Want to Raise More Money? Be Honest.
Trust. Honesty. Integrity.
These are all motivators or demotivators for donors to financially support a nonprofit. It’s generally accepted but necessarily appreciated, that one of the prime factors in donors giving or giving again is trust in the organization.
What kind of trust?
The common thought is that transparency and accountability (especially related to impact) are key concerns on the part of donors. And there are loads of articles written annually about trust. A 2022 report from Morning Consult studied trust in nonprofits, and found that although most Americans (57%) trust nonprofits, 43% say that they’ve “experienced a loss of trust with a nonprofit”. These numbers are lower than other sectors, but still, it’s not great to find that nearly half of the population doesn’t trust you — before they even hear/see a pitch.
Also from the Morning Consult report, we learn that Gen Z Americans say that “giving directly to individuals and causes makes a bigger impact than giving to nonprofits.” This is largely due to many young people not trusting institutions (although they do trust smaller nonprofits more than large ones.) Good for giving in general, but not so good for nonprofit organizations.
In that same report. Morning Consult writes that for nonprofits to build trust, they must “…do what they say and say what they do”.
Sounds obvious and simple, right?
There are three things that some nonprofits do that make me (and most donors, I think) queasy — evoking a feeling that something’s “not right” — and what follows is a sense that you can’t trust that organization.
The three things are:
Not being clear about what your nonprofit is about. In this example, a nonprofit will send solicitations using initials alone instead of the full name of the organization. It may be that the organization changed its name to just the initials years ago — in an effort to be more succinct — but if that “name” isn’t at all descriptive of the nonprofit, how is a donor to know who they’re supposed to be giving to? The result is that the donor tosses, deletes, or ignores the solicitation, and it also often results in the donor feeling ignorant or not “in the know”. This can make the donor feel alienated from giving to nonprofits in general.
Pretending that there’s an emergency when there’s not. I personally witnessed an example of an organization calling for donations to deal with an emergency that had long since been resolved. In fact, this organization hid the facts about the resolution for several days (weeks?) in order to raise more money using the “emergency” scheme. Another example similar to this is when a nonprofit sends me a notification that I’ve been “selected” for some special benefit, and when I read the solicitation I realize that it’s just a come-on. Our sector should not have to resort to hustles, and if that type of marketing stops, it’ll go a long way towards stopping the ongoing decline of donor retention rates.
Evading answers to my questions. If they’re going to be meeting with donors or prospective donors, fundraisers should be prepared to answer a donor’s questions. Questions that should be considered standard are questions about the organization’s programs, impact, challenges (both financial and otherwise), competition/similar organizations and the history of the organization, as well as an understanding of the wide array of ways that a donor can support that NPO.
They should also have some familiarity with your organization’s budget. If a nonprofit “sends” someone to meet with me who doesn’t know — at least in broad terms — the answer to the questions above, that plants a seed in my brain that perhaps the organization either (a) doesn’t have their “act together”, or (b) for some reason can’t attract professional fundraisers, or (c) doesn’t care enough about staff to sufficiently train them. If any of those are true, I’m unlikely to give to the organization, and I’ll already be thinking how I can end the conversation.
However, the pitch/meeting can be saved (somewhat) if the fundraisers just says “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”. That statement pulls me right back into the conversation, and assuming the fundraiser gets back to me promptly with answers, I’ll be impressed enough to strongly consider making a donation.
The newly released AFP/Fundraising Effectiveness Project report shows that both the number of donors and revenue from charitable donations have decreased — for the first time since that data’s been tracked. Most nonprofits do excellent work and have wonderful success stories to tell. We don’t need to make up stories or hide the truth — we just need to be honest, authentic, impactful, and passionate. Didn’t Mom say that honesty is the best policy?
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