Say, Think, Do

Actions speak louder than words. In other words, intentions establish expectations but actions create results. In many cases, results are the only way a donor can ensure their gift is being used in the way they want and producing the outcome and value they expect.

Donors will give based upon what you tell them will happen or needs to happen (intentions). Their ongoing support and the growth in generosity depend on the results your nonprofit produces. If a nonprofit that serves women and children tells a donor about the needs of the children, it must talk about how it has meaningfully, measurably, and durably changed the children’s lives.

Failure to talk about the children’s results seems like empty intentions. In some cases, it may be a few months or years before the outcomes deliver on its promises. In that case, the nonprofit has two choices. One is to tell the donor that their gifts will be use to lay the foundation for helping the children. The alternative is to say nothing about the children until the nonprofit has evidence it is delivering on its intentions.

Donors want integrity in their relationship with a nonprofit. When donors see a difference between intentions and results, they may feel that expediency (doing what is necessary to encourage a donor to give) has trumped integrity (delivering the promised results). Dissatisfied donors are likely to tell other donors and prospective donors. The ripple effect on your fundraising will be much greater than the consequences of missing this year’s fundraising goal.

You must also speak with absolute clarity. Donors must hear what you intend to say. Months after saying it, the donors are going to judge the results. If the results differ from the donors’ recollection or expectations, it is the donors’ recollection that determine their satisfaction and willingness to continue the relationship. This also explains why sometimes nonprofits receive one-time gifts. The one-time gift is a polite way of saying, “I don’t trust what you said but it is easier to give you $25 than argue the point.”

Be humble and conservative when setting expectations about the results that will be produced. It is easy to be enthusiastic about the results a program will produce, especially when your client has a pressing need for the results. If you are proud of your nonprofit, the services it provides, and the impact your mission is having on your community, it is also easy to be enthusiastic about what your nonprofit intends to do. If your nonprofit’s results are significantly better than your competitors, it is easy to be enthusiastic about what your nonprofit has to offer. All of that may lead an organization to create expectations that are hard to fulfill. It is very difficult for donors to determine when it is honest enthusiasm or misleading information.

Cultivation is the best way to learn how to accurately communicate with your donors. Clear communications leads to better donor retention, higher donor engagement, and increasing donor generosity. All of which creates increased sustainability for your nonprofit and funding stream.

Being donor driven means more than doing what you must to satisfy a donor. It means living inside of your donors’ heads and hearts. When you see and feel the world through their eyes, ears, and hearts, it makes a significant difference in your fundraising.

Next Step:

Say what you mean and deliver on what you say

Ensure your donors hear what you mean (your results fulfill the expectations the donors develop by listening to what you said)

Ensure your cultivation provides you with the information you need to clearly communicate with your donors

Be donor centric in everything you and your nonprofit do

It is impossible to have flawless execution. When it is impossible to meet a donor’s expectations, be the first to tell them. If they hear it from some other source or discover it for themselves, it feels like the missed expectations were being hidden from them. If they hear it from you first, it is easy for them to believe that it is truly an unusual event and that you sincerely regret what happened. In that case, the donor might even be willing to make a special gift to help you recover or fix the flaw.

Fundraisers are the spokespersons for a nonprofit. What the fundraiser promises must be the results someone else produces. That means that the donors’ perceptions of the fundraiser’s integrity depends on the nonprofit’s ability to deliver. If the fundraisers claim to be donor centric, everyone must be donor centric.

Results are the ultimate measure of the promises made. The precursors to the results are the thoughts, words, and actions of the nonprofit. It all starts with your board. Your board must be donor driven when thinking about any policy, goal, program, or plan.

Take It Further:

Use what you learn from your donor cultivation to inform the donor-centric thinking of your board

Act as the donors’ representative to your board and advocate for what matters to your donors

Encourage your board to create and execute long-term plans that will delight your donors


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