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Nonprofits: Don’t Treat Volunteers and Donors Like Crayons (Part 2)

fundraisers of color


I was genuinely shocked when Steven Shattuck from Bloomerang informed me that my last blog, “Don’t Treat Donors and Volunteers Like Crayons,” was the top read/shared blog in 2015. And this isn’t false modesty; true genuine joy that folks connected with the post! Though Steven credits the adult coloring book craze, I continue to credit Drew Daywalt’s direct and effective storytelling; the lessons apply to so much of life.

Drew, and illustrator, Oliver Jeffers, teamed up again for a sequel: The Day the Crayons Come Home. And as it happens, these crayons’ experiences have more lessons for us in working with donors and volunteers.

“Your marooned friend, Maroon Crayon”

Maroon was used once and forgotten for two years, leaving it feeling, well, marooned.  According to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, four of five first time donors leave and do not make a second gift. We also know from Penelope Burk and others that most first time gifts are significantly lower than their capacity; in other words, first time donors often test us to ensure the investment is worthwhile. That means we need to welcome first time donors, share the impact of their gifts and find ways to connect them closer to our missions before we ever dream of a second gift.

“Esteban…the Magnificent (the crayon formerly known as Pea Green)”

Who likes peas? Who likes the color pea green? This crayon wants a make over. Organizations have a number of constituencies: concert goers, patrons, volunteers, advocates, blood donors, in-kind donors, vendors; imagine concentric circles emanating from our causes. Find ways to deepen the relationship with various groups of supporters, bringing them closer to your organization instead of just doing what you’ve always done. Develop communication and cultivation plans for each group, just as you would for new and upgrading donors.

“Your left behind friend, Neon Red Crayon”

Neon Red crayon was left behind on vacation, after enjoying coloring in the sun. He asks our returning forgetful protagonist, Duncan, “Remember how we laughed when we drew a picture of your dad’s sunburn?” Donors bask in the emotional glow of giving to your organization. They expect word from you that you appreciate their gift; plus an immediate acknowledgement letter demonstrates you are attentive to them and that you need their gift. I personally loathe when year-end donation letters arrive after my bank interest statements. Can we all show better appreciation than banks?

“Your undigestible friend, Tan Crayon”

Tan crayon has been through dog guts and back, literally; asking, “Have you ever been eaten by a dog and puked up on the floor?” Unfortunately, bad giving experiences abound. Most frequently online: logins, additional fields, non-mobile optimized websites, etc. We make it too difficult to make gifts online and leave donors feeling digested. Online forms need to be simple, easily accessible on mobile devices, and immediately donor satisfying.

“Your pointless friend, Gold Crayon.”

A recurring theme, gold crayon is overworked, but also is unheard. The donor experience improves proportionally as their giving increases. Not solely, but typically this is because we begin to personalize and tailor the giving experience for major donors. But today, there is really no excuse for ignoring donor preferences. Segmentation is your best friend: donors who prefer electronic vs hardcopy communication; credit card vs bank draft; one time vs monthly giving; education vs advocacy donors, etc. What is much more difficult is making the case for this customization, but testing segmentation may give you the proof of concept you need.

And there are many other stories of crayons and donors neglected, forgotten, and lost. However, in the end, Duncan realizes his errors. And like us, he admits he hasn’t done all he can for his friends. Duncan gathers up all of his crayons and builds a beautiful home for all them to live, a home big enough for everyone, understanding their unique needs and desires; happiness is restored.

Isn’t that what we strive to do in our daily work? The organizations we serve are meant to be comfortable homes for the clients, patrons, volunteers and donors we serve. If there is a lesson in both of these books, it is that each individual brings a unique perspective. They are willing and able to contribute to a cause they believe in, but their stewardship requires intentional actions by conscientious, flaw-accepting, relationship-focused leaders.

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to the Indiana Repertory Theatre.

Read Don’t Treat Donors and Volunteers Like Crayons (Part 1) here >>

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