I firmly believe charities should learn from each other – why should we all have to make the same mistakes? I learn loads from what The Whiny Donor shares and I constantly aspire to not appear on her Twitter feed. I was lucky enough to have her answer a few questions…
Who are you?
I’m a late-middle-aged American woman, affluent but by no means super-rich. I would characterize myself as a good mid-level donor. Most of the nonprofits my husband and I support are arts & cultural organizations and social service agencies in the city in which we live. I serve on two local boards, so our largest annual donations go to them, and we have given what they would consider major gifts for special campaigns.
How many charities’ mailing lists are you on?
Last year, we donated to around 25 charities. We probably get solicited by about a dozen more.
I feel like I learn from your negative experiences. Is that why you share? Do you think others are improving their donor care because of you?
I started tweeting as The Whiny Donor three years ago. Because I am involved as a volunteer fundraiser, I was an avid reader of Network for Good’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog, which at the time was written by Katya Andresen. I had emailed her about a couple of incidents as a donor that I thought she might address, and she turned it into a blog entitled “An anonymous letter that all fundraisers should read.” It turned out to be very popular, and I realized that the donor’s perspective might be a welcome, necessary addition to the fundraising community. Twitter became my vehicle of choice.
I remain anonymous for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to call out a specific charity for a fundraising fail, so I use the general word “you”. It is never my intent to embarrass anyone directly by naming them. So my readers can’t say to themselves, “OMG, I can’t believe So-and-So did that so horribly!” Instead, they’ll wonder, “OMG, are WE doing that?” On more than one occasion, I’ve had a reader ask if I’m referring to their organization. So far, it’s only been coincidental! But I like to think that I’ve helped some fundraisers take a harder look at some of their practices and perhaps improve them. Of course, my tweets are my personal opinions, peeves and quirks only, never to be confused with tested fundraising research or even general consensus.
Can you give an example of really lovely donor care?
One of my most meaningful donor experiences was a phone call I received from an executive director of a crisis services agency a few days after I sent in my annual donation. He thanked me for my gift, and we had a long conversation about why I supported his organization. A family member has required the kinds of services his agency provides, so it was a deeply personal dialogue, and I was very glad for the opportunity to share my story.
Can you give an example of really awful donor care?
Ironically, this very same organization sent me a generic appeal a few months later. Their reply form listed several giving levels, but they’d circled $50 with a note saying “This will really help!” I give at the $500 level. This isn’t the first time I’ve received an appeal from an organization suggesting I give LESS than my last gift. I can’t imagine why they’d tempt fate like that. I had poured my heart out to their executive director on the phone, so the impersonal appeal was a bucket of cold water.
Trust in charities isn’t great right now. As a donor, what do we need to do to turn this around and what’s the first step?
As for accountability, most of our giving goes to organizations with which we have some personal connection. The majority is given locally, so between news reports, knowing people involved or participating directly ourselves, we have a pretty good idea that the charity is both trustworthy and worthy of our support.
What would a charity have to do to get you involved, and make the first donation?
I’m not sure how a charity could get me to be a new donor. I’m particularly unlikely to respond to a new solicitation from a national charity. But my husband is different–every so often, something captures his imagination and he’ll make a one-time donation. Maybe it’s a left brain-right brain thing (he majored in engineering; I majored in English), but he cares not a whit for stewardship, whereas I’m looking for a long-term relationship. Stewardship is what makes my mid-level gifts creep higher over the years. For example, I attended a “See Us in Action” event last summer, and that resulted directly in an increase in our year-end annual donation.
I’ve heard experts say that there’s no such thing as over-solicitation, but I have certainly stopped giving to charities who have sent me too much direct mail, and I unsubscribe when it feels like I’m getting too many emails. How do I measure “too much?” Hard to say. When it irritates me, it’s too much.