The art of dynamic conversations that improve fundraising outcomes is asking the right questions, active listening and providing the best possible response.

Why is this important?

We all exist in a challenging fundraising environment. There are constantly more requests than there are donor or funder dollars available. Recent reports demonstrate that the giving environment is ‘flat’. These include reports from the Australian Charities & Not-For-Profits Commission, Giving USA and CAF UK, amongst others. All highlight similar trends of less donors, those who do give are giving slightly more and that although different domestic trends exist, all result in a flat giving environment.

Don’t get me wrong, the levels of giving amongst donors internationally and locally is incredible. Some charities and campaigns here in New Zealand are excelling. However, while we can all get better at fundraising, we need to recognise that we are in a challenging fundraising environment. Giving by donors and funders is not increasing at the rate of our aspirations or sufficiently to meet increasing needs in our communities.

A key takeaway from the 2019 FINZ Conference was information and data around the very challenging donor acquisition and retention rates impacting many charities. The conference highlighted for me once again the importance of relationship-based fundraising to address this issue, which has donor conversations at its heart.

It is important for us to ensure that not every conversation is an asking conversation, although it Is critical to include asking in our donor conversations often and appropriately. We can measure and manage donor engagement through moves management, tracking lifetime value, developing donor journey mapping, appeal analysis, mid-level donor conversion processes and a number of other fundraising tools. Each of these approaches highlight the need for a multifaceted approach to donor-centric engagement with conversations at the heart of it.

What constitutes a donor conversation?

It is a commitment to create a personal two-way dialogue. There are increasing possibilities for this with the use of technology, such as the increasing use of video calls. These can be effective, and some donors have a preference for this as part of an increasing climate consciousness. Donor surveys, online forums, different types of donor events and virtual chat rooms are other emerging tools, but don’t have the same impact as a face to face conversation.

I’d like to suggest that when it comes to improving fundraising outcomes, even if you’re managing a very large donor database, nothing is as important or effective as a dynamic donor conversation. The creative use of volunteers, front line staff, Trustees and passionate advocates can all contribute to a healthy volume of direct donor engagement. If they are well equipped and supported, it all helps.

It would be wrong not to acknowledge that there are donors who definitely do not want to have face to face conversations with us, or the leaders of our organisations. But until you and your team have been told by a donor that they’d prefer not to have any direct engagement, you should certainly make every effort.

Who do donors want to have conversations with?

In an age where there is increasing public expectation of accountability and transparency, the critical presence of leadership, complemented by influential advocacy and professional management, is crucial. Finding a way to connect your donors with leaders who can share their organisation’s vision and give confidence that they are delivering on their promise of impact, is the least our donors deserve. It is also what it takes to build the trust required to increase giving.

Those of you who know me or who have heard me share fundraising experiences will know that at Giving Architects we have had the great pleasure of many conversations with thousands of donors and supporters of the years. This is the basis for the views I am expressing here. That experience reinforces our view that the art of dynamic conversations that drive exceptional fundraising outcomes relate to ensuring you and your organisation ask the right questions, actively listen and provide the best possible donor-centric response.