The firm’s October 2010 News You Can Use e-newsletter focused on the advice being given to donors. Specifically it looked at two lists of probing questions that donors should be asking charities before they make a gift. The assertion is that if we take time to review these questions in advance, we can be better prepared when potential donors confront us with their issues or concerns. Donors are increasingly looking to be in an ongoing dialog with their charities, a dynamic that sets them up as active investment partners rather than passive contributors only. They feel they have a stake in your organization’s success, so they want to get some answers before they become part of your organization’s family.
A year ago on this blog I posted Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating” encouraging readers to be ready with answers. This is an important topic, which is why I’ve brought it up again.
So what do YOU say when donors confront you with challenging questions? What steps have you taken to prepare yourselves for the inevitable surprising requests? How have you worked with your colleagues to make sure you had the answers ready when those questions came?
Leave a comment below and let’s see what others are doing out there to really engage their donors.
I will leave you with some thoughts to get the ball rolling:
- For example, we know that donors are increasingly worried about the trustworthiness of organizations. What are you saying to potential donors who day, “Can we trust you? Are you an honorable nonprofit?”
- Donors want to see results; they simply don’t take our word for it anymore that we’re doing the good we promise out there in the community. They want to see tangible data that demonstrates those results. What does your organization do to communicate its results and impact in a way that engages donors while not overwhelming them with lengthy reports?
- Recently there has been a greater emphasis on methodology, forcing nonprofits to explain exactly how they plan on addressing their various issues, causes or programs. But balanced scorecards and logic models are still not the norm in nonprofit management circles. How does your nonprofit help its donors to understand the means by which you hope to accomplish your mission? How do you communicate that in a way that inspires understanding and confidence among your supporters?
- Donors are being encouraged to find charities with which they can establish long-term, committed relationships, not just one-time giving opportunities. What is your nonprofit doing to position itself as an organization worthy of long-term support? How are you set up to maintain and strengthen those important donor relationships over time?
Share your stories. Let us know what’s working in the field! Thanks.
The October 7 edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports on a new study on how organizations are working hard to make sure their special events and galas measure up to donor expectations while still accomplishing their overall goal – raising needed funds. Organizations are going out of their way to create a memorable and – hopefully – special experience that will set their event apart from the numerous events being held this time of year. This is especially challenging here in Washington or in other large cities such as New York, Chicago, Houston or Los Angeles, where there are wall-to-wall events, galas and benefits.
The Chronicle article focused on a study conducted by CharityHappenings.org, an organization that sells tickets to charity events. They asked 850 event attendees across the country about what they thought when it came to event logistics, format, ticket prices, venues, menus and invitations. It gave gala-goers a chance to weigh in on how they view their own experiences with these types of events. One lesson: Be careful not to try to do too much, or you will wear out all of those good feelings your guests might be having…even with those glasses of champagne. This usually starts to happen when the presentations and speeches begin. Your annual gala might be your first, best or only opportunity to get your organization’s message in front of so many people, but you’ve got to think about your audience and their experience. To use the words of CharityHappenings chief Justin Baer says, “Like every great sales pitch, it should be fast, lean and targeted.”
You can get a free copy of the 2010 Charity Event Market Research report at the CharityHappenings website.
Some interesting – but in some cases not surprising – findings:
- The biggest complaint about events and galas – long speeches!
- The amount of the ticket price that most respondents felt should be going to the organization – 75%
- The time during which most people buy their tickets – 1 to 2 weeks in advance
- One of the least motivating factors in why they attended an event – celebrity appearances
- Percentage of event attendees who say they prefer galas to have some sort of “theme” – 66% (2 out of 3)
- The most popular nosh – sushi (no more scallops wrapped in bacon…)
So take some time and think about your upcoming gala, auction or benefit. Consider carefully the experience you’re providing to your attendees. Use the CharityHappenings survey to fine tune your approach. Yours might just be the event everyone said, “Were you there?? You should have been!!”
Donors have choices – lots of them.
Your organization is probably one of dozens that members of your community will hear from in the coming weeks. Are you doing all that you can to set yourself apart from the “competition?” Are you giving your potential donors the resources they need to make an informed choice?
Charity Navigator advocates that all potential donors take the time to ask charities questions about their programs, mission, and goals before they decide to support them. To help potential donors in this task, they have developed a list of questions that donors should ask before they begin the act of supporting a charity.
Regardless of what you might think about Charity Navigator – and I know many people struggle with the limitations of their rating system – these questions provide organizations a very helpful tool that can enhance their donor cultivation strategies.
If you are an executive director, director of development, board member or other solicitor, are you prepared with answers to these or similar questions? You know this is the advice being given to potential donors out there; change your approach to align your message with these issues. Be ready to respond to the donor’s needs, not simply return to your organization’s pre-determined script.
It’s like taking an exam when you were in school…except this time you know the questions ahead of time!
Here is an excerpt from Charity Navigator’s “6 Questions to Ask Charities Before Donating:”
- Can your charity clearly communicate who they are and what they do?
If a charity struggles in articulating its mission and its programs, it will probably struggle in delivering those programs. If a charity can’t explain who it is and what it does, and why it is needed, find one that can. The stakes are too high and too many good organizations exist who know exactly who they are, what they do, and why they are needed.
- Can your charity define their short-term and long-term goals?
Organizations without quantifiable goals have no way to measure success. If they have no way to know if they are successful, how can you be sure they are working toward something? Demand that your charity tell you what it is trying to do. Good organizations relish this opportunity.
- Can your charity tell you the progress it has made (or is making) toward its goal?
Once again, it’s not enough to merely be concerned with a problem. Ask your organization what it has done to make the issue it confronts better. What are its results? You wouldn’t buy a brand of toothpaste if the manufacturer couldn’t prove to you that it fought cavities successfully. Why should you support an environmental clean-up organization if it can’t show you that it is cleaning up the environment?
- Do your charity’s programs make sense to you?
If you support the mission of an organization, ask yourself if its programs also make sense. You believe in the cause, and you hope for the end result, but is the organization working toward that result in a way that seems rational and productive to you?
- Can you trust your charity?
Research has shown that the overwhelming majority of charities in this country are not only responsible and honest, but well-managed. So we give with confidence. You should feel the same way before you give. Don’t support a charity until you feel comfortable with it. A happy and trusting donor is a willing and supportive donor.
- Are you willing to make a long-term commitment to your organization?
We like to think of giving to charity as a long-term commitment, more akin to marriage than dating. Intelligent giving is motivated by altruism, knowledge, and perspective, not a knee-jerk reaction to a television commercial. Ask yourself if your charity is the type of organization to which you’re willing to make a long-term commitment. When you do this, you agree to support them through good times and bad, and provide the funding it needs to weather economic downturns. In return, it promises to continue working toward addressing the issue you both think is so vital.