This blog post is the third in a series of six titled, “The House Your Donor Lives In.”

I think you would agree that the home you grew up in had a personality.

Either your mother or father, maybe your siblings, or maybe all of them played a significant role in shaping its personality. Perhaps it was a warm, friendly, and caring place. Or, maybe it was cold, judgmental, or hostile. Or it just went hot and cold – sometimes warm and caring, other times judgmental and hostile.

But it had its personality. And you got used to it. In some cases, you adapted. But the one constant was that, whether it was good or bad, you knew what it was.

The home your donor lives in, your organization, has a personality as well.

It can be a warm, inviting, caring place where your donor feels valued, needed, and welcome. Or it can be a place where the donor feels abused, manipulated, and used as a means to an end. Or, like the home I described above, it goes hot and cold – sometimes warm and welcoming – other times making donors feel used and taken for granted.

The leaders and managers of a well-run organization pay close attention to how the organization treats its donors – to what kind of home they have created for the donor. Sadly, many organizations are not run with this kind of care. So what happens is that the organization has different personalities. Here is how that happens.

If the managers of fundraising in the organization, and all the staff, for that matter, are just focused on getting the money, then they will design strategies, tactics, processes, and systems that do just that – strategies, tactics, processes, and systems that, quite honestly, bruise the donor and suffer economically.

That’s like biasing the messaging towards asks versus telling the donor he made a difference. Or ignoring that donor, who by the frequency and amount of their giving is signaling a desire for more involvement but continues to be treated as a donor that is not interested in more involvement.

The result of all this kind of behavior is the donor feels used and abused which is why they give less or even go away. The strategies, tactics, processes, and systems are off point because the person designing the fundraising does not understand that the main thing here is the DONOR and their journey – not the money.

As I said in my previous blog, all of this starts off with the wrong view of money, the donor, and fundraising. And then it goes to these two areas:

1. How the fundraising work is organized.

2. How the structure of the organization is designed. Most often, the structure does not mirror the donor journey.

The result of this approach is usually a donor home with different personalities. Let me explain. The ideal division of labor in an organization – the one that will care for the donor along their journey with the organization, follows the donor pipeline:

A graphic image shows a healthy non-profit donor pipeline, comprised of donor acquisition, cultivation, mid-level, major gifts, planned gifts, and capital gifts.

Someone is appointed to manage each of the major functions of the pipeline: acquisition, cultivation, mid-level, major gifts, and planned gifts. And each of those managers reports into one manager who assures a seamless message and treatment of the donor from when they were acquired through all the stages of the journey. That is the ideal.

But what Jeff and I, and our team of professionals, often see are situations like this:

  • No one is assigned to manage a stage of the journey. For instance, we have seen organizations where no one is assigned to acquire donors. No one! How can that be? Jeff and I don’t understand this one. Or, once the donor is acquired, no one is assigned to manage and communicate with them. Another unbelievable management blunder. Or the organization emphasis is to acquire and generally cultivate donors but not have a mid-level or major gift program. What?? So, where are you going to get the donors you are putting into the mid or major gift program? I guess they will magically appear. These types of management decisions, to ignore the pipeline and the donor journey, happen way more frequently than you know.
  • Messaging content, or the tone and style of the messaging, is different from one stage to another because the manager of that stage is directing their area and not thinking about the integration of the message throughout the life of the donor. In other words, the messaging is created to serve the function of the organization stage rather than the donor who is moving through the stage. This is subtle, I know, but it is real.
  • Different response criteria for each stage. One manager tells his team to respond to donor’s gifts and inquiries within 48 hours of receipt. Another has no problem waiting two weeks to respond. And then finance or operations is tasked with donor receipting where in several cases we recently saw the time between the receipt of a gift and the thank you for that gift was over 30 days! 30 days!!! Unbelievable and a clear sign that one department or function does not value donors. Of course they banked the money the day it arrived.
  • Different valuing of donors by different teams. For the acquisition folks, it is about meeting goals, response rates, media source, and average gift. For finance, it is about the money. For the marketing and communication people, it is about open and click rates and brand enhancement. And only for a few is it about the donor.

And this list can continue for quite a while. But you know what I mean. The home the donor lives in has different personalities in that home. Some are friendly and welcoming. Others are users and takers.

Let me be quick to say that in our experience, the users and takers really don’t mean to be those kinds of people. They are generally good people. But they have not been educated to the value and need to love and care for donors. There is so much we do in our planning and execution of those plans that has us forgetting this point.

If we viewed everything we do TO the donor through the eyes and experiences of the donor, it would affect HOW we do those things.

So, when we are taking inventory of how your organization IS – that is, what kind of home it is for donors, you first want to know that everyone is on the same page as to how they think about fundraising, the money, and the donor.

And second, you want to be sure your structure (division of work and labor), strategies, tactics, processes, and systems are donor supportive and sensitive so when they are seen through the experiences of the donor, they are positive, welcoming, constructive, and helpful.

In other words, when all that is done right, the donor experiences an organizational home where there is one personality, not many, and that personality invites the donor into the home in a welcoming, respectful, and mutual way of a partner in addressing the societal problem the donor and the organization is committed to addressing.

All these things will be revealed when you use the Donor Journey Health Checklist we will offer you at the end of this series of blogs. The checklist will help you assess how caring and inclusive a place your donor home is. Stay tuned.

In my next blog, I will address what to do when your donor wants to do more for you and how certain organizational blocks and dysfunction prevent that from happening.