Fundraising at its very essence is relationship-building. But are your donor relationships healthy or toxic?

Here are signs you may be in the toxic zone.

  1. You have no idea who they are or what they care about. If you haven’t done audience research with your donors within the last 18 months, you don’t have a sense of what matters most to them right now, what factors are driving their loyalty or defections or what expectations they have of you. Possible remedy: Launch a survey, conduct virtual (Zoom) focus groups with a small number of donors or interview a few high-value donors in a one-on-one conversation. Surface themes and use the data to inform your outreach and strategy.
  2. You talk a lot and never listen. If you don’t provide ongoing ways donors can provide input and feedback, you are engaging in one-way conversation. Possible remedy: Give donors the ability to rate your email communications. Launch a donor Insight Panel. Make sure you respond to inbound donor inquiries promptly and courteously. Give high-value donors a point of contact they can reach out to if/when they have an idea or concern.
  3. You don’t say thank you. If you don’t provide thank you acknowledgments that feel meaningful (e.g. don’t make it feel like a receipt) in a timely manner across mail and email channels, you are giving off the perception that you don’t care about their gift. Possible remedy: Have beneficiaries or activists write a thank you message that can be used across channels. Mail thank you postcards. Send photos of your work in action. Thank you’s are a place where you can and should lean into creativity.
  4. You don’t say “I’m sorry” when you’ve made a mistake. If you make a mistake and don’t say you are sorry, you are eroding trust. Possible remedy: When you make a mistake, cop to it quickly and share how you are going to make it right.
  5. You love bomb right before you ask for something big. If you only send cultivation messages right before a big fundraising campaign, you are manipulating donors instead of engaging them. Possible remedy: Incorporate impact reports and other cultivation touches throughout the year — not just before a big fundraising campaign.
  6. You constantly text and email with no regard to how frequently donors want to hear from you. If you over-communicate, you are likely annoying donors or training them to tune out of your messages. Possible remedy: Communicate when you have something important to say that donors want/need to hear about. And when you do communicate make sure it relates to what may be top of mind for that donor (not just what you want to say).
  7. You don’t notice when they go. If you don’t notice when a donor lapses, you’re basically telling them that you don’t care if they come or go. Possible remedy: Create a “we want you back” reinstate campaign for lapsed donors.
  8. You don’t notice when they stay. If you don’t notice when a donor has given to you consistently, you’re giving off the perception that you don’t care about their loyalty. Possible remedy: Create touches that recognize long-term donor giving (e.g. add Member since 2016 conditional content to emails or send them a special anniversary card in the mail).
  9. You don’t tell them what they mean to you. If you don’t share how donors are making an impact, you are signaling to donors that their gift doesn’t make a difference. Possibly remedy:  Share successes donors have made possible frequently.

This list is a good starting point to begin to transform toxic behaviors into healthy ones. Let me know if you have additional ideas to add to the mix.