Why leaders must focus on the donor experience

Changing the way we treat our donors isn’t just a job for fundraisers says Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Institute of Fundraising

“If you give a donor a great experience, they are more likely to give more, for longer, and be more likely to leave a legacy.” This was the premise behind the Commission on the Donor Experience and one I know that many charity leaders fully support.

The Commission’s key emphasis is to remind charities that fundraising is about donors. It’s a message which has significant implications: most importantly, that we should never think only about the needs of our charities, and how we can get donors to fund them.

Instead, start with the difference we want to make in the world, and the motivations, the needs, desires and aspirations of the donor to help make that difference. Find out about them, understand them, and build them into our thinking. Why do they support you, rather than another cause? What are the things they don’t like?

If we start there, the Commission on Donor Experience’s proposition is that the donor will give more, and so more beneficiaries will be helped.

This is not necessarily about spending more money, more about changing our mind-set. And changing mind-sets within organisations starts at the top.

Changing culture

Changing the culture within charities to one that is more focused on the donor is not just for fundraisers. It requires change in the whole charity, especially CEOs, senior managers and trustees.

The Commission on the Donor Experience was a huge undertaking: a Commission, a broad team of contributors, and an independent reviewer; 28 project reports each with a backing document, discussion and case studies. The final report was launched on 5 July.

We at the Institute of Fundraising are pleased to have now taken on responsibility for taking forward the report. Over time, it will influence our approach to standards, our learning and development programme and our conferences, as well as our annual Fundraising Convention. Indeed we have already introduced a new award for the charity who delivers the best donor experience’.

So  what about CEOs?

What should CEOs expect from our fundraising teams? What should we be measuring? Cash out, cash in, and performance against last year? Should we add wider measures? One of the Commission’s projects looks specifically at wider measures that include the donor experience.

How should CEOs and trustees engage with donors? What about different types of donors? Should we be changing the way fundraising teams should report? How much time should this be given? And how is that time best spent to enhance donors’ experience, and therefore their giving? Another project looks solely at this.

And there are other relevant projects. My best advice is to skim the list of projects, and read the summaries that interest you.

At the Institute of Fundraising we, of course, will lead on all the purely fundraising aspects, and are setting up a new special interest group to ensure the Commission’s work continues to live and develop. But this has to be a cross sector initiative, and we are delighted also to be working with ACEVO, NCVO, SCVO and CFG, among others, to ensure there is continued energy and engagement across the sector.

This will take time, but the aim of what is now the Project on the Donor Experience is to continue to develop fundraising, and to change the culture to a truly consistent donor-based approach to raising money for the vital and amazing causes we work for.

If you want more information, please do get in touch with me and my team at policy@institute-of-fundraising.org.uk.

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