Speaking of Donors

By Connie Hougland

A recent study by Bank of America noted a primary reason why donors discontinue giving to a charitable organization is the loss of emotional connection with the organization. Nearly 60% of the households surveyed as part of the 2008 Bank of America Study of High Net-Worth Philanthropy attributed their change in giving as “no longer feeling connected to the organization”. Interestingly, however, the third reason noted for why donors stopped supporting an organization was “feeling they were being solicited too often” (42%).

So, how can you utilize this valuable information in your Communications Plan? Be intentional on finding the balance – connecting with your supporters without overwhelming them. In particular, your donor communications need to be more of a ‘how to connect with us’ and less of an ‘about us’ communication.

It all starts with your Mission and Vision statements. Are they compelling and easy to remember? Does your mission and vision make donors feel connected to you and a part of something? Research tells us that people will give more to a compelling vision than a compelling need. Are you casting a vision or are you overwhelming them by the need?

On a practical manner –everyone on your staff and board should be able to quote the mission and/or vision on the spot. Certainly, if those closest to the organization are not captivated and able to articulate the message of the organization it will be difficult for them to convince others to engage.

Second to your compelling mission and vision is knowing your audience. It is important to remember that your donor communications must in fact be sensitive to the donor. For example, in tough economic times we must recognize that donors are in tough times too. It is important to be sensitive, acknowledge the tough times, and ask donors to stay with you. It is critical that you show and communicate your commitment to the mission and stay visible to your donors.

How can you make sure you are communicating in a way that connects to the donor? You put on your donor hat – literally! Grab a hat, write donor or giver on the hat and make this your ‘donor hat.’ Wear this hat any time you write a donor communication piece. The goal is to become intentional in thinking about your audience. By putting on your donor hat, you transition from being the ministry representative to ‘I am the donor – what is it I want to know about the ministry.’

Additionally, don’t write donor communications with your budget and your needs in front of you – instead do it with your donor database in front of you. Put a face with your audience. If you are writing an appeal letter for people to join in and help your organization wouldn’t it be great if that appeal letter was about them and not about you? With your database in front of you, think about those you know – think about your conversations with them – what is important to them – what do they care about – why do they give to your organization – what kind of results would be meaningful to them regarding their charitable investment to your ministry – what do they get excited about?

The idea behind this exercise is to become intentional. It sounds good in theory to say ‘think about your audience’. It is another thing to be your audience. The reality is it doesn’t necessarily change what we say but rather how we say it. If we miss the mark with speaking to our audience (versus at our audience) then what we say is irrelevant.

Keep in mind that people want to be part of a winning team – givers want to know that their giving is making a difference. Even in tough economic times our communication needs to share the forward movement of the organization. Celebrate the win – no matter the size of the win – we must not forget that one life touched for Christ is worthy of a celebration – “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40

Finally, don’t forget the power of stories. You must tell the stories of the needs you are meeting – not the need to raise money – but the needs you meet through your services and programs. Keep making the compelling case, invite people to think about their giving, and encourage them to stay involved.

Connie Hougland is Vice President for Servant Christian Community Foundation.

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