Are you unintentionally turning away donors?

Three areas to evaluate in your nonprofit

Written by
Elaine Fogel
May 21, 2013

No fundraiser wants to turn away donors. Right? But many are doing just that – unintentionally. Here are three areas you can evaluate to test whether your organisation is doing everything it can to engage each and every donor, make them feel valued and ultimately help to raise more funds.

1. Commemorative/memorial donations

After the death of a loved one many bereaved families often ask friends to make a memorial donation to a specific cause, maybe to the deceased person's favourite charity or to a medical research organisation. People celebrating milestones, such as birthdays, anniversaries and marriages, are also increasingly requesting donations instead of gifts. The charities then send a commemorative and memorial card to those donors, and also to the families to let them know about their friends' generosity. When properly promoted these donations can generate substantial income.

So, where's the problem?

Some charities are setting a minimum donation amount that donors must give in order to qualify for this courtesy. One organisation's website I recently visited had a $25 USD (15.55 GBP; $24.87 CAD) minimum. Yes, there are administrative costs associated with processing these gifts and sending out cards. But, how much are these new prospects worth to your charity?

Setting up barriers like this can be very short sighted. Donors who find the minimum amount too high will end up at another charity's site to make their commemorative and memorial gifts, and that opens the door to messages and appeals from those organisations – not yours.

What does your charity spend to acquire new prospects for its fundraising efforts? If you do the maths, this approach may be less costly. If not, it's an easy way to build your lists internally without paying for external lists. More importantly, you won't be turning donors away.

2. Customer service

Many charity leaders believe that their organisations provide excellent customer service. I'll bet they'd be surprised to learn otherwise. Excellent customer service comes from having a strong customer orientation, whether your customers are donors, volunteers, clients, funders, or members.

If your charity has customer service protocols in place, reinforcement via regular training, a staff rewards and recognition programme, and performance expectations, you're doing great. If not, these gaps can unintentionally turn donors away – and, you won't even know about it.

Do a mystery shopping exercise and have trained external people call your organisation with specific questions and concerns. Test the response time. How many rings does it take before someone answers the telephone? How warm and inviting is the voicemail message? How quickly do testers get a return call? Are the responses the same no matter which employee responds? Are staff aware of what's happening internally in relation to programme, services, or events? Or, do they tell callers that they don't know anything about their enquiry? Do they transfer calls to voicemail limbo?

These are but a few of the things you can test to see how well your organisation scores in customer service. If you don't have the funds to hire an external supplier to do this, perhaps university students would be eager to earn a few extra dollars.

3. Newsletters and communication

We all receive multitudes of emails and mail regularly. Add to that, text messages, television and radio commercials, the telephone, Internet, smart phones, social media, billboards, and the host of new communication tools that flourish every year. Now imagine how your donors receive your newsletters and other communications. They must compete with thousands of other messages. How will yours stand out?

Let's assume that you have well-written content and the design and layout is very professional and appealing, what's left? Your audience. Are you unintentionally turning away donors because you are sending one version of your newsletter to everyone on your charity's mailing list?

Donors are likely to prefer different articles and features than volunteers. Some may overlap, but essentially, these are two distinct audiences. The only way to determine what type of communication your supporters want to receive is to ask them.

Conducting online surveys is affordable and can give your organisation very valuable data. To increase response rates, it is always helpful to offer prizes and incentives. What you discover can help determine your charity's newsletter and communications strategy so that it gets a higher return on investment. The investment, in this case, includes survey costs and staff time to plan the content and prepare communications for distribution.

Your fundraising communication has split seconds to gain or lose your recipients' attention. Why turn away donors when it's unnecessary? Give them the kind of information they want to know.

Your donors are your lifeline

Your donors are the lifeline of your charity. Especially, when government funds or grants dry up or diminish, you must rely on them for sustainability. Evaluating these three areas will give you a start in determining whether you are turning them away, or welcoming them in with open arms.

About the author: Elaine Fogel

Elaine Fogel

Elaine Fogel is president and CMO of Solutions Marketing & Consulting in Scottsdale, Arizona, a speaker, blogger, writer, brand evangelist, and nonprofit guru.

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