This post comes from the Gravyty Fundraising Academy, a series that examines how fundraisers adapt and strategize to evolve what's possible through philanthropy.
Your guide for the Gravyty Fundraising Academy is Director of Customer Success, Lisa Alvezi. Lisa has worked with countless fundraisers across Higher Education, Health Care, and Nonprofit organizations to transform fundraising. As a former frontline fundraiser herself, her goal is to help you see better results from your fundraising efforts.
Donor relationships are dynamic. There is no set formula for how to inspire giving from every relationship. With that comes a steep, and often-changing, learning curve for ensuring a donor maintains a positive experience with you and your organization over time.
When fundraisers find themselves together in a room, we are bound to talk about missteps and mistakes we've taken along the way. It's our way to make mental notes on what not to do. Over the years, and through more recent conversations, I've developed a "Top 10" list. Here are the ten most common ways to upset donors.
Top 10 Ways to Upset Donors
1. Too many asks
This is a recurring theme across all types of nonprofit organizations. Donors are vocal when they receive appeal after appeal, but not enough thanks and stewardship for their gifts. Some will explain that they don't consider a tax receipt acknowledging their generosity enough and are left feeling under-appreciated.
Solution: Steward donors as soon as your organization receives a donation with a personal touchpoint from a gift officer, separate from the standard tax receipt. Tell them what their gift will do and follow up a couple of months later to show the gift's impact! Fundraisers who use Gravyty receive automated stewardship alerts and prompts as soon as gifts come in to ensure donor relationships focus on mutual gratitude, not just solicitation.
2. Donor Fatigue
Directly tied to the first point is the donor fatigue that comes when NPOs "go back to the same well" rather than discovering and inspiring new donors. Capital campaigns are another source of irritation. Often, donors have just finished paying off a major gift pledge when receiving their first solicitation for a new capital campaign and another major gift.
Solution: First, set guidelines for how often your organization should solicit donors for annual gifts. It's easy to lose sight that many donors are solicited monthly for annual giving, even after committing a major gift. The magic number and type of appeal will vary by the individual organization.
Second, embrace donor qualification and disqualification. Gravyty discovery portfolios empower fundraisers to definitively qualify or disqualify hundreds of unmanaged prospects every few weeks. This is where you build the future of the major gift pipeline and uncover unexpected gifts.
3. Not Following Donor Guidelines
If a donor directs a gift to a specific fund or program, it should be applied accordingly. This comment comes up regularly and is often the result of a routing or processing error. The problem can be as small as a sticky note with the donor's wishes falling off the pledge.
Solution: Even though this problem can result from a donor not clearly routing their gift as intended, fundraisers can step up to alleviate the issue. If there's an issue, own it. If the problem is chronic, allow the donor to speak with someone at the executive level to ensure the relationship is not damaged.
4. Spending Money on "Frivolous" Donor Recognition Gifts
There's a fine line between an acceptable, inexpensive donor recognition gift and one where the donor deems that the organization "doesn't need my money." Although the NPO may see a logo coffee mug, tote, or t-shirt for a donor as a way to promote its organization quietly, donors can see it as taking away funds for critical programs for the NPO. Research has shown that donors would prefer to communicate about the effects of their gifts versus SWAG with logos.
Solution: Think about the message you're sending with a donor recognition gift and consider if special access to events or inside information on the organization might be more valuable.
5. Being Asked to Support Programs That Don't Interest Them
Most major donors give to what is important to them, not the NPO at large. Donors get ticked off when they have clearly expressed their affinities and are asked to support objectives outside of those areas. For example, if an organization is funding a new brick-and-mortar project and the donor only supports patient outreach programs, don't ask the prospect for a major gift to the new hospital wing. Perhaps if the wing includes a patient outreach office, it matters to them -- but if not, it's likely better for the relationship that you pass.
Solution: In the cultivation stage, ensure your gift officers get an understanding of donor affinities and logging that information in ways that your organization can use. Listen to what the prospective donor is interested in at your organization versus your organization's lastest need.
6. Not Getting Back to Donors Promptly
When donors take the time to contact your organization, they rightfully expect someone to get back to them promptly. Otherwise, your organization is sending the message that the donor is not essential.
Solution: Whenever possible, get back to a donor the same or next day to let them know the request was received. If you don't have an answer yet, that's okay. Let the donor know you working on it. Continue to check-in with the donor every 24-48 hours with an update until the question is answered.
7. The Annual Fund
Some donors don't want to give to the annual fund. They may view the annual fund as paying overhead, such as electric and water bills. Not very exciting!
Solution: Be happy to accept donors' gifts and direct them to an area of interest. As long as the program is part of the organization, the gift is needed and should be welcomed!
8. Let A Thank You Be A Thank You
When thanking a donor, leave it there. Don't add another appeal or gift form. As noted above, the way to thank someone isn't to tell them you need more, it's to show gratitude an impact. This happens a lot when NPOs send year-end gift summaries with tax information to donors. You've just listed out what they did for you, is it appropriate to ask for more?
Solution: If you're doing your proper stewardship, you don't have to mix your messages and include an appeal in your thank you.
9. You're Making Them Read A Novel
People don't have time to read a lot of text. Your messages should be short and sweet. For impact, show photos or a video testimonial from the recipient of a gift or service. Be relatable for today's world -- where they're likely reading your appeal on a smartphone.
Solution: Consider adding visual representations of your appeal or story in your outreach. Creativity inspires. Use video, create a quote based on a customer testimonial -- make your outreach pop.
10. When Fundraisers Don't Own Their Mistakes
If you or your organization makes a mistake, be honest. We all make mistakes, and on a personal level, clearly communicating a mistake and how you're going to fix it builds trust.
Solution: When a mistake is made, put yourself in the position of telling donors exactly what happened and how you were part of the solution to make sure it doesn't happen again. Organizations and individual fundraisers have used Gravyty Crisis Management to craft proactive outreach when situations arise -- allowing them to use AI to personally communicate clearly and effectively with their donors. When things go sideways, you always remember those who took proactive steps.
If you’d like to learn more about how artificial intelligence can empower your fundraising staff to act as 2-3x its size, personally reach new donors, and inspire giving at scale, click the button below and let's connect.