Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I created many friendships with hundreds of people. I have friends that go back to childhood, school, and college. Eventually, we went our own ways. People moved to other towns, other states, and even other countries. We tried to keep in touch with letters, postcards, and phone calls, but eventually we lost touch. Addresses and phone numbers changed, and people stopped making time to write a letter or send a Christmas card. Long distance phone calls got expensive.
Once the internet and social media sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Classmates.com came to be, you could locate your old friends, start conversations and reconnect with them. For many, we could catch up with each other, and it was like we never lost touch at all. When I returned to the Midwest a few years ago for a visit, I got together with some friends that I hadn’t seen for twenty or more years, and it was just like I never left. Some friends are like that.
Children, on the other hand, you cannot treat the same. If you are a parent or preschool teacher, you cannot take your eyes off them or leave them to themselves. You have to stay on top of their activities and know what is going on with their lives at all times. You have to talk to their teachers to make sure they are doing well in school. You need to know they are not hanging out with the wrong people, and that they are not doing things that will get them in trouble. You have to watch out for their best interests night and day. If you leave them alone too long, you will walk into a room with crayon or finger paint covering the walls or juice spilled all over the floor.
When you are a nonprofit organization, you cannot treat your donors like old friends. You cannot take their money, and then leave them alone for weeks, months, or years at a time. You can’t expect them to come back to your organization if you do not keep them informed. You need to communicate with them on a regular basis and thank them every time you contact them.
You need to treat your donors like you treat children. You want to avoid using nonprofit jargon, and you need to speak to them using language that they understand. You need to let them know how important they are to your organization, and engage them in other ways besides asking them for money. You need to keep their attention on your organization’s successes and its needs. Otherwise, they will find something else to do and you will lose their support.
The biggest failure that a nonprofit organization can have is to let a supporter feel neglected and unappreciated. That is why you cannot treat your donor like an old friend that you can forget about until you need their next donation. You need to treat your donor like a small child that is very important to you, if you want to see that relationship grow and mature, resulting in greater gifts and long term support for your programs.