When to Say “No” to “Me, too!” in Fundraising

When I was growing up in Chicago, my dad used a variation on the parental cliché: “Just because everybody else is jumping into Lake Michigan doesn’t mean you should, too.”  But as just about every kid knows, following the crowd is often the easiest path, so yeah . . . I did want to jump in Lake Michigan, so to speak.

As fundraisers, it’s often tempting to do what everyone else—in both the for-profit and the not-for-profit world—is doing. That can seem like a shortcut to success, or at least a nudge in the right direction. But simply going along with the crowd overlooks a critical reality:  donors are not interchangeable parts, and their motivations for giving to your organization are not necessarily the same as their motivations for buying electronics, for example, or even giving to another nonprofit.

The biggest “Me, too!” mistakes I believe nonprofits make relate to the world of electronic communications and online practices. I love eCommerce and do a great deal of my shopping—from cereal to clothing—online.  But we need to eat, and we need to wear clothes. However, we don’t need to make a donation; many of us want to and we are glad we are able to do so, but it’s not a need for survival.  So our “Me, too!” responses may be big risks when it comes to income. Some of the “Me, too!” things I’ve seen just recently include:

  • No address on the website. Not everyone will give online, so your website has to make offline giving easy. Just last week, I gave up making a donation to a nonprofit because there was no address on the website. Call me old-fashioned, but I wanted to mail a check. However, it was impossible unless I hired a private detective to track down their physical location.
  • Bombarding me with more requests to give before I’ve even got my receipt. I made a purchase on December 7 from a vendor I have never used before.  One week later, I had received seven emails inviting me to make another purchase (Free shipping!  $20 off!  30% off storewide!) – but I still haven’t gotten my purchase. Once my product is delivered, I will unsubscribe because I absolutely do NOT feel valued as a customer.  Donors should know they are more than just a source of revenue.
  • Saying “give more” more often than “thank you for giving.” A fundraiser’s job is to raise money.  But donors are not automatons, so we have to constantly invest in strengthening the relationship with them. You may be groaning at this point—2015 has certainly been “The Year of Lectures about the Importance of Relationships with Donors”—but too many of us are still doing a terrible job of it. We send out canned receipts—or worse, no receipts at all. We make big pitches about a project that needs funding—but we never tell the donors the results of that project.  We don’t make their calls and letters a priority—and sometimes think of them as “problems” to be solved instead of partners.

Now that the dust has settled on 2015, think back to the best shopping experience you had, either online or in a store. What made it memorable?  For me, it’s the wreath I ordered from L. L. Bean (as I do every year).  When it came, it looked nothing like the photo online and was not very fresh. I called and told them that maybe I expected too much when I order a wreath from Maine to be shipped to California, but it seemed their supplier wasn’t living up to their brand standard.  They immediately shipped me a new wreath that arrived two days later.  It was perfect. L.L. Bean reaffirmed why I buy from them—and why I welcome their catalogs and emails. They value me. I matter to them.

How will you tell your donors they matter to you in 2016?