5 Things Nonprofits Get Wrong About Donors

Jonathan Lewis and Mya Abi-Khalil co-authored a great post, 5 Things Clients Get Wrong About Consumers over at DigiDay.

This post was written for the commercial world, but the model is equally valuable for nonprofits. The 5 incorrect assumptions are listed below along with what I believe are the equivalent incorrect assumptions that nonprofits make.

Consumers are rational beings

Donors are rational beings. “If we could just educate our supporters more we could convince them to do      XYZ.” 

This assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. Donors don’t want to be educated. They don’t want countless facts and figures, or to be told what to think. They want to be inspired by      opportunities to make significant differences in the world. Time and again studies and real world testing proves that donors make decisions based on emotion, not logic. Facts and figures are      valuable as secondary supporting information, but they’ll never lead the way in compelling a donor to give to your cause. Speak to the heart first and foremost and you’ll see better results every time.

Consumers care about your company

Donors care about your nonprofit

I’m happy to see that for-profit organizations suffer from this as well. The following quote from the article struck me: “Consumers have such good radars for advertising and such short attention spans that if you don’t get your message across to them quickly and in a creative way, they won’t even see it,” he said.

Nonprofit executives, take note.  If you’re afraid to mail, email or call your donors on a frequent basis you’ll only lose market share to those who aren’t. You’re not building better relationships with your donors by not talking to them – you’re just helping them more quickly forget about you and move on to the next organization that’s ready and willing to talk to them.

All consumers in the same cohort behave the same

All donors in the same cohort (i.e., segment) behave the same.Major donors never want to receive direct mail. Wealthy people just hate  it.”

I could go on with a dozen more comments like this. All major donors want X, all lapsed donors need Y, etc.  Sweeping statements like the one above are rarely the case. Donors are individuals. They are motivated by personal hopes, desires, trials and needs. This is why moving into serious customer relationship management strategies and harnessing Big Data will eventually yield huge results for nonprofits. Very soon you’ll be able to create 360 degree views of your donors and target them at the individual level with the right message at the right time in the right channel to motivate the right individual donor to respond.

Consumers think about marketing in the same way marketers do

Donors think about fundraising in the same way fundraisers do

Fundraising is your job. I get it.  It’s mine too.  You and I get paid to obsess over every little detail. To make sure that copy is correct, messaging is on strategy, layouts are perfect, etc. Donors, on the other hand, interact with your nonprofit mostly in fleeting moments throughout their lives. They don’t devote hours a day (in fact, most probably don’t even devote minutes in a given day) to your organization or cause. What you obsess over, they scan. 

Don’t kill yourself or your fundraising by forcing perfection in everything you do.  I’m not suggesting you slack off in your work, but that you understand that every now and then tiny mistakes happen. They might cast a shadow over your entire day, but unless you point them out, your donors probably won’t even notice (unless you screw up their name – don’t do that!).

Consumers know why they act the way they do

Donors know why they act the way they do. We should just ask donors how they want us to communicate with them, then do it.  OR, we conducted a donor survey and found that donors only want to get email from us, etc.

The problem with this is that donors don’t really know what they want.  They might overwhelmingly tell you that they only want to get something from you once a year and that they’ll still give (and at the same rates).  Or that they don’t want your mail, they only want email.  Or that they don’t need recognition for their giving – that’s not why they give.

BUT…when you cut back your solicitation frequency you lose revenue because without a solicitation to prompt giving, your busy donors forget to give to you.  You’re not a top priority, as much as you might wish the opposite.  You shift from direct mail to email and again your revenue and retention rates drop like a rock because very few donors actually give via email. If they had a reply envelope from your mail program they might be prompted to give by your email, but probably still write you a check.  But now you’ve cut that opportunity (and the revenue) out.  Donors might tell you they don’t want recognition, but testing proves that the quicker and more heartfelt the thank you, the better you’ll retain and upgrade donors.      While they might not want their name up in lights on your building, they certainly want to feel like their giving makes a difference.

I’m sorry, but what donors tell you they want, and what actually motivates them to action are often different Click To Tweet. Don’t trust survey results alone. If you think your donors will behave in a certain way if you change something, test it first. If you prove it out in a real world test, make the change. If you prove the opposite, then you’ve just saved yourself a lot of heartache and lost revenue.


Wishing you much succcess!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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