Through the letterbox

Published by Alison McCants on

As Reinier discussed in his recent 101fundraising post, the 90-degree shift isn’t exactly breaking news… but is it really happening in fundraising? Or are we perhaps seeing it as just another box to tick, another marketing incantation to bandy about the meeting room (think ‘synergy’ or ‘paradigm shift’ – you know, the kinds of things Lindsey Naegle of The Simpsons might say).

But I have to admit, sometimes the theory is easier to grasp than the practical implementation. Here are some rules of thumb I try to bear in mind to make sure I keep the donor front of mind in everything we do.

Prioritise – what would actually make a difference to the donor?
I’ve recently discovered that something I was working on was perhaps a bit less donor-centric than we may have originally thought.

Our welcome programme was elaborate, hard to fulfil, time-consuming – but actually, strangely, didn’t include much feedback about what their money was doing (!). We had so many other bells and whistles that we forgot the basics. A fortnightly rolling programme that neglected to include so much as a newsletter. Oops.

There’s an amazing array of things you can do with data and print production; it’s easy to get caught up with ideas of how to use it. But always ask, does it matter to the donor? Will it really make them feel better about giving, give them joy from the transaction, or will it just be another piece of charity mail that’s just…there?

Reading between the trends
Take the non-obligatory ‘shopping list’ tacked onto an otherwise impersonal or dubious letter – yeah, we included it, but did we also write a vague letter on glossy leaflets that seem a million miles away from the poverty we’re talking about? Did we digitally print a hand-signed signature while getting the donor’s name wrong?

Fundraising isn’t rocket science but it’s not just a checklist either. These trends, these tricks we read about in blogs and books are not important as an empty gesture.

The shopping list represents transparency. The hand-signed letter, a personal touch. The thank you letter is gratitude and appreciation. The survey should be a genuine interest in our donors and their views on a subject that matters to them.

When we see the trend but forget the meaning, we’re not actually practicing the 90 degree shift; we’re giving it (and our donors) lip service.

Forget yourself
I donate to several charities, and while I’ve come to appreciate the organisations I support, I started purely by caring about the cause. The brand of the organisation didn’t matter. I gave money to close orphanages overseas and return these children to loving family homes; the specific charity was my way to do it.

Over time, I developed a relationship with the organisation that does that. There are at least two that I know of, but Hope and Homes for Children is the one I got to know so that’s the one I support. I trust them. I feel appreciated. I have a history with them. I’ve seen their progress over the past four years.

But if they somehow lost my trust overnight, I could take my money and my hunger for change elsewhere. It’s as simple as that. My loyalty still lies with the cause, not the specific registered charity number.

That said, I don’t believe that will happen. Just look at my thank you note from my first gift in 2008 (and yes, I actually kept it and still have it four years and three house moves later). A golden example of 90-degree shift.

The photo of the children waving at the top of this page is the front of my thank you card. There’s some info on the back about Hope and Homes for Children. And inside, a handwritten note thanking me for my gift. Ironically, they spelled my name wrong (‘Miss Cants’ as opposed to Miss McCants), but it didn’t bother me one bit. It just seemed like a human error on a very human piece of mail.

But it gave me real joy. I felt a real connection to the cause, the people behind it, and the people they’re we are helping. I felt really involved and still do, to this day. And that’s how donors should feel when we really practice the 90 degree shift.

Alison McCants

Fundraiser with a passion for charities. Currently Alison is Direct Marketing Manager at The Brooke, a leading UK charity dedicated to improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules (all views are my own). I am a member of the Institute of Fundraising (IOF) in the UK and hold a Certificate in Fundraising Management MInstF(Cert) from the IOF.


Rachel Beer · August 19, 2011 at 13:28

Fab post, Alison. Couldn’t agree more with the points you make – great advice.

I also love the thank you from Hope and Homes for Children and wish there was more ‘donor stewardship’ like this around (actually, I far prefer ‘donor care’, as it helps us remember that we should be caring for our donors, rather than stewarding them, which brings to mind being directed around a county show car park by a disinterested operative in a hi-vis!).

I have had the great pleasure to work with Hope and Homes and they have a very strong and deeply genuine donor-centric culture. Because this drives their decisions, the way they communicate with their donors is highly authentic, as opposed to contriving to be.

alan gosschalk · August 20, 2011 at 08:40

thanks for the plug! Have been a trustee for 6 years. A great charity! x

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