Best and Worst Donor Practices

Piggy BankHere at RG are currently in the midst of our Fall Campaign.  You might have seen a spiffy looking mailer from us in your mailbox and you’ll likely getting a phone call soon. We are looking forward to chatting with all of you, getting some feedback on our work this year, collecting suggestions for RG’s future, and of course renewing your investment.

We are also heading to the busiest grant making time of year! Many of you have likely starting thinking about your giving already but I still felt that it’s an opportune time to share some collective knowledge from our allies and leaders around best and worst donor practices. Enjoy!

Compilation of Tips from Various Organizations: Best and Worst Practices by Donors

Best Practices

  • Making long-term commitments – Monthly sustainers and multi-year pledges

  • Giving for general operating support rather than restricted funds – don’t tell the organization where/how to spend the money

  • Following up on your pledges within a week – giving the money promptly without further follow up

  • Understand that we are counting on you – literally. Letting us know in advance that your circumstances were going to be changing and you would be giving less but that you still love us. So very thoughtful and helpful. We have a major donor who has been telling us for years that his gift will gradually decrease each year. Although we wish it were not so, being able to plan for that is really great.

  • Telling us the best way to contact you (and then actually responding to that mode of contact)

  • Telling others about us! Bragging about how proud you are to be a donor of ours – in conversation, on FB, on twitter, etc. Identifying yourself as a donor or member of ours. In other words, being a donor organizer.

  • Asking us (the organization) what we want and need. We have several donors who tell us early in the year “I am giving X amount this year, divide it up however you think is best.” That is so awesome.

  • Be involved in the org, not just as a donor. Find an “organizing home” and build trust by participating in the work. But don’t make assumptions about what that role should be; recognize that the org might feel pressured to give you an extra sweet volunteer role (or even create one for you) because of how much money you give, but that might not actually be what they need. Maybe that role is appropriate for your skills and talents… or maybe you should really just be stuffing envelopes for now. Stuffing envelopes is super important too.

  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Responding to calls/emails/texts/etc. within a week, even if you’re not able to talk or commit until longer-out from then.

  • Giving concrete numbers, even if you’re not committing at the moment (example – “I will consider giving between $1k and $2k”) so you know the ballpark of what the donor is thinking

  • Sharing with the organization exactly when you’ll send the money and doing it at the same time every year without even needing a reminder

  • Understanding and respecting that an organization has internal deadlines that are real and need to be respected. (Example – end of fiscal year, if we don’t get this money in this month we won’t make payroll, etc.)

Worst Practices

  • Making a pledge and not giving, for a long time, or ever

  • Not responding to contact. The more contact attempts, the more egregious this is.

  • Being oblivious to the fact that our attempts to communicate with you cost us money. Every appeal letter, email, phone call, and meeting = staff time, which = money. And as time goes on, stress too.

  • Being vague on what you’re able to commit numbers-wise (“I’ll think about giving something”) and timeline-wise (“I’ll get back to you after I figure some stuff out”)

  • Having a phone call to get a pitch even if you’re already dead-set on what you’re giving. If you are clear on your contribution amount and it’s non-negotiable, go ahead and give and communicate in advance. Do not waste the fundraisers’ time.

  • Being unreceptive to getting on the phone or having an in-person meeting – not considering a pitch, being unwilling to hear it.

  • Losing track of tax-exemption letters and asking the org. to re-send at a later date

  • Expecting us to jump at your ideas. We genuinely want to hear feedback from all of our members and donors. We really really do. Our members and donors are smart, and we don’t want anyone’s guilt or shame to prevent them from sharing their excellent ideas with us. So please do share your thoughts and ideas. But if you were raised with class privilege, you’re may well be accustomed to your people thinking your ideas are really especially wonderful. Remember that we have many smart people telling us things and you are just one of them. You wouldn’t want to support an org that values your ideas over a $50 donor’s, but the pressure to do so is immense. Share your feedback, but be humble.

  • Flitting around from org to org. As with any relationship, you should never stay out of obligation or guilt. People change and learn new things, and as you’re doing that, if you find something that is a better fit, you should take your money there. But make sure that’s why you’re doing it (not just because something new and shiny caught your eye.)

  • A donor having an idea about a project your org could take on, and excitedly pitching it to you with the promise they would fund to cover it…but no mention of what their financial support would look like should you decide their idea shouldn’t be an organizational priority or there’s not capacity for it.

Mixed Bag

  • As in most organizations, we try to meet with every major donor at least once a year. We have a handful of donors who say “I don’t need a meeting, don’t want to take up your time, I’ll just keep sending my check.” On the one hand, they are being respectful of our time and resources and we really appreciate that. Also maybe they just don’t enjoy those kinds of visits, and that’s fair, we want to respect that too. But on the other hand, the purpose of these meetings (for us, at least) isn’t just to ask you to give again/more. It’s also to deepen the relationship, which is truly, authentically important to us. So it kinda bums us out when we don’t get to do that. Again, if you just don’t have time and/or just don’t like meetings, that is fine. Above all, we appreciate the direct communication. But we would really love to have the chance to get to know you better and let you get to know us better. Cheesy but true. (Other orgs may feel differently about this.)

  • “I would/could give more if…” This is good if you are just letting us know what you’re thinking. You would give more if you saw more impacts of our work on fluffy kittens. This is fine, as long as you already know who we are and what we’re about and you’re realistic about that. We are not going to start measuring or, frankly, caring about the impacts of our work on fluffy kittens. But it’s really helpful for us to know where you’re at and what your priorities are. Maybe I can connect you with this fluffy kitten org that one of our grantees collaborates with. Or, you know what, maybe we are doing some of that fluffy kitten work and just never knew you were interested. Or this could lead to a great conversation where we both learn some things about fluffy kitten strategies and the pitfalls of kittenism. On the other hand (going back to “worst”), this is bad if you’re expecting your ideas to have more weight and/or you get annoyed when we don’t do the fluffy kitten thing,