As one of my avocations, I publish a magazine in a small market with about 160,000 residents. It’s too fancy a publication for too small an audience in a world that’s going digital, so I lose some money. But I’d probably lose as much if I were addicted to golf or bought a boat, so it works out.

I am determined, however, that this magazine be as outstanding as possible, so I listen very carefully to the feedback I get.

To be truthful, the reality is that, in this size community, I couldn’t avoid the feedback if I wanted to. I can’t go to a cafe, the grocery store or the post office without bumping into someone who has advice for my magazine. And all that spontaneous feedback goes into the hopper with the more systematic reader feedback we seek out in various ways.

The result, I believe, is a product that reflects very closely the style and content preferences of my current and potential audience. It gets rave reviews.

Think of me as a small nonprofit; I just happen to sell an issue-focused magazine.

Like me, small, community-based nonprofits should have no problem getting the feedback they need. They’re surrounded by, immersed in their audience … it’s their friends and and neighbours. All they need to do is listen … often face-to-face.

There’s no excuse for such groups not to be in synch with the populations they’re serving and the donors from whom they seek support. Repeat giving and retention should be phenomenal for these groups.

However, obviously, for groups with larger boundaries and greater distance from their greater numbers of individual donors, the challenge is much greater.

Even the perceived need to listen is attenuated, because, at least subconsciously to the fundraiser, individual donors are indistinguishable, fungible, transferable … each (it is thought) can be readily replaced.

So larger groups need to think very explicitly and deliberately about feedback and listening. They need to consciously build the right processes into their operating practices and culture.

I don’t downplay that this is a huge challenge.

Nothing is more astonishing than going to a nonprofit’s focus group, a sampling of their donors, and find that a fair number of the participants don’t know or remember they are actually (or were) donors to that organization. It happens … too often!

Somebody’s not communicating effectively … and at the root of that failure is most likely that the organization has not been listening.

How ‘far away’ are your donors? I don’t mean in miles or kilometres. I mean how out of touch are you with their preferences, interests and motives for giving? If you think you and your donors (as opposed to you and the rest of your fundraising team) are closely aligned, what are you doing to ascertain and ensure that?

What opportunities are you giving your donors to tell you stuff? To close the gap and hold them close despite the numbers and the distance?

Here’s Roger on ignoring donors needs and preferences. Don’t get him going on this point!


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This article was posted in: Communications, Donor retention / loyalty / commitment, Research.
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