How To Be the Transparent Nonprofit Modern Donors Love to Love

January 25, 2019
5 minutes

You really love your donors (with a capital L.O.V.E.) and you cross your heart that they feel the same way. With so much competition out there for donor dollars, your organization works hard to properly nurture every one of its donor relationships. The key to maintaining these relationships is to be the transparent nonprofit that modern donors love. 

Today’s donors are savvy, caring question-askers who want to understand how their donations are used and what’s going on behind the scenes. It’s easy to understand why: there are countless stories out there of fake nonprofits taking people’s money and of legitimate nonprofits misusing donations. The antidote here is for you to embrace radical transparency, which in turn builds trust, the bedrock of any tight-knit relationship, donor or otherwise. 

Check out four ways your organization can be more transparent (Casper will be having nada on you) with donors to build those loving relationships.

Embrace open communications

Embracing open communications​ is at the heart of being a transparent nonprofit that donors love. This is hard enough to do internally at an organization, let alone trying to do it well externally. Organizations are often hesitant to embrace open communication because they think it makes them vulnerable to criticism. But it’s that vulnerability that donors can connect with. 

Take the time to tell donors what’s going on at your organization and let them into the inner circle a bit more. With Funraise's donor CRM, communicating with donors is super simple. 

Take this action: Hold a Facebook Live or Live Tweet session where you answer any and all donor questions.

Own your mistakes

It’s not always easy to admit, but we all make mistakes. It’s what makes us human and what makes our organizations authentic and relatable. Nonprofits are often squeamish when it comes to publicly acknowledging mistakes, but this is a great opportunity to practice radical transparency and accountability and show donors that you're not afraid to take responsibility and own up to your actions. 

An example of how to do this comes from WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. They published a blog post and an accompanying Facebook post to apologize for a stance they had taken some years ago. It sparked a lot of heated discussion on their Facebook page, but rather than have this be the end of the conversation, they found a way to keep it going. They created a feedback survey for their community in light of what happened. They turned what could have been a hot mess of a situation into a learning and feedback opportunity. 

Another brilliant example is the Engineers Without Borders Annual Failures Report. A whole report of failures? Sounds like a great way to look at it and do better. 

Take this action: Write a blog post about a time that you learned from failure. Add a quick summary and a link to your next email blast and social media.

This is a photo of an abstract art piece done in varying shades of blue. The background is dark blue and there are amorphous blob-shapes in royal blue and aqua at different heights, which throw shadows on the image. There are small dots of lime green accenting the blob-shapes.

Align your values with your actions

We are living in a post-#metoo world where organizations are being held accountable in very public ways for the behavior of staff towards other people. Of course, this accountability extends beyond #metoo to racism and other forms of oppression. While it’s one thing for an organization to have a policy to deal with these situations, it’s another to enforce it. In order to align your organization’s values with its actions, you may have to make uncomfortable decisions. 

Showing your donors that your organization is willing to walk the walk when it comes to important values you all share is essential. Donors give to organizations because of values, and donors will often assume that the organization has other shared values with them. 

A ton of orgs are doing this really well, but there are few that are great examples of what NOT to do. Look no further than the scandal that rocked Oxfam Great Britain in early 2018

Take these actions: Find a POC-led nonprofit that holds gender and diversity trainings and ask that your board go to one. Make it easy for your staff to attend such trainings. Encourage your supporters to support that nonprofit as well by going to their trainings.

Radical transparency with numbers

Donors want to know how their donation was used and what impact it had. While they don’t alllllll need to see intricate and detailed financial reports, giving donors truthful information creates trust and goodwill. Every fundraising program must account for making this information available to donors through stewardship and other communication methods. 

Take these actions: 

  • Provide donors with an after-action report when a program has wrapped up
  • Ensure that donors get a copy of the annual report, which discloses useful financial information
  • Give donors timely updates after they've donated, and share the impact of their giving

Transparency is the new black, making it more important than ever before for organizations to embrace this notion with donors. It may not happen all at once, so think about the small steps your organization can take to shift its approach to communications. Part of adopting a more transparent approach is shifting the culture within your organization and getting staff and board to buy into this concept. 

If you need proof positive that this is a good idea, point your organization to examples for organizations who are already doing this well – charity: water, Pencils of Promise, Splash, and UNICEF USA. 

Transparency is king; time to make it reign.

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