Do Your Donors Think They Matter?

Today’s guest blog post is written by Kevin Patterson, Senior Account Executive, Patron Technology. 

I was recently invited back to my high school to attend an in-service day to prepare teachers for the new school year. The day began with recognition of length of service awards, some teachers had over forty years with the school district! There were also teaching excellence awards. As the husband of a music teacher in the public schools, I clearly understand how much public affirmation means in an age where it seems like our society has made a professional sport out of complaining about schools and teachers. The school district was making a statement that their team was important and mattered to them.

After the awards, a keynote speaker, Angela Maiers, spoke about how students, as they progress through our educational systems and workers as they enter the workforce, become less engaged over time. Engagement has become such a critical part of our society that Gallup, the national polling company, regularly measures worker engagement.

In a 2015 Gallup poll of US workers, 32% were considered engaged in their jobs, 50.8% were not engaged, and 17.2% were disengaged. Lack of engagement results in an estimated $11B in lost revenue annually. See State of the American Workplace at Gallup.

Interestingly enough, similar engagement percentages apply to students.

In a 2014 Gallup poll of US students, 53% of students were engaged, 28% were not engaged and 19% were actively disengaged. See Gallup Student Poll at Gallup.

The number one reason why students and workers are not engaged is that they believe that they don’t matter. Both groups cite the following reasons for wanting to become more engaged:

  • There is somebody who cares about them
  • There is an environment where questions are encouraged
  • The school or workplace is safe both mentally and physically
  • They are accepted for who they are and the contributions they bring

This keynote got me thinking about my own experiences as a donor and how organizations communicate with me that I matter. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for organizations to fall into the disengagement trap.

Donors want to matter to an organization. The Lilly School of Philanthropy surveyed donor behaviors. Among the findings:

  • The three main reasons people donate to nonprofit organizations are very personal in nature – they have a deep passion for the cause, they believe the organization depends on their donation, or they know someone affected by the nonprofit’s mission.
  • Nearly 75 percent of respondents say they might stop donating to an organization based on poor content, including vague content, dull content, irrelevant content, and inconvenient formatting.
  • Approximately 71 percent of donors feel more engaged with a nonprofit when they receive content that’s personalized. Personalization done wrong – with misspelled names, irrelevant information, or age inappropriate material, for example – rubs donors the wrong way.

How are you engaging your donors? How much do donors know that they truly matter to your organization? While engagement levels tend to be generational in nature, donors like to engage in three ways, Giving, Doing, and Communicating.

Giving is all about personal experience. Making a connection with a donor is critical. The kind of experience a donor is having with your organization is more critical than having a grander vision.

Providing opportunities for your donors to express the personal experiences that connected them to your organization is a critical learning skill for your development team. From simple surveys to small donor events and individual meetings, donors want to express how they feel. By validating their views donors feel that they matter which often leads to greater connectivity.

Doing is all about forming deeper connections with your organization. Doing can be volunteering, attending events or serving in a leadership role in your organization.

When was the last time you invited donors to volunteer with your organization? Too many times organizations move the donor too quickly to a board position or other leadership role. Don’t forget there are opportunities to learn more about that donor by asking them to volunteer for projects that interest them. Developing donors beyond their financial capacity to give means building deeper connections.

Communicating can have the effect of multiplying your network virtually for free. Donors who become engaged with your organization may choose to spread the word of your work. They may engage through social media or participate in advocacy related to your organization.

Positive donor evangelists for your organization are golden. Take the time to find out what interests your donors. You should be tracking how they are interacting with your organization. By arming your donors with messages that can easily be repeated, an organization can see the number of potential new donors grow exponentially.

Take some time to think about your relationship with your donors. Developing strategies to encourage donors and let them know that they matter will build strong and lasting relationships for your organization.

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