What Do Donors REALLY Want?

donors want

Okay. I’m here to play devil’s avocado. Don’t slap my wrist too hard.

We know donor retention rates suck. We know that investing in donor relationships makes a difference. We know that telling powerful stories to donors is a crucial piece of that relationship. So is showing gratitude. We know we need to approach fundraising as the creation of emotional bonds, not just financial transactions.

So here’s my question. Okay, questions…

What if donors don’t want emotional connection?

What if they want their donation to be transactional?

What if donors view their contribution as a strategic interaction?

What if their donation was simply a one-time offer – less of an ongoing vision of “the world as they wish it was” and more “today, this works but tomorrow it will not”?

I should add “some” – we know not all donors view it this way. Most want connection. Most don’t want to be a strategic transaction. Most want to invest emotionally in something.

But I can think of 5 examples of others.

  1. People who took part in the ALS Icebucket Challenge, or another “knee jerk” interaction. Some may create long-term relationships with the organisation, but for many I assume this was a one-time only donation.
  2. People who work with investment managers to make contributions. This could truly be as much about safety as it is about strategy.
  3. People who give to “community umbrella organisations” who want to contribute to the greater good, but are not seeking alliance with any particular organisation.
  4. People who give to peer-to-peer fundraising. They are supporting their friend who is walking for cancer, or buying cookies from their granddaughter, and would give to that individual regardless of the cause.
  5. People who attend gala-type events or tournaments. They like comedians, music, gourmet dishes, or golf.

We can dig out our old LAI scorecards and recognize that these individuals may score pretty low. There is a chance that some of these individuals could be converted with powerful stories and love, but some never will.

If you claim these people simply don’t exist, I’ll argue that they do. I have, in the past, been one of them. I’m not always looking for a deep, meaningful relationship with a cause. I’m simply making a donation, processing a transaction, or giving to someone I care about regardless of the something they happen to be doing. I fucking hate golf, though.

What’s a girl (or boy) to do?

First things first. Don’t stop showing love and gratitude to donors. This was never meant to be an argument against that. Indeed, I consider myself a massive champion of that approach, and dig the work of others aiming to do the same.

Second, let’s think about our own friendships here for a bit. In my life, I’ve had a lot of friends. Deep, intense friendships. Loose acquaintances. Friends I talk to about music. Friends I talk to only about parenting and kid stuff. Friends I don’t really talk about anything with, but they come in handy when I need to drink a pint and complain about the weather. Friends that I haven’t spoken to in years, but if I called them tomorrow and had a flat tire they’d show up with a jack and a spare. Friends who I never hear from unless they need something from me.

Within each of these relationships is a somewhat agreed upon set of boundaries. My deep friendships require a lot of time and love. My music friends will happily see me once every few months at a show. My beer drinking buddies are ready for a boilermaker every now and then but don’t expect a phone call from me every week. The long lost friends don’t expect a call at all, but they’ll gladly take it when it comes. And those who come out when they need me? Well, I’m ready with my pre-determined boundaries – sure I’ll gladly have dinner with you, but don’t expect me to buy.

I guess my point in all of this is that sometimes it feels we want every donor relationship to be those deep and intense friendships – in a perfect world, perhaps they would be. But this isn’t where we are, nor is it where we all want to be.

This does not delve into the dynamic nature of relationships. Some start strong, and fizzle. Others start with tenuous connection and grow. We also know this – it’s what we jargonized into “moves management.” But that doesn’t honestly encapsulate, in my opinion, what relationships are about. It’s too systematic for my liking, but then again I’m a curmudgeonly emotional being.

The bottom line: our desired boundaries with others don’t necessary match their desired boundaries with us.

Doctor, is there a cure?

Data and intuition. Yes, seemingly opposing, but can and must work in conjunction if any of this is to work. Data, intuition, and three really great questions.

  • What is the current state of the relationship?
  • What is your ideal relationship? What do you want?
  • What is their ideal? What do your donors want?

The rest, dear friends, is a negotiation. A balance of boundaries. A sacrificing of ideals for workable realities.

You can work with realities. You’re all damn smart and hardworking… perhaps a little too much for your own good.

But that’s another rant for another day.