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Monday, February 21, 2011

Tin Cup or Tin Ear?

The other day I received a piece of direct mail from Oxfam, the international famine relief organization. I have supported Oxfam as a pledge partner for at least 10 years, and I assumed that the mailing was an invitation -- which I receive at least annually -- to increase the amount of my monthly support.

As someone who makes my living advising organizations on how to build donor trust and increased giving through best practices in stewardship and donor relations, I was impressed that a message on the outer envelope noted that Oxfam meets Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance "...standards of operation, spending, truthfulness, and disclosure" and that it is "rated highly by leading charitable watchdog organizations, including the American Institute of Philanthropy." These are important reasons why I have been a longtime Oxfam supporter.

So imagine my surprise and chagrin when I opened the envelope and read the beginning lines:  "Here's what you won't find accompanying this letter:  address labels that "guilt trip" you into giving; an expensive calendar that you don't need (and we can't afford)...." Actually, what I did find as I read a generic "first-ask" letter was an organization that, for all its wonderful work, hit a very sour note in donor relations.

Although my support for Oxfam is modest -- about $500 per year -- I  was annoyed to receive this letter. It seems reasonable to expect a sophisticated fundraising operation like Oxfam's to be able to manage purchased list data for a mail appeal to exclude existing donors, particularly those who, like me, demonstrate their commitment and loyalty to the organization every month.

Receiving this solicitation made me wonder whether I actually matter to Oxfam as anything other than a check writer. That's the kind of response that no organization raising money today -- large or small -- really can't afford.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Donors Want More

Check out “Wealthy Donors Are Demanding a Bigger Voice in Catholic Schools,” from the February 7, 2011 New York Times.  The story is about wealthy donors who want more accountability and transparency from the schools they help. Fundraisers often use the term “investment” to make a compelling case to business-savvy donors for supporting cultural and social causes. If we follow the term “investor” to its logical outcome it shouldn't be a surprise when donors want to know about return on their philanthropic investments, to have concrete data on which to base their choices and, increasingly, to have a say in how decisions are made in the organizations they support.Philanthropic investment may be different from Wall Street, but in a world with increasing demand for transparency, accountability, and purchaser satisfaction, we will need to rethink some of the ways we engage and involve donors.  Much good can come of it.