How Much Information Do You Want?

This is part three of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here’s a link to the series intro.

I think it’s a common phenomenon for a given organization to be absolutely convinced that it’s the most important one out there. From that standpoint, it’s understandable that information is often given out with gusto.

I can just see the meetings at some of the huge nonprodits that ask for gifts: “Why send a 1 oz mailing when you could send 5 oz?!”. “Why send a short email newsletter when you could send a enormously long one?!”

If they’d ask, I’d tell them:

The less stuff you send me, the more likely I am to read it.

Less. Please.

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How Many Requests are Too Many?

This is part two of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  Here are links to the series intro and the first question.

How many requests are too many?

The heaping pile o mail again by Charles Williams on Flickr
"The heaping pile o' mail again" by Charles Williams on Flickr

I think that sometimes, super-dedicated, highly-motivated nonprofit development staff can get carried away with just how often they and their teams ask for contributions.

A couple years ago, my father’s cousin’s wife passed away.  In lieu of flowers, she asked that donations be made to a certain international nonprofit.  I prefer to focus on local efforts for my regular giving, but I gladly gave to them in her memory.  This organization has been clogging my snail mail at least monthly ever since, despite not ever hearing from me again.  They have not made it simple for me to switch to a different option, such as a quarterly email or an annual snail mail, and I’m neither impressed nor inspired.

My friend (the other Disgruntled Donor) told me that a few holiday seasons ago, her father’s alma mater contacted him by phone six days in a row asking for money.  Just sit on that one a moment and wonder how anyone could have possibly thought that was a good use of time or a respectful way to treat an alumnus.

I get that during tough times and toward the end of the budget year, sometimes pushes are necessary.  At some point the repetitive asking grates. It usually comes across to me as either incompetence or an arrogant assumption that the only reasonable way to spend my money is to funnel it to the pestering organization.  Neither impression inspires me (or anyone else I can think of) to give.

Organizations can avoid crossing that line by asking individuals what kind of volume of contacts they care to receive. They can ask this on a simple survey that also asks how they’d like to be contacted.  Quarterly or biannual requests work best for me, except for one or two organizations that are very close to my heart.  I’m happy to tell this to any organization who will both listen and make that communication process simple and efficient.

Where do you draw the line between what’s a reasonable request rate and what’s pestering?

Have a great weekend, and see you Monday for the third question I wish nonprofit fundraisers would ask me.

How Do You Want to Be Reached?

This is part one of a series called The Disgruntled Donor.  I’ll be addressing four questions I wish nonprofit fundraising campaigns would ask me as a potential donor.  See the series intro here.

How do you want to be reached?

I wish fundraisers would ask me how I want to be contacted.

This is not code for a focus group.  This is not a veiled suggestion for a long meeting where you can discuss my demographic’s preferences and motivations.  Just ask me.

It can be a postcard.  It can be an online survey.  It can be simple.

With a few well-placed multiple choice questions, you’d find out that I prefer to be contacted via email or social media.  You might also find out that I flat-out won’t answer the phone for people who aren’t friends, family, or coworkers.  You may also discover that I can’t stand snail mail (I elaborate on this below).

During the initial disgruntled donors discussion that spurred this series, my friend remarked that she liked when an organization just picked one way to contact her and stuck with it, for example, just four quarterly newsletters mailed to her home.  The short communications survey could find this out as well.

The message here isn’t that quarterly email newsletters are the answer.  The point is that different things annoy different people.  Since this is not difficult information to acquire, store, or act upon,  large-scale development departments should really spend more time figuring out how not to tick off their potential donors.

An Aside: My View on Snail Mail

I recently received an advancement report from my alma mater.  It weighed more than my cat, probably cost significantly more than my yearly rent to put together, and undoubtedly asked me for money.  That’s quite the mixed message.  Was it worth the cost in money and hypocrisy points to send me something I’m just going to unwedge from my mailbox, lug upstairs, then schlep back downstairs on garbage/recycling night?

Please, just email me.

What do you think?

How do you like to receive donation requests?

Which type of donation request is the most annoying to you?

The next question will appear on Friday.

The Disgruntled Donor: A Series

Last week a friend and I were talking about experiences we had as potential donors for a couple of huge nonprofits.  We were unimpressed.

Donate by Mindful One on Flickr
"Donate" by Mindful One on Flickr

I started writing a post about these points, and then I realized it was really several posts.  Thus starts my first official series: The Disgruntled Donor. It will be appearing this week and next on my regular Monday, Wednesday, Friday posting schedule.

The overall theme is that nonprofit development endeavors risk becoming extremely annoying, and therefore self-defeating, when fundraising pushes don’t consider the wants and needs of their potential donors.

I’ll talk about four different questions I wish fundraising campaigns would ask me.  I’ll include nightmare stories that my friend and I discussed, as well as some suggestions for how to get on my good side as a potential landing site for my “extra” money.  Hint: potential donors have different preferences, and we can tell you what they are, and you can choose to not ignore them.

I’m hoping that writing about it might start some useful discussion for nonprofits large and small, and that it might be useful (or at least fun) for the rest of us to share stories of marketing that annoyed us.  Also, frankly, I’m interested in writing about it, and that’s always a consideration.

Here are links to the four questions I wish to be asked:

  1. How do you want to be reached?
  2. How many requests are too many?
  3. How much information do you want?
  4. What do you care about?

NY Times: Volunteering Waning in Recession

Volunteering Waning in Recession, Report Says – NYTimes.com.

This article points out an apparent contradiction:

A.  volunteer coordinators saw an increase in volunteers caused directly by said volunteers losing their jobs

B. a huge percentage of people say that they’re reducing their time spent in civic engagement and volunteering

Interesting.

I also love that it covers “do it yourself volunteering,” people getting involved on a local level without getting involved in organizations.  Even as a volunteer coordinator who needs more volunteers, serving through an organization is certainly not the only way to get involved and make meaningful change.  Check out Peter Norback’s project.

And as a last comment, it talks about nonprofits “using” volunteers.  Surely there’s a better verb out there that reflects the complex give-and-take relationship that organizations form with their volunteers.

The Super-Effective Volunteer

As the coordinator of an all-volunteer teaching staff, a large and fantastic part of my job is volunteer support.   I don’t know how I ended up with such great people, and I hope they stay forever.  I write this in hopes that more volunteers will contribute the way mine do.

I’d like to put it out there for whomever is listening that the most effective volunteers are not the ones who arrive with their own agenda.

Super Boy by Łéł†Āķ Mă3ý on Flickr
Super Boy by Łéł†Āķ Mă3ý on Flickr

Super-effective volunteers have their eyes and ears open to the needs of the organization. When something comes up and they have the ability to help with it, they speak up and dive in.

And you know, any help is help. Coming in and telling me exactly what you’d like to do is something, and I’m as grateful as I should be and I try hard to work with you.

But take a step back and think how amazing it is when a program realizes it needs something, asks for someone to do it… and then someone does it.

And now think about how well a volunteer gets to know the organization by helping where it’s needed.  Think what a great position this puts the volunteer in to make suggestions, push for change, and bring a relevant and mutually beneficial to-do list to the table.

Are you that kind of volunteer?

Outreach and People

Kyllian gaat tekenen by inferis on Flickr
Kyllian gaat tekenen by inferis on Flickr

This evening I set up an information table in the front of the library to advertise my free classes for adults that take place in the back.  My goal was to increase our presence in the library and to see if people who were in the library at around class time wanted to be students or volunteer teachers.

People were milling about near me or walking by.  Nobody came up to talk to me for a while.   Then a boy walked by and looked at the giveaway pencils I had out.  He touched one but started to walk away.  So I asked him if he wanted one.  This led to a simple conversation, after which he walked away with a big smile and a sharp new pencil.  About 15 seconds later, a man who had been sitting nearby pretending to ignore me came up to ask about classes.  And a small line formed while he and I were talking.

Smiling and having shiny materials did not cause potential students to line up to talk with me.  Seeing me be nice to that boy is what started it.

My conclusion: people want to work with people who treat people like people.