You have a great cause, so everyone should be beating down your door with donations, right? Oh, if only that were only the case! Fundraising can be a challenge for any group even those with the greatest mission and dedicated workers.

You are there, working hard to support your group because you believe in the cause. Being driven and focused on the mission of your organization is vitally important to your success. However, sometimes our focus leads us to forget that in fundraising, like so many other areas of life, we must always take into consideration the “other person’s point of view” (POV.)

By stepping outside your normal viewpoint and trying to look from the outside in, you can see your organization and its communications to donors freshly.

You may discover some valid reasons why someone would be turned off by your approach. Other reasons are not the fault of the non profit, but just a case of the donor having different priorities or their own issues. Either way, by considering why someone would not donate to your group, you can refine your approach, correct problems and be more successful going forward.

7 Reasons why someone would not donate to your organization:

1. They have no interest in your cause.

This goes back to the old adage of “barking up the wrong tree.” People that are not interested in your cause, whose views are in opposition to yours or just have a passing interest are not nearly as likely to make donations.

Individuals often donate to several organizations within a broad field, for example someone who is incredibly passionate about the arts may donate to several museums, theatre and/or music related organizations. People often have multiple interests and may donate to several unrelated causes. However you are likely to see higher response rates and at higher giving levels from those who have a strong interest or even a passion for your area of impact.

Organizations should also be aware of geographic interest. Some people prefer to donate to local organizations or local affiliates of national organizations. The opposite may be true of some donors, they would rather give to an organization with a national or international reach.

2. Your organization does not have a sufficient track record.

This issue can be a major one for new and established organizations alike. Your organization must be making a real impact in your chosen service area and be able to communicate its effectiveness to others.

Young organizations can face an uphill road when it comes to getting donations because they have not yet proved themselves. Rather than mass donation requests (such as a letter campaign) these groups will find more success by partnering with one or more established organizations and developing strong relationships with your best individual supporters.

If your group has suffered from mismanagement in the past, it can continue to haunt you as people often have long memories when it comes to bad experiences. It may be time for some house cleaning in terms of staffing, board members and strategic plan.

Once you’ve gotten back on track, plan a publicity campaign to help change the public’s impression of your group. Meet with influential supporters and community members who can help turn the situation around. Ask for honest feedback and then act on it.

3. There needs to be an attitude adjustment.

Your staff and most dedicated members believe 110% in your cause and may spend 40+ hours a week on the work. Sometimes it can be easy to slip into “entitlement thinking,” that is that your group is entitled to a donation for one reason or another.

Marc Pitman comes right to the point in his blog post titled Nobody “owes” you anything:

Donors earn their money. It’s theirs to do with as they please. We need to earn the gift every single time. Even if we’re doing the most important work in the world.

Of course, most fundraisers do not “demand” donations or intend to give anyone that impression. Often it is communicated unintentionally when your communications are too self focused or you feel under pressure to meet deadlines or make budgets.

This situation can often be alleviated by keeping in mind your stakeholder’s POV. In your communications talk about your donors, not yourself. In your newsletters include stories from your volunteers, quotations and testimonials from people who participate in events and photos of your donors. Most importantly, highlight the POV of the audience you serve, so that there’s a bridge between your donors and your clients.

4. There is an inconsistency that leads to mistrust.

Your organization has to remember that everything it does has to be consistent with its mission and vision, demonstrate integrity and follow legal and ethical guidelines. The way that you interact with clients, volunteers and donors must also be consistent and embody a strong sense of customer service.

When fundraising strategies themselves are not consistent with the mission of the organization it can be detrimental not just to missing out on one donation, but to eroding the very fabric of the cause. For example, an organization whose mission is to alleviate world hunger would not want to throw a lavish $500 per plate gala prepared by famous chefs. (I’m sure there are organizations out there that do this, but in my estimation it’s quite hypocritical.)

There may be small inconsistencies or details that while they may seem insignificant can at the least on a subconscious level, cause a donor to question whether they should donate or not. For example, when someone receives duplicate letters from an organization sent to the same person or address it makes them question how organized the group is. Furthermore they may question the stewardship of their dollars. (“Why should I send money to this group if they will waste it on things like duplicate copies of mailings?”)

Providing consistent, responsive service to your constituents, whether they be clients, volunteers or donors is also of utmost importance. In his book The Zen of Fundraising Ken Burnett advises:

Be consistent. Good service raises expectations. People need to know they can depend on certain standards of performance at all times.

Think of it in terms of the commercial services you use. How do you feel when you shop at a store and the salesperson is rude? What if you call your insurance agent and don’t get a return call even after several messages? Similar behaviors by staff or volunteers of a non profit are just as inexcusable and will likely result in loosing donors.

5. You’re not answering their unasked questions.

In his book How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters Mal Warwick refers to legendary direct mail expert Siegried Voegele who said that we must “anticipate the questions on the reader’s mind and answer those questions clearly and forcefully.” Anticipating questions is not just for fundraising letters, it should be considered when preparing speeches, presentations and even one-on-one conversations with donors.

Some of these questions are generic and are likely to arise for the majority of charities. On the other hand there are likely questions that someone will have that are specific to your cause and/or organization. The more you can be prepared for these questions and answer the most common ones ahead of time the better. Remember that these questions may be just subconcious, rather than “burning questions,” and either way a prospective donor may not be willing to verbalize them.

In How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters Mal Warwick lists dozens of questions but for now I’ll just mention one. In fact this is the one question you MUST answer: “Where does the money go?” Not just the name of the charity or the designated fund. How does this donation make an impact in the world? How does it change people’s lives? How does it make a positive difference in the cause?

6. They have no personal connection to your organization.

Perhaps you’re answering the questions in the minds of your potential donors. But what about their hearts? Knowing about something is different from experiencing it.

Christian Women’s Job Corps is an organization for which I now serve on the board. I was first introduced to it several years ago through a simple community service project helping sort items for their rummage sale. It was enjoyable and gave me a chance to meet some of the other volunteers and staff. But what really got me fired up was hearing two former students, clients who went through the program give a short speech at our women’s club. Hearing their personal stories was what helped me connect my own experience with theirs and have true empathy.

So how can you help donors better connect with your group’s mission and vision?

  • Offer short, easy volunteer opportunities
  • Ask one of your current supporters to introduce your group to their friends – by inviting them to an event your organization is already having or by hosting a party in their own home
  • Find appropriate ways to connect your clients with your donors
  • Make use of multimedia – use a video in your in person presentations, add photos to your newsletter and website, online utilize web video and flash presentations

Finally, seek to understand the motivations of your current donors. When you love your donors you’ll take the time to discover why they want to donate, to make a difference in the cause. This will help them have a stronger connection to your organization and be more likely to donated not just now but for years to come.

7. They haven’t been asked (often enough).

In commercial sales environments it usually takes at least 7 contacts by the sales person or company before a customer will buy. So why do we in the non profit world tend to give up after one mailing? Or just a few phone calls?

One staff member told me that they don’t want to call too often because they don’t want to annoy them or seem like they are begging. This is a valid fear. But there is a way to be persistent without stalking or annoying someone. Persistence has to do with the quality of contacts and the commitment to a long term approach. Contact donors and prospects at weekly or monthly intervals that are most appropriate for the situation.

To put an even more positive spin on this 7th and final reason for someone not donating, just remember that one of the most popular reasons that someone does give is because they were asked. So ask for the donation, give people the opportunity to make an impact for the cause. They just may be glad you did.

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Posted on 18 October 2007

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