When you've been in this field long enough, and maybe have a few books to your credit, you're often invited to speak at conferences. It's a great way to stay in touch with the many wonderful people in this profession. I get to reconnect with the wise elders and meet the passionate newcomers.
Invariably at the end of my presentations I'm asked a number of wide-ranging questions. Many are highly specific, but others pertain to most every organization. Here are some of the questions I'm most commonly asked.
What's one of the biggest obstacles preventing someone from giving?
As we all know, every survey that probes why people give and don't give indicates that the main reason for not giving is because they "weren't asked."
To some extent, this may be true. But the average person is asked to give almost on a daily basis. And individuals make a lot of decisions not to give.
So we need to consider other reasons. Maybe people weren't paying attention when they were asked. The timing was bad. It wasn't the right proposition. Money is tight right now. Maybe there wasn't an emotional connection. The list is long.
But there is one critical and overlooked reason, in my opinion. Organizations fail to make giving as easy as possible.
I'm sure everyone reading this has visited a website where they've tried to make a gift or buy a product. And it's frequently painful or overly complicated. It's not uncommon to be asked to provide information you don't want to offer. As a result, many decide to abandon the transaction.
We need to examine every channel we use and discover how to remove any barriers. When we focus on the donor experience, we make it easier for him or her to give—a simple landing page, taking credit card donations at an event, a toll-free number. It all adds up to make a significant difference.
In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, one of the questions I discuss is this: "Is it easy?" As time goes by, I increasingly think this question is the second-most important of the 11 core questions.
What's the easiest way for donors to give?
That's simple. Monthly giving. When individuals become monthly donors, you don't have to continually solicit them. They'll give you 12 gifts a year—for many years—often for the rest of their lives. I've been on one monthly program for 35 years now. There's no chance I'll ever cancel it. And to date I've made 420 monthly gifts. I've also made many other single gift donations to this organization, as well.
Monthly donors contribute billions of dollars globally—in $10, $25, and $100 amounts each and every month. And because the gift comes in every 30 days, it adds up to be a fabulous amount of money.
Should organizations move all of their fundraising online?
We were conducting a fundraising audit recently and interviewed Claire, a $250,000 donor. She said her one complaint about the organization was that they moved their print newsletter to online.
She loved having the printed version around, so she could show it to people (wealthy friends!) and it reminded her of the cause. Is it worth reviving the print newsletter for just this one donor? I think the answer is yes. Are there more donors exactly like her? Absolutely.
Older donors may book cruises online or use Facebook to connect with their grandchildren, but they are still heavily print oriented. We abandon this medium at our peril.
As we know, older people control the vast amount of wealth in our society. Virtually all really large gifts come from people over 60 and frequently over 70. As a population, these donors are more loyal, more philanthropic, and approaching the age when they'll start leaving legacies. Organizations that focus on their preferences will raise the most money. And print still makes a lot more money than digital.
Last year, online fundraising grew by about 13 percent. This sounds great, but we have to put it into context—going from about 1.8 percent to 2 percent of giving is still pretty small. Moreover, many organizations spent a lot more money and time growing their digital programs.
I'm all in favor of investing in digital when it makes economic sense. But for many if not most organizations, a massive investment shift to this channel will cost them.
How can I stop my communications and marketing staff from messing up my fundraising?
At organizations that depend on gift income, I believe the communications and marketing staff should be at the service of the development department. Pretty much every senior fundraiser around the world will vouch for the fact that communication and marketing staff almost always reduce fundraising income.
This shouldn't be surprising since fundraisers and communication staff have different priorities and experience.
Here's one example. The communication and marketing staff at an organization I worked with hired a big commercial ad agency to conduct a branding and fundraising campaign. The organization paid the ad agency a whopping $1 million.
The campaign they developed was all about ego. It talked about how great the organization is—"cool" really. As for donors, it barely gave them a second thought. And the result? An appalling fundraising campaign that raised a total of $7,000!
In this case, the organization's leadership preferred a brand campaign that made them feel good about their organization. They could go to parties and collect compliments.
The harsh truth is I've seen too many organizations spend lots on branding or rebranding, and in every case either it didn't help or had a negative impact on fundraising.
I'm familiar with your book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks. Tell me, if you had to make it an even dozen, what is the 12th question you would add?
While researching the book, I spent a hefty number of hours narrowing down hundreds of questions. When I started, my objective wasn't to have 11. I would have been just as happy with 10 or even 12.
One question I considered was: Should I leave a legacy to this organization? But the reality is the majority of donors won't ever think about this. Keep in mind, however, that when you can answer the 11 questions I address, it does set the stage for a donor to seriously consider leaving a bequest.
© 2014, Emerson & Church, Publishers
Harvey McKinnon is one of North America's leading fundraising experts and president of the Vancouver/Toronto-based fundraising consultancy Harvey McKinnon Associates. In addition to The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave (Emerson & Church), his works include Hidden Gold (Taylor); the audio CD How Today's Rich Give (Jossey-Bass); Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press); and (as co-author) the international bestseller The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), which was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005.