Let’s give donors a break

Quentin Crisp in 1982

Let’s give donors a break2

Donors don’t want a ‘relationship’, says Richard Radcliffe.

Tony Elischer (Fundraising, September) is spot on when he writes about fundraising without fundraising and managing relationships in the “right way”.

As I listen to more donor stories every week in focus groups I am increasingly convinced that many donors do not want “a relationship” – however that is defined.

In my view we have a problem. Fundraisers know what they want: stronger and stronger relationships (often focused on more and more communications) resulting in more money so targets NOW are met. But donors want fewer communications – especially as the recession dribbles on with a little nudge into a supposed recovery. They have made their mind up to support a charity and that is that.

But donors are fickle. Because what they want does not work. In virtually every focus group they plead with my client to spend less money: “Please can you email me/communicate through enews – it will cut costs”. Of course charities can do this, but the donors will delete each enews very quickly. The other request is: “If you give me a link I will go to the website” – but they won’t and they don’t. If you take the last 1,000 donors I have met, only 4 per cent have visited “their charity’s website”; as a point of interest only 12 of them do not own a computer. Why do they not look at a charity’s website? Their response is very simple: “Because I don’t need to” or “Why should I?” They use the internet for Skype/email (with long-distance family and friends), booking holidays and buying online.

Donors are full of good intentions but largely do not have a clue as to what actually works in making them part with their hard-earned and dwindling cash.   

Donors seem to be saying “I have had enough and leave me alone”.

Fascinating change in donor behaviour

Donors are rationalising their giving during this recession. The number of charities being supported is being slashed to only two or three when it was seven or eight a couple of years ago.  In my opinion this is resulting in a really fascinating change in donor behaviour. With tight budgets they are turning into “thinking donors”. They are no longer casual donors who just sign up and forget their direct debit. They are making decisions based on accountability, transparency and effectiveness (cost and outcomes).

This might be a short-term, seemingly negative, situation. But in the long term will this lead to a much better quality of donor who really does care to support only one, rather than three, international development agency because they know:

  •     The amount that goes to the cause
  •     Money “gets through to the right beneficiary”
  •     Money is well spent.

Such a donor is far more likely to leave a legacy.

Going back to Tony’s ‘fundraising without fundraising’ it is fascinating to hear donors at the end of each focus group. Vast numbers of them on their way out say: “You said you wouldn’t ask for money at this meeting and you haven’t – it has been absolutely brilliant.”  

And this sums up great relationship-building. The desire to maintain contact has come from them and no transaction was made.

Relationship fundraising

Ken Burnett defined relationship fundraising as (just to take the last bit):

“Every activity is therefore geared toward making sure donors know that they are important, valued and considered, which has the effect of maximising funds per donor in the long term.”
It seems as if charities only think relationships can be formed by communicating with them and saying how important and valued donors are. Day in, day out I hear: “I do not want to be thanked, I have decided to support you and that is enough”. Which, we all know, is not enough if they are to leave a legacy but it is a matter of perception perhaps?

'Stately homo'

Quentin Crisp, the brilliant but persecuted “stately homo” as he called himself, said of relationships:

“It is explained that all relationships require a little give and take. This is untrue. Any partnership demands that we give and give and give and at the last, as we flop into our graves exhausted, we are told that we didn’t give enough.”

As donor fatigue deepens I think he really could have been talking about fundraising. Let’s give our donors a break and tell them we won’t ask for x months and see what happens.

Richard Radcliffe is the founder of Radcliffe Consulting    

Richard Radcliffe
Radcliffe Consulting
15 Oct 2013

My blog on Tony Elischer's article seems to have ignited passions around the world with some expressing real outrage, through Twitter, at the thought of giving donors a break from an ask and focusing more on a thank you. This fascinates me. I am not someone who thinks we should NOT ask, but in this recession my heart of hearts drives me to think think that donors deserve a break and a thank you is likely to result in a self motivated upgrade. I witness this when I meet donors who are becoming more "thinking donors". Well, that is the case with the BEST donors who are the most likely to become legators. So, is it against the very nature of a target driven fundraiser to STOP asking and to start thanking for an agreed period (and before you say it I am not saying for 12 months - just for a respectful 3-6 months). Is anyone out there willing to test this? I dare you......

Robert Ashton
Vice Patron
Norfolk Community Foundation
2 Oct 2013

This is a great illustration of the value of a Community Foundation. They are donor focused and provide a convenient firewall between the busy donor and eager fundraisers.

Moreover they can help a donor's giving reach right down to the grassroots of local need and better, carry out due dilligence checks so you know your money's not going to be wasted or lost.


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Richard Radcliffe is a consultant in legacy fundraising with over 30 years' fundraising experience.


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