Fundraising: The Art

Art and Science Fundraising

As much as my analytic brain would love to be able to classify the world into black and white binaries, sometimes this division is just not possible. Such is the case with fundraising. As important as prospect and donor research are, just knowing which prospects are statistically most likely to give to your institution does not mean that they will automatically give the amount you predict, when you predict it. Other factors, such as the relationship between the donor and institution and the way in which appeals and touches are made, have a heavy impact on how much and how often a donor chooses to give. My personal role in the fundraising spectrum has been on the analytics side, helping customers build models identifying which prospects are most likely to donate. I was given an opportunity to learn about the other half of the process during APRA’s Data Veera Predict Symposium.

The thing that resonated most with me was Penelope Burk’s tenets of donor-centered fundraising. She says that donors want:

  1. Prompt and meaningful acknowledgement for their gift(s);
  2. To know specifically where the money will go;
  3. To be updated on the progress of projects they donate to.

Let’s look at these in a little more detail, shall we?

Donors want to be thanked soon after their gift is received.  This thank you should be personalized and delivered in a way that’s meaningful to the contributor.

Donors want to know which fund, building, scholarship, or project their money will be used for. Allocating donor dollars to a specific project is helpful both for the donor and the institution they are donating to; for example, when a gift officer is touching base with the donor, they can focus on project-specific updates, rather than simply speaking to the value of the institution overall.

Donors like being updated on the projects they’ve donated to. They want to know how far along a project is, an expected completion date, and when the project hits major milestones. The key here is communication. The more you communicate with a donor, the more involved and appreciated they feel, and the more likely they are to give again. Most of all, donors want to be sure that their money is making a difference.

One of the reasons that donor-centered fundraising has become so important is that the climate of fundraising is changing. Rather than giving smaller dollar amounts to a wide variety of institutions, donors are trending towards whittling down the number of different institutions, but increasing the dollar amounts given to each. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge and update each individual donor to cultivate gifts.

I think one key take-away message of donor-centered fundraising is exactly that: it’s donor-centered. The communication between fundraiser and donor should be keyed in to the needs and expectations of the donor on an individual level. Secondly, there should be lots of communication (especially in the form of updates) between these two parties. If all of the above criteria are met, the donor should have a good feeling about their gifts, feel appreciated for giving, and continue to give.
-Caitlin Garrett, Statistical Analyst at Rapid Insight

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