Can I trust you?



Like a solid house, a relationship can be built with materials of all kinds to suit just about every taste. 

But although no two houses ever look exactly the same, we have building codes for a reason: if you’re trying to build something that will last, there are certain things you have to have before you even get started.

Like a strong foundation.  And the foundation of every close relationship--familial, romantic, friendly, or professional--is trust.

This is especially true of the relationship between you and your donors.  Trust isn’t just the foundation of the nonprofit/donor relationship--it’s all four cornerstones, the load-bearing walls, and the roof. 

Trust gains you new donors and retains your past donors.  Trust is what makes a donor comfortable making a sacrifice to support your cause.  Trust is what makes a donor keep giving to your cause even if he won’t personally see the direct results of what you’ve done with his donation.

In the mind of a donor, your ability to inspire trust is incredibly important.  It may even be the most important part of your relationship.

But cultivating that trust isn’t easy.  According to a survey by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, as many as 35% of Americans inherently don’t trust charities--before you’ve even sent your first letter, you have to face the reality that 1/3 of your potential donors already don’t believe your nonprofit will do what it says or use their donation appropriately. 

Bummer.  But fixable.  Let’s look at why some of those survey respondents said they lacked faith in nonprofits:

·      A majority of those who said they lacked confidence in charities cited misuse or poor use of donation funding.  High overhead, salaries, administrative costs, and what donors considered unwise use of funds for things like advertising.  Donors are extremely concerned that their donations are going toward program.

                                 "C'mon, donor!"

                                 "C'mon, donor!"

·      A failure on the part of the nonprofit to demonstrate that its work has had a real impact.  Donors want evidence that charities are actually helping people.

·      Bad marks from watchdog groups and poor feedback from other donors or those who have worked with your charity.  A savvy donor will always research a charity before making a hefty or recurring donation.  Bad reviews, experiences, and poor reports from charity watchdogs can be enough to prevent a donor from trusting you.

Your donors have spoken.  In order to trust your nonprofit, your cause, and you, they want financial transparency, hard evidence your nonprofit is helping people, and they want to hear other trusted individuals and groups to vouch for your organization.

None of that is unreasonable.  We’re looking for almost the same information when we pick a new restaurant to try out (Is it overpriced for what you get?  Do they have a website so I can check out the menu and pictures?  How is it rated on Yelp?  Do I know someone who’s been there and liked it?)

Here are a few ways you can work on building donor trust in your fundraising letters:

Make donors #1.  It bears repeating.  Donors do not trust nonprofits who use “us,” “we,” “me,” and “I” 37 times before they bring up “you.”  Your fundraising efforts should focus on the donor, not your charity.  Tell them how THEY helped, not you.  Tell them how much you need THEM to realize your goals, not how much they need you.  And whatever you do, SPELL THEIR NAMES RIGHT.

Tell donors how you used their money.  It’s really that simple, but so many organizations fail to tell a loyal repeated donor where his money went.  If it went toward a project, send him an update on that project and thank him for being a pivotal contributor.  If it helped build a playground, send him a picture of that playground--maybe show him a picture of a few of the children who have a safe and fun place to play because of his contribution.   It is vital that a nonprofit follow through with updates and results after the donation. 

Ask for feedback.  Asking for feedback is almost like asking for more work.  And not only are you asking for more work, but you’re asking your donors for their opinion on what you should be doing or how you’ve been doing so far.  Donors love nonprofits that value their opinion.  It makes them feel invested, important, and that you’re acknowledging the contributions they’ve made to your cause.

Say thank you.  Failing to thank your donor for her contribution feels dismissive, rude, and selfish--especially if you turn around and ask for another after.  When people help, they want to be thanked.  Too much asking and not enough thanking and eventually she’ll stop helping.

“Word-action alignment.”  This just means if you say you’re going to do it, do it.  If you’re not going to do it, don’t say you will.  If you think about it, this is the most basic idea behind trust-building.  If you say you’re raising money to send 40 children on a trip to Europe, you’d better show your donors you did exactly that.  Not part of that.  Not sorta that.  Not technically that.  But that you did exactly as promised in your letters.  Nothing breaks trust faster than saying a thing and doing the opposite.