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2 min Read
May 31, 2018

Confessions of a could-be donor

I have a confession to make: I have no idea what you do.

I’ve read your mission statement (twice); spent some time on your “About” page; checked out the latest edition of your email newsletter. I got some helpful clues on your “Programs” page, but I don’t quite get how it all hangs together, or what impact you have on the communities that I care about.

You see, I don’t know the [social services, education, social justice, foundation, health, etc.] world particularly well. I may have gone to an event or written a check to you or one of your peers at some point, but I’m no expert. I don’t know the lingo, and I can’t spot the subtleties that make your approach stand out from the pack.

I’m sure you do good work. I see some lovely stories on your homepage—it looks like you’ve really helped people. So when a friend invites me to a celebration breakfast or asks me to give to their run/walk/ride, I’m happy to oblige. Feel free to add me to your email list.

Honestly, though, I’m probably going to let your messages disappear into one of those tabs in my Gmail inbox—and a year from now when I finally get around to a little digital spring cleaning, I’ll unsubscribe. It’s likely I won’t even remember how I got on your list in the first place.

It’s nothing personal. It’s just that there are a LOT of organizations that look or sound an awful lot like you, and they’re all asking for a piece of my attention and understanding. And while you’ve told me a lot of stuff about what you do, you never got me to engage on a personal level. You didn’t give me a fresh understanding of a pressing community need, or help me really see how your mission matters to things I care about.

It sounds like really good, important work, the work you’re doing. I just don’t quite get it.

We’ve all seen this donor. In fact, we’ve probably all been this donor. This is the donor that we lose to jargony mission statements, weak or overly technical messaging, and blast-mentality marketing that doesn’t take mindsets and motivations into account.

Set aside a little time once every month or so to step back and try to see your organization from an outsider’s point of view. Try asking a neighbor or someone at the communal worktable in a coffee shop to spend two minutes on your website and tell you what they take away. Call up a first-time donor and ask them why they gave and what they think and know about your organization.

Not everyone will make a personal connection to every mission, and that’s okay—but you can give yourselves a fighting chance.

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