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Linda Lysakowski, ACFRE

About Linda

The New Donor: Are You Ready?

The new donor is different. Gone are the days when people gave to the same old reliable charities because “It’s the thing to do,” or “My parents always supported this cause,” or “They have a great reputation.”

Today’s donors are looking for results, and they need to feel for passion in their own hearts for the cause or the project.

I’ve given lots of advice on how donors choose a charity with their head:

  • Read its 990 forms
  • Ask if the charity follows the Donor Bill of Rights and if it has a Code of Ethics
  • Make sure the charity is registered in your state if required to do so
  • Ask if it has a strategic plan
  • Check to see who is on the board

I still argue that all of these things are important, but donors also choose with their heart.

Some of us naturally have a heart for certain organizations because we have a personal connection with either the organization or the cause. Sometimes it is easy to identify with a disease-related organization if that disease claimed the life of a loved one. Or giving to your alma mater or local hospital because of the feeling of gratitude. But how do donor develop the passion for an organization that they might not have a close personal relationship with already—the kind of passion that might motivate them to serve on the board, to volunteer, to give an annual gifts, and eventually make your organization their charity of choice for the ultimate gift?

The New Donor Will Test the Charity

When donors read a letter from your organization, does it “grab them by the throat” and, more importantly, by the heartstrings? A letter is often the first contact the donor will have with your charity. But it will take more than words on a piece of paper to make them feel that passion.

They will most likely attend some events you run. Do you tell a story at your events, or do you just invite people to play golf, buy a silent auction gift, or attend an open house? If you’re smart, you will tell a powerful emotional story.

Doing it Wrong. Really, Really, Wrong.

Here’s a classic example of an organization that did it all wrong:

A human service agency that served people with disabilities held an annual awards dinner, where it recognized donors, volunteers, and others. But did it have a person with a disability give a testimonial or tell a powerful story? No. And worse yet, the president of the organization wanted to recognize his board members, so he asked them all to stand as he called out their names. After he mentioned the names of twenty-one board members, only four were in attendance and stood up to be recognized. Did this send a message that he had passionate, caring board members? Absolutely not! In fact, people commented about the fact that the board members, who should care more than the rest of the community about an organization, did not even bother to show up at this event. This was, frankly, malpractice. It worked against any chance of instilling passion in any of the attendees.

The new donors will want to talk to staff, to volunteers, to clients, to board members. Such donors may wonder what drives them to work with your organization. They’ll talk to their friends and find out if they support your organization, and why?

The New Donor May Visit Your Organization

The new donor may even visit your organization and see if the staff looks happy. Ask yourself if your staff has passion for your mission?

Doing it Right

An example of an organization that got this message loud and clear is a free medical clinic, whose staff members are mostly volunteers except for a paid medical director and a few other administrative staff members. The clinic holds weekly tours for potential volunteers and donors. It is so apparent that this group has a real passion for what they do every day that almost everyone who tours cannot help but catch that passion. The clinic’s case for support quotes several clients whose stories are so compelling it is hard for the reader not to feel passion!

Let your donors interact with clients whenever possible. They will tell the “rest of the story.” For example, my husband is currently in a long-term care facility. After speaking with staff members and residents themselves, it was obvious that the place is filled with passionate people who love what they do. I couldn’t help but feel that passion myself, and have made donations of both volunteer time and money.

The New Donor Thinks with Mind and Heart

Today’s donors think with both mind and heart about the charities they want to support. Find out: What is their passion? What brings tears to their eyes? What makes them laugh with joy? What makes them feel inspired? What makes them angry enough to fight an injustice?

As Azeem said to Robin Hood in the movie, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves: “Is she worth dying for?” This is passion! Is your charity worth dying for? Although no charity will likely ever ask donors to die for it, a smart charity is one that donors would remember in their will. Do your donors feel that much passion for your organization? If not, they will keep looking for one for which they do feel that passion!


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