can be frustrating and exhausting.
Living through the relentless barrage of solicitations — all the way up until midday (or later) on 12/31, it occurred to me that two things are true: All of us — fundraisers and donors alike —are trying to do good, and we can all easily get frustrated and exhausted in the process.
I know that fundraisers need to meet their goals. After all, their success or failure directly impacts the health of their organization, and, in turn, the people or causes that the charity supports. The idea that so many nonprofits have a fixed list of names/prosects/donors they must regularly contact — regardless of past results, personality fits, or even the contact’s level of interest — can be, on its own, daunting. I read recently that many organizations refuse to allow a “new” prospect to be contacted by a fundraiser unless someone in the existing batch is removed first. (I so hope that “removed” doesn’t mean that they have to be deceased…)
So does that mean that if you meet a great prospect at a cocktail party, you have to think twice about telling them about your great company and soliciting them?
That seems counter-intuitive and counterproductive.
But to continually push emails, texts and calls — going from occasionally to weekly to daily, and then, in the last weeks of the calendar year, to multiple times a day, frantically saying “it’s your last chance to donate!”, doesn’t seem logical, and it certainly doesn’t feel good. In fact, most people I know start disliking the organization, (the “brand”), by the time the emails start coming more than once a week.
It’s funny — the organization can be doing great, wonderful, life-changing work. But if I get emails every day telling me that it’s my last chance to donate, chances are that I’ll associate the organization with a feeling of annoyance far more than with the great work that they do.
On top of that, the slow pace of receiving thank you notes (even via email, text, or otherwise) —especially in Q4 of every year— is beyond disappointing. One of my Twitter followers, a fundraiser in her own right, made about 20 donations (cash) this past December. She had something like two thank yous a week later. Not good.
I’ve heard from some fundraisers that they work so hard with so few resources, that donors’ expectations for things like thank you notes just isn’t fair or reasonable. I had one Twitter follower attack me online, saying that I had insulted her in suggesting that she provide timely thank-you notes to her donors. It’s hard to hear this and not think “aha!” when considering the statistic that upwards of 60% of first time donors don’t donate a second time. It’s hard work, with limited resources for support.
Some fundraisers have taken their frustration a bit too far. Suggesting that a donor asking for a thank-you is obnoxious and not caring about the fundraiser — because the fundraiser works so hard and nobody’s taking note of that — gives me pause. These conflicting expectations suggest that one or more of the following is true:
- The fundraiser is not aligned with the mission of the nonprofit. Asking for money all day is super hard work in general, but it’s all the more difficult if you haven’t internalized the mission and vision or care deeply about the cause. If you aren’t really into the cause, the work will likely become excruciating. (And you probably shouldn’t be doing it.)
- The fundraiser is aligned with the cause, but is burnt out. This is typically an organizational issue. Most of us know that nonprofits (as all employers) need to respect and care for their staff. Board members and company officers need to be keenly aware that development is hard work, and staff need to be supported.
- The organization itself doesn’t care about donors — seeing them only as a means to an end, and, in the extreme, as idiots with money. I hope that this isn’t the case with any fundraiser, but I fear that it’s the norm more than anyone will admit.
Perhaps there’s another reason to explain the defensiveness, but the statistic that fundraisers stay in their positions for 18 months on average, and over half want to leave their line of work in the next two years, seems to be on target.
So….if you’re a fundraiser, consider creating a new set of “terms of engagement” with me — and with anyone who donates to your organization:
- I’ll respect your time, hard work, and dedication to the mission of doing good. I can only imagine that dealing with hundreds of donors — donors that run the gamut from low-key to super high maintenance — can’t be easy.
- I’ll try to be helpful to you any way I can, and try to stay out of your way as appropriate.
- I’ll be part of your fan club and congratulate you on your big wins.
- Don’t come on so strong that I want to block your emails. I don’t want to do that, and if I feel you caused me to block your emails, that’s definitely not helpful to you or your cause. Or mine.
- If you don’t thank me when I give you something — I don’t care if it’s a banana or an invitation or a donation to your charity — I’m likely to notice, be annoyed, or even offended. And I probably won’t want to interact with you again.
Please remember: We’re all in this together, so let’s change our relationship to one of mutual respect, and in turn, we might be able to turn our frustration to joy and gratitude. And then we’ll have much greater success in achieving our noble goals.
Lisa also founded two healthcare-related companies and a strategic advisory firm specializing in digital media and entertainment. As a Hollywood studio executive, Lisa oversaw the creation of the online divisions at NBC and Universal Studios, while also launching pioneering ventures into music webcasting. Lisa is a mother of five and lives with Josh and their two youngest children in Los Angeles.