The essentials Donor relations: Give them what they want

In the consumer world, the customer is king. But how many voluntary sector organisations follow this advice and actually treat their donors like royalty? Alex Blyth provides some useful tips for creating positive partnerships.

1. Ask not what your donors can do for you Ken Burnett, author, lecturer and consultant on fundraising, believes that, before anything else, charities must get their approach right. He says: "For me, the single best thing a charity can do for its donors is to follow what I call the 90-degree shift. That is, to view themselves and what they produce from a donor's perspective. It means sending what those donors want to receive, not what the fundraisers want to send."

He cites the charity Botton Village. "On the reply form in its direct mail pack, rather than the conventional 'How you can help us' message, Botton Village includes a section on 'How Botton Village can help you'.

This lists services such as providing free information, helping to plan wills and sending material when the donor wants it. Botton Village's direct mail results are about twice as good as those of most charities."

2. Create a community Many people donate to charity to feel part of a wider community. Charities often forget this in their enthusiasm to create a one-to-one relationship. Sacha Anthony, head of charity services at Bmycharity, says: "Charities should use websites, fundraising packs, email newsletters and direct mail to build a sense of community among donors.

A sense of collaboration can really help them reach fundraising targets."

For instance, many of the 15,000 people who completed Walk the Walk's night-time MoonWalk in May went online before the event to form mutually supportive groups and teams. In a similar vein, Breakthrough Breast Cancer has set up a web page for each of its overseas challenges to allow those going on the treks to find out who else is going and how much money they have raised.

3. Make it personal Starlight Children's Foundation grants wishes and provides hospital entertainment to seriously and terminally ill children. Neil Swan, chief executive of the charity, says: "Our donors like to be involved on a personal level. For example, one of our supporters recently raised more than £2,500 for Starlight by trekking to the North Pole. Instead of simply accepting money from this amazing woman and waiting for her to return with another idea for fundraising, we have allocated the sum she has raised to specific wishes. We do this for a number of our supporters and we find it really inspires them to help us further."

4. Don't ask too much Charities quite naturally want to generate as much income as possible to fund their good works. This can mean they ask too much of supporters and deter them from making further donations. In most cases it will be far better to acquire 10 donors, each giving £5 a month, than to receive £100 from one donor but scare off nine other potential givers.

Pitching the amount can be tricky, but Mary-Anne Partridge, head of charities at data consultancy Occam, offers a simple solution: "Tailor the level for each individual based on their donation history over the past 12 months.

What's the point of asking someone for £25 if they have only ever given you £10? On the other hand, if they've always given you £100, you'd be a fool to ask for £25."

5. Say thank you One of the most effective ways to improve donor relations is to say 'thanks'. Donors like to be appreciated and to see that their donations have led to positive change. David Burrows, head of fundraising at direct marketing agency TDA, says: "Thank you appeals are strong performers for Cats Protection. Coming up to Christmas, we thank supporters with a free advent calendar. In previous years we have followed up spring kitten appeals with an autumn thank you showing what has been achieved. This can be a very simple, low-cost way to achieve a high response."


LJ BARNSLEY, an IT trainer in her mid-30s, supports the Dyslexia Institute. She would like to receive more acknowledgement from the charity.

She says: "I used to get a regular quarterly magazine, but this seems to have stopped. I'm proud to be associated with the organisation and would like to get involved with my local centre, but so far I haven't heard anything from them."

BRIDGET WILL, a full-time mother in her early 30s, used to donate to Oxfam, but was disappointed by its response to her request for less communication.

She says: "I wrote to Oxfam asking them not to send me all the usual materials because I didn't want my donations being used up in this way, but it carried on sending them. I'm not sure if it was a symptom of a bigger charity being complacent, but it really annoyed me."

KATE FIELDING, a 30 year-old PR manager, donates regularly to ActionAid.

She receives a quarterly newsletter and an occasional email. She would like more communication by email and says: "I feel upset when I am sent a costly mailing. Email is a better use of resources. It's true they are easier to delete, but I do read emails from charities I've chosen. There's no point supporting the developing world and destroying the environment along the way."

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