NONPROFIT 101: BOOK REPORTS AND LOVE LETTERS—Creating Donor-Centric Communication for Greater Fundra


Among the many “buzz words” in our philanthropic sector, perhaps the most often-used ones are “donor-centric”. But, what exactly does “donor-centric” mean? And why does it matter?

Mirror Mirror

Many (most) nonprofits speak from an organizational viewpoint—they relate stories of the good works that it is doing in the communities that it serves.

And, on the surface, this is an important and sound way to keep its name front-of-mind with donors in the crowded nonprofit space. And, after all, Nike, Coca-Cola, and Apple continuously talk about what they will do for the consumer—if it works for them, it should work for mynonprofit.org!

While this “should” be true, the nonprofit sector is different. How is it different?

  • Every nonprofit survives and thrives through the generosity of its donors.

  • Donors choose to support a nonprofit because of a desire to make the world a better place.

  • Donors choose a particular nonprofit because they align with the mission and impact of that NPO.

  • Donors have every right to change their mind how, when and if they will continue to support said NPO.

  • Without donor support, the NPO is nothing more than an inspiring mission.

Turning the Mirror Outward

Most NPOs operate with blind-spots. Blind spots are where our misperceptions and misplaced attention lives. For NPOs, this generally takes the form of looking in the mirror to see the good it is doing, in place of turning the mirror outward to reflect to its supporters the good they are doing.

So how do EDs/boards turn the mirror? It begins with a willingness to accept that they are personally unimportant—the mission is what matters, and donors fuel the mission.

Now, this can be a bitter pill to swallow. We are all professionals who work hard to give that mission life. And that’s true…we are the hands and feet that carries the mission into the world. But, donors are the heart that keeps the hands and feet moving.

Book Reports and Love Letters

Where to Begin? Begin, simply, with how your organization “speaks” to its “hearts”.

If an organization reads through its communications (newsletters, solicitations, thank you/stewardship letters) with an objective eye, frequently it will begin to notice that it reads more like a book report and less like a love letter.

Reporting is important—in the right context. If your organization distributes an annual report, this is absolutely the place for transparent detailing of what impact your team has made. Newsletters, solicitations and stewardship communications are not.

Flipping the Script

So, how does a book report become a love letter? By crafting your communications through the following “lens”:

Read through your past 1-2 years of newsletters, solicitations, and stewardship communications:

  • Note how often does “we” (your NPO) is credited?

  • Note how often is "you" (the donor) is credited?

Start fresh with a dedication to shifting “We” to “You”:

  • The simple shift is to apply the 80/20 rule—from this point forward, credit “you” (the donor) 80% of the time and "we" (the NPO) 20% of the time.

Example of donor-negligent messaging: “We did this. We did that. We were amazing. Oh, by the way, thanks.

Example of donor-centric messaging: "With your help, all these amazing things happened. And without your help, they won't."

For most NPOs, the difference between sustainability and growth, and struggle, is very small shifts in how it communicates and carries out its mission. Begin today to move from the “hands” to the “heart” and watch your organization grow.

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Contact me for a complimentary discussion of how small shifts might yield powerful growth in how you serve your mission.

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#Nonprofit #Board #Donor #Leadership

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