanted less clutter were telling the truth — as far as they know it. They only have access to their conscious opinions. Their real behavior is more deeply rooted in their brains, in those subconscious lizard-like places that drive most human behavior.

It’s the same with donors. Ask them what they want, and they’ll give you all kinds of terrible advice. They want to hear from you once a year. They don’t need emotional stories or suggested ask amounts. They don’t want long messages or emotional photos. They tell you they’ll donate more if you don’t do those things.

Except they won’t.

Listening means paying attention to what donors do. And taking what they say with a grain of salt.

There’s nothing wrong with donors. That’s just the way everyone is. Including you and me.

Do your fundraising in the real world — the world of behavior, not opinions.


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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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