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Donor Engagement and Missed Fundraising Opportunities

December 23, 2010

Some of you may be aware that in early 2010 I posted a challenge on my personal Facebook page offering to match the donations to Haiti earthquake relief for anyone who simply listed that they had made a donation and the agency(ies) they chose to support. Fortunately, this act not only weeded out a number of people who felt so offended by my offer that they unfriended me (ultimately a good thing), but it also resulted in a fairly sizable amount of money being donated to help aid the tremendous aid work under way.

Based on my research and ideas i got from the many responses posted on my wall, I selected two organizations with whom to make my matching donation. Both acknowledged my four-figure gift, but that’s when the two took different paths in engaging me as a donor.

I should note that each organization is HUGE and has more than ample resources to conduct proper donor engagement. That’s not to say that it’s OK for smaller organizations to shirk on donor engagement, but rather to point out that these organizations lack legitimate excuses for what I experienced.

Over the course of the past several months, I have received regular email solicitations and updates from one of the organizations, and nearly nothing from the other. In fact, I have yet to receive an end-of-year solicitation from the latter. Perhaps they assumed that my gift was only in reaction to the tremendous emotional and financial outpouring of support for the people of Haiti in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and that I am a low-probability recurring donor. That may or may not be true. Unfortunately for them, they’ll never know.

The other organization has “kept in touch” with me consistently since my contribution, albeit in a less than ideal way. They have sent personalized solicitation emails cloaked in regional updates once or twice a month. I don’t consider this an example of good donor engagement. In particular, I see two opportunities for improvement:

1. Communicate with me from time to time without making an ask. I liken the donor engagement process to that of making and keeping a friend. If every time I saw a friend I asked them for a favor, or if I only reached out to them when I needed them to do me a favor, they wouldn’t be my friend for very long.

The fact that this organization addressed me personally and shared with me updates on the region that I originally supported are both great in terms of keeping our connection highly relevant and personal. But by ending every update with an ask and a reminder that they rely on donations to function is a little insulting and leaves me feeling like a checkbook and not a human with whom they are developing a relationship.

2. The second opportunity for improvement is for them to make an ask that is consistent with my giving history. This end of year appeal included a request for $50 to $75. While I don’t consider our previous donation to be significant in the grand scheme of what these guys raise each year, I do consider it a missed opportunity for them to ask me for only 2%-4% of what I gave previously.

While for massive organizations, getting to know every donor personally is impractical, greater effort (consistent with that required for including my name in the appeal) could have been made to make an ask that is more in line with what I’ve given in the past. That is not to say that they should blindly assume that my gift will remain consistent, but an effort should have been made to include in the suggested amounts a number that would at least give me the opportunity.

The lesson for the rest of us is to look at our donor engagement process similar to that of establishing and maintaining a long-term friendship. As it relates to my experience:

  • The first step is to actually have a process for engaging donors in the first place. It should go without saying that if you don’t make an effort to interact with someone, it’s going to be difficult to maintain a friendship for any length of time.
  • Take the time to get to know them and what their interests and needs are relative to your organization, understand what trends are affecting them, find out why they were originally interested in your organization or cause in the first place; and then, when appropriate, make an ask that is consistent with your respective needs.
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