Donors remorse is real and easily avoidable

remorseTwas the day after Christmas and all through the house, everyone was sleeping except for me. The reality is that I’ve not blogged in two days because of a deadly combination of holiday festivities and a horrible case of bronchitis. So, this morning I’m sitting at my computer and cleaning out my email inbox looking for blog ideas. There are scraps of ideas everywhere I look, but nothing cohesive was coming together until I opened an email from Tom Ahern, who is one of the biggest and brightest names in the field of donor communications.
Tom’s email newsletter was all over the road. It was speed dating for fundraising professionals.
The one topic that jumped off the page at me was something he termed “Donors Remorse.”  Here is how he described it:

“But there is also a phenomenon let’s call ‘donor’s remorse.’  It’s just like buyer’s remorse: an oppressive feeling of disappointment and doubt that you’ve made a bad purchase decision. It’s a feeling of potential loss that happens immediately and automatically as soon as the first gift is completed.  I’m feeling it right now. I just gave $500 of my hard-earned income to a political candidate whom I trust and admire. And yet I wonder….”

Have you ever felt donors remorse? I have, but I’ve never really processed it this way. So, reading Tom’s words got my brain engaged this morning (which kind of felt nice after days of existing in a fuzzy cold medicine state of being).
beggingI’m not sure about you, but every time I’ve experienced donors remorse, it has been because I made a contribution out of a sense of obligation. Here are a few examples:

  • A friend asked me to make a donation to a charity because he serves on their board of directors
  • A friend asked me to make a political contribution because they were running for office
  • My neighbor’s son was selling stuff for his school’s fundraiser

The reason why donors remorse is a dangerous concept in fundraising circles is because it ties directly back to the idea of donor retention. When making a remorseful gift, the odds of the charity getting gift number two from me is extremely low. Since the non-profit organization most likely doesn’t know this (because they can’t read my mind), they are most likely about to embark on an expensive journey of trying to renew my support.
So, I’ve been thinking about ways to solve this problem this morning, and the answer surprised because it was remarkably simple.

Train your volunteers on how to use your case for support!

The reason why this work and does so every time is because it gets to the root of the problem.
In the three real-world examples I provided, the reason why I experienced donors remorse was because “The Ask” did not:

  • paint a picture of need
  • tell me how supporting the agency, school or cause would help address the need or make the world a better place
  • inspire me

We need to stop asking our volunteers to go out into the world with a fistful of pledge cards to ask their friends to support their cause without appropriate training and support. It also needs to be more than just a quick training on how to use the organization’s case statement.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve facilitated a campaign kickoff meeting and walked volunteers through the case for support only to find out they don’t use it. They fall back on the familiar fundraising pitch where they ask their friends to do them a solid favor by supporting their favorite charity.
Let’s treat our volunteers like the adults they actually are. Let’s take our trainings a step further by talking about:

  • the concept of donors remorse
  • the reasons why this happens
  • the business costs associated with it happening
  • how to avoid it

If volunteers knew they could help you avoid spending lots of donor renewal dollars in a wasted effort by simply making the ask in the right way, I think many more of them would do so.
I dunno . . . what do you think? Has the cold medication rotted my brain?
I love Tom Ahern, and I think you will, too. If you want to check out his free e-newsletter, please click here and have a look around Tom’s site.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

shutdown1In the weeks leading up to the government shutdown, I heard some rumblings via the news media that Senator Ted Cruz and those aligned with him were dragging things out in Congress to maximize their online and direct mail fundraising efforts. To be honest, I didn’t give much thought to those accusations. They sounded like sour grapes and something partisan opponents would say in the heat of the moment. And then . . . when the government actually shut down, I started receiving a flood of email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). This is when my fundraising spidey-sense started to tingle, and I started paying attention because there must be lessons to be learned for non-profit organizations somewhere in this mess.

Here is what the most recent DCCC fundraising email said:

Dear Erik —

Boehner’s Tea Party majority is teetering on the edge:

A new poll shows that Democrats are leading SEVENTEEN Republican Congressmen after the Tea Party-inspired shutdown. Guess how many seats we need to win back a Democratic Majority? 17.

Voters are done putting up with the extreme Tea Party antics that have paralyzed the government. We have to act quickly to press our advantage in these crucial races. Will you help us raise $500,000 immediately to take on vulnerable House Republicans?

Donate $3 IMMEDIATELY to the Democratic Majority Rapid Response Fund.

This shutdown could spell the end of the Tea Party controlled Republican Majority.

But if we want that to happen, we have to act now.

DCCC Rapid Reponse

I purposely omitted the hyperlinks and website addresses because my intention is to evaluate language and strategy and not raise money for the DCCC.

So, let’s strip out the partisanship and set aside our personal political feelings. Let’s avoid the temptation to point fingers. Let’s just look at the circumstances, strategies and verbiage in the letter from a “Just the facts, ma’am” perspective.

What do you see? What do you sense?

shutdown3Here is what I’m seeing:

  • I see a misspelling in the signature block.
  • I see a case for support spelled out in five simple sentences.
  • I see emotionally charged words intended to poke and prod me into action (e.g. teetering, extreme, paralyzed, etc).
  • I see a fundraising goal clearly articulated (e.g. $500,000).
  • I see a specific ask (e.g. Donate $3.00 immediately).
  • I sense the strategy here is to set a very low barrier to entry to entice first time donors. In other words, they poke me, I get upset, and the solution is as simple as just giving $3.00 to make things right again.
  • I see an email with a small handful of carefully worded sentences fitting neatly on my computer screen. I don’t need to scroll down to continue reading.
  • I see short easy to read sentences. The longest sentence was 16 words long.

There is so much that you can learn if you just keep your eyes, ears and mind open. Professional fundraisers cram your mailbox and email inbox full of examples every day. Are you paying attention? Because with a little discipline you can teach yourself a lot in a short period of time.

Let’s circle back to the question I pose in the headline of this blog post:

Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown?

I think a case can be made for the answer to this question being “YES”.

There is so much noise being made in our political arena on a daily basis that many people tune things out. I know that I am as guilty as others in this regard. So, when you have fundraising goals to hit, then your case for support needs to be very big and noisy in order to get people’s attention.

I believe the lesson to be learned here for non-profit organizations is that your case for support is powerful. It is the engine at the center of your resource development plan. It is the jet fuel for all of your fundraising appeals regardless of whether it is a direct mail appeal, email, social media, telephone solicitation, face-to-face pledge drive or special event.

shutdown2When crafting your case for support, this is what our friends in the political fundraising world seem to be telling their non-profit cousins:

  • Make it emotional
  • Focus on an issue that people care about
  • Choose an issue that donors and the media will talk about and magnify
  • Wrap marketing efforts around your fundraising efforts
  • Where possible, infuse advocacy into the appeal

For those of you who are skeptical and find yourself thinking at the end of this blog post that non-profit organizations can’t “manufacture” a crisis and weave it into a case for support like politicians, then let me suggest that you open your mind a little more.

I cannot tell you how many agencies I’ve seen neglect their buildings by minimally investing in maintenance and upkeep. In the final analysis, aren’t those agencies just slowly creating a powerful capital campaign case for support for down the road? Maybe it is purposeful and maybe it isn’t, but the fact that it is a manufactured crisis cannot be denied.

There are plenty of needs and gaps in our communities around which non-profit organizations can build a powerful case for support. We don’t need to manufacture crisis to raise money like our political counterparts, but it does happen more often than you think.

So, what are you waiting for?

It is the fourth quarter and year-end fundraising is one of the biggest shows on Earth. Start writing your case for support document today so you can transform it into an eloquent and powerful fundraising appeal in the next few weeks.

But whatever you do, please don’t “shutdown” your agency to make a buck or two. I suspect donors can only handle this strategy in small doses.  😉

And I am making a mental note to myself . . . perhaps, I need to stop tuning out politicians on a daily basis so they stop doing drastic things to get my attention.  😉   (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.)

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

The 7 Ps and case statements

Yesterday, I wrote about the importance of crafting your organization’s case for support document, and I want to continue down this path a little further today. Back when I worked with the Boy Scouts of America, it wasn’t uncommon for me to hear a co-worker or volunteer lament “The Seven P’s” — “Prior Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance”. If this revelation surprises you, then remember that “BE PREPARED” is the motto of the Boy Scouts .

After yesterday’s blog post, I realized that I might have made the case for revisiting and revising your case statement documents. However, I didn’t talk about how you can best prepare your volunteers to bring that case for support to life.

Here is an example of what some of our volunteers look like when they try to vocalize our case for support when sitting down with a prospect or donor … click here to see a less than perfect example of someone trying to make the case for their charity. Unfortunately, many of these volunteers commit the following mistakes:

  • They come across nervous or unsure of themselves
  • They don’t inspire confidence and passion
  • Their body language sends the wrong message
  • Some might even perceive that they don’t know what they’re talking about

This is not how we want our fundraising volunteers to come across; however, the reality is that we set them up for failure by not training and preparing them properly. Yes, many of us provide our volunteers with a copy of the case statement. Some of us might even go so far as to tell them what it is and why it is important. However, very few of us model the case statement’s appropriate usage or work with volunteers on practicing how to put it into their own words. Here are a few preparation tips you may want to consider:

  • Host a campaign kickoff meeting and use some time to review the organization’s case for support.
  • Ask volunteers to take a few minutes to read the case statement; then go around the room and ask everyone to share one impactful piece of messaging they took from the document.
  • Pair volunteers up with each other and ask them to take turns using the information in the case statement to “make the case for financial support” to their partner. Ask the person who is listening to also provide constructive feedback at the end of the exercise.
  • Use video technology to record each volunteer and meet with them separately with positive and constructive feedback.
  • Make sure that volunteers are personally solicited for their contribution prior to going out on their first solicitation, and make sure the person soliciting them is perfectly modeling usage of the case statement.
  • Make time to go on solicitation visits with volunteers. Take time after the visit to de-brief and discuss how the case for support might have been made more impactfully.

Volunteers will resist these efforts all in the name of “time”. However, you need to ask yourself if you can afford to send them out to talk to your prospects and donors less than at their best. If you invest a little time in “prior proper preparation,” they will become world-class fundraising volunteers who walk away from your campaign feeling good about the entire experience … click here to see a better example of someone trying to make the case for their charity.

How does your organization prepare fundraising volunteers to make the case for financial support from donors? Please share your best practices in the comment box below.

Here is to your health!

Erik Anderson
Owner, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847!/profile.php?id=1021153653