Well, tomorrow, if you haven’t already done so, you will finally get to cast your ballot in the presidential election.  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this campaign season to be over.  I feel like I’ve been constantly bombarded with messages that I don’t want to hear.  In fact, if I see one more ad I’m going throw something at the T.V.
The candidates seem to have done a great job at telling us what THEY want to do, yet how many of us feel they have addressed issues we really care about?
Did you see the video of the little girl who was crying because she didn’t want to hear the names Obama or Romney anymore?  If you haven’t, here it is.
As the campaigns have begun to wind down, I’ve started thinking about all the messages we have been bombarded with. It’s made me wonder if this is how a donor must feel when all they hear about is what an organization wants from them.
In this blog, Richard and I have asked you to consider some pretty radical ideas – ideas like, “Your organization should be spending half of its time and resources on the cultivation and stewardship of donors”, or “Your mission statement should include something about your donors.”  When we travel around and speak to folks and mention these things we get a lot of nodding heads.  Yet, I wonder if anyone is putting them into practice.
Well, in major gift fundraising, there’s one thing you definitely have to put into practice or you won’t have a donor around very long.  You have to LISTEN to what your donors are telling you they want.
Richard and I have said this before, but in our work this is probably one of the most egregious acts a non-profit can make, and we need to stress it here again.  Major Donors do not want to be pushed into funding something just because an organization wants them to.
It’s funny to me that many non-profits only begin to listen to donors when they want to do a massive capital campaign.  Then, the non-profit will spend the money to sit down and interview donors to see if they would support the project.  Yet, even that is not really listening to what the donor wants.  It’s just getting feedback on what the non-profit wants.
So, how can you listen effectively to your donors?

  1. Make it a point every year to sit down with each of your major donors with the only agenda being to discover what he or she is passionate about and the reason he or she would support your cause.  No other agenda.
  2. Provide your donors with a list of all the programs and projects of your non-profit, reporting on their effectiveness and impact.  Then ask them to give you feedback on the report and how it could be better.
  3. Allow your non-profit to be vulnerable to donors.  If you mess up, tell them you messed up, show them what you are doing to correct it and ask for their feedback.  When you show vulnerability, donors will respond in kind.
  4. Create opportunities for donors to voice their opinions and concerns about the work your organization is doing, whether that is opening up board membership, creating new committees or providing “donor listening” forums.  Work on your organization to create a listening culture.
  5. As part of their job description, make it a requirement that the President and all board members sit down with 5-10 donors a year to listen to a donor’s story.  Think about how powerful it would be for leadership to hear from those that keep the lights on everyday.

Listening to our donors is no small task.  It takes hard work.  This is why most non-profits don’t do it.  But Richard and I truly believe that if your organization is going to survive over the next decade you will have to make some pretty radical changes.  Listening is one of them.
It’s easy to get OUR messages OUT.  We have so many vehicles to do it: direct mail, internet, radio, TV, social networking, events, proposals…the list goes on.  Yet, the most powerful and, I believe, most profitable thing we can do, is listen.
Only through listening to our donors can we match their desires with our mission and create that amazing mystical experience when someone’s greatest passion meets the world’s greatest needs.