Lately I've been on a giving spree again. I've been making gifts at conferences for live online giving presentations, and also for some blitz or one day campaigns that have popped up on my radar. And some of the responses have contained some dangerous assumptions. We often think we know what donors want, believing in good faith that we know what is best. After all, we do this for a living so we must be right?
Well, I go back to my wisdom from my dad, who always says he can't spell (which is scarily true for a man that ran a fortune 500 company) be he can always spell ASSuME. Here are some presumptive behaviors I've come across recently.
Remember that most million dollar gifts start with an annual fund or first time donor test gift of less than $100. Michael Bloomberg's first gift was a $25 annual fund gift.
I made two online gifts to universities as part of a presentation where I honestly critique online giving sites and the donor experience. both of these universities followed up with emails that stated "we can't find you in our database, tell us why you gave to us and who you are". AHEM. Seriously? The end here has had two drastically different results. One school I forwarded this response to was genuinely shocked and apologetic, after all, not only is an email like that a surprise to a donor, it's quite offensive. They are working on fixing their process and the way they contact their donors that aren't "known" to them. BRAVO.
If I give to Charity Water or American Cancer or the Wounded Warriors, they don't send me an email and say they can't find where they solicited me so why I am supporting them?
The other school truly blew my mind. I received a response from their advancement services department explaining why I was causing them difficulty, explaining their process, and that my gift could potentially be a fraudulent transaction. It was about THEM not ME. There was a sentence in there about not wanting duplicate records in their database and about my donor category. I was flabbergasted. All of this could have been solved with a button on the form that asked me to explain my relationship to this institution. It also could have been solved by telling the donor that regardless of their policies and procedures, they could see why this is problematic. I wonder if their leadership knows this is how they treat first time non alumni donors. Needless to say, I won't be supporting them again.
I also participated in some one day giving challenges, a huge trend that is brilliantly working all over the country. I received my gift receipt for one and a sticker/magnet that reads "Proud ____ Alum". I clearly checked the "friend" box on their giving site. I'm not an alum. I feel like I should go find one of their alumni and give them the item. Don't assume folks, it's dangerous ground.
How do we take away assumption from our daily work? Well, we implement a simple fundraising principle we've all heard many times before. "Don't ask, don't get." if we don't ask our donors what they want or expect from us, we won't get to the truth any time soon. It's ok to ask them about their giving experiences, their passions, and how they prefer to be thanked and recognized. It's not ok to just assUme anymore.
What are your thoughts? Where are there dangerous assumptions in your work?