How answering ‘Why’ and ‘What’ could change your fundraising

Published by Charlie Hulme on

a.k.a. how much money would you raise if you knew anything meaningful about ‘your’ donors?

Do you recognize her?

She’s been on your house file for three and a half years now. Each month she gives you the £3 you originally asked her for. She’s comfortably off, supports many other causes and could easily afford to give you more.

But she never has (despite many, many, many letters, emails, texts, and phone calls, along with a ton of ‘engaging’ content on WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook etc.)

what-if-and-why-notWhat’s missing in your ‘relationship’ with her?

You know exactly how old she is, where she lives, the channel she was recruited on. And of course you know how she gives and how much.

But do you know why she gives?

There are any number of possible answers. Maybe she:

  • Has a direct personal connection?
  • Maybe she has an indirect connection?
  • Has no connection whatsoever, but feels you do good work?
  • Wants to pay it forward?
  • Wants to assuage guilt?
  • Is benevolent?
  • Wants to feel the ‘warm glow’ of giving?
  • Just never got around to cancelling (apathy and loyalty look identical on your CRM!)

Can you accurately say which of the above are true for her?

Let’s say you’re a health charity. Does she have a connection to the disease you’re trying to treat/prevent/cure? Do the ’emotional’ stories you tell help her connect to something of which she has no experience? Or do they deeply upset her, bringing up traumatic memories she wishes she could forget?

Or, let’s say you’re a national wildlife charity operating nature reserves. Does she want to take her children and foster in them a love of the outdoors? Does she appreciate the magazines etc. you produce for kids? Or does she use your reserves as quiet time for herself, and deeply resent your damaging the environment sending her magazines she puts straight in the recycling bin?

Or, let’s say you’re an international development charity. Does she wish she could do more; that she could feel useful and somehow connected? Or does she wish you’d stop diluting her donation by sending her a ton of appeals and information she’s never going to have time to read?

lady readingOr [insert your cause here]?

The only reason for not knowing why she gives is not caring enough to find out.

But even if we knew why she gave we still wouldn’t know what, of all the ‘experiences’ you create for her, matter to her.

By the most lenient definition our sector sends donors an awful lot of ‘stuff’. Step outside your silo for a minute and think about how much content you, brand, comms, donor/member services etc. is sending her, in as many communication channels as you have contacts for her.

It’s all creating an impression on her. It can’t all matter to her. And of the things that do matter, they can’t all matter equally. Yet we waste an enormous amount of time, effort and money producing and sending them to her anyway.

So, look at your donor again. Before you spend all that time, effort and money trying to ‘engage’ her, can you say, for certain, how much of her lifetime value is driven by:

  • The magazine; does she read it or bin it?
  • Core messages; is she moved/motivated by messages A and B, or C and D?
  • The last upgrade campaign (regardless of channel)? Like most people she didn’t respond. But did exposure to it help or harm the way she thinks and feels about you?
  • As above, but this time for requests to volunteer, campaign etc.?
  • The services or activities you offer?

Again the only honest answer a fundraiser can give is an embarrassed shrug of the shoulders.

Inability to understand why she gives, and what builds on that, is the root cause of our inability to dent mission.

So what can we do?

Donor engagementWe all know surveys tell us what people say they’ll do, but rarely tally with what they’ll actually do.

And we all know transactional data on who gave, when and how tells us absolutely nothing about why they gave (or ever would again).

Only by combining the two can you get the answers to who, what and why. Only then can we make any meaningful change in the world.

PS for fundraisers in the UK there’s a bitter irony to having not serviced their donors fundraising preference; the imminent, and potentially catastrophic, fundraising preference service.


Charlie Hulme

Charlie Hulme

Charlie is MD of Donor Voice. He helps charities uncover what, of all the things they do, cause relationship strength and what is harmful. Partners see a massive improvement in performance, value and retention. Voted top speaker at the Institute of Fundraising's National Convention in 2013, he writes frequently for SOFII, 101 Fundraising, the Institute of Fundraising and many others.


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