WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
47: When Donors Turn Away from Nonprofits: Why People Turn to Alternative Forms of Generosity with Lynne Wester
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“It’s important for me that we bring to bear our profession as a profession and people don’t just see fundraising as something they can do on the side.”
– Lynne Wester
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
Nearly a half-million people and counting have chosen to help Ukrainians by booking Airbnb rentals in that war-torn country. Why? On this episode of the What the Fundraising podcast, my guest Lynne Wester and I untangle some of the factors behind this impulse to give 1:1 rather than through traditional nonprofit organizations. The founder of Donor Relations Guru, Lynne looks at the phenomenon as a consultant but – as importantly – understands it from a contributor’s point of view. There are real reasons that people find direct giving compelling, and we can’t address them if we don’t embrace a shift in perspective.
It’s interesting that Lynne’s Strengths-Finder strengths – Strategic, Ideation, Futuristic, Competitive, Significance – are all action-oriented. She’s clearly a problem solver who had to learn how to sit with clients who need a moment to process bad news or setbacks. But, as you’ll learn, she’s also obviously an empath who is able to inhabit the skin of donors. Her team at Donor Relations Guru partners closely with nonprofits large and small to develop a sound strategy, leveraging technology to create meaningful, sustained donor engagement. In many cases, it all starts with a step-by-step plan that honors “small but mighty” as well as longtime loyal supporters, engendering goodwill, trust and repeat contributions year after year.
Many of us saw during the pandemic that our nonprofit partners were more committed than we realized, eager to step up and continue giving without bells, whistles, events, and swag. The impetus to support whatever cause is genuine. The question is: Do we honor their generosity well enough? Lynne highlights ways in which to cultivate good faith by treating donors with respect and personalized expressions of gratitude – whatever their level of giving. It’s also important to incorporate transparency and immediacy, communicating to donors the direct impacts of their generosity. “Most charities have a high trust factor,” says Lynne. “What they don’t have? A high care factor when it comes to the everyday Joe and Jane donor.”
You’ll enjoy Lynne’s candor and personal take on everything from managing anxiety to advocating for more no-strings-attached, non-judgmental practices when it comes to aiding people in need, many of whom don’t want to be defined by perceived charity. We also discuss “analysis paralysis,” the merits of data-driven strategy, and ways to make inroads with nonprofits that are fearful of shaking up the status quo.
Many thanks to Givebutter, the No.1 free fundraising platform, for supporting this episode of What the Fundraising. With modern donation forms, fundraising pages, and events, Givebutter raises more than $150 million annually in support of more than 35,000 meaningful causes – from local youth groups to world-renowned charities.
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TIPS AND TOOLS TO IMPLEMENT TODAY
Get to know @Donor Relations Guru – Lynne and her teammates at the Donor Relations Guru Group lead with gratitude and partner with nonprofits on a variety of initiatives from assessment through implementation. Her work motivates and inspires countless fundraisers to do more for their donors to create amazing donor experiences. Attendees leave her keynotes and sessions with tangible takeaways, renewed energy, and the ability to affect change in their organizations.
The library at Lynne’s website offers a wide variety of valuable, ready-to-use resources.
Many thanks to Givebutter for making this episode possible. Givebutter is an amazing free fundraising platform with modern donation forms, fundraising pages, and events! Givebutter raises more than $150 million annually in support of more than 35,000 meaningful causes – from local youth groups to world-renowned charities. Learn more about Givebutter here.
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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.
Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Lynne Wester. Lynn, thank you so much for joining me.
Lynne Wester: I’m so happy to be here with you, Mallory and your audience. Hey everybody!
Mallory Erickson: So tell everyone what brings you to this conversation today. And then we’re going to jump right into our Strengthsfinders because we started chatting about that and it was just too good.
Lynne Wester: I’m here to have a conversation about the way in which our non-profits can change our gratitude and build an attitude of gratitude with our donors. So I’m so excited to be here today.
Mallory Erickson: Oh, my gosh. Awesome. Okay and now hit me with your top five strengths from the Strengthsfinder.
Lynne Wester: My top five strengths, strategic is number one, ideation, futuristic, competitive, and significance.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. So those are really similar to mine. I’m a learner, achiever, strategic, ideation and something else. I forget what my other one is, but yeah, and none of mine are human ones either.
Lynne Wester: No, it’s very interesting because I look at the people that have harmony and woo and empathy and I am like oh, look at you guys all up in your feelings all the time. And I’m like over here going, but what about the work and where are we going 10 years from now? And what is the future going to be like?
And what’s interesting about the competitive and significance, the competitiveness doesn’t come in, let’s win the race. It’s excellence, it’s we have to be the best, if we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it well. And then the significance, when I first got that as one of my top five strengths, I was miffed by it. Because it means that you want your work to be seen by others. You want your work to matter. And I think for me, how I’ve interpreted that softly to myself, is that it’s important for me, that we bring to bear our profession as a profession. And people don’t just see fundraising as something they can do on the side or get very casual about, like I’ve dedicated my career to this is actually a career. It’s not just some charity. And I think that is where that comes in for me.
But yeah, just because we don’t have them in our top five also doesn’t mean we don’t have woo or empathy or all that other stuff. It’s just those are the top ones that drive us. That’s really what that means. I’m very linear and strategic. And I think as a consultant, it helps organizations get out of their feelings and into, but what about the work? Because there’s so many feelings. But as you mature, you realize that you have to take the time to figure out how everybody’s feeling about it. Otherwise you’ll just bulldoze them over.
Mallory Erickson: I want to talk about that because I’m really curious about your perspective on that feeling piece. Because, I was sharing before we hit record that I’m an executive coach. And so I feel like a lot of what I do is actually trying to force people to get into their feelings, but the feelings that they aren’t really acknowledging or talking about. The feelings around I’m really feeling uncomfortable asking that person for money because of blank. Or I feel something about me isn’t good enough to sit in the room with blank donor. But when you say there’s a lot of feelings, what are the things that you’re like, all right, we got to get ourselves out of that piece of it.
Lynne Wester: Yeah, I think for me as a consultant and as a snow globe shaker, change agent, the feelings I most readily deal with are that of resistance to change, right? So we work in the non-profit world. Like we are 10 to 15, sometimes 25 years behind modern business, for-profit business. And we take that as this martyrdom card, or we’re like I’m doing all I can. And we benchmark against other non-profits. We get very much defensive and in our feelings, when people are critical of us, are push towards excellence. And I understand we’re underpaid, we’re overworked, blah, blah, blah.
Put all that to the side and understand that the work I’m trying to push them through is better in the end for the donor. So when I say people get in their feelings a lot, it’s resistance to change, it’s fear. Over the last two years during the pandemic, it’s been an absolute shutdown sometimes, like deer in the headlights paralysis flight or fright kind of deal, especially a lot of leadership. If it isn’t an event or a gala, they don’t know what to do with themselves. And they’re stuck. And so I deal with a lot of feelings around, but this is the way we’ve done it. This is what’s comfortable and in times of tumult, people default to what’s safe and comfortable.
Think about the way we dress right now, when we’re stressed out, I don’t know a lot of people that go put on uncomfortable, fancy clothing. I might put on a sequin dress for fun, but most of us go into the sweats and the comfortable soft fabric. It’s like you eat a bowl of pasta and you don’t go craving kale out there when you’re stressed out all the time. I don’t know if you’re going out there craving kale, but I’m sure there’s someone. I crave a big bowl of Mac and cheese, or a taco. But I think that’s the feelings I’m talking about is, they’re working very hard, but they aren’t working very efficient, or I don’t want to say smart because the people in our industry are so intelligent. But that whole putting the process before the feelings, what if a donor doesn’t like this? I heard once from a donor, and we get hung up on that, and we allow one person’s opinion of our event, non-profit, like a communication piece email that one person has 20 years of influence and we’re paralyzed. It’s that analysis paralysis that I’m sure you work through as an executive coach.
And so one of the things I do, because my side of the brain is the linear analytical data-driven. I have feelings. I’m very passionate, but I don’t allow them to get in the way. Being uncomfortable is where I live and where I thrive. And so data, using data, and having data informed decisions can take some of the emotion out of the whole kerfuffle.
Mallory Erickson: So I love that because I think what you’re talking about, you and I are totally aligned here because. What I really try to drill down around the emotional piece is not the surface level emotional awareness that we might have, like I’m stressed or I’m exhausted, or all these things. But, okay, what are the thoughts or the beliefs that are leading to that feeling that we hold? And the thing, the way in which data can be so powerful as to really help us say, oh, that thought or that belief is not true. Because that piece around the one person, we had one angry donor who wrote us about us emailing too many times at the end of year. And now for the rest of our career, we’re going to send one email at the end of year because of that.
The data that you provide and I’ve seen some of the materials you put out in reports. I think it’s just so powerful, when I’m asking people to question, okay you’re feeling uncomfortable about sending that. What are the thoughts and the beliefs behind that feeling? And they’ll say, I’m worried that they’re gonna think I send too many emails. And I’ll say, okay, what data do you have to support that belief? And what data do you have to support a different belief? And then if you can start to rewire those, then the feelings can also change, which is awesome.
Lynne Wester: They can. So my psychologist calls the negative stuff, automatic thoughts. Like your automatic, I’m an anxious person. And so my automatic thought is usually something bad is going to happen. And then it rolls on and what he tries to get me to do is be pragmatic and compassionate towards myself and try to not suppress the automatic thoughts, but combat them with reality.
So the automatic thought is this, actually here are the facts. And I think that’s where the strategy part of our strengths, you and I shared strategy and ideation is, I’m a constant problem solver. So when someone comes to me and I think maybe here is the difference in not having the top five be emotional strengths, necessarily. Someone comes to me in an emotional state, whether that’s I have clients in crisis, a donor’s done something wrong. They’ve had a scandal, a donor, a gift agreement has gone astray, or I get a client coming to me in a state of emotion. My default is to fix it. That is my default.
It makes me an excellent consultant. Sometimes it makes me a poor empath, because I don’t necessarily, I want to fix the systems that got us to the mistake or to the problem. They want someone to say, oh dear baby. Oh, no bless you Oh, it’s going to be okay. And sometimes I say this isn’t going to be okay for awhile. We’re in a mess, but here’s the solution out. And I find that sometimes people didn’t want solutions. They just wanted to tell you what was wrong. Whereas I automatically go into Ms. Fix-it mode.
Mallory Erickson: Oh, you and I are very similar there too, I have to catch myself.
Lynne Wester: Me too. I do it for my family. When I care about you, I try to solve the problem. And I think what people need sometimes is for you to say, oh my goodness, I’m so sorry this is happening, and live with them in their feelings for a minute, and then solve the problem.
And I think those of us with that ideation and that strategy, you’re like I just want to fix it. And if I fix it, then it won’t hurt and it won’t be so upsetting and everything. And we skip the step of saying, oh dear. And I think it takes two kinds. I think there are people that would be, oh dear, all day and never take action to fix it so they’re just whirling dervish of lament. And it’d be right now. If I spilled my water glass all over my computer, I can’t sit there and be, oh, dear and start crying and stuff. I’ve got to clean up the computer first, because as I sit there and cry, the computer is soaking in the water.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, totally.
Lynne Wester: So it’s a connection between the two.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, it’s interesting in executive coaching, we talk about this a lot. I think about this a lot in terms of acknowledging and validating. So if someone is spiraling in their emotions, they need a moment of being acknowledged and validated for how they feel. And then that’s going to defuse likely enough of that energy to get them into a space where they can start to talk about, okay, like how do we move forward? Like how you’re feeling makes perfect sense. And, really giving that space for a minute. And even with myself, there are times where something really bad happens. And I know I just need to have a pity party for a second. I will set a timer on my phone and I’ll be like, alright, Mallory, you can just have your pity party for five minutes and at the end of the five minutes, get it together. You’re going to move on and it just helps me contain a little on both sides.
Can I go back to something you said earlier that I just think is really fascinating. I’m curious how you manage this for yourself. This is personal, so you can tell me if you don’t want to answer this, but you shared being an anxious person yourself, but also really thriving in discomfort. And I find that a super fascinating combination. So can you talk to me a little bit about how you manage that? Because I have a feeling, a lot of folks who are listening to this might consider themselves anxious people, but not know how to lean into discussing.
Lynne Wester: Absolutely. So I have an anxiety disorder. I’ve had it for, I’ve been diagnosed for about 18 years. I’m openly talking about my mental health now. I didn’t always and I think it’s one of the things I can do. If I help one person by saying I have an anxiety disorder and that normalizes it for someone, then awesome. I think my anxiety disorder both helps and hurts me in many ways. Just like any gift we’re given. It was a gift that was given to me. Thanks, mom. No, I’m just kidding. But anxiety keeps me on my toes. Just because I’m anxious doesn’t mean I don’t like being uncomfortable.
For me anxiety comes from a lack of understanding. For me, anxiety is caused when people are overly emotional and not grounded in reality. Sometimes for me, my anxiety can come from not feeling in control. I’m a control freak. I love it. I moved to an island in the middle of COVID because I couldn’t handle that I couldn’t control my environment and it was causing so much anxiety that I wasn’t leaving my house and I wasn’t healthy mentally.
And so here’s how I feel about discomfort versus anxiety. I try to look at discomfort as something exciting and that the more uncomfortable I am, in my situation or in a work scenario, there’s something exciting on the other end. So I love to fail at work. I loved it. That’s where the ideation and futuristic comes in.
I am willing to be on that bleeding or cutting edge of something because so were lots of inventors and creative minds. They also had a lot of mental health issues. So I feel a kindred spirit with Picasso and then all the other people who have suffered, my brain doesn’t stop going. And so that can be hard, but on the other side of being uncomfortable is usually something really cool. What I have to get used to, and what I prepare my brain for is if you get through this uncomfortable experience you will, A) learn something either bad, good or indifferent about either yourself for other people or on the other side of this discomfort is an opportunity that you would have missed had you just sat there and been comfortable.
So I’ll give you an example of discomfort for me that people are going to laugh at. But when my business started taking off, I had to hire a concierge and assistant, her name is Shannon. And turning over control of my calendar and my email inbox and my daily life, I always found it pretentious to have somebody schedule me, or the people wouldn’t be able to access me easily. Do you know what I mean, with one phone call or an email? Turning that over to her was discomfort, it was uncomfortable for me. It has made my business soar to trust a human being with not just my calendar, but my back, then it was my travel. It was understanding that she can provide better customer service than I can myself. I don’t have to take everything on to really thrive. And so by putting myself in that uncomfortable situation of having somebody else be in charge. I get better customer service for my clients. I have a less chaotic day. My calendar isn’t triple booked and I’m not going to Portland, Maine when I should be going to Portland, Oregon.
And I’m employing someone and giving them value when otherwise they wouldn’t, she’s a working mom and has some circumstances where she can’t work a daily 9 – 5 in an office. I’m also giving an opportunity. But the letting go was a process and an uncomfortable one.
Mallory Erickson: So when you think about your own experience, which I’m so grateful for you sharing. And then you think about how you manage your clients in the change management piece, and helping them understand when they’re feeling, maybe what they’re perceiving to be as anxious or stressed. Or sometimes I’ll hear from my clients, like I just have an intuition that thing is a bad thing to do. And I’m like, okay, it’s fear, not intuition. So let’s unpack that a little bit.
How do you support your clients to really think about and maybe this goes back to that data piece, but in really thinking about how do they make the right decisions and navigate some of the natural feelings or stimulation that’s going to come from it.
Lynne Wester: Sure. I think that it’s really important because most of us in the non-profit world are so tied to the work that we do emotionally. We love what we do. We’re passionate about it. I think what we have to do sometimes is realize our place in the work, our place in the world, that whole Simon Sinek, start with why am I here? What is my purpose? It really does ground you in what is important. So at the end of the day, one of the questions I asked my clients that really I think befuddles them because they’re not asked it enough, is what would success look like? And what are we willing to sacrifice for success? What are we not willing to sacrifice for success?
That may be something as simple as well. I’m not willing to work on a Sunday afternoon, or it may be something as big as I’m not willing to have a donor do something ethically gray just to get the money for my organization. Or we’re going to implement new DNI standards at our organization and if our donors don’t like that, then we’re going to have some crucial conversations. So I think the other thing is also and maybe this is why in the past couple of years, I’ve been more open about sharing my mental health journey. One of the great things a consultant can tell you is that you’re not alone.
I have the good fortune of helping people through crises in non-profit fundraising, whether it’s I dealt with Livestrong when Lance Armstrong got on Oprah versus I’ve dealt with financial scam. Like you name a scam, it’s happened to a non-profit and sometimes when they first call or they first connect with me, they’re just so devastated this has happened to them because they want the world to see them as good and pure. And they don’t want to lose faith from their donors. And sometimes I have to lay out to them. Okay, do you have this going on? And they’re like, no. Okay, do you have this going on? And they’re like, no. And I’m like those seven things are what my other seven clients I’m dealing with this week. So it’s not that bad. Like we lost a donor’s $10,000 check. Is that a good day? No. Does that mean we’re going to have to close our doors and the end of the world is coming? No. Can we work on our processes? Absolutely. Will donors forgive us? Absolutely. Human beings have far more grace and that’s one thing that I’ve learned in the pandemic, is that we should have before the pandemic, given our donors a lot more grace than we ever gave them.
We didn’t put enough trust and grace in our donors that they would be there for us, that they don’t need a fancy, shiny event, that they don’t need a cup with our logo on it, that they purely want to do good, most of them. And they’re looking for people to partner to make that difference or to make that change. And for example, right now, of course, the horrible situation in Ukraine is happening. People find the way to do good. So they’re like, I don’t really want to give to a non-profit so I’m going to go on Airbnb and I’m going to book a place in Ukraine and it’s $42 a night and I’m going to do that for 10 nights. It’s 500 bucks to me, but it means everything to that family who’s been displaced. And who is now a refugee, I’m at least going to give them that money. So people find ways to be generous. We need to trust them more, that they can find ways to be generous.
Mallory Erickson: Okay. I think you just read my mind because I wanted to talk about the Airbnb situation. And actually I want to explore this with you because I just went down a social media hole this weekend, watching people posting about this Airbnb situation. And people were doing a number of things like buying digital art via Etsy and all this stuff.
And what I found myself reading was the comments about why folks were deciding to do that versus to give to a non-profit. And it was really blowing my mind. Not that any of it was necessarily shocking, but it really just reinforced the work we have to do as a sector to make clear about what we are here for, what we’re doing.
And so there were two big pieces for me. One is, that some of the distrust that I saw in a lot of those comments and it wasn’t even necessarily being phrased as distrust. They were writing, at least I know where this money’s going. I know this is actually going to a Ukrainian. Wow, are we doing that bad at the job that people are going first to funnel money through for-profit businesses?
Lynne Wester: Not all of us are, but some of us are to be honest. So I’ll give you my perspective on why people are finding other outlets than certified 501C3. Let’s put it that way or churches or institutions. So they’re going individual routes instead of the institutional route. So I am a monthly donor of World Central Kitchen. I love the work that they do. So what I did is I went into 10 times my monthly donation, one time gift. I do that anytime there’s a disaster that I feel connected to. Because you know why, they immediately tell me where my money goes and they’re like, Hey, today we stood outside of the train station and we handed out water, and then we made meals, and these are Ukrainian volunteers helping us.
What I don’t get often times, and I get that from World Central Kitchen. I get that from Team Rubicon. I get that from the Charity Waters of the world. I don’t get that from a lot of organizations. Do you know what I get? If you could just help us some more, if you could just give more.
And so here’s what I’ll say to you about the Airbnb phenomenon. I think there’s some simple things. Yes, there’s distrust and I don’t think it’s as distrust as it used to be. But remember that some of those, the big charities are big businesses, nothing wrong with it. Not going to get into the overhead argument, I don’t want to even, we’re not doing that today. I’m overhead, I’m happy to be overhead so here we go. But if I give to the Airbnb, that person in their family is going to be directly impacted. I don’t have to wait the three to six months for the money to be funneled to them.
They get to choose so they’re empowered by that money. My understanding as I’ve been reading a lot is that Ukrainian people are very proud people. I also am of a descent of a very proud people, then I think I don’t want to accept charity. There’s a hard, I cannot imagine my father accepting charity very well. Like he has always been a giver his whole life. I think if he had to go to a food bank, he would have a tough time pride wise, and I think it would break him.
Number one, nobody’s asking for that money. So they don’t feel like they’re accepting charity. Number two, it’s immediate and they can spend it however they want, here’s a box of grain, or do you know what I mean? Here’s the things we think are best for you. Here’s what you should be doing. What if in the middle of all that, I just want a bag of Doritos. I think about a time of crisis for myself and you want me to buy water and what if I just want something, a comfort item? What if I want something that’s bad for me? So people, we give them prescriptive things that we think are good for them.
And then finally, I think the other thing is, I’m going to make that gift through Airbnb. And guess what? Airbnb is not going to ask me for more money and they’re not going to put me on a mailing list. I’ve had the same experience so many others, and I’ll speak for America. Americans have had, I gave to a charity. I give every year, I give to lots of different organizations on Giving Tuesday. I gave to a well-renowned international aid group at 9 in the morning, and by 11:30am, they were asking me for more money. And over the next year I tracked it. And every three days they asked me for money. Every three days, I have it documented. And that is the extreme, but gosh, that feels harassing.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, it feels like what we often talk about for like congressional campaigns in the US presidential congressional campaigns, the worst of the political fundraising that we see which isn’t actually most, I did a series on political fundraising and was fascinated to learn that actually the grassroots political fundraising is not done like that at all.
And so those, but those big races, they set this tone. They lead to a lot of beliefs that I was holding about political fundraising in general. And so you think about them the way these big non-profits are setting a tone for the sector, right? Even for those smaller nonprofits that are being much more responsible about their communication. That’s really unfortunate to think about, I love what you said about the Airbnb piece and I just want to be clear, I am not criticizing in any way, people’s desire to express generosity and a number of different ways I think. But I think it’s an interesting thing for us to look at, to say okay, what’s happening here that does feel good to people. Why are people choosing to make this decision? There’s something that you said that I really want to double click on and ask if we can explore, which is this piece around that it empowers both the giver and the receiver. And that is something that takes out the bureaucracy, not just of the money, but of the decision-making and the process.
Talk to me, what do you think?
Lynne Wester: So if I’m a true generous person, it’s not my decision how you spend the charity I give to you. If we go back to my monities ladder, the 12th century Jewish philosopher, who says he ranks the ways you can give and the best way you can give anonymously for something that they will use to improve their lives.
But he doesn’t dictate how they will improve their lives. So that could be you getting an ice cream cone one day. If you’re a single mom and you’ve got three kids and you’re living in a hotel, it may be taking the kids out for fricking McDonald’s. It’s not my place to judge why you’re not buying vegetables with that money.
It’s not my place to say you bought your kid a toy out of a gumball machine instead of a book out of a library like, who am I to know what you need when you’re in crisis, who am I to know, that’s not my place, if I’m truly generous, I say to you here is a gift, you use it however you’d like, and I hope that it will make good for you in your life.
And I think the other thing that I am probably seeing in the Airbnb type givers, the what I would call the givers who are not giving to the big, to the large relief organizations is, do they see themselves in the donor basis of those large organizations, probably not. Look at Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, so they’re running a GoFundMe. More people relate to them then the Koch brothers or Michael Bloomberg or wealthy philanthropists. Like I don’t think they’re seeing themselves in our organization. I think our staffs aren’t diverse enough. I think we don’t value what I call small, but mighty gifts. We don’t value the $50 donor. We only value when you give us a big old happy Gilmore check. We only value when you give us large amounts of money, it’s about worth and fundraising. And so I wonder if those people see themselves even belonging to our organizations. Again, these are all conjectures from an outside perspective, but they’re educated conjectures in that I gave money to a charity because I work in the industry and I know the good that they can amplify. And was I tempted to go on Airbnb and do that? Yeah, I thought it was a really cool idea and it was innovative and I think that’s the other thing, non-profits aren’t innovative enough. We don’t find enough ways to help you separate yourself from your goodies, as I call them your time, talent, your treasure.
Look at some of our giving forms for God’s sakes. Like it takes two minutes and seven clicks and your birth date and your home address and why do you need all that? Just link me to my Apple pay, my PayPal, my Airbnb, I can do it in one click. There’s something to be said for that. So I think there’s a lot of factors there. I’m excited to see that but I do think that we should empower beneficiaries and not judge them. And that to me is true generosity. Mallory, you’re having a tough time, here’s $200. You don’t ever have to tell me. I’d love to know that it made a difference like one day, six years from now, if you say, you know what, that day that you gave me $200 I was just in a bad place, or, that $200 meant the difference between my kids playing sports that year or not playing sports. It doesn’t have to be so dire either. It could be what we call normalcy, right? It could be, so for example, who am I to judge a dad who’s got two kids and they’re living in temporary housing. We give him $200 and he spends it on kids’ uniforms to play softball or T-ball or whatever. And he doesn’t spend it on a deposit for an apartment. And people are like he should want permanent housing for those kids, which one’s going to bring them more joy. He’s the dad, he gets to decide. Not me. I don’t get to impose my values on him. If I truly am generous.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I could not agree with you more. And there’s a lot that you said that I wish we had 10 hours to explore, but I’m going to keep myself focused. So I want to talk about this small, but mighty donor piece, because I think actually when you said that, I was like, yeah, wow the $50 donor, the $100 donor, they’re not going to hear back from that organization they make a gift to, probably ever, other than there the stock donation in this crisis, but they could book four nights on Airbnb for a very specific family and they’ve made an impact. They know they’ve made an impact in a very clear way.
Talk to me about how you work with your clients around the recognition of inclusion of that small, but mighty donor in a way that changes the giving experience.
Lynne Wester: Sure. So this is my pedestal I’ve been putting behavior based donor relations on for a couple of years now, pre pandemic. It always stunned me that somebody who gave to an organization for 40 years, never got a call from a gift officer, never heard from the president, never got an invitation to an event because quote unquote, they were just a $50 donor. Then that person passes away and leaves the organization $3 million. And people are like, what the hell happened here? And I’m like, you were blind and that $50 may be a larger portion of their income, than the $50,000 check that someone else writes and they write in the good times and the bad times through bad leadership, through good leadership, through a bad economy, through a good economy.
So I have my clients do one simple exercise and we usually do this in a room, with their whole staff. Tell me the name of the biggest donor to the organization. Half the staff can tell me. Then, tell me the person who’s given the longest consecutively to the organization. Crickets. Crickets. Nobody can tell me that person, Eugenia Curtis at the University of Tennessee, who’s been giving 77 years consecutively until we found her, had never been visited.
And that’s not a condemnation of the University of Tennessee. They are paid to go after big. But behind them are the silent heroes, The Eugenias, the Burt & Tillie Hoods at University of Central Florida. Like these people, like I’ve been giving to my Alma mater every single year since I graduated, it’s not a lot of money. But where is the recognition for that? And where are we as a business? So what I’ve devised as a plan so my clients have to bless and release the chart that says $50 we do this, $500 we do this. We throw it out. We set it on fire. We recycle it. Whatever’s the appropriate thing to do these days, depending on.
And we now do behavior based thanking, first time donors get the most love and support. Why? Because we lose 80% of them after their first gift. Can you imagine Mallory, we run businesses, right? Imagine if 8 out of 10 of our customers bought one thing from us and never came back or clicked once on your podcast and never came back, my business would close right away. Can’t afford that. Repeat business is everything. Why Disney and Ritz Carlton, and Apple and that’s why you ordered something from Amazon. They send you the wrong thing. They’re like, just keep it. We don’t care. We just want you to be happy. Here’s a new one.
And so first-time donors get the most love and then loyal donors, regardless of amount, you don’t have to give us a lot of money. It’s a lot of money to somebody and that may be you. But we need to stop judging people’s worth by how much they give us. There are organizations who say, we will not bother with you until you give us a $1000. Who are you to judge? Who are you to say that my $50 isn’t good enough. And if you treat my $50 poorly, then it will never grow.
And so you have to look at donor behavior, donors who last year gave you a $100 this year, they gave you $200. You have to build our databases and trigger our behaviors based on the donor’s behavior. That’s what businesses do. Why do you think you have loyalty cards at the grocery store or the free punch at the local deli where you get a free sandwich? They’re rewarding you for your loyalty because they know if they give you a punch card, you’ll be like, you know what, let me go back to Sammy’s because two more of these might get a free sandwich. Because if you have the choice between them and the other deli doesn’t reward your loyalty or it’s getting to know the people. I’m not a caffeine, you don’t need me to have caffeine, but my friends who have their loyal caffeine depots as I’ll call them, whether it’s Starbucks or Dunkin or Tim Horton, or the little tiny house ones out in the west the brothers or Dutch brothers or whatever it is, they love it when the person knows their order. That is knowing them. It is saying, I know who you are. I know your name. I know that you drink a frappe a lappe with a splash of coconut milk, or I know that you bring a dog with you, so here’s your puppuccino. That matters, every time.
It’s getting to know the person, it’s for me, my equivalent is when I walk into my local watering hole and they’re like, Hey Lynn, Amstel. And I’m like, yes. And they know my beer. And they’ve put my coaster on it and they know I like it in a koozie, so it doesn’t sweat all over my hands. And they’re like, are we going for some onion rings today? And I’m like, these people know me. And so it would be different if I walked in and that bartender that I see three times a week or two times a week is like, Hey, would you like a beverage? And I’m like, yeah, I was here two days ago. I drank 6 Amstels. You think I want a pina colada, I don’t think I’m not going to get a wild hair for a pina colada today. So that’s what I want to do. So that’s what I think is important.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Gosh, it’s so interesting because I feel like when we give examples, outside of fundraising behavior, but using that example, it’s so clear, right? Like inside our little fundraising bubble, we’re like we’re so busy. And so like, how are we going to remember every little thing, but just taking that moment. I worked in a coffee shop growing up and I started recently talking about the fact that I have ADHD. So me remembering people’s orders, not happening, but of course I remembered their faces.
And I treated them every time, It’s so good to see you again today. Like how, how did blah, blah, blah go yesterday? Or this is early for you? Do you have something special today? I used what I could, like what I would remember, how I could connect with them, but you’re right. Of course being a surprised, blank face, no recognition that I see this person multiple times a week, that would be so strange. And I think sometimes we forget when we’re like on the other side, that’s how our donors feel.
Lynne Wester: So I’ll give you an example. You give monthly to an organization, you sign up for their monthly donations and then they send you an email, give now. I do, I give to you monthly? Do you not know what a segment is, do you not know how to sort your Excel spreadsheet and it’s rude. It’s rude. It would be like you took your vegetarian friend to a steak house for dinner. Like it’s rude. Do you not know who I am? Do you not care? And so to me, we were talking about the Airbnb, it’s not just the donors don’t trust us. Sometimes they don’t like us.
I’ll give you an example. I give online a lot and the form will not have any sort of selection. I don’t want my title and I don’t want Ms, and then I get an email or a piece of mail, Mr. Wester, because Lynne is a gender neutral name. Why do you have to title me to address something to me? Put my first name, or they leave off the E. Fine my mom liked vowels. She had extra money at Wheel of Fortune so she brought some extra vowels, but L Y N is not me, and Mr. Western, that’s my dad. So it’s so simple not to screw this up. Like just care, just try hard. So I think that is some, I know where the money’s going to thing. I think most people, I think charities have a high trust factor though, but they don’t have is high care factor when it comes to the everyday Joe and Jane donor.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. You know what, I’m really glad that you said that because even when the word trust was coming out of my mouth, that wasn’t what I necessarily meant. Like in the old school way, we’ve thought about, do you trust non-profits? It’s not about are they embezzling the money.
Lynne Wester: It’s not the 1980’s and United way? Stuff like that.
Mallory Erickson: Do I trust my generosity with you? Do I trust?
Lynne Wester: You’re going to honor this relationship. So it’s a relationship, just like any other. So imagine Mallory were friends and the only time I talked to you is when I want something. I got rid of those friends in my twenties. I was like, I don’t have time for you or the friend that only talks to you when they don’t have a boyfriend. Okay. So you only talked to me when your big donors aren’t doing something or if charities were people you wouldn’t have them all in your life, they don’t always behave. We try hard.
Okay, so you’ve invited me to your wedding, thrilled to get to go to your wedding, but you only write me a thank you note if I bought you a gift of $250 or more. What kind of crap is that? The IRS says I don’t have to provide a receipt if the gift is under $250. Yeah but my momma says you’re rude. I don’t care if I gave you a sticker that was 5 cents out of a gumball that could be more meaningful than the $500 candelabra somebody got you, but who are you to judge me and then treat me poorly because I’m not good enough for you.
So I think you’re right in that it wasn’t, you didn’t mean trust. You meant the way we behave. We don’t always do a good job or when people are married so for example, you’ve got spouses you’re Mr. and Mrs. Idris Elba is my husband. You didn’t know that, but Idris and I have recently declared our love for each other, but Mr. and Mrs. Idris Elba, where’s Lynn in this, why did you just make me his property? Because you follow 1950’s guidelines of what you’re supposed to do. Hello! It’s 2022.
Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. I want to be respectful of time, so Lynn tell everyone where they can find you and for folks who are listening to this, and probably everyone being like, oh my gosh, I need to work with Lynne and her team, just tell them a little bit about what it looks like to work with you and who are the right folks?
Lynne Wester: We are Donorrelationsguru.com. You can find us at Donor Guru all over the internet. The interwebs as Al Gore invented them so we’re very grateful. My team specializes in communications, donor relations, events and operations. So we don’t specialize in asking for money. We are the thankers, the impact providers, the event planners, the communicators.
We work with people who want to change. So if you are comfortable with the status quo, rock on, have a great day. We don’t need, like that’s not us, our ideal partner is somebody who wants to make a couple of waves and use data and to drive that strategy. We’re looking for people who maybe inherited a shop that’s broken, maybe people who want to convince their board if there’s a better way of doing it or their leadership, and really think about the unsung hero.
In all of this, we lead with gratitude. We have a blast. We’re very sick with humor and sarcasm. And we believe in all the things that Ted Lasso believes in and all that good stuff. But we also believe that non-profit needs to be held accountable, that we’re not perfect. And we’re here to help make those changes and lead them. So come hang out with us. We have happy hours once a month for free. We have very low cost webinars and online courses that you can purchase. Or you can go to our website, Donorrelationsguru.com and there’s over 15,000 samples. You can download and copy them for free. We want you to have the resources to get up and running, thanking donors right away, there’s no cost to you, maybe your email address so that I can spam you, but I’m just trying to behave like a non-profit. And we’re here for a dialogue and I’m here to have interesting conversations about people that care about our space and we’re really successful because we stay in our lane and we know our niche and we’re practitioners. We actually do the work and I think that’s what sets us apart.
Mallory Erickson: Thank you so much. And thank you for joining me today for this conversation.
Lynne Wester: It’s been a pleasure.
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