Last week was one that nonprofit individual-giving directors either love or dread. That pinging sound you heard in the halls of advocacy and social service organizations was that of arriving mail — mail with checks and credit-card information. Phones were ringing as procastinators called with their end-of-year gifts. The web-based back-end churned out receipts.
As we look to The Cliff Round Two, coming in March, there is much concern that this end-of-year flow will plummet with everything else fiscal. Frankly, nonprofits should be more worried about what they themselves are doing to dry up the donation stream.
Yours truly, being a bit of a procrastinator in this category, went online to make a donation to a well-known news source last week. For anyone interested in absorbing news from a variety of sources, this organization holds down an important part of the spectrum; we want ’em around. I was planning to give relatively generously.
On the website, however, the donation options were limited. I could give five or six set amounts, and I could spread payments out over the year. What I could not do was give a donation in honor of someone, or give a one-time gift that did not put me into the membership pool. It was hard to find the option of giving the amount I wanted to give and I could not tell them that I did not want to get any mail or email. I was constrained to give on their terms, and hope that my follow-up email to membership staff — saying I wanted no part of them — would keep me from a solicitation onslaught over the course of the year.
When one shops for things online now, ways to customize the experience abound. What color do you want, and do you need extra length in the leg? Do you want to ship that slow, medium or fast? Do you want to monogram it? As much as feasible, retailers are seeking to provide products and processes on our terms. Nonprofits accepting donations, however, are still stuck providing on their terms. There have been notable and exciting exceptions, such as text-to-give or massive grant-support campaigns that link the power of personal promotion with fundraising success. In many cases, however, it is not the nonprofits who are building user-friendly individual giving mechanisms but third-party or corporate entities. When an individual knocks on the door of a nonprofit to give a personal gift, it’s still not clear that someone is racing to open the door with a warm welcome.
If we’re all falling off the cliff together — and if charitable contributions are ultimately axed, reduced or pooled with other deductions — now is a great time for nonprofit leaders to check their points of entry. Get your board to test the different routes into the organization — the website, phone system and snail mail approaches. Are they each clearly signposted, well-lit and welcoming? A further step would be to do quick focus groups — formal or informal — with potential givers. Ask them to test the systems for you, and bring thoughts to a meeting. While executing on changes may be challenging, getting the right ideas should not be.
No one likes standing in front of a closed door for too long, particularly not with their credit card in hand. Open up.