Monday, 2 December 2013

What we don't know about supporter care...

Supporter care. Stewardship.  Donor relations. 

How do you look after the people that look after you?  Do your supporters even think that they need looking after? 

Supporter care is on my mind at the moment. If fundraisers had a school report and supporter care were on the curriculum my strong suspicion is that it would get a C- and a 'could do better.'  Because in the great drive to acquire and ask, the simple art of staying in touch can get forgotten.

Dorothy Donor

My mum is a classic Dorothy Donor.  A pre-war baby, she's now approaching 80 and gives to a number of charities. She's your classic DM favourite. She reads all her post. She likes human interest stories, whether they come from the parish gossip, from the local news or from a cash appeal. Instead of buying Christmas presents for her numerous progeny she sends goats to Africa and candles to nuns.

So how does she feel about supporter care?

Mum: "I'm getting about six charity appeals a day at the moment," she said. "I'm besieged by them."

Note to self: ask mother to keep hold of them to compare and contrast.

Me: "Yeah, it's that time of year. We've just sent ours out."

Mum: "Your sister didn't want a birthday present this year. She said she had everything she needed and to make a donation to charity! So I sent £100 to Médecins Sans Frontières and I got a most glowing letter back." 

Me: "They must have been pleased."

Mum: "You know I've had a thank you for almost every donation I've made this Christmas. All except one and they're quite a small charity so maybe they haven't got around to it yet."

Me, surprised. "Don't you usually?"

Mum: "No. I never hear from any of them.  But they've all said thank you this year."

I didn't know whether to applaud or cry. Is it really the exception that we charities say thank you? It's interesting that my mum wasn't cross about not being thanked.  Mostly, she is just concerned that her donation has got there safely and been banked.

But when she has received an acknowledgement, she has been very pleased. She doesn't like money being wasted. She is scathing about pens and freebies, coins stuck in cash appeals requesting a match.  But a simple "ta very much" she likes.  Who doesn't?

She likes to feel like there's a real person over at a charity who is pleased that her individual donation has made a difference.  She doesn't much mind who it is.  She likes to know what has been done with her money. Is that too much to ask?

Apparently it is. One volunteer in my office said she has only ever once received a thank you for a donation she has made - and that, because it was very substantial. ONCE!

And to my mind thank you is not enough. We need to do more. We need to find a way to involve people like my mum in the communities they are helping to shape.

But it's tough to find ways of doing that when resources are stretched and time is a luxury you don't have.  Still, like Annette Benning's Fairy Godmother says in the Eternally Fabulous The Slipper and the Rose:  I'll just MAKE time.

But it would help to have inspiration.

And don't forget - our Dorothys won't be with us forever. We're moving into the era of the Debbie Donor. And they are a whole different kettle of fish.

What do you do?

In the spirit of helping all of us to Get Better at Stewardship, a lovely volunteer I work with has put together a short survey to find out about the experiences people have when they donate. 

Supporter Care Survey

Spread the word.  We look forward to disseminating the findings!


Relevant articles:

Stewardship....When You Least Expect It
Why, thank you
Moving as Fundraisers from Taking to Giving
Do your Donors Read the Annual Review?


  1. I heard the Danish fundraiser Jacob Rolin speak at a conference last week. He told us about how his niece reacts when she receives a gift from him. If she looks up and says a polite 'thank you' then he knows his gift is not the best. What he wants is to see her ripping up the paper, running off shouting 'Look what I got! Look what I got!'
    The point Jacob was making is that there should be as much emotion in the stewardship as there was in the ask. But I wonder how many of us have signed our names to very polite, slightly corporate thank you letters? When we thank donors, we have a golden opportunity to make them feel brilliant, and I can't help feeling that we are in danger of missing that.