It’s been a while since I’ve sat down to write my thoughts on fundraising, leadership or other issues pertinent to our industry. But life for me has been disheveled since the early part of this year when my 90-year-old mom was admitted to the hospital. For four weeks she battled her illness, but on March 4th, she succumbed and quietly passed away.
I now understand the emotional and physical trauma people experience in such a difficult time as life careens in directions you cannot control. And I now appreciate how long it takes to try and gain some semblance of balance again. So thanks for bearing with me.
For months now I’ve been thinking a lot about a question that keeps surfacing over and over again. At its core, it has to do with the frequency of communication with a donor but manifests itself in a number of ways.
Some simply question how often they should mail a letter or email their donors. Others flip that question and assume an infrequent communication strategy is normal and resist any notion of increasing the frequency. Generally, what I find is that for most people in fundraising (or their CEOs/boards), there is a built-in resistance to regular, frequent communication.
The concern for most is based on a false premise that donors don’t want to hear from an organization they support except infrequently… they don’t want to be bothered by annoying communication, either in the mail or online.
Let’s think about this premise in real life.
First, I would say this premise is correct if you view your donors as commodities rather than people. You don’t build a relationship with a commodity, so save the time, money and energy and keep contact to a minimum. Commodities don’t feel, think or bond.
The problem is, your donors are not a commodity but living human beings. And the most significant thing that defines us as humans is relationships. The ability to build deep and meaningful relationships with other human beings… friendships, familial bonds, partnerships, neighbors and marriages… to name a few.
The question must then be asked, “How do we form those relationships?” Well, one indispensable medium is communication. In fact, I’m sure every married couple has heard the advice that communication is what makes for a great marriage.
I remember well the days of dating my wife. I couldn’t wait to hear from her, either by phone or letter (yep, the dark days before the internet). And I couldn’t wait to talk with her. In fact, we were away from each other for a summer (it seemed like a lifetime) and we wrote to each other EVERY day. Phoning each other was cost prohibitive because there was this thing called “long distance charges”.
My behavior wasn’t out of the ordinary. As humans, we naturally default to increasing our communication with those with whom we want to build a relationship.
And it’s no different for donor relationships. The strength of the relationship with your donors will be directly correlated to your communications with them.
If you show up every few months, you subliminally communicate disinterest and you will create a lukewarm relationship that will be difficult to sustain. But if you reach out with regularity, you demonstrate interest that can indeed become the seedbed for a long and healthy relationship.
There is a lot more I want to say on this, especially about the type and content of such communication, which I will address in my upcoming posts. But think about what I’ve laid out here. How do you view communication with donors? Are you a “less-is-more” communicator? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.
By: Rick Dunham