14

Jan

How do you Earn the Trust of a Donor?

By missioncontrol | 0 comments

I was asked recently about trust — how do you build it with a donor?
I had a really interesting conversation with a very experienced nonprofit/NGO Board Member the other day. He described beautifully the process by which you involve someone in a nonprofit or charity organization. First, you introduce them to the organization. The ideals resonate. So, the donor gives a little bit of money. It feels good. It doesn’t have a huge impact on their day-to-day finances and ideally, they see how that their gift is making a difference, and they feel genuinely appreciated, and they feel good.
He remarked that if that process goes well, then the best thing that can happen is that someone (a board member, a development officer) encourages them to consider giving a little more. Each time, it works best if there’s a tangible sense of impact. I give this money, it created this scholarship/these children got clean water/these girls were able to go to school/this family were able to buy chickens and increase their income, and so on.
Each time the donor gives, and each time they give more, they see that somehow, they still keep managing to make ends meet, and the world doesn’t fall apart. I thought that was a wonderful description, because it is, as a donor, scary — the first time you make a major financial contribution. That must be recognized and respected. The absolute worst thing you can do is make assumptions about someone’s financial circumstances and demand that they give to you, with no thought to the impact it has on them. For any first-time major giver, it is a re-shuffle of their budget, priorities, and may increase their sense of financial vulnerability. So as the organization, you should always strive to make it feel worthwhile.
Over time, you should work to increase giving and comfort. At some point, a donor will reach a point where they are giving at their maximum comfortable limit, and then ideally, you should work with them to help them act as a supportive mentor to someone else who is starting the giving journey. All donors need to feel as if they are genuinely seen and recognized, not just for their financial donations, but for the other things they may be able to contribute — their wisdom, their experience, their relationships.

I was delighted to be asked about trust, because it is so important in the social sector. It matters. Trust comes from transparency — a donor can see how and where money is being spent. It comes from honesty — if an organization is having problems, worries or concerns, they need to be honest with donors about what is going on. It comes from being inclusive — asking donors and supporters for their ideas, wisdom and advice. It comes from being patient — not dropping someone if they have a year when they can not give, or can give less. It comes from being responsive — soliciting and responding to feedback. As its heart, trust can only exist when there is a genuine relationship.


Liana Downey is an experienced management consultant, who has consistently delivered results for clients on critical topics around the world. Liana is an expert advisor to the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Prior to establishing Liana Downey & Associates, she led McKinsey & Company’s Australian government and social-sector practices, and holds an MBA (Public Management) from Stanford University.

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