In my last post I talked about the importance of donor stewardship, and how cultivating better relationships with donors can make all the difference to the strength of your fundraising program.

One of the ways that organizations are really improving the donor’s experience is by providing much better opportunities for more personalized giving.  In other words, the organization is enabling donors to target their donations much more directly towards specific aspects of the work that inspires them, rather than to the organization’s general mission.

Of course, this isn’t a new concept.  Programs like child sponsorship and adopting animals been around for a number of years and are very effective in making giving feel like a much more personal experience.  Having the opportunity too to purchase a goat (Plan Canada), or even a toilet (WaterAid Canada), provides added inspiration for people to give as well as making for pretty unusual birthday and Christmas gifts that can add a greater sense of fun to philanthropy.

What is shifting, however, is the range of ways that organizations are making giving more personal, both through creative giving options, but by also providing better stewardship and opportunities to ask donors what they think, and what they want to fund.

One such example is Charity: Water.  On the home page of their website, the organization wastes no time in offering an opportunity for the donor to fund a specific project, then being very upfront in terms of the expected timescales for the project, how often they will report to you and, ultimately, how they will let you know how your money is being spent. They enhance the experience by sending photos and even GPS coordinates of where the project is located.  As a result of this approach, and before you even make a donation, you can already visualize the journey that you will take with the organization that leads towards a particular impact.

Other organizations are becoming more personal in another way, by regularly consulting their campaign signatories and donors on what they want the organization to focus on.  38Degrees is a great example of this. This multi-issue organization campaigns on topics ranging from saving bees to protecting free health care, but what is interesting about their approach is that they regularly ask their community to vote on what they want to campaign on next, from a pre-determined list of options.  They then follow up with you to tell you what the community voted on.

How to bring more personalisation into your fundraising program

Of course, it can take considerable resource to do this, but there are ways in which even smaller organizations can begin to put in place methods to make donors feel more part and parcel of your results and truly see how they can change the world.

Here are some suggestions on how you can get started.

Consult your community (regularly).  Ask your community what they want to receive from you, what they want to fund and what they want to hear about. There are a number of ways in which you can learn about your donors’ needs, but methods can include polls, surveys, focus groups and interviews, but the key is in how you use the information once you’ve gathered it. By discovering what inspires donors, and even what really riles them, you can use this information creatively to determine how you can give donors a better experience that keeps them engaged and giving.

Determine what you have to “sell”.  How can you break down your Case for Support into tangible manageable chunks that means that people know exactly what they are giving to? Whether they are actually giving to a particular project, or whether you are offering a symbolic gift that illustrates how their funding can make a difference, you can help donors to more easily visualise their impact.

Report back on your donors’ donations.  And be specific. I’ve interviewed hundreds of donors over the years, and one of the most common reasons why people stop giving or feel disgruntled with charities is that they feel ill-informed about where their money is going.  So, when developing your “catalogue” of gifts, also plan out how you will report back on these donations. Then tell your prospective donors that you are going to do this.

Take them on the journey with you.  In line with keeping donors updated, help the donor to feel that they can come along for the ride. Like the Charity: Water example, determine what the stages in your project might be, and then think about how you can report on those stages.  This way you can keep the donor engaged and build excitement towards the conclusion i.e. the outcome that they are funding.

This also provides an opportunity to keep the donor engaged when the project is finished, by coming back to them with further developments with stories and statistics on the change that they, as a donor, have brought about. Not only does this bring to life the difference that they are making, it can help to keep the door open to talk about the next project that they can support.

Build resourcing these communications into your plan, and budget.  To get some of these initiatives off the ground, you may be able to do this within your current resources, or you may need to bring in some additional infrastructure, staffing or expertise to help you perfect the process.  So before you start, think about what needs to be done, your schedule and the results you are looking for, so that you can ensure that you have all the right pieces in place to make it happen.

Get your organization engaged.  For personalization to work, it will require input and buy-in from across your organization.  For example, if you intend to report on timescales for project completion, or need to collect data and stories, the input and engagement of your programs team will be essential.  You program team are also likely to be the most appropriate people to identify the best projects to use for such personalised giving opportunities (you can read more about building a culture of philanthropy in your organization here).

Analyse your results. Once you some results, analyse them to determine what is working and what is not. Which initiatives seem to be the most attractive? Which are best for recruitment, but then also for retention?  How can you develop your ideas so that they lead to increased giving, or even donors referring others to give to you? By properly assessing your results, you can create an inspiring program that works and will continue to grow.

Bringing more personalized giving into your organization won’t happen overnight. It can take time to implement such initiatives across your fundraising program, as well as some investment in infrastructure and resources to implement them.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t start right away with making some changes.  The key is having a mindset that is focused upon how you can become more responsive and how you can make the donor experience more exciting.  It may start with just a more personalized thank you letter, but by being more creative, you can really start to set yourself apart so that donors feel loved and that they are really changing the world.

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