Generous listening: What's your giver's cause investment?

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Somewhere, it seems, direct response fundraisers blurred the line between a charitable donor and a person who makes a charitable donation. Some might say I'm splitting hairs, but I beg to differ. By possessing the ability to differentiate between the two, you can unleash your marketing potential.

According to an informal survey of some of the industry's leading direct mail marketers, the primary difference between a donor and someone who makes a donation is "involvement." Donors, they say, want to get involved in some way with the charitable organization, while those that make donations, don't.

Makes sense, right? But this is direct response, the least personal form of fundraising, so how can we understand the person's motivation ?

Just stop and listen to what they say; not through their words, necessarily, but by looking at their subsequent actions.

For instance, many years ago I read a letter written by a woman who made modest charitable contributions. She was disgusted at the "outright greed" that exists within American charities - who in her mind were never satisfied with a contribution, and always looking and expecting more.

Until then I really hadn't thought of fundraisers as being greedy, but the more I think about it, maybe she has a point. But what are we supposed to do? It's not like we are being asked to raise less money, after all.

I think Sue Sword, executive vice president of the Christian Appalachian Project, was right when she said there are people "actively searching for a charity to call their own." There are many frustrated givers in the marketplace, and charities need to do a better job matching up individual giving needs - both for the benefit of the person making the gift, and for the organization.

One insight: Nearly 40 percent to 50 percent of all people who give charitable donations through the mail never make a second contribution. Yet, those same people could be re-solicited as many as 30-plus times over a three-year period. Amazingly, the cost of these subsequent marketing "appeals" virtually offsets their initial contributions.

We absolutely must understand the difference between a donor and a donation. By doing so we can impact everything - better audience segmentation, improved offers and contact strategies and more targeted communications and messages.

I believe that every initial contribution is made in the form of a donation - given either from a person with emotional intent or through an emotional reaction. Those who give with intent are more capable of becoming donors than those who give out of reaction.

The majority of all donations are given through an act of generosity. Listen carefully to understand the giver's intent and your organization will reap the benefits.

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