Monday, April 2, 2012

Both gift and sale are four letter words

If organizations treated a gift more like a sale, they’d find out the two words have more in common than four letters.

There was a great post from The Agitator last week discussing the fact that fundraising organizations often concentrate on donor acquisition to the exclusion of donor retention. This, despite the fact that data clearly demonstrates that it is more likely to get an additional donation from a first time donor than a new donation from someone who has never given.

It made me think about how this issue is dealt with in the for-profit world.  In business terms, a donation is essentially a sale. And for enlightened companies the sale is the beginning of a process, not the end of one.

There’s an old sales adage that goes something like, “Sometimes the scariest thing that can happen is making the sale.” It may sound counter-intuitive but the point is that sometimes making the sale is easier than delivering the product. The principle is easy to understand in service industries or in cases where something is being custom made. But I would argue that’s its potentially true when any sale  – or donation – is made.

That’s because there’s an implied contract in every sale. Even when a finished product is at the centre of the exchange, there is an experience to be delivered. It could be the taste, the feel, the time saved, the utility gained or even the jealousy of others. Successful businesses worry about whether that experience is delivered. They understand that their brand is at the core of that contract. They know that the possibilities for future sales lie in meeting the expectations of current customers.

What’s the implied contract in a charitable gift? Answering that question will allow organizations to see the ways that they can increase donations from current donors and in fact attract new ones. The more practical question is what’s the potential donor experience that can emanate from making a gift and what can organizations do to make sure it is delivered? Here are some thoughts (potential experience in italics and action items below):

A personal sense of satisfaction.
Thank you notes, calls, videos that reinforce that feeling. Congratulate your donors for what they have done.

The ability to tell others about what I’ve done.
Recognize donors publicly. Use social media or other means to make it easy for donors to share what they have done.

The knowledge that I am helping people, supporting a cause or making a difference.
Regular communication that informs donors about the difference their gifts – in specific or in general – are making. Personal communication with a donor. Testimonials from those who have been helped.

The opportunity to find out more about an organization or a cause.
Develop a relationship. Inform donors about opportunities for further involvement – those of time and money.

The opportunity to do it all again.
If it was a rewarding experience the first time, odds are a donor will do it again. Don’t be afraid to ask. Often.

There are lots of other (and probably better) ways of defining the donor experience and figuring out how to deliver it. But recognizing that the donation – just like the sale – is just the beginning of the relationship is the key to growing your donor base and the quantum of giving to your organization.

So, what do you think? Is a donation really a sale in disguise? What does your organization do deliver on the contract that is made when someone makes a gift?


  1. Great post, Chuck! I wonder how many organizations really have mapped out their donor experience--or any other of their stakeholder experiences for that matter. Post-donation engagement is so critical! Thanks for calling attention to this important issue.

  2. Thanks Brad!You might also enjoy a couple of posts at The Agitator that resulted from my post.