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20 Donor-Centric Things You Can Do to Raise More Money — Now and for Years to Come

I know everyone says you should be “donor centric.”

It’s obvious, right?

But what exactly does it mean to be donor-centric?

Well, it’s not just a touchy-feely attitude. It’s a lot of actions — most of them seemingly quite small — that help the donor feel that giving to your organization is exactly what she wants to do … because it’s all about how her giving puts her values into action, and helps change the world in ways that thrill her.

Donors increasingly demand this of the organizations they support. So what used to be “nice to do” has become necessary for long-term survival!

Here are 20 straightforward things you can do. Some are very easy. Others require hard work and maybe even changing some attitudes. But these things can help you raise more money from donors who love supporting you. They’ll give joyfully and stay with you for the long term … often including what they leave behind in their Wills!

1. Receipt promptly

If your donors are waiting weeks or (heaven forbid) months to be acknowledged for their giving, your message to them is loud and clear: Your gift doesn’t matter. Aim for 24-hour turnaround, 48 hours at worst.

2. Receipt relevantly

We work so hard to motivate people to give. We should work just as hard to connect with them when we thank. The thank-you language of the receipt should “close the loop,” letting them know that we got the gift, appreciate it, and are putting it to the use we said we would. Make sure you thank donors for the same thing you asked them to do. Use the same terminology, be just as specific, and use all the emotional intensity you used when you asked.

3. Get the data right

Obsess over this. Don’t spell names wrong. Search and destroy duplicate records. Above all, don’t get the amounts or timing of gifts wrong. Errors in data, even minor ones, loudly tell donors that either you don’t care about their support, or you are not on top of things — possibly both! Good data is the key to raising more funds (knowing whom to ask and how much), not wasting money (knowing whom not to ask) and, most important, treating donors like they matter.

4. Let donors say where their money goes

Most nonprofits reserve the privilege of designating gifts for their top-most donors. Let every donor do that. Response usually jumps when you do. Whether it’s making specific asks or offering choices, it’s just common courtesy to give donors control over their generosity. Here’s the secret: When you make “where most needed” an option, donors choose it.

5. Give donors choices on how you use their data

For some donors, the fact that charities “sell” or exchange their names is a sore point. If you do this, give your donors the chance to opt out. They’ll appreciate it, even though only a small percentage will actually opt out. If you don’t share names, let donors know you don’t — it’s a benefit for many of them!

6. Say ‘you’ a lot

Make it a habit. When you ask, thank, or report back, use the word “you” constantly. Whatever story you’re telling, your donors are the active ingredient. Don’t forget that. Don’t let donors forget either.

7. Send a newsletter

If you aren’t sending a newsletter, your fundraising is like a dysfunctional relationship: You ask, they give, you ask. They never get what they’re looking for from you: proof that giving to you makes a difference. That’s what a newsletter is for. But it only works if you do the right kind of newsletter …

8. Make your newsletter about donors

A good newsletter shows donors their giving matters — that what they wanted to happen when they gave really did happen. If you’re sending a newsletter that’s basically all about your organization, you are not doing that! Make nearly every story in your newsletter about what the donor made possible … not an explainer of your programs or a brag sheet about your staff and methodologies. Not about you. Your success is their success.

9. Respect your donors’ taste

Donors are typically older than you and almost certainly less attuned to the latest trends in design. If you create a look that resonates with you and other young members of staff, you’ve most likely missed your donors. And that will cost you.

10. Don’t project yourself onto your donors

How many times have you said, “I wouldn’t respond to that”? That’s only relevant if you’re fundraising from yourself. When you’re fundraising from other people, your sense of what is right really tells you nothing useful. Pay attention to what your donors do and don’t respond to. Using yourself as the standard is egocentric. And it always fails.

11. Be easy to read

Avoid these things:

  • Sans-serif fonts for body copy (in print)
  • Reverse type
  • Type over color or images
  • Body copy that’s any color but black
  • Small type

Those things may make your stuff look great. But it’s hard to read, and that matters. You get better response the more readable your material is.

Besides, making it hard to read is just rude.

12. Make everything about your donors

A lot of fundraising follows a formula like this: We are awesome. Get on our bandwagon! That’s not fundraising, it’s bragging. Donors don’t give because you’re great. They give because they’re great. Your job is to show them how to deploy their greatness, with you as their tool.

13. Be specific about what donors can do

Donors are much more interested in taking specific action than they are in helping you continue to exist. Tell them about specific problems or opportunities, and show them how they can be part of specific solutions that they’ll love to make possible.

14. Be incredibly transparent

Give donors access to all the financial and governance information possible. Post your financial statements, 990s, even minutes from board meetings. Answer their questions honestly and in detail. The watchdogs require a certain level of transparency. Do more than they require. Few donors want or need that much detail. Your willingness to be open is what matters.

15. Let all your donors make a difference

When you ask, find ways to make your cause bite-sized for donors at every giving level. If you ask a million-dollar donor to completely fund your mission, it might be in her scope to do so. If you ask the same of a $100 donor, you demonstrate that he’s a tiny fish in a gigantic pond. Ask Mr. Hundred to do something meaningful that costs around $100. Every donor wants to do something big. But big is defined by his or her capacity, not your mission.

16. Make giving easy online

Most fundraisers have mastered the mechanisms of direct-mail giving. However, complex, confusing, crazy, and even non-functional donation forms are common online. Giving online should be easier than giving through the mail, not harder. This matters more every day as donors migrate to digital channels.

17. Make it easy for donors to find a human

If a donor has a question, can she quickly and easily get an answer? Through phone, email, and mail? Make it easy to find those channels, and don’t send them to busy signals or unmonitored inboxes.

18. Encourage donors to connect with you

Good fundraising is a relationship, and that means communication. Ask donors to comment or question. Give them specific prompts. Make room on your reply forms for them to write.

19. Listen to complaints, but don’t let them dictate strategy

Every donor complaint is an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. But don’t take complaints as marching orders. Remember: A handful of people complain. Hundreds or thousands make donations. If you’re getting the revenue, then you are more or less doing it right, though possibly not quite right for the complainers. Talk is cheap. Donations aren’t.

20. Do great work

Donors deserve and expect the best. Be an organization that does its mission effectively and efficiently. Multiply their impact. Magnify their compassion. Do your fundraising that way too.

Want to discover more ways to make your nonprofit communications connect with your donors? Take my course Irresistible Communications for Great Nonprofits course! It’s available for members of The Fundraisingology Lab. Check it out.

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