Transparency and gratitude foster meaningful donor engagement

America is a generous nation, and the pandemic hasn’t slowed the rate of philanthropic giving, even with today’s rising rates of inflation.
“It’s what Americans do, thinking beyond themselves,” says Natalie Ronayne, chief development officer at Cleveland Metroparks.

But organizations shouldn’t take that giving spirit for granted. To keep donations flowing, they should be transparent to donors and the community and communicate about how their gifts make a difference.

Smart Business spoke with Ronayne about how two simple steps — prompt, meaningful acknowledgment and demonstrating results — can help organizations thrive.

Why should organizations reach out to say thank you, and how can leaders find time to do so?

It’s important to acknowledge people and to show them how they are making a difference. If you find yourself pressed for time, don’t skip the thank yous. Make time for two or three each day, if you can.

Try to start your day by making three calls to donors. That might mean just leaving voicemails. Or you may end up talking for 20 minutes, so you only have time for one call that day. It lifts your spirit, it doesn’t take that long, and it pays dividends. When people feel like they are engaged, acknowledged and truly making a difference, it increases the likelihood that they will continue to contribute, and to share their experience with other potential donors.

Donors are often surprised to hear from you, to get a thank you call from the CEO or COO, or an email from a program director. That personal touch allows them to understand that their contribution is helping move the needle. People want to make a difference beyond themselves; philanthropy is purposeful and appeals to the act of giving and sacrificing for the longer-term gain.

Communicate to donors about the impact their gift made. Send emails or newsletters with specific updates about the project they helped support. Invite them to see the effect their donation has had. Introduce them to the staff behind the scenes. Give that personal touch to the people who are helping advance your mission and connect them to the work of your organization.

And don’t overlook volunteers. Time is a valuable contribution that you need to acknowledge and celebrate.

Transparency is critical. Organizations need to work to establish trust in their brand, and that starts with the leader and the board. A reputation of accountability, measurable results and transparency helps donors and volunteers trust your organization and gives them the confidence that you will use their gifts for the purpose they were intended.

How can organizations without traditional sources of donors attract contributions?

Be creative in cultivating a donor base. Focus on maintaining the relationships you already have, then find ways to nurture new ones.

Start with your current donors and volunteers. Ask them to invite their friends to a gathering and start to build buzz, identifying those who might have a connection to your organization.

Use subtle messages where people gather to convey how they can make a difference and include a donate button on your website. Targeted newsletters and emails can also be effective. Many people don’t really think about how to give until it is brought to their attention, so make it as easy as possible.

How do you create a culture of philanthropy among employees?

It starts with a culture of people who love their jobs. If they are excited about what they are doing, they share that enthusiasm when they interact with patrons. That encourages people to share their own experiences and memories connected with the organization.

Those conversations start naturally, and when people aren’t asking for donations for themselves, it’s easier for the conversation to evolve. And those interactions with employees and volunteers make donors more comfortable, as they are seeing the excitement and enthusiasm of those leading the programs that will benefit from contributions. ●

INSIGHTS Customer Experience is brought to you by Cleveland Metroparks

Natalie Ronayne

Chief development officer


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