Donor Loyalty: it IS about them.

Back when my son Nathan was a high school sophomore I had the chance to speak to his marketing class. At the time I was working for Compassion International, a non-profit child development organization.

“If you’re selling a product or service you’re asking someone to give you money in exchange for something that will either solve a problem or meet a need that they have.” I told them, “But in a non-profit world how do you convince someone to give you money to solve a problem for someone they’ll never meet in a place they’ll never visit?”

After a moment’s puzzled silence a kid half way back raised his hand and said, “You only have two options, shame or guilt.”

Wise kid.

Watch commercials on TV for non-profit organizations. Whether they are asking you to save children or animals or the rain forest the language is all about the same. The truth of the matter is that shame and guilt work to get peoples attention but over the long term the effects of this type of messaging wilt rapidly like a balloon sitting too long in the sun.

Non-profits then find themselves torn. They want to stay true to the cause they serve. “It’s about the _______” (fill in the blank) But at the end of the day without the donor the _______ don’t get served. It’s almost a chicken and egg problem with each unassigned dollar that comes in. Do they work to honor the donors or do they look to expand on the cause?

I’ve come to believe that this is short term thinking. What donors want, after getting over the initial shame and guilt, is to feel they’re making a real, tangible, and measurable impact. They want to know they’re making a difference.

Every penny that gets redirected into the cause but which also results in less ability to report back to a donor makes it more difficult to keep donors. Helping donors feel their impact greases the skids on getting the next donation.

The conundrum is that when it comes to REALLY large donors, people who get to find themselves referred to as philanthropists, is IS about the donor. The news is all about the latest cause behind which they’ve put their money.

So why can’t we build in the mechanisms to treat them all that way?

What are the causes to which you donate? Do they make you feel like you’re making a difference? How?

3 responses to “Donor Loyalty: it IS about them.

  1. We donate mostly to missionaries through our church. We know we are making a difference because of the stories we hear through our pastor and when missionaries come speak at our church. We don’t do much outside of the church simply as a way to set some boundaries. Otherwise, the myriad of giving opportunities out there is overwhelming. We don’t give out of guilt or shame. We do it because we feel missionary work is the most important and effective.

    • Right, you already have a connection to the missionaries through your church so the “guilt and shame” approach to acquiring you as a donor is not necessary. Missionary work IS effective but would you feel that way if you never heard any stories from the field? Trust only extends so far

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