What Rights Do Your Donors Have?

billofrights 2014-April02

You know how it feels to be treated shabbily. You buy something, there’s a problem, and you might as well be a pile of sawdust when you try to get someone to help you solve the problem. It feels terrible. And you would never treat anyone that way yourself!

This is what we hear from many leaders, managers and MGOs – that they would NEVER treat others like they have been treated. And yet, when we dig into how their organizations treat their donors, we find things like this:

  1. The organization banks the gift from the donor in a nanosecond, but allows the thank you process to drag on for weeks, and sometimes months. You cannot believe how often this happens. The money is valued, the donor isn’t.
  2. A donor gives a designated gift but doesn’t have prompt or detailed enough information on what the gift actually did.
  3. A donor has a question – any question – but is put off and either not given the answer, not given the answer in a timely fashion, or given a partial answer.
  4. The donor is bothered by the way the organization operates, such as the process it uses for funding projects, or the fact that the organization is filled with family members and friends in governing positions. When the donor demonstrates concern about these things and wants to talk about them, he is shut down.
  5. The donor asks to be treated one way, but the organization ignores that request and does what it wants.

And the list can go on and on. You know what I am talking about.

Now, to be fair, there are a lot of good organizations doing things right. But there are way too many organizations that are not donor-centered where the donor is, essentially, a good place to get some money to “do what we want to do”, and then the internal attitude about the donor is “Can you just keep quiet and go away? We have work to do!”

So, I’ve been thinking about this for some time now. I researched consumer and donor bill of rights lists on the internet and have talked with Jeff about it. And we’ve come up with six rights that we believe capture what every major donor should be entitled to in his or her relationship to the organization to which they donate:

  1. To be treated as a partner vs. a source of cash. Actually, if we just honored this one right we would not need all the other ones in this list. If donors were treated as real partners there would be mutuality, honesty, openness, etc. Things would be done on time. You would have a true partner. Every donor wants this, to varying degrees. They want to be treated with respect and honor.
  2. To know how the funds they give are used and that a real difference is being made. The major cause for donor attrition is that the donor did not know he or she made a difference . This is why they go away. This is such a simple thing to do, but most organizations either do not do it or do not do it in a timely fashion. Think about this. When donors give a gift they actually expect that something good will be done with that gift. You can see that if we don’t fulfill that expectation, then trouble starts. This is logical, right? Then why don’t we do it? This is one of the most interesting dynamics in the fundraising sector – a donor wanting to do good through an organization – and the organization not closing the loop on the transaction. It is so interesting how this happens, and continues to happen, month after month, in too many non-profits.
  3. To have any question they ask answered in a timely, courteous and professional manner. And we mean ANY question. Ask yourself this: is there any question a donor could ask the leadership of your organization that they would not be willing to answer? OK, now you’ve identified it. Now ask yourself why? Why won’t they answer that question? Is it because it’s none of the donor’s business? Is it because they, not the donor, really “own” the non-profit and therefore this is private information? It could be any of these. But you have to wonder how these leaders and managers got to this point of view? So interesting.
  4. To have access to an organization’s information and program sites. This is much like #3 above. Just let the donors know what they want to know. And let them go to program sites. If you can’t do that, you have to ask yourself the question why? Why won’t you let them do that? They have the right.
  5. To know that there is a responsible governing independent board providing oversight. Goodness! This is a big one. Nepotism and cronyism are two of the biggest problems facing non-profits today. Jeff and I can tell you story after story of “respectable” non-profits out there that have “independent governing boards” where the founders, leaders and managers have stacked the organization with family and friends to the point that it is almost sickening. And the result is that employees and donors suffer. We need RESPONSIBLE governing independent board members who will not put up with founders and leaders who run the non-profit as if it were their own private company!
  6. To have their personal information kept confidential and private, and their requests honored. This is a no-brainer, I know. But so many non-profits do not respect what the donor has requested. This is not only about not renting or exchanging their private information. It is also about respecting their communication preferences. I will never forget giving a gift to a non-profit which put me into their major donor pool. The MGO talked to me at an event, told me she was going to be in my city and asked if she could come by and visit. I said no. She came by anyway. Goodness. Why does this happen? I stopped giving to that organization.

To Jeff and me, a major donor’s bill of rights boils down to these six points. You can put every other “right” under one of these. I suggest you print these rights out and put them somewhere so you can see them every day. They will remind you of what your good donors want in their relationship with you. Granted, some of them will not want every single point. But the point of this whole exercise is more about YOU and your attitude toward them. That is what is good to check on, for their sake.

Richard

Comments

  1. JT Lewis says:

    A Donors’ Bill of Rights? How wonderful – how has no one thought of this before. And I agree– if #1 is observed (treat the donor as a partner rather than a source of cash) the rest will fall into place. Well said.

  2. Love the Donors Bill of Rights. I plan to use these at our board meeting next week to remind the board how to treat donors and potential donors.

    Thank you.

  3. I plan on sending this out to my donors with the “Welcome to the team” packet!

  4. Thanks for your input. Very helpful and creative ideas!

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