How to Listen to Your Donors
(Without Them Saying a Word)
Today’s guest blog post is written by Beth Hintze, Client Administrator—Data Specialist here at Patron Technology.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. This is A Tale of Two Fundraisers — one that listened to their data to earn the trust of their donors, and one that didn’t and lost a donor.
For the past few years during the holiday season I have made donations to non-profit organizations. These donations have varied from established charities to start-up arts organizations. My donations have not been large because, particularly when I was a graduate student, every penny counted.
Last holiday season, I was excited to make a donation online to an established human rights organization. I loved their mission (I still do), and I was looking forward to knowing my money was working for good. However, after a few weeks, things started to go downhill.
After my donation, I got a nice personalized email thanking me for my contribution. “Great! That’s that,” I thought — but I was so wrong. Soon after my donation, the phone calls started.
After a few calls, I asked to be put on their “Do Not Call” list. I figured I would donate again when I was ready and I hated the idea of the organization spending money on someone calling me when I knew I wouldn’t be donating over the phone. Even though I hadn’t subscribed to their email newsletter, I got several emails a week with asks that sit in my inbox unopened. On top of all that, I started receiving tons of physical mail that goes straight from the mailbox to the trash.
My words and actions told a clear story — a donor who found them without responding to an ask, who contributed during the holiday season online, who doesn’t want to be contacted by phone, doesn’t open email, and doesn’t respond to physical mail. My actions spoke loud and clear, but no one there was listening. I finally decided that if I can’t trust them to listen to their donors, I can’t trust them to use donations wisely and that I would no longer be donating to them.
Now on to the other end of the spectrum. In December I also donated to a new non-profit arts organization. Again, I donated online and entered my email address and my physical address. Once again, after my donation I got a nice personalized email thanking me for my donation.
I braced for the deluge of calls and mail, but it never came. Instead, a week later I got another email informing me that the organization had reached its initial fundraising goal, with a postscript letting me know that they were still accepting donations, with two easy methods to donate. That was six months ago, and I haven’t heard from them since. The next time I get an email from this organization telling me that they are trying to reach another fundraising goal, I will donate again. Why? Because I felt that the way they handled my donation was mindful of the scope and medium of my engagement. I can trust that they are using my money for what I intended and feel proud that I contributed positively to something I believe in.
This is what everyone has been talking about when they talk about “big data.” Your donors’ data already tells a story about how to interact with them without you having to ask them anything! Although it may seem like my limited engagement with these organizations wouldn’t garner much data, just based on the timing and method of my donation, they can get a clear picture of who I am as a donor: “First-time donor, donating a small amount online to a specific campaign during an appeal in the holiday season.” From this data, they can draw some conclusions: I prefer to make contributions online, I will do so without previous documented engagement with the organization, and I want to know what my contribution is going to.
Capturing this data and using it can help you engage with your donors on their terms. Use the data they have given you, without you even asking for it, from their first donation to their most recent donation, to help you establish the most effective means of reaching out to them again. Paying attention to how your donors engage with you can help you target your appeals in a way that ensures the best possible return on your fundraising effort.