Turning Complaints into Gifts


In my experience, about 2 out of 5 people who complain about a piece of fundraising will give a gift immediately after complaining.

You read that correctly.

Here’s what it looks like…

  • If the complainer can be spoken to in person or on the phone, and…
  • The staff member does a good job listening & asking questions, and…
  • The staff member gently asserts that what the donor read in the fundraising was true and that the donor’s gift will make a real difference…
  • Then about 2 out of 5 complainers will make a gift on the spot.

This makes perfect sense if you think about complaints the way I do. (Note: I’m talking about complaints caused by the content of a piece of fundraising. I am not talking about complaints caused by poor data or mistakes, or generic complaints like “too many organizations ask me for money!”)

A high-performing appeal or e-appeal tends to tap into peoples’ emotions. It reveals tensions donors hold between the way the world is and the way they would like the world to be. Most donors respond to that tension by sending in a gift.

But some donors respond to the tension by sending in a complaint. (There’s no blame or shame here, by the way. Who among us has never said or written something they regretted while experiencing tension?!?)

So when a complainer gets to speak to a compassionate staff member who really listens to their complaint… who commiserates with the complainer about the situation… and who confirms that what was in the fundraising was true and that the donor can help by making a gift… gifts happen.

Not every time. But more often than you’d think.

In these conversations, many donors will even bring up making a gift without being prompted. Many times in my career I’ve had organizations share stories about donors who send in a note complaining about how a piece of fundraising made them feel… and include a gift to help.

Complaints and gifts are often more closely related than we think. They are both responses to tension.

Read the series:

  1. Getting Used to Complaints
  2. Outline for How to Respond to a Complaint
  3. Not All Complaints are Equal
  4. Natural, But Not Productive
  5. The Two Times Smaller Orgs Get More Complaints
  6. So. Many. Reasons. To. Complain.
  7. The Harmful Big Assumption
  8. Turning Complaints into Gifts (this post)
  9. “Friendly Fire” — Complaints from Internal Audiences
  10. Our Final Thoughts on Complaints

The Pandemic Fundraising Lesson That’s Applicable Tomorrow


Isn’t it odd that, during the pandemic, many organizations whose work had nothing to do with the pandemic raised record amounts of money?

What should that strange fact teach Fundraisers who are paying attention?  Because on the surface of things it sure doesn’t make sense.

I think there are a bunch of reasons, and here’s my attempt at a summary…

People give charitable gifts to exert a little control over the world.

All of us like feeling that we have control in their lives. The pandemic took away that control. Jobs were lost, jobs changed, we couldn’t leave the house, etc.

Yet people still had a deep need for control.

One of the things they did was give to charities. They gave, according to their priorities, to exert a little control over the world.  To remake a little bit of the world into the world they wish it was.

Those people – your donors – determined their priorities long ago. They had their priorities before they started giving to your organization, and will most likely have those priorities after they have finished giving to your organization.

The pandemic changed their circumstances, but did not change their priorities.

And For Today…

The principle we’re discussing is good to remember if North America slides into a recession. 

If (when?) that happens, the voices at nonprofits will start sharing their reasons that “we shouldn’t be asking donors for gifts right now.”

But remember: the recession might change donors’ circumstances, but it won’t change their priorities.

That’s exactly when you need to remember to be sold out for your cause.  Give your donors a chance to “exert a little control over the world” through your organization to help your cause or beneficiaries.

Everyone (and by that I mean your beneficiaries, your donors, and your organization) will be glad you did.

(H/t to Andrew who recently reminded me of this in a meeting.)

Reasons to Give Today

Reasons to Give Today.

Hello from San Diego!

As I post this, I’m presenting at the Nonprofit Storytelling Conference. The graphic above is part of my presentation, and I thought you’d find it helpful as you create your next piece of fundraising.

It attempts to illustrate a simple principle: when asking for support, the more reasons you can provide that your donor should give a gift right now, the more likely it is that the donor will make a gift.

If the only reasons your nonprofit provides are that the donor’s gift will support your organization and do good work, you’re less likely to receive a gift. Because every nonprofit can say that every day of their existence. That’s what it is to be a nonprofit.

But if you can give your donor more specific reasons that her gift is needed today, you’ll raise more. Reasons that are proven to work well are things like:

  • Matching funds will double the donor’s gift – this appeals to a donor’s sense of thriftiness
  • That there is some need today, some wrong that can be righted – this appeals to a donor’s moral sense of right and wrong, and her belief that she’s a person who responds when people or causes she cares about are in need
  • That something bad will happen if help is not received – this appeals to donors because humans are motivated to avoid negative things happening

Those aren’t the only reasons; there are lots of others.

But for today’s purposes, think about this the next time you create a piece of fundraising. Don’t just tell your donor that her gift will support your organization and do more good. Any organization can say that. Instead, provide your donor with more specific reasons she should give a gift today. If you do, you’ll receive more gifts.

You Are More than Your Programs, Your Process and Your People

You are more

Your organization has people and programs and processes that make you effective. They make your organization a force for good. They make your organization a great place for a donor to give a gift.

However, your organization is also far more than your people, your processes and your programs:

  • Your organization is also a vehicle that donors use to make the world a better place
  • Your organization is also a way for donors and not-yet-donors to be reminded of the injustices in the world
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to self-actualize by acting out their own personal story of giving
  • Your organization is also a way to donors to fight back against evil
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to make themselves feel good (by giving you a gift)
  • Your organization is also a way for donors to exert a measure of control over the world.

Here’s why this is important. In our experience, those additional things – all those “also’s” – are the primary drivers of why most donors give.

And when you focus your fundraising on the primary drivers of why donors give, you’ll raise more money.

So instead of making the easy choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your organization is effective, make the generous choice to make your fundraising about the reasons your donors give to your organization.

It’s a generous choice because you’ll be communicating to donors about why they support your organization, instead of communicating with them about why your organization would support your organization.

Don’t mistake what makes your organization effective for the reasons donors like to have you in their lives.

Quotes of Amazement about Donor Generosity


Donor generosity is amazing.

To give you a little joy in the middle of the craziness, here are a bunch of quotes about donor generosity that we’ve heard in the last week from organizations we serve.

I’ll just leave these right here for you to enjoy – and for organizations to think about if they or their beneficiaries are being harmed by the current situation but aren’t yet asking donors to help.

“Donors just blow me away with their generosity. So many have responded to share their own story of what they’re going through. And yet they choose to give. What a testament to what amazing people donors are.”

“I was talking to a friend last night, and she said, ‘Oh it must be soooo hard to raise money right now.’ And I thought that’s true if ‘hard’ means breaking all kinds of open rate, click-through rate, and revenue expectations. Then yeah, it’s really hard! ”

“It’s amazing to see how many people want to help right now.”

“It’s like year-end fundraising in March!”

“Donors that gave recently are giving again! This is unbelievable to me. It’s blowing me away!”

And my personal favorite (and a reminder for why your organization should be using the mail, too), a donor replied to an e-appeal with a gift and the following note:

“I forwarded your email to my mom, and she wants to donate but doesn’t want to do so online. Her friend would also like to make a donation. Is there a person and address she could send a check to?”

And finally, a quote from a small organization that used our easy formula for a successful Coronavirus e-appeal:

“I just wanted to thank you again and share the ongoing results of our emergency appeal (following your suggestions, of course). Immediately upon sending our 1st email last week, we received seven online gifts (may not seem like a lot, but it’s huge for us). As I write this email, we have received 81 online gifts, and 43 of those are from first-time donors.

“We also posted the appeal to our social media, which immediately resulted in comments and shares and gifts. Monday, I sent the same letter in the mail (with the edits you suggested in the Free Review Friday last week). I’ve also re-posted and emailed the appeal again this week.

“Not only are the gifts coming in, a couple of other amazing things happened – one of our grantors responded to the emergency appeal by releasing all the restrictions on the grant ($40K) and are allowing us to use the funds as we see fit – HUGE!!! And our local paper (distributed in our county) saw the emergency appeal and printed it inside the front cover of the paper. AMAZING!!”

Donor generosity is amazing! They’re unsung heroes in this whole thing – and I hope you enjoy your role in giving your donors opportunities to be heroic!

Your Nonprofit Is a Gift to Your Donors

Your Nonprofit Is a Gift to Your Donors.

Your organization is a gift to your donors.

You help each donor to do good that they could not do by themselves.

Because your donor doesn’t have programs. She doesn’t have program staff. She can’t do all the things that you do.

Your donor has not organized her life – as your organization has – to help people as powerfully as you do. What a gift that you’ve created this organization for your donor to tap into!

You help each donor experience the joy of giving.

Remember, your donors LOVES giving. Gets a real joy from it. So when she makes a donation to your organization, she benefits, too!

Off the top of my head, remembered from peer-reviewed research I’ve read:

  1. Donors are physically healthier than non-donors.
  2. Donors feel more connected than non-donors.
  3. People who donate are more likely to earn more the following year than non-donors.

(I wish that more Fundraisers – and their bosses – remembered this more often. When you own the idea that donors love giving, it makes you approach fundraising differently, and causes you to raise more money.)

You are her partner.

As much as I rant against using the word “partner” … I think that most donors, if they really sat down and thought about it, would think of the charities they give to as their “partners.”

(But always remember, from her perspective, who is partnering with whom.)

And you know what? You are her partner. She’s able to do far more to make the world a better place with your organization in her life.

She’s on a quest to make the world a little better, and you are her needed partner on her quest.

So in the craziness of year-end fundraising, remember that your organization is a gift to each of your donors.

You’re helping each donor make the world a better place – and helping each donor be happier and healthier – one gift at a time.