When Building Donor Relationships, Talk is Cheap

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A recent series of three posts on the Harvard Business Review blog by Karen Freeman, Patrick Spenner and Anna Bird of Corporate Executive Board explored some of the myths surrounding consumer-buying decisions. The authors conclude that consumers, more than ever, want a simple buying process that gets them the things they want and need without hype or excessive interactions.

Nonprofits can learn a thing or two from their findings, especially about donor preferences for interactions.

But, first, a reality check.

Myth #1: Everyone Loves You

Despite what we desperately want to believe, most donors don’t want a relationship with your nonprofit. The gift comes in the mail because the donor is honoring the request of a friend or colleague, or maybe they want the deduction for their taxes. These donors don’t really care about your organization. They just gave you some money.

Of course, there are other donors who really do care about your nonprofit. The key is to know the difference between the two and to interact with them accordingly. Just don’t think that more is better, because it’s not.

Myth #2: Talking Builds the Relationship

It doesn’t. Instead of just communicating with donors, focus on having a strategic conversation around the shared values between your cause and them. For example, I’ve always admired the anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength. I grew up on free lunch at school and support their goal to feed America’s kids (and love their cause marketing!). These common values cement the relationship. According to the Corporate Executive Board, of the consumers who said they had a brand relationship, 64% cited shared values as the primary reason.

The message for nonprofits is clear: talk is cheap. Shared values and messaging is what gets and keeps donors’ attention.

Myth #3: More Interactions Are Even Better

Over-sharing with supporters doesn’t work either. You’re just drowning the donor in a sea of talk that only leads to information overload. If I follow a new person on Twitter and they clog up my stream with too many tweets, I’ll ignore or unfollow him–even if some of his tweets are thoughtful and helpful. I’ve argued before that more tweets are better than not, but we still have to choose our interactions carefully and value our connection with the donor.

As a marketer it’s almost heresy to say it, but we have to remove frequency as a factor in donor communications. Freeman, Spenner and Bird suggest asking if the communication is “going to reduce the cognitive overload consumers feel as they shop my category? If the answer is ‘no’ or ‘not sure,’ go back to the drawing board.”

8 thoughts on “When Building Donor Relationships, Talk is Cheap”

  1. Hear hear. I have had some very different experiences with different non-profit arts groups. I bought tickets from one group 2 years in a row, and they gave me a call at home and engaged me in a real conversation that inspired me to become a monthly donor. I bought season tickets from another, and they immediately called me twice at work to try to sell me more tickets. No donation for them!

    1. How stupid of them.u00a0 A warm “thank you for your generous support”u00a0would have sufficed…and maybe an opportunityto engage in something specially planned for donors and subscribers that says “thanks!,” if something like that was being planned.u00a0 But best just to keep it short and sweet.

    2. I’m happy to read that! In my time at an arts organization, ticket buyers were strictly funneled into sales efforts toward more ticket sales. Only once they subscribed were they deemed suitable for engagement by the fundraising staff. I always thought that was short-sighted. Now that you’re a monthly donor, I’d bet you’re more interested in seeing the work, right? Organizations shouldn’t dictate the path of the relationship – the donor/ticket buyer should!nnnAnd I’ve experienced really good sales staff (as you describe). It’s a whole different experience than the usual and there’s room to really stand out if you do it right!

  2. I requested a season brochure from a local theater group and before I could buy a ticketu00a0I was sent a donation letter.u00a0u00a0All they did was pull my name off one of their lists and blindly solicited.u00a0 I work for a nonprofit andu00a0we don’t evenu00a0do that.u00a0u00a0Joe, I am of the same mind that you should treat people as you would want to be treated.u00a0 And that’s why I get so many repeat customers.u00a0 It’s all aboutu00a0customer service.u00a0 u00a0 u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0u00a0

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