How do your donors see themselves? Do they seem in “awe” of your program staff, or thank your staff for the work they are doing when they meet them at events? Do your donors say things like, “I’m just glad to be able to help out… you guys (the program staff) are doing the real work…?”
You may think that statements like these are a good thing, because they show that your donors really understand and care about your work. However, in my experience, if your donors say these things, chances are your fundraising program has a big problem.
An Artificial Divide
When donors are self-deprecating about their role in your organization, it is often because your team has unconsciously created an artificial divide between fundraising and program work. This separation is created when your organization makes donors feel like there are two steps to your work: first, donors provide funding, for which you are thankful. Then, your organization takes the money and does the work.
If your donors feel like there is a divide between funding and program work, they almost always assume that their role is less important than the program team’s role… and in reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
When donors get this feeling, it doesn’t come from the ether… something in your donor cultivation strategy is making them feel this way, even if it is unintentional. Often, it’s because your staff and board haven’t yet prioritized fundraising as equal to program work, no matter how important you may think your revenue is to your overall success.
In order to create a truly prevailing non-profit, your donors need to feel like they are part of one big happy family, comprised of funders, fundraisers, program staff, support personnel and administrators, all with their own equally important roles, all working together to carry out the mission of the organization.
Making Donors Feel Like an Integral Part of Your Team
So… how can your non-profit tear down the barriers and make your donors feel like an integral part of your team?
The first step is to change your communications. Stop referring to donors as “you” and “them” and your program team as “us” and “we.” You’re all “we.” Without your donors, none of the program staff would have jobs, much less be able to carry out the work of the organization. Talk to your donors as members of the same team.
Second, be sure to respect your donors for more than just their ability to give. Just as you should be asking your program staff for occasional help with fundraising (which is ultimately everyone’s responsibility), you should occasionally be asking your donors for help with non-financial needs. This means asking donors to volunteer. It also means asking donors for their advice, either through surveys or through one-on-one meetings.
Finally, make sure that your donors get to know your program staff as peers. Invite your donors to expert presentations attended by your staff. Give your donors a chance to socialize at cultivation events with your team. Ask program team members to accompany your development staff on fundraising meetings. Let your donors see that the program staff are their colleagues in carrying out your common mission.
The more your donors see everyone at your non-profit as one big team all working together for the common good, the more they will remain loyal to supporting your organization for years to come.
Photo Credit: Guirec Maugat