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Why Fundraisers Should Occasionally "Drop Digital" For Enhanced Donor Relationships


I chuckled to hear Al Roker’s latest challenge to “go analog” a couple of weeks ago. Inspired to “drop digital,” his experiences were good for a week’s worth of updates on the Today Show. As he explained in one of the clips, “I wanted to experience living more “in the moment” again.”

It reminded me of many of my clients, who are so over-committed to organizational meetings and other aspects of their Chief Executive or Chief Development Officer roles, they scarcely have a moment to make personal contact with their donors.

They know it shouldn’t be this way. They have good intentions to make that connection. But in an age of doing more with less (especially less staff) – figuring out how to measure impact, getting a handle on an over-neglected database and technology our donors now expect, and countless other challenges – sitting down to call and make personal visits takes a low priority for weeks into months.

Before you know it, you have a long list of donors who “you wouldn’t know if you tripped over them,” as my grandmother used to say. This is true with clients operating with multi-million dollar budgets and large staffs as well as those with no dedicated development staff at all. I experienced it myself, when I was running development offices raising tens of millions of dollars each year.

If you recognize the situation all too well, let me recommend Al Roker’s experiment—“Drop Digital.” Try taking a half-day or day out of the week to turn off the devices (really—just shut them off!) and pick up your trusty old landline.

What you will find is the difference you can make when you create the space to focus on the person.

What a joy it is to hear a human voice and have a live conversation!

In my life as a consultant, I’ve conducted hundreds of conversational interviews, which tell me that many donors are hungry to speak with living, breathing representatives about the organization fulfilling their shared values.  Not only are they hungry to talk, they have a lot of wisdom to share.

Here are some examples of amazing insights from donors I’ve talked with over years of conversational interviews:

  • Their profound positive feelings about your organization’s work
  • Just how delighted and flattered they are to be singled out for this conversation
  • What they discovered about their own life values when they see the good you do for the community
  • How much they are rooting for you to succeed, especially against some pretty tough odds
  • That their time with you and your colleagues at fundraising events, volunteering, attending performances, etc. rank as some of life’s high points—today, in memories of past years, and that they anticipate the same satisfaction for the years to come
  • Their disappointment when they observe a lack of focus and failure to rise to new challenges that is slowly overcoming the mindset to achieve important progress in your mission
  • Their recognition of sometimes glaring deficiencies, despite leadership’s desperate efforts to cover them up
  • How sincerely they want to help, especially if there was something they could do besides write another check

It’s hard to get that sort of communication unless you “drop digital”—periodically. These messages just don’t convey in emails tweets.

Personal conversations yield knowledge and insight about your donors that can be a powerful tool when you incorporate it into internal decision-making.

  • “Some of our supporters really want to be more engaged—how can we involve them in a volunteer or advisory capacity?
  • “Those printed newsletters generate more comments from our donors than three months’ worth of emails—and the envelopes are regularly returned with additional gifts”
  • “We really must let this top tier of sponsors know about the executive transition privately, before anyone hears about it elsewhere!”

“Drop Digital” is a strategy you can use when you find it hard to focus, or realize you can’t seem to get traction on a new project or initiative. If you are like me, the live conversation with caring, passionate human beings helps focus and energize, and seems to activate the curiosity, connecting and learning parts of my brain. That can be lifesaver from an overdose of digital distraction!

As part of Bloomerang’s Content Donation Program, $100 was donated to the Arts Council of Fairfax County, Virginia.

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  • Angela Struebing

    Great reminder Julie! Digital can do a lot of things but taking the place of personal interactions is not one of them. Use it to supplement relationships not replace them.
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