Have you made a donation lately?

Are you a donor as well as a fundraiser? As non-profit professionals, we have a different perspective on giving than most people do. We’re insiders, so we look at thank-you letters and email campaigns the way a gardener sees a flower—it’s something we know intellectually, no longer emotionally. However, our donors are driven primarily by emotion, not intellect. So if our donor touches strike the wrong note, they may not be effective and we, the hard-working professionals, may not know why.

Of course, professional development helps us with this—we are asked to consider our asks, our touch-points, our thank-yous, our campaigns, and our landing pages, to make sure they’re current, relevant and getting our message through. However, another way to shed light on our fundraising practices is to become a donor again.

You may already make donations, but if you haven’t made a gift to a new charity lately, you’re missing out on the welcome series. Pick a couple causes you think are worthy of a small gift and donate whatever you’re comfortable with; for extra credit, sign up for newsletters for a couple more. (Don’t forget to write down the date you donated so you’re not wracking your memory later.)

After you’ve donated, sit back and see what happens. Do you get a thank you by email, by mail, or both? When do you get the next ask, and how? Is it after the first thank-you, a second thank-you, or later? Do they offer any benefits for donating, like membership, events, or newsletters, and did they communicate that before you gave? Do they tell you where your donation went? Are you addressed as part of a giving level or club, like “animal champions”? Do they personalize the appeal? Consider their messaging—how do they frame their work and where the funds go? Who does the appeal come from, whether online or by mail? The six months or so after you give is key for looking at the welcome, thank-you, and renewal and will likely be rich with information.

The questions are similar for the newsletter sign-ups: how soon did you get your first message? Was the welcome just one email or a series? When did you get the first ‘regular’ email? When did they include their first ask? Is there an ask in every email? Who are the emails from? Do they explain the mission, invite you to events, talk about fundraising goals, share projects that were completed, link to articles? How often are they sent out?  How are they branded?

This exercise should help you look at your work in a new way. You’re looking to see what the other organizations are doing right, as in what makes you feel good as a supporter; you’re also looking at what could be improved. You’re hopefully going to see some choices that aren’t necessarily right or wrong, even though they may be different from how you do things: in this case consider how they fit into the larger picture and whether they may work for a different type of donor or whether they work because of how they’ve built out their entire plan. And if there are things that are wildly different from what you’re doing that are very effective, that can inform your own work as well: could this work for me, how could I tweak it, would it supplement something I’m already doing?

In the best of all possible worlds, you would realize you’re already doing everything right—which would be great! Probably, you’ll learn some things that you can apply to your own fundraising, and for the low cost of a couple gifts to worthy causes. Everybody wins!