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Attract More Donors by Improving Your Trustworthiness Score

Do Sweat the Small Stuff


There is a lot of evidence to support the unfortunate fact that many people do not trust some nonprofits to use their donations wisely. The public often thinks that nonprofits spend too much on overhead, or many are really scams, or that they pay their staff too much.

How can you avoid being on that list of distrusted nonprofits? By being transparent about everything you do so that people will find it easy to trust your organization.

Here are some actions you can take to make sure potential donors don't blacklist your nonprofit:

Use Credible and Cost-Effective Ways to Fundraise.

Cut out people holding hands.
Dimitri Vervitsiotis/Getty Images

Look as professional as possible. People may buy products from you or frequent your bake sales, but that is not where the big money is. Only the Girl Scouts can raise millions through cookies, and only the Salvation Army can get by with bells and change pots.

Use smart, well-organized fundraising techniques to convince donors that you know what you are doing. As businesses have learned the hard way, customer service is king, and a good reputation is mandatory to even be in the game. The same is true...perhaps even more so...for nonprofits. Look hard at your organization through the eyes of your donors and prospective donors, and make your nonprofit the one they instinctively trust.

Be Accountable.

Keep your financial house in order and make sure that most of your donor dollars go right into programs. Keep your overhead expenses reasonable and be transparent about that ratio. Make your financial information available on your website and in your publications. Hire an outside auditor to look at your books and report back. Follow good accounting practices and adopt the principles of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

Make Donors Your Most Important Audience.

If bad news about your organization appears in the media, consider your donors your most important audience. Get to them quickly with the facts and reassure them that you have things under control. Always be prepared for a crisis with an emergency plan and a communications plan.

Make your donors your best friends. Find ways to include your most reliable donors in your inner circle. Invite them to serve on your board, provide them with opportunities to volunteer their expertise, consult them on big changes.

Respond Quickly to Questions and Complaints

If you invite people to contact you through your website, have a staff member assigned to respond immediately. Also, provide plenty of ways for people to contribute...through your site, at your office, through the mail, or at their homes and offices. There is nothing sadder than a potential donor who wants to give but cannot find anyone to talk to. Unfortunately, this happens all too often, even at large institutions with hundreds on their development staffs.

Expect support staff to use good customer relations techniques and to know how handle the most common problems that people call about. Set up your website so that anyone can find the right person to contact. Avoid contact forms and add photos of key staff with email addresses.

Publish an Annual Report.

Even though nonprofits are not required to publish an annual report, do it anyway. It is necessary to your professional image and provides another avenue to keep your donors informed. Annual reports today needn't always follow traditional forms. Your report could be a video for instance. Just make sure that, at least annually, you report on the financial health of your organization and just how donations are actually helping the people you serve.

Keep Your Paperwork Up-to-Date.

Make sure that all of your paperwork is up-to-date. Nothing turns off a donor more than finding that tax records are not available or that they are out-of-date when they look you up at the major nonprofit tracking sites such as Give.org, GuideStar, or CharityNavigator. In addition, have those documents readily available at your office and on your website. That means that the receptionist doesn't say "Huh?" when asked about them, or the office doesn't have to be turned upside down to find them.

Make Someone Responsible for Thanking Donors and Keeping Them Happy.

It is not enough to just send out an acknowledgement of each donation. Donors must be well informed and reminded frequently that they are important to you. If possible, provide a hot line that donors can call if they have a question or a problem. Send out thank you letters and notes, make a thank you telephone call, and send newsletters either through the mail or by email. The worst thing your organization can do is to take your donors for granted. They will notice.

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  6. Donor Relations - How to Be Trustworthy and Win Over Donors

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