Why should someone donate to your ministry?
How you answer this question—and if you’ve ever asked someone for money you’ve already answered it, whether consciously or not—says a lot about how you communicate with your donors and the type of relationship you have with them.
If you tell your donors that without their support your ministry will cease to exist, what feelings are you trying to provoke within that donor? Guilt.
Intentionally or not, this type of approach is an attempt to guilt someone into contributing to your organization. And while guilt can be an effective motivator for a one-off gift, it does not lay the groundwork for a successful donor relationship. Furthermore, it signals to your donors that your ministry is in trouble and has not built a strong enough foundation from which to execute its mission.
Some nonprofits take a different route, asking their donors to pitch in and fill a specific need. While this type of request is better than the guilt trip, it too focuses the request and relationship entirely upon the organization, treating the donor as little more than a cash-machine needed to accomplish its goals.
“Get to know the people who are giving to you and why your work means something to them.”
Many nonprofits recognize the faults of focusing their request exclusively on their own needs and think instead to draw a donor’s attention to the ministry’s accomplishments. The mindset here is that donors are like market investors—they want to see a return on their gifts. The motivating factor is not said to be a donor’s emotion, but level-headed reason based upon sound research into a nonprofit’s effectiveness.
This way of thinking has become the predominant frame of reference in the field of philanthropy. It is widely associated with millennials and a “seismic shift” in charitable giving. And yet little information exists to show that this is the case. In fact, in a major 2015 study on charitable giving, “Money for Good,” found that roughly two-thirds of donors do no research on the organizations they contribute to and only 9 percent of donors compare organizations before making a gift.
So what actually motivates someone to give and how should ministries use this understanding to better communicate with their supporters? Insight into this question can be found in Matt. 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” You see, people give to support the causes and organizations they care about and with which they personally identify or connect. The gifts we make are, in many ways, an extension of ourselves. Charitable giving is one way we can participate in the building of Christ’s kingdom, and it is the calling of all Christians to devote our time and talents to this work.
Knowing then that your donors are motivated to give to your ministry because it allows them to use the talents God has blessed them with to further his work in areas they feel personally invested in, how should this affect the way you communicate with them? Here are a few things you can do to incorporate this insight into your donor communication:
- Build relationships with your contributors. Get to know the people who are giving to you and why your work means something to them. Nothing beats a personal meeting for this type of relationship building, but phone calls and emails can also be effective.
- Communicate regularly with your donors (and not just when you are asking for money). Building up a robust calendar of communications—including solicitations and non-solicitation updates—will allow your donors to connect more with your ministry’s work and further the relationship you’ve developed.
- Think of (and talk about) your donors as partners in your work. Your donor communications should serve to strengthen the bond your donors share with your ministry. These donor communications are not meant to serve as an investors report. Bring your donors in to your story by connecting their support with the work you do, and continue to highlight the values and vision you share.
- Acknowledge your donors and publicly recognize their support. A handwritten thank-you note can go a long way in showing your donors that you care about them and appreciate their support. Find ways to acknowledge your donors through thank you letters, phone calls, and listings in your collateral material.
All Christians are called to answer Christ’s Great Commission. The good work that so many ministries do in their local communities and throughout the world allows individuals to contribute their personal talents to this work. Inviting your donors to join with you as you labor for the kingdom will build stronger and more meaningful relationships that will serve to further your mission.
Kyle Vander Meulen is a senior consultant in the Chicago office of American Philanthropic, a strategic consulting and services firm that helps nonprofit organizations raise more money to accomplish their mission.