Does every donor who gives to your nonprofit really intend to give to you? Chances are, the answer is no!
I am not talking about the donor who meant to give to Connexion in Massachusetts and mistakenly sent a check to Connections in Texas. That kind of mistake is rare.
Nor am I talking about the person who hit Donate on your website when they didn’t mean to. On most websites, the donor has to take a few steps before giving–sometimes, too many!–and that provides them with the chance to reflect.
I’m talking about the donor who knows the gift is going to your organization but doesn’t so much care about your organization as about something that you do. And make no mistake: there are a lot of donors like that.
So, how do you thank them?
Why Donors Give When It’s Not Your Organization They Care About
They care about their friends
Have you ever seen one of your loyal supporters start a Facebook fundraiser for you? Maybe for their birthday, or some other special occasion, Kelly Padilla asks her friends to help her reach a goal of $500…to benefit you.
Let’s say Kelly reaches her goal. Great! You have a little money you didn’t have before. But what you don’t have is a whole new set of donors: because they didn’t give to support you, they gave to support Kelly.
That’s true whether Kelly raises funds for you online, runs a charity race, buys a table at your gala, or even holds a house party. It’s true whether the gift is for her birthday, in honor of her retirement, or in memory of her mother who passed away recently.
The people who donate to these kinds of fundraising campaigns give because of their relationship with her, not their relationship with you.
They care about a program and the people it serves
There are lots of occasions when a donor gives because they like a particular program of yours but wouldn’t have been moved to give to the others.
This happens often in crises. After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, for instance, I gave to an international NGO for Haiti relief. When they stopped letting me designate my gift for Haiti, I stopped giving to them. The others may have been worthy, but they were not what I meant to support.
Even on an everyday basis, donors may like one part of what you do more than others. I know it hurts to realize that. You have no black sheep in your nonprofit family. They’re all your babies! But a donor has a different relationship to them.
- When I worked at an anti-poverty program, some donors cared about preventing evictions and homelessness. Others loved seeing pre-school children in Head Start.
- An agency that supports survivors of domestic violence may have to talk about women survivors in most of its appeals, because its longtime donors identify with women. They may have to send segmented appeals to get support for male and non-binary survivors.
- My dad spent the last 48 hours of his life in hospice care, and I used to give to the hospice agency. When it was swallowed up a county-wide hospital network, and that network assumed I would just switch my giving to them, I directed my donations somewhere else. I have heard stories like this from other donors!
- If your agency does policy advocacy, a small number of donors will care about that intensely, and a larger number will want their money to go toward helping individuals and families.
“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
Your donors may not call you saints or communists, but they know whether they want to give food to the poor or challenge the system that creates poverty. It’s one of those goals that they care about: not your whole organization.
They care about a program you sponsor
Recently, I receive a wonderful thank-you in the mail. It included a personal note from the Development Director; her business card; and a brochure, a newsletter, and an annual report, all beautifully illustrated with photos in color.
The puzzling thing? I didn’t remember giving to the organization!
It turned out that I had given to a couple of smaller groups of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women who relied on this umbrella organization for fiscal sponsorship. The name of the larger organization showed up on my credit card statement. It did not stick in my memory.
Because it was the women I cared about–not their fiscal sponsor.
How Do You Thank Donors Like These?
It’s a really good idea to thank every donor, even if in some cases you are unlikely to hear from them again. We know statistically, for instance, that people who give in memory of a friend’s mother who died this year are unlikely to give again next year. And few of the people who gave to support Kelly’s birthday fundraiser will become repeat donors, when you ask.
So, what can you do to give your nonprofit the best chance of building relationships with donors who might not care about your whole organization?
- Thank the fundraisers. Make sure that Kelly feels like a hero.
- Save the date. Can you remind yourself to ask Kelly to do the same next year? Or to ask people who gave in memory of her mom to give in her memory on the anniversary of her death the following year?
- Ask what interests the donor. When you call and thank them, ask what moved them to give. Or create a follow-up email and ask that question. It may be an issue at large or a specific program at your agency. You need to know.
- Record the information in a searchable database. If you can’t query your CRM and find out all the people who gave because of a particular issue, get a new database!
- Make sure the donor feels seen. Send them articles, stories, photos, quotes, appeal letters, and thank-you letters that let them know that you know why they give.
Because if they don’t mean to give to your organization yet, treat them right, and maybe you will earn their loyalty.