Words of Wisdom: “Remember, donors are people too”

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Words of Wisdom: “Remember, donors are people too”


How can we truly connect with the human beings behind the data segments? Lucy Caldicott shares her thoughts

It can be easy for fundraisers to have limited personal interaction with their charity’s supporters. If you’re working in a direct marketing team in a big charity, you might never even speak to one of your donors. And you’d be forgiven for thinking of them as members of a data file grouped in cohorts with names like ‘24 lapsed’, ‘active cash’, or ‘payroll givers’.

That said, it’s vital for all of us in charities to remember that our supporters are human beings, and to find ways to keep the people and their humanity in mind at all times. This will help you keep your priorities in the right place, and plan more effective communications.

Engaging staff

When I was at CLIC Sargent, I used to run a session as part of the all-staff induction that new staff did when they joined. It was tricky trying to plan content to deliver to a mixed group from across the organisation - which could include social workers, shop staff, community fundraisers, graphic designers, accountants and human resources professionals. I developed a way into a conversation about fundraising that anyone could engage in, by asking everyone in the room to think about the charities they donate to and what inspires them to give. This led us into a great ice breaker about donating in memory, or because someone you know has a particular medical condition, or supporting a charity because it's helped you in the past. People in the room would share experiences of mountains they've climbed, cakes they've baked, or even family members they miss.

For me, this exercise had the additional purpose of setting the scene for the fundraisers joining my team that donors are people too - people just like us. I hope participating in this session helped the team to keep our supporters front of mind at all times.

Connecting with donors

In fact, there are lots of simple, practical things that you can do regularly to keep close to supporters. How many of you have rung a supporter recently? Again at CLIC Sargent, we ran a couple of ‘thank you’ days with all staff throughout fundraising spending a whole day simply saying thank you and opening up a conversation with supporters. I remember some lovely feedback from colleagues about donors who’d been delighted to receive phone calls and have a nice chat with a member of the team.

A senior colleague at another charity keeps his Friday afternoons free for donor conversations, and makes sure he calls several people a week. He says it's really important for him personally because he learns a lot from talking to supporters so regularly - plus it sends a clear signal to his team regarding his priorities.

You can (and should) also mystery shop your own organisation by becoming a donor and seeing what communications you get and when, so that you can see your work through your donors' eyes.

If they could see us now

With my fundraising teams and with senior management, I always saw part of my role as keeping the donor in the room with us - sometimes having to pick people up during a particularly time-wasting or un-team-like conversation with a "what if our donors could see us now?" type comment!

I believe that as fundraisers (and all charity staff) we hold our donors' money in trust to do the right thing with. That's quite a powerful thought to retain - and remembering that donors are people too will help you.

Lucy Caldicott is interim chief executive at Diversity Role Models

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