by Andy Canada
I recently read some preliminary findings from this year’s Cygnus Donor Survey, and was struck with how similar some of the messages were to what we have been hearing frequently from donors in our feasibility studies.
Penelope Burke, principle author of the study, pointed out upon initial review of the data that donors frequently admitted they could have given more if they were more certain of how their gifts had – and by extension would be – used.
In some ways this is fundraising 101. We all know that donors need to be moved by a story of what their gift will accomplish. Most fundraisers also know that they should follow-up after a gift to let people know their gift made a difference.
I am, however, struck by how often nonprofits and the fundraisers representing them feel the rationale for a project and the argument for a donation are self-evident.
Fundraisers need to remember that research has shown that major donors are far more risk-averse with their charitable donations than they are with their personal financial investments.
Research published by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch since 2006 has repeatedly shown that high-net-worth donors are significantly more willing to take a chance to make a profit than they are with their charitable dollars.
It’s not surprising, then, that we often hear potential donors in feasibility studies hesitate to support a project unless they are provided firm details about its costs and impact.
Whether it is cost per square foot of a construction project, or fiscal models for how an institution will pay ongoing expenses of new additions, or the specific activities that will take place in a building, major donors want transparency.
As a fundraiser, it can be easy to forget that we are not just seeking a donation, but attempting to build a lasting connection between a donor and a cause.
The better we, as a field, become at remembering that the most generous donors want to be connected firmly to our organizations’ aspirations and accomplishments, the better we will be at earning their trust.