Ideas That Work--Donor Relations
by Lawrence Henze
Managing Director of Target Analytics
Regardless of the state of the economy, I find that the majority of colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations I interact with do not have an accurate reading on the number of communications initiated by them with each of their constituency groups in any given year. Are you able to answer that question, not just for areas of your own responsibility, but for the institution as a whole? Is it not reasonable to assume that the relationship any individual has with the organization is impacted by the entirety of the messaging he or she receives?
There are many historical reasons that explain why we don’t look at the length and breadth of our donor communications. These include but are not limited to:
1. A narrow view of donor relations focusing on communications directly related to fundraising efforts
2. A siloed approach to the structure of our development operations which encourages compartmentalized communication plans
3. The willingness to not account for, or even seek, the donor’s opinions of all of our communication streams
I am frequently bombarded by three, four, or five direct mail contacts per month from organizations I support with my gifts, particularly during peak fundraising months, such as October or November. I wonder if anyone in that organization is aware of that number, or is interested in knowing what I think of the frequency of these contacts?
My thoughts rest on simple solutions the organization could employ:
1. Determine and chart the average number of contacts — direct mail, telephone, and email — the different constituents receive from your organization each month for the entire year. Move outside your own area of operations to view the entirety of its communications stream from your organization as a whole
2. Analyze the content and purposes of each communication and chart accordingly (for example, cultivation, solicitation, information, or recognition)
3. Identify areas in which these communications overlap, looking for opportunities to consolidate or eliminate individual pieces
4. Ask your donors, through surveys via email, direct mail, or the telephone, which communications they value, as well as those that are not personally important to them
5. Implement a communication plan reflecting the donor’s wishes
Remember that knowledge is both powerful and enabling, and the insights your donors and prospect share with you create opportunities for stronger relationships. Do not assume that an individual’s request to receive fewer communications is a sign of declining interest in your organization. It is equally, if not more, likely to be a thoughtful response indicating the elements of your mission that are of particular interest, thus defining that person as a better prospect. In the end, fewer touch points may create a more meaningful relationship, particularly if you communicate your interest in being more cost effective.
Finally, special events often serve a dual purpose of building donor relationships and ongoing fundraising. During a recession, you may want to think twice about introducing new special events, particularly those of the “gala” genre. And take a look at ongoing events as well to ensure that these activities are successfully addressing stated goals. For example, if the primary purposes of your annual ‘Harvest Ball’ are to cultivate and solicit major donor prospects, and if you observe little post-event staff interaction with attendees, it may be time for a makeover.
In all honesty, my personal and professional bias is that most events lose focus over time. Recession or not, it is a worthwhile undertaking to annually review each event to ensure that its original goals and objectives are being met. Are you seeing growth in annual and major giving from event attendees, or doesn’t their giving match the event fee?
Perhaps this is a topic worthy of its own paper for another time.