How To Handle Difficult Donors

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There’s a beauty to partnering with the public to power your nonprofit. Individuals who don’t know one another come together to support a common cause, possessing shared values despite their disparate backgrounds.

Behind this beauty lies an ugliness too. Charities never know how their donors will behave, and some become burdens rather than helpful benefactors. If you want to learn how to handle difficult donors without blowing your top, here’s a handy guide.

The Comments Complainer: Respond Directly

The first one is the (often public) complainer. Please note—not every donor who complains is an issue. The ideal way to build trust with donors is to take them seriously instead of seeing them as a problem from the first time they come to you with concerns.

That said, you know a comments complainer when you see them. These people make a scene online rather than address things with you first. They’re ready to burn bridges. Your recourse here is to transition the conversation to a direct, private medium. That’s your best chance to get to the bottom of what’s actually wrong and attempt to repair the relationship.

The Overly Cautious Giver: Count the Costs

Donors’ hesitance and incessant data collection is another brand of annoyance when taken to an extreme. A careful donor is often a responsible one, but after several back-and-forths, you may start to wonder if they are stringing you along. It’s an odd start to the relationship if they have a plethora of tests you must pass first.

One way to handle these difficult donors is to count the cost. Some donors aren’t worth the time and energy you and other staff would need to put in. It’s okay to cut things off at a certain point—once you feel you communicated the charity’s mission, programs, and future well, feel free to take your foot off the gas.

The Disappearing Act: Reengage With Small Requests

It’s no secret these are the hardest donors to deal with. While they may not intend any long-term relationship, you don’t know that. You don’t know anything beyond the fact that they donated to your cause once or twice and don’t respond to any outreach attempts.

To increase the likelihood they will up their involvement, lower your ask and give them an out. Rather than staging another donation appeal, pass along a petition they can sign. Propose other microvolunteering opportunities. These small steps can build to a restored relationship in time.

Within these same messages, acknowledge that they may want to modify the communication they receive. Long-term, the same people who disengage at one point can return later on, but they’ll do so only if they feel your organization treated them well at all times.

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