CDE project 9: putting the principles and actions into practice — part 3
- Written by
- The Commission on the Donor Experience
- April 26, 2017
3. Seeking out the donor’s story
Major donors usually have a story about how and why they came—or want—to support a particular cause and organisation. A vital part of the job of a major donor fundraiser is to hear, respond to and embed these stories into the organisational memory.
The reasons major donors choose charities are not as rationale as we might think. As Beth Breeze says in How Donors Choose Charities, they are shaped by donors’
- tastes, preferences and passions
- personal and professional backgrounds
- perceptions of charity competence
- desire to have a personal impact.
David Harding, founder of Winton Capital Management, underlines these points when talking about his reasons for supporting the Science Museum in London with a £5m gift (the institution’s biggest ever single gift) to create a new mathematics gallery:
‘A belief in the power and beauty of numbers’
‘to inspire a new generation to love maths’
‘I prefer to give money to people or institutions I like — that is really quite key’
David Harding, founder Winston Capital Management
In a more general video piece about his motivations for giving major gifts for The Sunday Times Magazine in association with the publication of the 2015 Rich List, he also talks about a range of reasons including:
‘It seems like a natural extension of my business’
‘to make my life more interesting’
‘to have the pleasure of mixing with the people whose fields I support’
‘for the dream of actually achieving something’
David Harding, founder Winston Capital Management
Notice that there is little mention of need. Rather, it is about possibility, interest and pleasure.
So a key to improving the donor experience is capturing your major donors’ stories—the why behind their passions and interests. For David Harding, the story is a combination of his business success based on ‘simply solving the maths problem and searching for patterns’ and a love of the Science Museum ‘where he spent many happy hours “pressing buttons” in his youth’.
The challenge is that while donor stories endure, fundraisers in organisations move more quickly. If the donor’s story gets lost when the fundraiser moves on, it is easy for the donor to feel unappreciated.
One anonymous fundraiser told her own story about making a major commitment (for her) to an organisation she supported passionately. She carefully wrote to the organisation, explaining why she was making a large monthly contribution to the charity. Some years later, her commitment came to an end. The charity called and asked her to renew, without any reference to her story. She felt unappreciated—because they had lost her story. They did not get a renewal, although might have done if her story had been important to them.
Of course, not every organisation can be at the heart of every donor’s story. The Whiny Donor is a blogger on 101fundraising who is a volunteer and chairs development committees of two organisations in the USA. Here she explains that her potential for giving is not equally available to all organisations:
‘But there’s a hierarchy to my giving, so to some extent, I won’t be moved too far no matter what a nonprofit does. I’m on a couple of local nonprofit boards, so my largest gifts go to them, with the others falling in line behind them.’
The Whiny Donor
A key part of the major donor fundraiser’s role is uncovering and celebrating the donor stories that underpin enduring relationships between donors and organisations, and making sure they are held in the organisation, even when the key contact in the organisation changes.
Practically, this requires fundraisers to:
1. recognise and value donors’ stories.
Good fundraising involves more listening and listening well, than talking. Donors enjoy sharing their stories. Fundraisers must hear and value them—and return to them often. They are a critical part of how to build funding propositions that will inspire and excite.
Fundraisers—and others involved in donor relationship building—many not always know how to prompt the conversations and to ask the open questions that unlock the stories. Training, support and role-plays may all be necessary to help the discovery process. Capturing stories, perhaps for a newsletter or website video, can be a positive process for donors that also helps build wider understanding of donor stories and why they are important.
2. embed donor relationships into the organisation by building multiple contact points with different people in the organisation.
Major donors will have, and want, contacts in many parts of the organisation—especially with those who deliver the projects and activities they are funding. Different members of staff will have different conversations with donors at different times. It is highly likely they will discover new aspects of the donor’s story. It is the fundraiser’s job to make sure that these are captured, consolidated and celebrated.
3. create effective ‘handover’ processes for when relationship management moves from one staff member to another.
Staff turnover is of course inevitable (although as discussed in 9. below, high levels of major donor fundraising staff turnover are a barrier to the major donor experience), so you need to have effective handover processes to smoothly transfer major donor relationships from one staff member to another. Ideally, the existing relationship manager should introduce the new staff member in a face-to-face meeting with the donor. This may of course be practically difficult to achieve, but if you have adopted 2. above, you will have creative and credible options for how to achieve an effective process.
Whatever happens, avoid the situation where a new major donor fundraiser writes to the donor to introduce themselves!
 http://www.thesundaytimes.co.u... scroll down for the video, subscription required