Letter to a Friend (About Why I didn’t Give More to your Gala)

A good friend who sits on the board of the organization that she loves invited us to their gala and then called to follow up.  Isn’t she a good board member?  I’m so proud of her!  We couldn’t attend.  But we did give… just not a stretch gift.  And look above: this is a GOOD friend… someone I’m really proud of and have great feelings about.  Why didn’t I give more?Gala X

I have lost track of the number of times that I’ve used the Tarnside Curve to illustrate why donors don’t make stretch gifts based on the relationship they have with the person doing the asking.  But my email to her spelled it out at greater length and I decided to share it with you in hopes that like her and her organization, you might find some lessons learned to apply to yours.

Dear Very Good Friend,

First, I’m so sorry that we can’t make it to the Gala.  It would have been lovely to catch up with you and see you in your new role on the Board.  Second, I wanted to share with you why I am not giving more.  I know that you asked for my input on fundraising for your organization before, and this seemed like a good moment to share my thoughts.

As I was going through your organization’s site and figuring out how much we should give, I had some thoughts.  Please know that I realize how hard it must be to run Organization X and that most of the staff are out there doing the real work of helping clients who need it.  And I don’t know any of the back story on the site, who wrote it, the politics, etc.  In any case, this isn’t meant to come off as belittling any of the work they do on the ground or who they are as people.  Not at all.  I’m sharing my thoughts with you because if Organization X were my client, it’s what I’d do.  If it’s helpful, then share and feel free to share as is.  If it’s not the teachable moment I think it could be, and/or would hurt feelings and be unhelpful, then please don’t.

I tell my clients all the time that there are plenty of great organizations out there to support.  Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find them.

I went to Organization X’s site because of you and your clear passion about the work they do.  I trust you.  I value your opinion.  I don’t know all that much about Organization X.  This is how many many donors are introduced to organizations, especially in the context of events.

So there I am now looking around on the site and trying to figure out how much to give.  Should I do what’s comfortable, or should I forgo something I want to do and stretch?   If I do the stretch, then I have to explain it.  Already, I’ve explained to the family that we’re giving to Organization X because “Aunti loves them and I respect her and want to support her cause.” 

But to go the extra mile on this, I’d have to say more. I’m looking… I’m looking… I’m not seeing much.

When I get to the “stories” page, the first thing I see is the founders page and it’s a little bit off-putting because it suggests that the organization was founded on a whim.  I am willing to bet that the founders story is an awesome one that had much more than, “had nothing better to do” as a beginning.  But this is what it says.  I stop reading.  I’ve got 10 minutes to my name here and this isn’t what I’m looking for.  So then I move on to see if there is an annual report anywhere.  What I am looking for is a breakdown of the financials, what the annual budget is and also an idea of giving levels. Here again, I come up empty-handed.  OK… what about an idea of what various levels of giving means in terms of impact?  Nope.  Nothing to be found.  I sit back a minute.  It dawns on me that there are no photos.  That the site is all text, and not even written particularly well.  Ugh.

My thoughts go back to you.  I remind myself that you are super-smart and that you wouldn’t sit on a board for no reason.  Organization X MUST be doing terrific work.  I just don’t have any sense of it.

And so… I make my “comfortable” gift.

After the gala is behind you all and you can sit and think, here are a few things that I’d do right away:

1. Create impact statements.  My son and his friends just raised money to plant trees and gave it to http://www.plantabillion.org/  Every $1 plants 1 tree.  They want to plant one billion.  Take a look.  It’s a huge goal.  But they aren’t afraid to throw it out there.  And incredibly, every $1 of that billion feels important.  When I give my gift to Organization X, what does that mean?  What can I feel good about in making this contribution besides vaguely knowing I’ve done something good because you say I have?  Create impact statements to tell visitors to your site and donors new and old the impact of gifts made at various levels.  This is going to be useful for far more than just your site.  (Sidebar:  I didn’t include this in my letter, but you can download a great resource on writing impact statements here.)

2.  Post your financials.  You don’t need to create and post an annual report in my opinion.  Hardly anyone reads those.  But what they do look for is exactly what I looked for.  To not have that information up makes you look bad.

3.  Make the site more visually appealing.  You have this know-how.  I realize you can’t post photos of the clients for safety sake.  But there are all kinds of creative images you could post that don’t show faces.  Look at what other like organizations are doing.  I know you know this already, but Facebook is ranking images and video much higher than plain text in terms of their edge rank, their news feed algorithm that determines which posts get seen and by whom.  That says it all, doesn’t it?

4.  Be sure all the content is appealing and it’s not there for political reasons alone.  If you are going to share stories, make certain that they are really strong.  And know that most visitors are looking for client stories.  It helps me feel good about giving when I see a story of a client whose life was transformed by Organization X.  When I have my consultant hat on, I talk about helping donors feel like superheros for supporting them.  Keep that in your mind as you decide what to post on the site.  Would reading it make someone feel like a superhero for supporting?

I could go on.  But I won’t because I know it’s going to take time to get through this list as it is and that is going to take commitment from more than just you.  No matter that I know how hard it is to think about these things right after going through the hard work of putting a successful event together, it’s really important that you all do this.  I’m happy to chat about this whenever.   In the meantime, good luck tomorrow night!  I’m sorry I won’t get to be there.

Good for you for being involved with Organization X.  I’m proud of you and will be rooting for you guys tomorrow… 

Love, Neesha

Have you had a friend – a GOOD friend – visit your organization’s website?  Asking for that frank assessment of the public face you are sharing with the world can offer invaluable feedback.