meanstoanend 2014-July28
Non-profits aren’t getting it. In fact, the non-profit sector is ten to fifteen years behind our donors’ desires and needs – especially those of major donors, who want to see the impact of their giving.
What am I talking about?
Non-profits are still ORGANIZATIONALLY centered, not donor-centered. They haven’t figured out yet that donors (their stakeholders) have to come first. In just the last week, I’ve heard stories from four non-profits of how they’ve created their own self-imposed barriers to putting donors first, and it’s keeping them from growing.
I see three main reasons why these non-profits are mired in their inability to be donor-centered.

  1. They are so large that the overgrown bureaucracy has stifled the ability to change. The organization may have good intentions, but they are stuck with processes and procedures that don’t consider the donor. If you think government departments are stuck, just look at a large non-profit… wow!
  2. The non-profit is so old and stuck in their ancient paradigm that it only focuses on what is arguably half of their mission… their own projects and programs. Fundraising from donors is only viewed as a means to an end. Usually leaders in these organizations don’t value donors or fundraising.
  3. Finally, the organization may be so small (with little or no fundraising staff) that all their energy is focused solely on program. This results in either a transactional mindset where donors are just looked at as ATMs, or the non-profit relies on gifts from donors that have no connection with the mission (given through raffles, walks, events or strong-arming friends to give).

It’s time for a wakeup call. Today’s major donors, those who are 55-75 years old, are calling on non-profits to meet their needs. They want accountability, they want to see impact, they want to know how their gifts are making a difference. Finally, they want joy in their giving.
Are you giving that to your donors? If not, you are not going to be around for very long.
Here are some questions you should consider as to whether you are donor-focused and ready to meet their needs:

  1. Are your systems and structures set up to serve your organization, or your donors? One organization I know has such a convoluted way of processing a gift that it takes at least 3 weeks to send a thank-you letter after they have received the donor’s gift. They are stuck, and no one in leadership cares. They are losing donors and revenue by the day because of bad, antiquated systems.
  2. Does your Executive Director or CEO spend at least half of their time with donors? If not, then I question whether your organization values your donors and views them as part of your mission. Today’s non-profit leaders have to view fundraising as a high calling and essential in growing their organization. If you have to work around your CEO to get things done, you are in trouble.
  3. Do you respect the time and effort of your board and volunteers who help you fundraise, by being clear and specific with what you need from them? I cannot tell you how many board members and volunteers are frustrated because they are not sure what the non-profit is asking of them. Board members and volunteers want to be told exactly what you need from them. If you are donor-focused, you are absolutely clear about volunteers’ tasks (with measurable goals), and the volunteers are held accountable for their tasks, just like staff.
  4. Do your donors have a seat at the table? You know, if you looked at your donors like a corporation viewed their shareholders, you would at least have one public meeting where you would invite donors to share their thoughts about how you are doing. At least once per year! I would recommend a non-profit do this more often because you have more donors (especially those donors who are investing heavily with you) that want to be engaged. Give them the opportunity.
  5. Have you packaged your programs and projects so that it’s easy for donors to understand and fund at different financial levels? Donor-centered organizations take their budget, figure out all their programs, and come up with fundable programs that include overhead in the cost. Fundraising just for general operating funds is going away. It’s getting harder and harder. That way of thinking is all about YOU, not the donor. You are still raising funds for general operations, but you’re packaging it in a way that is donor-friendly.
  6. Are you delighting your donors? Don’t laugh. Today’s major donors are expecting more and more to see great service from you. So give it to them – and then some. Delighting your donor means you have to go above and beyond what they expect from a non-profit. If you feel that many of my questions are out of your control, this one certainly isn’t. YOU can control this, even if the rest of your organization is so mired in the muck of its own world that it’s not thinking about the donor. You have no excuse when it comes to delighting your donors.

There is a real problem in the non-profit sector. If it’s not taken care of immediately, it will render many an organization obsolete really soon. Don’t let that be your organization. Put the donor first. Embrace the concept of being a donor-centered non-profit, and implement the change it will require. Your survival will depend on it.