Fundraisers are seagulls

One of my favorite books in the whole world is my autographed copy of “Donor Centered Fundraising” by Penelope Burk. As many of you know, Penelope Burk is the CEO of Cygnus Applied Research. Their survey research is some of the only work of its kind when it comes to donor retention and communications. It isn’t uncommon for me to just pull her book from my bookshelf at home and curl up and read a few chapters, which is exactly what I did yesterday.

More oftentimes than not, I find myself closing the book, shaking my head, and wondering what is wrong with us? (and by “us” I mean non-profit and resource development professionals) For example, yesterday I closed the book and started wondering “what would Emily Post — America’s foremost authority (even from the grave) on all things dealing with etiquette — think of my profession?”

If you think this is a harsh and an unfair question, please consider the following findings from Penelope Burk’s research:

  • 71% of non-profits reported that they “communicate” with their donors by inviting them to a special event (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 52). I suspect most of these special events are fundraising events, which I believe is just more solicitation. “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”
  • 94% of donors who responded to the survey said that the non-profits they support either never or hardly ever call them on the phone without asking for another contribution (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 55).  “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”
  • 98% of donors who responded said they either never or hardly ever personally see someone from their favorite charities without getting asked for another contribution (Donor Centered Fundraising, page 55).   “Thank you for your last contribution Mr. & Mrs. Smith! May we please have some more?”

Friends, family, and countrymen … what have we become?  At the risk of being over-the-top, I suggest that many non-profit and resource development folks have turned into those self-absorbed seagulls from the movie “Finding Nemo“. Check out this YouTube video clip to refresh your memory, and for this analogy think of the seagulls as fundraising professionals and Nemo as a donor.

Oh, you don’t believe me? Then please consider this … on pages 52-56, Penelope Burk rattles off the top 10 typical reasons that fundraisers provide for not doing a better job with personal stewardship-oriented communications. One of the reasons listed is: “We are overwhelmed by the numbers and feel that if we make personal contact with one donor, we will be obligated to do the same with every donor within the same period, something that might be logistically impossible.” Hmmmm, that certainly sounds like it is all about us … “MINE! MINE! MINE!” And many of the other 10 reasons on Penelope’s list sound very similar to “ME! ME! ME!”

I beg you … let’s start behaving like human beings and take a page out of Emily Post’s Book of Etiquette. I suspect that doing so will get all of us a little closer to what Penelope describes as “being donor-centered”.

Are you a seagull? Have you seen other fundraising professionals behave like seagulls? What written policies does your organization have that keeps you from behaving like a seagull? Please use the comment box to share any stories or best practices or random thoughts on this subject. We can all learn from each other!

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
eanderson847@gmail.com
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2 comments

  1. “We are overwhelmed by the numbers and feel that if we make personal contact with one donor, we will be obligated to do the same with every donor within the same period, something that might be logistically impossible.”

    Well, you have to start somewhere. Like eating an elephant, one bite at a time.

    Who knows, contacting your top donors to let them know of recent successes may prompt them to share that with other potential donors. Or even result in an unsolicited gift!

    You won’t know unless you try.

    1. I love the way you think, Michael. Resource development professionals, non-profit CEOs and board members do not need to start personally calling and visiting EVERYONE all at once. Your approach of starting with an organization’s Top 25, 50 or 100 donors is such a great first step. Who knows … that first step might be so rewarding that the second, third and fourth step become almost effortless.

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