Dear nonprofit charities and donors: You are dating each other.
Think about how you met. It might have happened via blind date, with a friend recognizing common interests and arranging a connection. Maybe it occurred through good old-fashioned courtship, i.e. one party seeing something desirable in the other and making the effort to form a bond. Regardless of how the hookup happened, it's definitely a relationship.
Keeping any partnership--romantic, charitable or otherwise--alive is as much about recognizing and changing what's wrong as celebrating what's going right. (Maybe even more so.) Which is why Modest Needs polled potential donors and veteran philanthropists to see what nonprofit behaviors drive them away:
1. APPEARING TO BE "OUT OF THEIR LEAGUE."
The biggest obstacle in fund-raising is the most obvious--donors can't give money they don't have, even if they want to. And most want to. "One of my goals is to get rich and repay [the grant I was given] with interest," one Modest Needs Grant Recipient explained. "My family always tries to give, but we don't currently make enough money to give any of it away," wrote another.
The "I'm broke" reply is common, and closely linked to the misperception that large sums of money must be given in order for donating to be effective. "What keeps me from giving? I don't think I have enough to give," one responder explained. "$1.00 feels like nothing." For charities to cultivate a community of dedicated donors and attract additional funders, it is essential to stress that no organization is "above" a smaller donation.
"I appreciate it when an organization gives examples of how small donations collectively help," a responder noted.
Which brings us to number 2...
2. SETTING DONATION MINIMUMS.
Donation minimums limit the number of donors a charity can attract. Example: "My work supports certain events, including the AIDS and HEART walks," said one respondent. "[These organizations] only let you donate online if you give at least $25, and suggest minimums in promotional materials. This is a disappointment to me, as it prevents so many people from donating altogether. I had a coworker who wanted to donate $10...but because of the $25 minimum she ended up donating nothing."
Minimums not only shut out a large number of potential donors. They can also taint public opinion about an organization.
"[Donation minimums] seem greedy," the same respondent continued. "If I perceive an organization to be greedy it prevents me from donating, even if it's an excellent cause. " Donation minimums may be necessary for some charities in order to cover organizational costs, but their overall effects work against a goal, rather than for it.
3. AGGRESSIVE OUTREACH TACTICS.
No one likes the guy who comes on too strong on the first date. The same thing is true about charities.
"I [do not donate to] organizations that use chuggers--'charity muggers.' I don't like being accosted when I walk out my door to do errands. I won't support Planned Parenthood, the ACLU or some other organizations because their chuggers have compromised my quality of life," one poll responder in New York City explained.
"Overly aggressive begging keeps me from donating," another donor commented. "What I find really works is when a charity strives to have a guilt-free relationship with me. I'm more likely to shell out a few bucks if I'm gently reminded about past donations, thanked, and shown how my donations helped."
Nonprofits leave the best impression when they truly befriend their funders, rather than bully or guilt them.
4. FOCUSING ON ORGANIZATIONS INSTEAD OF PEOPLE.
Modest Needs was founded on the principal that people don't give to organizations, they give to other people. And indeed, most donors are candid about feeling compelled to give to faces rather than names.
"I support organizations that help people help themselves," said one donor. "But I tend not to give to any specific charity at all when those close to me need help. Helping someone [I know directly] comes first."
Poll responders stressed that they donate to large organizations more frequently during specific community crises--earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes were three examples listed. "I may not know who receives my money directly, but in those circumstances I at least know the what, where, when, why and how of the situation," a donor explained.
Funders were also savvy about the difference between national and local branches of large foundations, and found resonance in the latter.
"When the SPCA, a [cause I support], is asking for a donation it generally goes to the national fund rather than local shelters. That's why I made a point this year to make sure I am donating to my local SPCA branch directly," said one donor.
Nonprofits can form deeper bonds with their donors by putting individual faces to overarching organizational names.
5. TAPPING DONORS TOO FREQUENTLY.
Nothing sabotages a romantic relationship as quickly as relentless neediness, and the same is true for the partnership between charity and donor. This is an especially tricky reality for nonprofits who serve constituents that need help immediately, one that must be recognized and dealt with carefully.
"I don't like when you give to an organization once and within weeks are getting more and more requests [from the same organization]," a donor summed up simply. "It really turns me off."
Several poll respondents highlighted the importance of being specific when seeking donations. "If I'm constantly getting e-blasts from a charity saying 'We Need Money,' eventually I just unsubscribe," a donor admitted. "When they make the distinction between seeking funds for an operating cost and needing items to help a specific person in need I at least understand why I'm being emailed so frequently."
While getting specific is always helpful during fundraising, the best general rule of thumb for nonprofits is to track donors carefully and be sure to give them some space if they've very recently given.