F&P Magazine | 1/11/2018
Ruth Jones on the characteristics of engaged donors (there are seven), the power of getting personal and what you should really be spending your time and money on.
Before we move into specifics, let’s talk about why we want engaged donors. After all, they are a lot more work, and everyone is pretty stretched for time as it is. We want them because once they are engaged, they are likely to be with you for the long haul.
Sometimes, reading the paper is depressing. Surrounded by difficult, possibly intractable issues, people feel a sense of helplessness.
What nonprofits give their engaged donors is a sense that they are part of something worthwhile and meaningful: that they can make a difference. That’s a great feeling. Research at Social Venture Partners showed that when people felt that their gifts were meaningful, they were more inclined to give more.
1. CHARACTERISTICS OF ENGAGED DONORS
From my time working with a network of engaged donors, several characteristics were evident:
- Social standing was not a driver of their involvement with an organisation or a cause
- Many already had a pre-disposition to be involved in community activities
- Equal numbers of men and women
- They were already cognizant of societal issues around them
- Most often, they were not from a background of inherited wealth, so were open to new ideas about how philanthropy should be practiced and how one might respond to social issues
- Many had children: this was an important influence on their desire to be involved in philanthropy and volunteering
- Being in the company of peers interested in the same topics is a big driver: the other key driver is getting close enough to understand and appreciate the approach that an organisation is taking.
Summing up then: people who are aware of what is going on in their community; have no preconceptions about what philanthropy is meant to look like, and are ready to learn and experiment; are conscious of passing on strong values and modelling good behaviour to their children; enjoy experiential, on the job learning, so to speak; and like to do so in the company of those who share their values.
2. A SENSE OF COMMUNITY MATTERS
When you consider the scale of the problems we see each day, and then consider the amount many people can give, it’s not hard to understand why people can feel helpless – that the amount they are able to give can’t make a difference anyway. Feeling part of a community of donors changes the equation. Alone, my contribution is a drop in the bucket – but a group of us? That’s a different story.
Being part of a community of engaged donors gives individuals the chance to engage their mindand connect with people who are working directly on the issues. That’s when giving stops being cerebral – because it’s the right thing to do – and starts becoming deeply personal.
Being part of a community of donors has an impact on people’s knowledge and understanding of social issues: it cements their commitment to philanthropy and pushes them to give more and do more. This often needs to be conveyed in this way to CEOs and Boards to help them understand.
3. TAKE TIME & SPEND MONEY TO UNDERSTAND YOUR DONORS
During my time at Social Venture Partners, we had the benefit of working with a data analytics firm. Its research and analysis gave us an in-depth picture of our donors: their family, business and spiritual lives, annual household income, annual giving, level of education… We wanted to understand more about the people who were drawn to our engaged giving model.
The responses to our regular donor surveys and the data analytics study were anonymous but gave us information that strengthened program planning and implementation and informed communication: it gave us a good handle on people who might be drawn to our engaged model of giving and volunteering.
We also did occasional town hall style meetings with donors at which they were asked to comment on specific areas of our performance. Sometimes it turned out that something I thought was great, they didn’t care all that much about. What it reinforced was the importance of checking in regularly with donors to find out what they really think, rather than going with what I hoped – or wanted! – them to think.
FINAL TIPS ON ENGAGING DONORS
- Bring them together with their peers. The social aspect is important and here I don’t mean galas and extravagant events: I mean the opportunity to meet and spend time with people who also care about the issue
- Educate them about the systemic issues you are dealing with: the more they understand, the more they commit. This can be a mix of experiential learning, mentoring and training
- Offer them the opportunity to contribute their professional skills, too, if possible
Ruth Jones is a Specialist Philanthropy and Donor Engagement Consultant at The Xfactor Collective. Click here to read more about Ruth Jones.
To hear Ruth speak more on these topics, click on the links in the article or go to the ‘THE X-CHANGE’ youtube channel. You will also find many of the other specialist consultants from The Xfactor Collective community sharing their expert knowledge at THE X-CHANGE, which is growing from 50+ to 125+ short helpful videos over the coming few months. The Xfactor Collective is a community for social change-makers and game-changers, and includes a growing group of specialist consultants, a Concierge helpdesk service and other support services.