What should donors expect from a nonprofit organization to which they donate money?
In my role with Trinity Health Foundation, one of the things I enjoy doing is meeting with those who have previously given to support the organization and the work we are doing to improve the health and wellness of the region. Some of these meetings are with people who are currently partnering with us, and other meetings are with folks who have stopped donating. All of these visits are informative because I learn why people first became engaged with Trinity Health Foundation, what they are passionate about, or what caused them to decide to no longer financially support Trinity Health Foundation.
During one recent conversation from a new donor, I was asked, “As a donor, what should I expect from Trinity Health Foundation?” I have often found that when one person asks you a question, there are many others who are wondering the same thing. After all, a donor’s relationship with a charity needs to be symbiotic. The needs and wants of the one who gives money are just as important as the one who receives the money; and ultimately both parties should benefit from the relationship. Sadly, this is not always the case.
Very often when one is contacted by a charity, you hear about that non-profit‘s needs and why you should support them. The communication may include the organization’s vision and mission, the challenge that they are facing, the opportunity they have to make a difference, the people who will be impacted, potentially stories or statistics to demonstrate their effectiveness and build their case, and how you can help change lives. However, while all of that information is important and needs to be communicated, for a non-profit to build in-depth, long term relationships with supporters, it must also recognize the donor’s needs and understand why those needs are important.
According to a survey conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, the top 9 things that non-profits do that influence giving are as follows:
- Send a receipt for tax purposes
- Do not distribute the donor’s name
- Honor a donor’s request for anonymity
- Honor a donor’s request for how their gift will be used
- Send a thank-you note
- Provide ongoing communication
- Provide information about the organization’s effectiveness
- Communicate the impact of a donor’s gift
- Offer opportunities for involvement with the organization
While some of these items may seem relatively self-explanatory, let’s take a moment to review each one in greater detail.
Receiving a receipt for a gift is probably the most basic expectation for a donor. The receipt provides the documentation that a donor needs for tax purposes and also lets the donor know that their gift was indeed received. Trinity Health Foundation will provide donors with a receipt for their records, and in case the first receipt gets lost in the mail or misplaced, just contact us and we can send you a duplicate receipt.
Most donors view that the donations they make are between themselves, the organization, and if they are religious, their God. It can be incredibly frustrating for a donor to give to one organization only to begin receiving solicitations and appeals from many other charities because the entity they gave to provided their name to the other agencies. A donor’s frustration level will increase even more if the initial charity misspelled their name and as a result all of the other nonprofits are also misspelling their name. can assure you that Trinity Health Foundation will not give, trade, or sell its donor list to any other organizations.
Beyond making sure that a charity will not share their information with other organizations, there are some donors who wish to remain anonymous in their giving. Donors may want anonymity for a variety of reasons. If a donor had asked for his/her giving to remain anonymous and then that person sees his/her giving information in a publication or on a website it can be very unsettling. If you make a gift to Trinity Health Foundation and you inform us that you would like your gift to be anonymous, we will honor your request.
Another pet peeve of donors is when they make a gift for a specific purpose, but the organization uses the money for a completely different intent. If the purpose of the gift was proposed by the donor, and the nonprofit indicated that they could accommodate the request, but then used the gift for something else, it can make a donor feel like the representatives of the agency to which they gave did not listen to them and did not value them. If the purpose of the gift was proposed by the organization, and the donor gave to help the agency achieve that purpose, but then the organization ended up using the money for something else, it makes the donors feel as if they were part of a ‘bait and switch.’ It also causes the donor to have diminished faith and trust in the nonprofit for one of two reasons.
- Reason 1 - the organization appears to only want the donor’s money, and does not respect the relationship with the donor or the donor’s input.
- Reason 2 - the agency has demonstrated that it either had a very poor plan or that it is unable to execute its plans.
Either way this experience can negatively impact a donor’s perception of the nonprofit to which they made the gift, as well as their perception of other charities. Trinity Health Foundation pledges to work with donors and use the gifts we receive for their intended purpose.
It is one thing for a donor to receive a receipt that acknowledges their gift. It is another for a donor to actually receive a thank you that demonstrates that both the donor and the donor’s gift are appreciated. Whether it is a letter, a hand written note, an e-mail, a phone call, or perhaps an in-person comment, a thank you goes a long way in the eyes of a donor.
Beyond a thank you, most donors also want the organization to stay in touch with them at times other than when they are asking for money. If the only time a donor hears from a charity is during an appeal, a solicitation visit or a campaign, then the donor is likely to conclude that the organization only values them for their money, and is using them. This is not a healthy relationship, but rather a parasitic one.
It is important to have regular communication with donors outside of appeals, solicitation and campaign about several things such as:
- how the donor is helping to positively impact lives,
- the charity’s effectiveness – how many people are you serving, what are the outcomes and results of your programs and services,
- how their gift was used and did it help to solve a problem or allow the organization to pursue an opportunity that presented itself, and
- if there are any opportunities for the donors to be involved with the organization on a deeper level.
But, it is just as important to see how the donor is doing, learn more about them, and see what is going on in his or her life. That is the only way to build a healthy, long-term relationship. This is an area where Trinity Health Foundation is striving to improve and where we commit to do better.
I hope this information is as helpful to you as it was the donor with whom I was visiting.
If you would like to discuss any of the information in this article in greater depth, or if you would like to learn more about Trinity Health Foundation and how you can partner with us to improve the health and wellness of the people in our region, please contact me at (701)857-5432 or firstname.lastname@example.org.