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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

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The new keys to success in fundraising today: Information
Mal Warwick

December, 2010

In recent months, I’ve been developing a new perspective on fundraising, born of the increasing frustration I’ve felt trying to understand today’s fundraising environment through the lens of yesterday’s truths. Below is the fourth part of a long article I’ve drafted to begin laying out my new approach. Please let me know what you think.

Now let’s turn to the second of my four guidelines or principles: Information. Don’t forget the distinction I drew between data and information. It may have been a little unorthodox, as definitions go, but it works for fundraising. When you’re informing your donors, you’ve got to make sure what you’re telling them is interesting to them. That means you don’t send newsletters about staff comings and goings . . . about how the Executive Director got a big honor . . . or statistics about how many people you’ve served. Far too often, articles like that appear in nonprofit newsletters—and they’re boring to donors. You’ve got to answer their questions, not yours.

OK, so let’s take a look now at each of the four broad varieties of information that may be interesting to your donors: results, institutional, financial, and personal information.

  • Results come first. For the great majority of your donors, this is at the very top of the wish-list for information from you. Think about it: You’ve just sent $50 to your favorite charity to support a big new campaign because you really care about the issue it addresses. Won’t you want to know what happens with that campaign? Now think a little more: If the campaign doesn’t go well, if unanticipated problems arise, wouldn’t you want to know that, too? Wouldn’t you resent it if you never heard a thing? And, not so incidentally, wouldn’t you also resent it if the charity told you the campaign was a huge success—and later you learned some other way that it was really a big failure?

What I’m trying to tell you is that your donors don’t want propaganda. They get enough of that every day from commercial marketers. They want to know what’s really going on. And if you level with them—really level with them—your relationships with them will get stronger and stronger.

  • Leadership. But some prospects and donors, especially your most loyal and committed donors, want to know who’s minding the store. This is particularly if your organization serves a local community. This means knowing who’s on your board of directors. Who the staff members are, and what are their skills. How long you’ve been in business. How are decisions made. How big is your budget.
  • Financial information. Now, I don’t mean you should be including all this in your donor appeals. For most donors, most of the time, this is data, not information. But it all needs to be posted on your Web site, at a minimum. And it needs to be included in an annual report. By the way, you should publish an annual report every year. It doesn’t have to be beautifully designed and lavishly printed. It doesn’t even have to be on paper! For many organizations, an annual report on the Web site may be enough. But an annual report is a basic requirement of a nonprofit’s contract with society.

If you listen to the self-appointed charity watchdogs, you’d probably think that all donors really want from you in the way of information are financial reports. These are the people whose obsession with “fundraising costs” has poisoned the well for all U.S. nonprofits by persuading the public how the only thing that matters about an organization’s operations is what percentage it spends on raising money. In fact, if I had the time, I could easily show you how this percentage is almost always both irrelevant and misleading.

Of course, some donors clearly do care about this stuff (even if they didn’t know it before they were told they should). And some care about other financial matters, such as your Chief Executive’s salary. So the easier you make it for them to access that information, the better. This means not just filling out government forms, but publishing clear, easily understandable financial reports and making them available to anyone who asks.

  • Personal data. But financial information about your organization is only part of the picture. As far as many donors are concerned, their own financial information is at least as important—as you’ll know if you’ve ever fielded incoming calls from donors. Partly because of all the attention given to privacy concerns in recent years, your donors really care what your records show about their past giving. And it’s hard to blame them, because so many nonprofit organizations do an incredibly sloppy job of data entry, misspelling names, adding or dropping digits, and entirely missing some gifts.

To do a really good job of fundraising, you’ve got to have this information at your fingertips—or at least be prepared to provide it within a day or so. You’ll do an even better job if you make it easier for the donors themselves to review the same information, ideally by giving them direct access online or sending them an annual summary like the one on the screen below.

Mr. Warwick, your contributions in 2009 totaled $265.
Date Amount Reason
10 January $50 Membership Renewal
23 April $100 Media Campaign
9 September $50 Lobby Day
12 December $65 Year-End Appeal

Thank you for your continuing support as a member of the Director’s Circle!


Check out Mal Warwick at


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