Trust is a Must in Building Sustainable Donor Relationships
By Claire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE and principal of Clairification.com
We talk a lot about the need to be “authentic.” Donors want authenticity and transparency. Most of all, donors want you to fulfill on your promises. Consistently. So they can trust you.
How important is this? It’s everything.
Trust is the foundation of all sustainable relationships. It’s fundamental.
You can look to research from marketing, neuroscience, psychology and even fundraising, and the results are all the same. Across industries, positive consumer-experience emotions—encompassed in a feeling of trust—are the biggest drivers of satisfaction and loyalty.
Trust, trust, trust, trust is a must, must, must, must.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of appearing untrustworthy and inauthentic.
- We’re the oldest… biggest… most effective… one and only…
- We don’t trust fakers and posers and sleazy sales folks.
- We raised more than we needed for… so we’re putting the balance towards…
We don’t trust people who say one thing today, and another tomorrow.
- We’re saving a life every minute… at a cost of only 50 cents a day…
We don’t trust exaggerators and tellers of tall tales.
- With your one gift, we’ll rescue 10,000 and get them help for life…
We don’t trust hyped-up promoters who offer the sun, moon and stars.
- Thank you for your money… just trust we’ll spend it wisely… bye now.
We don’t trust promisers who fail to follow through.
We’re won over by those who make realistic promises and then come through for us. Especially those who keep doing so, over and over and over. Even when we might not expect them to.
Your goal? To show donors they matter more to you than they even thought they did. If you want to retain donors, you must win them over with genuine, heartfelt authenticity.
Seth Godin defines authenticity thusly: I define it as, “consistent emotional labor.”
We call a brand or a person authentic when they’re consistent, when they act the same way whether or not someone is looking. Someone is authentic when their actions are in alignment with what they promise.
- Showing up as a pro.
- Keeping promises.
- Even when you don’t feel like it.
- Especially when you don’t.
It’s hard work to do the consistent emotional labor it takes to develop trust. Getting consistency right requires the attention of top leadership.
Leadership is what will drive an articulated, written plan and an investment of the necessary time and resources to see that plan through.
Do you have a trust-building plan?
Too many nonprofits spend the lion’s share of their time in donor acquisition mode. Whether it’s direct mail, special events or grant writing. Everything is oriented towards getting a gift. Too little is oriented towards keeping that gift – and that donor.
If you’re not doing enough to retain your donors, you’ll know it.
Look at your database. Look at the number of donors you had last year. Now look at how many of those donors renewed their gifts. How many did you lose? (For benchmarking purposes, the Fundraising Effectiveness Project shows that, on average, nonprofits lose 23% of first-time donors and 46% of all donors). That’s a lot of losing. And losing, generally, means failure to build trust.
What do you do to win your donors over?
- Immediately after the gift
- Subsequently, throughout the year
- How do you demonstrate authenticity?
- Do all your departments (e.g., marketing and development) speak with the same voice?
- Do your marketing messages align across different channels?
- How do you gain donors’ trust so you can begin to build a lasting relationship?
- Do you thank within 48 hours?
- Do you have a donor-centered culture of philanthropy?
- These are among the key questions you should be asking when you build your donor acknowledgment and stewardship program.
The end of the calendar year is fast approaching. I know you’re in fundraising and donor acquisition mode. That’s absolutely appropriate.
However… don’t forget to put in place a “Trust Plan” to keep the donors you win over to your cause this year. Otherwise, you’ll be starting from scratch again next year, rather than building on your foundation.
How about writing down three things, right now, that you can do to keep it authentic for your donors in the coming year?
Here are some synonyms for “authenticity” to get your juices flowing:
True. Reliable. Genuine. Accurate. Realistic. Dependable. Trustworthy.
- Can you create donor thank you letters and reports that showcase your truth?
- Do you have reliable systems to get acknowledgments out quickly?
- Do you have genuine stories to share?
- Do you have accurate data?
- Do you offer donors realistic solutions?
- Do you have dependable development professionals?
- Do you have trustworthy program managers?
- How will you show up as a pro, every day, even though it’s hard work and takes your investment?
If you’re not willing to invest and work, your donors won’t be willing to invest or work with you.
Lead by example. Be real. Review your communications and messaging and make sure they’re real too.
“Real” is your raison d’etre.
It’s that simple.
Former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree said, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant.”
Ask yourself this: How am I, and our leaders, authentically serving our cause and our donors? How can we do this more effectively and more reliably?
You cultivate trust through consistent, authentic service, transparency and truth. Do this, and you’ll keep more donors. Guaranteed.
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