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10 Ways to Damage Donor Trust

10 Ways to Damage Donor Trust
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Professor Adrian Sargeant has focused a fair amount of his 20+ years of research on the topic of donor loyalty. One of my favorite facets of his research illustrates the importance of trust in the donor relationship – a link we do not think of often enough. Obviously, this link has a direct impact upon donor retention due to the strength or weakness of the resulting relationship.

This direct relationship between trust and donor loyalty should logically lead most nonprofits into making factors influencing trust the key drivers of day-to-day actions, as well as organizational processes.

Sadly, this is often not the case.

Below are 10 actions that have a direct negative impact on the amount of trust between the donor and a nonprofit:

1) A slow gift acknowledgement

Perhaps the most basic of processes is to send out a timely thank you for any gift, no matter what the size. This is especially important for first-time gifts!

2) A lack of personalized communications

In today’s world of affordable donor management systems and communications software for any size charity, to not personalize any appeal or thank you letter as well as any email communication, is not only hurting trust, but is missing out on a key relationship-building step.

3) Ignoring communication preferences

Most nonprofits are now finding out what each donor prefers in regards to email and regular mail being sent to them. However, all it takes in a single slip up in the queries used to generate any communications process to violate the trust again, albeit in a small manner.

4) Surveying, and ignoring the response

Donor surveys are wonderful for building relationships and to find out what is important to every donor who responds. If the donor answers, then a follow-up call to thank them or to further discuss is a splendid chance for an extra touch to build trust. Even more importantly, use the survey responses to tailor future appeals to the donor’s interests.

But if a donor gives you feedback, and you don’t act on it…

5) Not offering opportunities to support specific projects of funds

We are starting to go beyond courtesy and relationship-building as we move into specific project funding. This is where the donor moves into a high level of commitment and trust. I am always surprised this is not more commonplace since every time I have had the opportunity to support even a small project it has lead to ongoing and usually ever increasing annual support to the charity.

6) Not reporting on campaign, project or fund results

This description is bolded since it is so off the charts valuable in securing and maintaining trust: If a donor supports a specific project then timely reporting of the results pertaining to the project must be provided. This is the ideal manner to secure a follow-on funding for the project or anew one building upon the previous one. We recently heard the story of a longtime scholarship donor who was not notified of the newest recipient of a scholarship, and was only sent an invoice. Yikes!

7) Not recording meeting details

This has happened more than once to me. Over a long and wonderful lunch, a large number of personal details are shared. Most importantly, the inner soul is revealed about my passion for the mission or certain projects.

In both of my cases the gift officer left and the new replacement started asking the same questions. Trust flew right out the window!

(Keep in mind that following up regarding questions asked is just as important!)

8) Recognizing donations, but not volunteerism

In many cases the time offered is much more valuable to the donor than the dollars given. Plus, it allows the donor to be part of the mission first-hand. Should that not be reflected in any and all recognition?

9) Treating referrals poorly

Donor referrals are most likely to be the best prospects for becoming new donors. Those individuals should be treated just as special as the donor referring them.

One of the biggest reasons for high levels of employee retention is having a best friend at the same company. This works for donor retention too! Think how many more events/volunteer activities a donor will attend if one or more best friends are there.

10) Not associating a gift from my business, family foundation or charitable giving fund to me

This has happened multiple times to my wife and myself. Can you imagine what happened to our trust level when I was called a few months later asking if we were still making an annual gift?

How many of these could have been avoided if any charity is aware of the impact they have on donor trust and planned a few key processes to alleviate them?

Although most of the ones above would be common sense to most CEOs and fundraisers, please keep in mind many of the actions or services involved in the ten ways outlined above are handled by various other members of the team.

This is why training and instilling the proper service oriented mindset are both invaluable. Only one or two missteps can result in great amounts of trust being lost. Best of luck in preserving and enhancing trust with all of your organization’s donors!

Can you think of any others I might have missed? How many have happened to you? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Rachel

    Input needed! A small but mighty organization I dearly love (worked for, was on the board, volunteer with regularly) and generously support recently sent me a solicitation via a Facebook message (!). It was blatantly cut and pasted as it started with, "You may have heard..." regarding an major organizational event that I had intimate knowledge of -- and the organization was very aware of my knowledge. I sent kindly-worded email feedback to the Executive Director (whom I know personally), and she hasn't replied after nearly a week. I'm astonished and frustrated. Advice? I don't want to pull my support out of spite, but I'm really disappointed.
  • David

    Thank you so much for the information you have provided here. I think a lot of times we get wrapped up and focused on the actual donation itself that we sometimes forget how effective and important things like a simple "Thank you" or response to a donor question can be. I believe above all that your integrity plays a huge part in the success of your mission. My goal is to always be transparent with what I'm doing or how I'm doing it even when the questions are difficult. What are some of the questions can we use to initially engage our donors in the conversation in the first place? I find it a little difficult with the retention of donors because of the lack of depth in the initial conversation.
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