Donor Fallacies

Nonprofit Tech
Dec 17, 2013 · 6 min read

Our Eyes Met and I Smiled

In the nonprofit community, there are a number of opportunities to talking about giving, donor management, creating donor relationships, and more. But I frequently wonder why, we so rarely talk about, why “donors don’t want to have a relationship with you.” The conversation around these issues are pre-staged. They seem to come from a place of “undeniable truth” —building a good relationship with your donors, have in the past and can in the future, build good donor relationships.

This conversation was sparked by Facebook’s announcement of a nonprofit donate button, or as Time Magazine titled it, “Facebook Launches New Donate Button Asking People to Put Money Where Their ‘Like’ Is”. This of course, sparked a number of conversations, on a number of channels that I frequent, but like most of these conversations the debate centered around, “why can’t nonprofits get access to the information they really need—donor contact data.”

Personally, I consider it a good thing, that Facebook isn’t sharing your donor information. I still find it surprising how many nonprofits, and businesses, consider that access to this data should be theirs. The truth I believe lies much closer to why there are a growing number of intermediates processing donations rather than donors giving directly to your organization. Most donors DONT WANT YOU TO HAVE THEIR DATA.

I’m an avid donor, to a large number of causes and campaigns. I do lots of small donations, and then maybe a couple times a year, I may make a few larger donations; and I block access to my contact information from going to the nonprofit or cause every chance I can. I can appreciate a well constructed donation campaign, and may even give to it, but let’s face it, most campaigns aren’t that well constructed, aren’t nearly as urgent as the organization states they are, and are just irritating in their preponderance. But I do like to help when I can.

My Smile Was Not an Invitation

We all want to think are campaigns and our organizations are better—we ask for permission; we have a donor engagement plan; etc., but I think in honest evaluation, we could probably mostly agree, that are organizations, just aren’t that much better at donor appeals and management, we’re just trying to be.

Now, I fully admit, my organization doesn’t do much to recruit individual donors. We do so for some specific projects and events, we do, but never really for general organization need, so in that sense, we are very, very, very lucky. But, as a technology consultancy, we work with a number of nonprofits and educational institutions that do seek, require, and need to grow their number of individual donors. So I see the need. I’ve helped build campaigns, provide guidance, etc.

What I frequently don’t understand is why nonprofits don’t really see a relationship as a two way street. If you want a friendship with your co-worker and they don’t want a friendship with you, then technically, there’s no friendship. You can still be as friendly as possible, without being intrusive, but a friendship won’t happen until something changes in the other person— assuming that their avoidance isn’t due to you directly.

The Pando Daily article, “Facebook rolls out Donate button. “Gee thanks,” sigh charities” is a good read. Not just for articulating what I believe, and based on others’ responses, they believe as well, nonprofits want out of Facebook. But for me, it also highlights, that despite all the progress—technology changes, admirable use of technology changes, and some really great social media efforts— the ties to, perhaps, a dying way of thinking about donors, at least most donors.

“Why Can’t I Quit You?” Srsly, I Said Stop

It’s not like 50 years ago or even 5 years ago, where ‘moments’ were few and far between. We make everything a moment, from getting out of bed to sharing our first kiss to break-ups, even death isn’t immune to it— as I can attest from recent inclusion in ‘the memorialize and celebrate a life well lived Facebook pages’ to a surprising / not-so-surprising receipt of Facebook ‘suicide notes’.

They’re all moments of indeterminate value, maybe shared with the hope that someone else will assign value to them, because we have one or two generations of people who just don’t know how, why or when to attach significant value to things.

Maybe, most donors don’t want to have a relationship with you (us); and maybe that should be perfectly fine for us. I agree with Beth Kanter on a lot of things, but… “All good fundraisers know that [the donation moment] is just the beginning of a relationship,” quote isn’t one of them. I think it use to be true, but it’s no longer true across the board.

In our life stories, where everyone is creating moments, and most have not assigned real value to those moments, as of yet. That great food dish you ate and posted a picture of yesterday, may have the equivalent value as the picture you took of a rescue dog you visited at the shelter today. Most donations today and probably into the future are just moments. And just like, I don’t want to give you my contact information after sharing a ‘good morning’ with you on the bus, maybe I don’t want to share my contact information with you after giving your nonprofit a donation.

The Kindness of Strangers

In the barrage of micro-interactions, online and offline, that we have with so many individuals and organizations, the pursuit of a relationship could be ‘stalker-like’. Every smile isn’t a come on. Often its just a smile. And I’d argue, that micro-donations have become digital smiles for organizations.

In terms of engagement progression, this may mean that the ‘Like’ is the equivalent of a nod. But let’s face the truth, both the ‘Like” and the ‘Donation” are worth significantly less than they were. Some may argue this is deflation of value, but maybe its just a return to “true” value. $25 is just twenty-five dollars, not $25 and two years worth of mailings, invitations, and additional requests for more money, before we finally hate your organization with an indescribable passion. But, you know… “they still probably do good work, but good god, don’t get on their mailing list.”

Relationships are hard work, and donor relationships can be significantly harder work, due to the misalignment of indicators of progression. There are significantly more nonprofits than ever before. Which means more appeals, more wading through email, snail mail, and now text messages; and now less significance to individual appeals, because, they all should be important, but its harder to determine what’s more important to me—do natural disasters take precedent over local issues?

Trying to advance a relationship too soon, can be an excessive use of the word “tragic”.

We’ve learned or will learn, that giving out our contact information too soon is a bad thing. Regardless if your nonprofit is great, and all your staff members believe they won’t, contact information received too early in the relationship will probably end up being abused.

The efforts to create a relationship with someone, will then become their regret to ever saying ‘hi’ to you. We should admire, accept, and return the smile or nod to those who wish to participate in the ‘kindness of strangers’ phenomena. Random giving is growing. People want to be good. They want to believe in humanity. They want footnotes in their collected moments, that convey the story of a good and caring person, even if they haven’t fully actualized it, yet. They want to be non-relationship donors, because we don’t need to be your friend or partner to occasionally help out. We just can.

I believe for social media donations, we need to worry less about the possibility of creating future relationships with people, then just creating moments where people feel compelled to randomly give. Give them a reason to collect the moment; stop thinking of it as a moment to collect their data.

Random Thoughts on Online Giving

Inspired by a Facebook adds Donate Button.

    Nonprofit Tech

    Written by

    Founder & Executive Director of Nonprofit Tech. Speaker and enthusiast on nonprofits, technology, web design, social media, open everything, and general geekery

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