Turning Donors Into Friends Who Care

There is a house for sale in my neighborhood. The realtor is an old friend. I walk past his sign every day, think of him, and smile.

On my walk this morning, the wind had knocked the sign off its hooks. I stopped, re-assembled it, and walked on.

Instantly, I wondered, “If that wasn’t Jim’s sign, would I have fixed it?” And I confess the answer was that I probably would not have. And I smiled to think that a different realtor, at a different house, with a different sign – she probably cares as much about the properties she sells as Jim cares about his clients. And her friends and family probably care about her as much as I care about Jim. Yet I probably would not have fixed her sign, simply because I do not know her. I don’t care about her. But I care about my friend Jim.

Another story comes to mind – I believe it was one of Saul Alinsky’s – about the importance of connecting. Here is my recollection of the example Alinsky gave:

If I were scheduled to give a talk, and I died prior to giving that talk, there might be a notice in the paper. You might think, “Saul Alinsky – I was to going to go hear him. What a shame.” And that would be that.

But if I had given that talk, and you had been in the audience, and then I had died afterwards, your thoughts would be very different. “Oh goodness no! I just saw him last week. He talked about this and about that – he was wonderful! I cannot believe he is gone!” You would have felt a connection. I would be the same person, and I would still be dead. But your feelings would be different.

Connection matters. And the more engaged that connection, the more it matters.

Which is what makes me crazy about all the talk of a 2% return on a cold direct mailing. Or a golf tournament as a ‘friendraiser’ because all these people now know about the organization.

Engaged connections are what make us act. Engaged connections are what make us care more about the speaker we saw – even though he was only a guy on a stage – than the speaker that died before we could see him. Engaged connections are the difference between fixing my friend Jim’s sign, and my likely not fixing the sign of a stranger.

I have written a lot about the power of Community Engagement – the power of engaging people directly in the work we are doing to make a better world, a better place to live – the power of making real friends.

I have written a lot about the ridiculous notion that a golf tournament (or any other event, for that matter) will ‘raise friends,’ when no, what it will do is take a ton of work to raise one-time money from people you will likely never see again – people who likely didn’t buy the ticket, but had it gifted to them by the real donor – the one who doesn’t have time nor the inclination to show up at yet another event.

Here is what I wrote in the introduction to FriendRaising, about the ‘transactional’ definition of friendship, as used in the ‘nonprofit sector’:

The transactional view of friendship [states], “If you give us money, we will be your friend. If we think you will give us money, we will court you as our friend. If you fail to give us money, we will eventually stop calling you. The more money you give us, the more friendly we will be.”

And unfortunately, what that means is that our organizations do not have friends. We may have donors. We may have attendees at an event. We may even have a great ROI on a mailing.

But we do not have friends.

Friends are there for you, no matter what. Friends volunteer, and friends make connections for you, and friends lend you their truck, and friends do all that because they feel a connection to you and to the work you are doing to make your community a better place to live.

And yes, friends will also give you money.

But just as in real life, that’s not what a friend is – someone who gives you money. It is someone who cares. Someone who would feel pain if something bad happened to the work you are trying to do. Someone who feels that your mission is their mission. Someone who will work to ensure that mission is accomplished!

The truth is that a cold direct mail piece cannot make a friend. To make a friend, you need to make an engaged connection.

Turning Donors Into Friends
Today, right now – list all your donors. Sort them by dollar gift. Take the top 1/4 of those donor names, and set them aside. If you are like most organizations, you are already engaging those folks plenty. (If you give us money, we will be your friend. The more money you give us, the more friendly we will be…)

Now look at the other 3/4 of your existing donors – the ones you pretty much ignore except to send them more mailings asking for more money.

And starting from the bottom up – yup, from the $5 donor and the $10 donor – call each one of them, until you are done. Take the week. Take the month. Call each one and say Thank You.

Call and ask if they would like to take a tour of your facility.

Call and ask if they would like to have coffee, so you can learn more about their feelings about your community’s issues, and your community’s potential.

If yours is an arts or education organization – perhaps a museum or a symphony – call and ask if they would like free passes to your latest exhibit, or your latest performance. You weren’t sold out anyway, so why not show the people who care about you that you care back?

NOT because they will give you money. But because that’s what friends do. Friends say thank you. Friends call when they DON’T want anything. Friends give as much as they take. Friends call just to say, “I am glad you are in my life.”

Yes, your next mailing will likely net you more dollars from friends than from just plain ‘donors.’ But that’s not the point. The point is that you will be building an army of friends, who can help you with the real work – the work of making your community an incredible place to live.

For that, you will need more than just donors.

For that, you will need friends.

You’ll find 100 more strategies for making REAL friends in FriendRaising: Community Engagement Strategies for Boards Who Hate Fundraising but Love Making Friends read more here.

5 Responses to Turning Donors Into Friends Who Care

  1. LOL – I hadn’t thought about the “Hurts So Good” School of Fundraising, Ron, but it certainly has possibilities! 🙂 Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. Hildy,

    I think your transcript of Saul Alinsky’s example is brilliant. It’s the best illustration I’ve seen in a long time of how much engaged connection matters, and how we are starting to come into an awareness of the impact.

    I have to admit though, looking back on my own experience, that it seems like a good portion of that “awareness” really took off for me too, when I started thinking and talking about what I could learn and use from the business sector.

    Ya, I know, the whole “2% return on a cold direct mailing” thing makes you crazy, and I share your perspective… truly… been there, done that, bought the tee-shirt, and burnt it (wink!).

    And without getting into bunny-trails about how we were once again defining ourselves by what or who we are not, or getting into a heated debate about the differences, strengths and weaknesses between social entrepreneurship and social enterprise…

    In my experience, there clearly was one major concept from that line of thinking which has since revised my thinking and trumps all my learning of any of the other (still potentially contributive) “business” mind-sets or techniques.

    And that is the realization of the myth that people run businesses.

    Because the truth is, that people don’t run really successful businesses, systems do, and people run the systems.

    Particularly when all of us in the Community Benefit Sector make so much of what we do about “the people” and “the cause”, and how we don’t want to be like AT&T, I believe you once again hit the nail on the head when you wrote in your article about our belief in each other that “systems fail before individuals fail”.

    I agree that the only reason our industry has been so personality-driven and falls into the finger pointing for the most part, is because systemically something exists (or doesn’t exist, as the case may be) to allow that to happen.

    This is why your approach for Community Engagement, not to mention your own systematizing of the training to disseminate the philosophy and the methodology behind it is as ground-breaking as it is exciting.

    At least from what I have learned so far, Community Engagement assists us to care in a way that is perceived to be safe (or at least “safer” than a sacrificial “all or nothing” perspective). Because it focuses on giving and gratitude. On saying “thank-you” to someone for who they are more than who they have been or could be to you.

    So here I am, once again saying to you, THANK-YOU. Thank-you for being the writer you are, and for not only speaking your mind, but for being willing to share, openly seek feedback and continuing to learn – starting the cycle all over again. You are an example to all of us.

    I for one want to be like you when I grow up (not that I intend to grow up – it’s highly over-rated!), and welcome participating with you toward bringing all of us into action in a way that is truly “transformational” vs. merely “transactional”.

    In Spirit,
    Tracey Sisson
    Licensed Belief Re-patterningTM Practitioner
    Calgary, AB Canada

  3. I haven’t yet figured out who I want to be when I grow up, so I’m not so sure I’m the role model you want for that, Tracey! 🙂 But thanks for your enthusiasm. Just keep getting out there and connecting!

  4. Hildy,

    This posting could not have been more timely. Our organization has agreed to do a direct mail appeal this spring. Our part of the otganization have never done on before and I’ve been dragging my feet. From what I read here, I might be able to satisify both. I’m thinking I will make my appeal, a mini-report highlighting some of the activity and people engaged in our mission. With an invitation to visit, volunteer or otherwise get involved in a bigger way. YOur Charity Channel post this morning led me to the blog. Thanks for the wake up call.