I was married for seventeen years, but sadly, like half of marriages these days, mine ended in divorce.
It was in the fifteenth and sixteenth years, things really fell apart. That was when the frequent open and honest two way communication broke down. Conversations became less frequent. What had always been a strength in the relationship disappeared. Secrets were kept, and lies were told to cover up the secrets. When the lies unraveled and the secrets came out in the light of day, trust was lost. It was an obstacle that I could not overcome, and the once loving relationship ended. It broke my heart.
Open and honest communication is important for every relationship, whether they are personal relationships like marriage, or donor relationships with nonprofit organizations. Your donors want to hear from you and they need to hear from you to keep that supportive relationship alive and well.
Communication needs to be frequent and regular. You need to share information about what the organization is doing with your supporters, so they know you are doing good things with their support. You can be do this with monthly newsletters sent by mail or by email. You can do this by updating your website and/or Facebook page with interesting and compelling content, like stories about the people you serve. The more information you can provide for them, the more they feel involved in your organization. Donors do not want to hear from you only when you want money from them.
Communication needs to be two way. It cannot be successful if it is only you talking or writing. You have to ask them for their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. You can ask for their feedback with every newsletter you send out and every post on social media. You have to reach out to them and invite them to meet with you to discuss what they feel is important about your organization. You need to listen to them and pay attention to what they have to say. Your supporters want that respect.
Communication has to be honest and transparent with your supporters. You must let your donors know how you spend their investments by sharing financial information and your overhead costs in your annual reports and on your website. If you need to invest in better technology, like a better computer system or donor data base, tell them about it and why it will make you a better organization. If your pipes freeze and burst because of the harsh weather, let your donors know how much it cost to repair the damage. If you lose support from a foundation or state agency, be honest about why it happened, and what your organization is doing to correct the mistake. Do not try to cover things up, make excuses, or place blame on others, but take responsibility and your supporters will most likely stick with you. If they find out about something from an outside source like the local newspaper, they will lose their trust in your organization, and their support will disappear.
I am a big believer in open and honest communication, and I think most people are too. I often told my wife and daughter that I would rather be embarrassed by the truth than tell a lie, and that I would rather be hurt by the truth than be placated with a lie. Fortunately, my daughter listened to what I said, and sadly, my wife did not.
Don’t let poor communication cost your organization your donors’ love.