There’s nothing wrong with a transaction. When I buy gas, I don’t need to develop a deep bond with the gas station (loyalty points are starting to make me think though.) But when I give to a charity, it’s personal. I'm making a gift to make a difference, to do my part to change the world for the better. Like most people, I want to do something bigger than myself. Of course, I want to give with my head and my heart so I want to know how a nonprofit will use the funds, how well managed the nonprofit is, and who it's helping — the impact of my gift.

More Than Just Being a Good Nonprofit

Making it personal goes beyond just the nonprofit is; it’s how they respond to me that determines how much I give now and I give in the future. Do they know and show my history with them? What have I heard about from them in the media and from friends and family? Who do I know personally on staff or the board? It’s a relationship, at least it starts that way most of the time.

When I make a gift and they respond late or inappropriately or not at all, it’s not a relationship I want. When they are not sharing with me what’s going on, I don’t think about them (REMEMBER: it's not the donors job to think about your organization!). If they act in a way that I wouldn’t act, I don’t want to associate with them.

So how do you make sure your organization is not being transactional with donors but engaging their head and heart? Here are eight areas to look, signs you’re in trouble and solutions to consider:

Email and mail is NOT personalized (ex. first name or preferred name), donor information is out of date or incomplete. Are you tracking your interactions with donors, volunteers, and those engaged on social media? Make information a priority. Use a database (or even better, Customer Relationship Management software!) to track and utilize the most up-to-date and useful information in building your relationships with donors. Bring the board, volunteers, and team up to speed on its value with reports. Learn who are your most engaged and committed.
Communications, Public Relations
Does your website give just the basics? Do you know who the local media is and they know you? Do they see you as the “go-to” organization for your cause? Get to know your local media and local community leaders and engage them. Ask the community what they think of your name, logo, and what experience they’ve had with your nonprofit. Once you gather information, take steps to address it. Invite the people to visit, communicate your mission and what you’re doing.
Your Brand
Is it just another logo? Do people who know you have an emotional, positive reaction? To your supporters, your “brand” (logo, and ALL) should prompt positive relations. You’re probably doing positive, emotionally compelling work, now just make sure people know it’s you!
Donor Relations (known as the relations you have with donors)
What’s that…Do you have a plan on how you treat donors? Is it carried out? Do you have a outdated legacy operation? Create, nurture, and develop your donor relations at ALL stages. How do you treat a first time donor or a loyal donor? Implement a plan to address this by segmenting and devoting time and attention to creating relationships with your donors through enhanced communications and personal outreach.
Yeah, we see them, they're here. This is truly a partnership at the highest level so there must be a trusting relationship. Mutual respect and mutual help. Develop this mindset and you’ll go far. And, ask them to contribute what they’re capable of at the level that shows they are truly committed, as a board member.
Are they being directed or are they doing all the directing? Are they a partner with you and do they act strategically? Are they financially contributing and generously? Would you be considered one of their top three charities? Treat them like an asset and partners. Don’t be afraid to ask them for support either BUT also acknowledge and thank them for their volunteer contribution
It’s one person, or maybe not being led? Yes, one person is "the" leader, but many people lead. Good leadership delegates and good followers know when to take initiative and lead. Develop leadership at all levels and don’t confine it to an area or program. Ideas are great, but they need people to drive them. Build a Culture of Philanthropy!
Not sure, or even worse… It’s the “feeling” you get from an organization. It’s a positivity that understands challenges. It’s a mindset that carries everyone through rough patches and change to a higher level each and every year.

And the Personal

All of these signs and solutions can be looked at as making your nonprofit more personal to your donors and volunteers. So if you're looking for simple ideas consider:

  • Board, volunteer, or staff personalized birthday cards WITH a note of how they've been a gift to the organization
  • Use social media to recognize a donor (one who's comfortable with it and has given you prior approval)
  • Send an annual report from the first year they made a gift noting they've helped the organization come a long way, it's can't be stated enough how powerful and simple this is.

The Most Immediate and Easiest Solution

Finally, the easiest way to move out of a transactional relationship is simply meeting people. Heather Yandow, a nonprofit consultant, trainer, and coach, recently studied 29 nonprofits with budgets under $2 million. She found the average organization only meets with 17 donors face-to-face throughout the year, equating to be about 9% of their donor base. As she notes, this is a great opportunity to build relationships. And here's how to do it step-by-step. Think of all those donors who would love to hear from you and find out your an organization is one they'll want to support with their head and heart!

These are just some of the ways in which you can begin to improve your major gift efforts, and I invite you to comment on other ideas and experiences that you feel would be effective.

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