Once again, I’d like to welcome back Maureen Carruthers (pictured at left).  Maureen is a non-profit consultant, and the force behind the excellent blog “Low Hanging Fruit Communication” which covers many topics including social media for non-profits.

Maureen’s goal is to help nonprofit leaders reach their right people more quickly so their organizations have a greater impact,  She has over ten years experience working in and around nonprofit organizations, most recently as the Workforce Development Program Manager for the Dayton Tooling and Manufacturing Association, where she managed a robot competition based on the BattleBots television series. Previously, she managed the Orchestra Forum program for the Institute for Cultural Policy and Practice and served as House Manager for the Delaware Theatre Company.

I have spent some time on Maureen’s blog, and I highly recommend you check her site out.  I learned a lot!  You can even sign up for Maureen’s free e-class and newsletter.

I want to extend a warm thank you to Maureen for sharing her time and wisdom with us.  We hope to see her back here at Step By Step many more times!

Open Letter from a Potential Donor

One of my friends posted this to Facebook last week:

Dear Various Charities, Do not send us mail more than once a year if at all. Do not include stickers, address labels, a penny, a miniature plastic crutch (WTF?), etc. You are wasting resources, even if donated to you by businesses that will write of their efforts. Furthermore: Do not put pictures of abused people and children on the envelopes. I have a stomach for removing fly eggs from a baby animal's eyes, but that doesn't mean I wish to stomach grotesques as I sift through each day's mail. One time offer: the first charity to send me one letter making it's plea and promising to never contact me again will win a monthly withdrawal (though small) from my bank account to last until your cause is solved, you are proved a fraud, or I die.

When I read it, two parts of my personality had a little fight about what it meant.

My donor self was jumping up and down, screaming “AMEN!”  I give $25.00 to almost every cause that comes across my Facebook wall and get a real thrill out of being able to give more substantial donations to more organizations as my income level rises.  I love giving to causes that are important to my friends.  While I’d be receptive to a personal ask from an organization that took time to get to know me and what I care about, impersonal mailings and telemarketing style phone calls are a huge, personal turn off.

On the other hand, my nonprofit professional self knows these fundraising techniques are prevalent not only because they work, but because even though I don’t like them, they provide some people exactly what they need to feel good about making a donation.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the needs and preferences of donors like me are diametrically opposed to the needs and preferences of the (currently) typical nonprofit donor.

I like to discover new organizations on my own or through my friends, and then read as much as I can about the organization (from their perspective, and from the perspective of other donors) on-line.  I might subscribe to an e-newsletter, but I don’t read direct mail appeals (except as research). I won’t provide a phone number, and I’ll only make a donation if I can do so quickly and easily on-line.

On the other hand, every fundraiser on the planet will tell you the only reliable way to raise money is to ask people to give–and that one “touch” per year will rarely lead to a gift.   Research also shows while on-line giving is on the rise,  it still only accounted for 7.6% of all fundraising for nonprofit causes in 2010.  Which means if an organization were to fundraise in 2011 exclusively in ways that work for me, most of their donors would be unhappy.

But, as wise Muppets tell us, the current fundraising landscape is only “for now”  What works in 2011 will not work in 2021, and fundraising strategies don’t turn on a dime.

So what is a development director (or volunteer fundraiser) to do?

I don’t have the all the answers,  but I’d love to get a conversation started about what the path forward might hold.  To that end, I’ve shared some questions below to get us started.  I hope you’ll join me in the comment section to discuss them!

The Questions

  • Is it ok to use fundraising techniques donors profess to dislike, but that continue to work?
  • Are donors “reliable narrators” when it comes to reporting what inspires them to give?
  • How can we cultivate donors who are put off by traditional fundraising techniques, without risking our relationships with the donors who are comfortable with the way things are?
  • Would you accept a small, monthly donation from someone who stipulated you could never contact them again? Why or why not?
  • How do you develop a relationship with a donor who doesn’t want you to contact her?
  • Could you benefit from reaching out to people who may have less disposable income, but are approached by fewer organizations?

What questions does this conversation bring up for you?

Posted on 10 May 2011

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