#5 in a series: Donors As Mission
donors as mission systemViewing your donors as part of your mission is a radical departure from how your non-profit is acting today. All you have to do is look at your overall budget and figure out how much you are actually spending on your donors compared to everything else, and you will see the disparity.
You might say, “Well, of course we don’t spend that much on donors! We have to keep our overhead low so that most of that money goes to actually delivering on the work that donors expect is happening.”
Yes, you do, but it’s not an either/or proposition when you view donors as part of your mission. It’s a YES/AND proposition. Yes, you need to deliver on the promise to your donors about what you are doing to alleviate the world’s suffering, and you also need to deliver on creating the right infrastructure to fulfill your donor’s desires and needs as well.
If donors are part of your mission, that is the understanding and mentality you must have in your organization.
Seth Godin recently wrote a tremendous blog post that highlights this mentality. He writes about the fact that every time Henry Ford increased productivity of his car production by lowering the labor cost of his cars, he ALSO raised wages. He did it because he believed that well-paid workers would have more to spend… ultimately on more cars.
Seth has a couple of great quotes in his post. The first one: “You can’t shrink your way to greatness.” In other words, keeping your overhead low only reduces cost. It rarely produces a better product or more impact. I think you intuitively know this about your organization.
Yet you think donors won’t accept the fact that non-profits need to invest money in infrastructure that would ultimately lead to greater impact. In Richard’s and my experience this is not true. Additionally, thinking this way shows you actually don’t trust the donor.
We know that if donors are treated well and are told the truth, they will trust an organization to deliver and invest more in infrastructure because they know that it leads to greater impact.
Godin’s second quote is this: “When you enable your workers [MGOs] to do more, connect more, produce more, [relate to donors more]… you create a positive system. The goal isn’t to clear the table, the goal is to set the table.”
YES! I love that. Set the table. So what does it look like to set the table and create a positive system in your organization that views donors as part of your mission?

  1. Working systems — This means you have all the stuff that is technical (the back office stuff) working. Receipting, thanking, reporting back to donors, a database that is dynamic and works to help you track donor behavior and your strategy. It means you don’t compromise on the quality of these systems, and you invest heavily so back-end problems won’t distract you from creating meaningful relationships with donors.
  2. Integration of Departments — In a non-profit that views donors as part of its mission, departments are integrated in their quest to do two things only: Do the work that changes the world, and do the work that brings joy to donors. Everything is designed around that. Executives, Finance, Program, HR, Development, Support Staff, and Janitorial all work together around those two initiatives. That means having empathy, compassion and understanding about everyone’s work.
  3. Director of Storytelling — Sounds crazy, right? Not in a non-profit that views donors as mission. Stories will emotionally connect donors with the programs and projects you have that change the world. Your donors will connect more to the need, and your staff will connect more with donors, if you dedicate someone (or a team) to 1) find, tell and curate stories of need and 2) find, tell and curate stories of donors and how their lives have been changed by investing in your organization.
  4. Open and Transparent — An organization that views donors as mission is always open and transparent with donors. This means creating opportunities for donors to understand what you do and how you do it. It means a leadership team that welcomes donor interaction and ideas. It means having the type of relationship with donors where you can disagree and tell a donor “no.” It means admitting mistakes – both mistakes in service to the donor and strategic mistakes the organization makes in their work. It means having honest discussions on overhead costs and impact reporting. Basically, it means being vulnerable and real with donors.

In an organization that invests in donors as part of the mission, you go from a scarcity mentality (shrinking) to an abundance mentality (growing) where the money you invest in your donors will ultimately lead you to create more impact to change the world!