The Loyalty Letter
|E-news that helps you keep donors connected (and giving)
to your cause.
|Beyond the Charity Pie Chart:
12 Ways to Build Donor Trust, Show Accountability and Inspire Confidence in Your Nonprofit Organization
A donor confidence crisis is brewing. So if you want to survive, you must prove to your supporters -- now, consistently, and with unflinching candor -- that your nonprofit is one of the good guys. Here, some ways to accomplish that. First: who says trust matters? These guys...
Who Says Donor Trust Matters?
The Agitator's Roger Craver said:
"...despite the reality that your organization, your fundraisers, your consultants, accountants, lawyers and board have done everything by the book, you need to be ready to explain - with full transparency - how your fundraising business is conducted."
Stanford Social Innovation Review said:
"...building trust with your constituents is the closest you can find to a silver bullet for fundraising..."
Tom Ahern (via SOFII) said:
"You have to remind [donors] of your organization's dedication to transparency, accountability, and financial health frequently...on your website, in your direct mail, in your face-to-face solicitations, and in every issue of your newsletter."
Ken Burnett said:
"It's no longer good enough to leave donors running round anxious and ill-informed, nor is it right to try to squeeze them into shapes that suit us. Accountability means fearlessly and proactively explaining what matters to all our stakeholders in language that they can understand and relate to."
The question is, HOW?
How do you prove? How do you explain? How do you remind? Is a pie chart in your newsletter enough?
The pie chart is a start, it's true. (Here's Doctors Without Borders.) But there's much, much more you can do. Let's start with the bare bones basics. At a minimum, you should already:
1. Have a current version of your IRS Form 990 (US nonprofits) on your website plus at least prior 5 years.
2. Publish an annual report and have the current version plus at least prior 5 years available online. Make a print version available upon request; provide a contact number. (FYI: argue all you want for the death of the annual report, but wunderkind charity:water has a 53-pager. Hmmm...)
3. Have your financial accounts independently audited and make the auditor's opinion available online.
See how charity:water does it all on one page, here. Salary comparison a nice touch.
4. List key staff (bonus points for photos) on your website along with contact info. Not the dreaded "info@" contact, either. Real ones. List your board members online too: clearly describe what they do and if they are compensated.
See how Soles4Souls does it, here. Love those happy faces.
Tip: when reports are ready, include a call-out box with URL in your donor newsletter. You can mail a postcard -- or a jumbo postcard with a mini annual report there too. You can notify major donors by letter or simply send print version. You can tweet it. Post it on Facebook. Email an update and link. Frame everything from a donor-centered perspective.
Note: Charity Navigator lists the above items, among others, in its Accountability and Transparency Metrics.
Now let's go beyond the pie chart, with a little creativity and these advanced trust-builders:
5. Find a donor-centered way to say how you spend it. Way back in 2010 Mark Phillips posted on the results of a UK study. It was so good I saved it. Converted to US dollars here, the study showed more donors were impressed with language like,
- Our charity raises $3 for every $1 it spends on fundraising.
- For every $3 our charity raises, $2 goes directly to those who need it.
Yes, it might take time for you to get the calculations. Yes, it's worth it. See Mark's full post here. Worth a read.
6. Preempt expense objections. We fundraising copywriters do this all the time: predict objections and answer them within the appeal. Earlier I mentioned charity:water's salary comparison. You could do something similar. You can also find a few examples of what overhead covers, or what some administrative expenses entail and why they are vital to the work your donors support.
7. Be accessible. Think of ways to personally connect donors with not just your staff, your leaders too. At one of my clients we invite donors to open houses (attended by the CEO) and guided program tours in virtually every publication, from thank you letters to newsletters.
Tip 1: at these events, gather feedback and permission to share. Then you have another great trust-building tool at your fingertips: social proof (i.e., if other people are doing it, it must be worthwhile).
Tip 2: is your work international or tough to tour? Yes,do videos. But why not also a phone number donors can call to hear a monthly recording from your CEO, president, or staff in the field... news from the research lab... the laughter of once-abused kids playing at your shelter? (Donors call you so they're in control.) Get the feedback then use social proof to get more calls.
Tip 3: I use staff interviews all the time for my clients. Donors love it. We put interviews in newsletters and use pull-quotes in appeals. Staff appreciate that someone cares enough about their work to ask and are famously cooperative. You could edit the recordings and get them online, on the phone, etc. Find a way to bring it to your donors; see Tip 2.
8. Show your credibility. Do you have the blessings of a charity watchdog or other authority? 4-star ranking from Charity Navigator? Part of the BBB Wise Giving Alliance? Say so, on your direct mail outer envelopes, on your website, in your newsletters and annual reports. (And if you aren't accredited somewhere, find out how to get it.) Say what it means, too.
9. Use non-financial infographics (again, newsletters, website, emails, annual reports, etc.). Recently at one client we showed the number of meals served to the homeless in a 3-year comparison, thanking donors for making it possible. A guide dog charity could do independent trips to the grocery store... or a literacy group, number of bedtime stories. For great ideas on data visualization, subscribe to Daily Infographic.
10. Find the bright spots. This is mine, swiped from the Heath Brothers book Switch; required reading if you want to change perception. For the record, no one has taken me up on this idea yet. What if you enlisted the help of staff, from programs to execs to volunteers, to unearth little ways your organization works to make good use of donations? Offer a coffee card as the monthly prize. Share best specific examples with donors.
11. Tell them they can trust you. If you're worth trusting just say so, explains Neuromarketing's Roger Dooley, and you'll boost trust by as much as 33 percent, as in: "You can trust us to do the job for you." See his post here.
12. Last trust-builder, I promise: try a new thank you. It's true I'm a thank-you crusader, but... could you thank in a different way, once a year maybe? Snap a photo of a new view out of a room and put it on a postcard, or a bag of groceries, or a child's book or a pawprint of an animal who'd been rescued? Think along these lines: For seven years a photograph hung on the wall of my daughter's bedroom of a U.S. soldier in full battle gear, standing in a bunker on foreign soil. He was grubby, he was weary, but he was smiling. In his hand he held her card, which she'd emblazoned with several pounds of glitter and her own photo. When he sent her his picture in return, he told her how much it touched him to receive her card... how he posted it on the wall of his "office" near the bunker. Can you send something so special, your donors will keep it for seven years?
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