Friday, July 23, 2010

We don't know what we don't know

A fairly old adage and definitely applicable to individual giving.

Here are a few examples where this saying rings true. In other words, where people really don’t know what they don’t know.

- When it comes to communications preferences. On a response vehicle, how can we expect donors, and in many instances new donors, to know what “send me one communication a year” really means. Added to that, how do they know whether if they received 5, 8 or 12 communications that they wouldn’t be completely enamored and inspired by what you’ve spoken to them about? More so than if they got one communication each year. The point is we can’t assume. This communication preference can be incredibly destructive for your program, and ultimately the work you support.

- When we’re talking about types of legacies/bequests.
Did you know the difference between a residual bequest and a pecuniary bequest before you began working in fundraising? Unless you worked in the legal profession I doubt it. So why should we assume donors know this? It’s our duty to explain to them the difference, and in this particular example why residual bequests are worth on average anywhere from 5, 10 or even 30 times as much on average than a bequest left for a specific amount. Because it maintains its relative value over time (whereas a specific amount loses its relative value over time). See here for more on that.

- When we’re talking about the impact of other types of gifts, namely the way in which ongoing, monthly (regular) gifts can stretch the impact they can have on your beneficiaries in the long term.

Often we get so caught up in jargon and what we perceive as benefits (newsletters, trinkets, receiving less mail) that we neglect to talk about what this really means. What's in it for me (as a donor) and your beneficiaries? That includes a sense of satisfaction, perhaps even a feeling that we're insuring ourselves and our loved ones from whatever it is we're supporting, the threat of cancer or a killer disease.

That's what real benefits are about. But how can we assume people know?

It is an old adage, but a bloody good one worth thinking about.



Craig said...

Hi Jonathon,

Interesting and thoughtful post as ever.

Wanted to ask about your first point about communication preferences.

I'm just about to ask supporters their preferences (including the once a year question), so was wondering what you'd suggest instead?

Keep up the good work!


Jonathon Grapsas said...

Hi Craig

Thanks for the feedback, appreciate it.

I'd suggest letting donors decide - based on their behavior, not based on vague preferences.

I go back to the original post in that it's incredibly difficult for individuals to know what they are opting in/out of (and for), if they don't know you or your work.

Ultimately we're letting them decide, but by doing what we do (asking, thanking, feeding back and caring) - and then looking at how donors behave in response to these things. In other words if donors are not responding then your selection criteria will not pick them up to be contacted.

Having said that, it's a different kettle of fish if people actively 'ask' to be contacted in a certain way/frequency. Of course we should respect people's wishes in that sense. But ‘offering’ it is an easy get out, and particularly destructive fro programs, and ultimately your benefactors.

But as I said, people don’t know what they don't know. Surprise and delight them and they'll want to hear from you often, with open arms.


Tara Lepp said...

Hi Jonathon,

Great post! I think it is a really valid point about asking donors about their communication preferences. They aren't really sure what that means exactly and as a charity we may be shooting ourselves in the foot (so to speak) by cutting off communications with them that they might actually really be interested in.

Jonathon Grapsas said...

Couldn't agree more Tara, so true.

Craig said...

Thanks for the response Jonathon.

The post was really timely and set off a good discussion in the office.

As a result we've removed the tickbox 'How often do you want to hear from us' question on our supporter survey and turned it into a free text, open ended question about how can we communicate better.

'Surprise and delight' could also be my motto and we're trying hard to get better at that too!

Jonathon Grapsas said...

Nice work Craig. Glad the post was the impetus for some good discussion and what will be a positive outcome for your program.


Anonymous said...

Nice post Jonathan,

The blog and responses makes me ask a question as a donor that - how does a donor measure the impact of his contribution over time?