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Priceless feedback

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It pays to listen to donors.

By Charles Bernard Maclean

Some of the hardest and most satisfying work for consultants like myself and for savvy fundraisers is listening to lapsed, lost and best donors.

Now, more than ever, I believe we all need to be listening to donor voices and preventing what happened after 9/11.

Some donors complain, “I’m burned out – the giving requests never stop.”

Others say, “If only they listened to me like Nordstrom’s treats their customers.”

Treating the donor as an honored active partner in caring really conveys the soul of giving and the relationship that is deepened when you conduct donor debriefings.

The priceless gift you’ll often but not always receive is concrete, actionable feedback.

It will allow you to bond with and serve your donors far better.

Why? Because you’ll know and pay attention to both their giving passions, and disconnects. Donors get to vent and heal and help make things better.

Treating donors with dignity means asking them about both their joys and disappointments with giving, and doing something positive with that gift of feedback.

Another key aspect of debriefings is to ask respectful questions, respectfully, and to have donors hear themselves.

It’s about how we ask, sometimes even more than what we ask.

It’s about maturing donors into a lifetime relationship with giving.

Here are a few avenues of inquiry worthy of your consideration. Turning these questions into carefully crafted, non-defensive “appreciative-inquiry” language will open doors and hearts to candid feedback:

* Why and where did they give the first time, and not somewhere else?

* Will they give again and again, to what, and for what reasons?

* What will cause them to stop giving, and how can you prevent that?

* What do they want to know about where their dollars go and what they do?

* What do they really appreciate about your organization that you’ll want to expand?

As humans, we’re:

* More than happy to listen to best donors

* Willing to listen to lapsed donors who we believe may come back

* Reticent or unwilling to listen to clearly lost donors .

Yet where does the most valuable improvement feedback come from? How many others will disgruntled donors tell about their experience?

As my Aunt Delia used to say, “If you can’t afford to hear the answer and do something with it, don’t ask the question.”


Charles Bernard Maclean is Founder & Chief Committed Listener at PhilanthropyNow in Portland, Ore.

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