The key to building donor relationships every single time

In the past I have written about the immense power that fundraisers achieve when they seek to understand the psychology of influence. When we want to help someone connect to a cause they care about, there is no better place to start than the work of Dr Robert Cialdini, and for example how to make use of the Authority Principle and Social Proof Principle.

Today I am focussing on Cialdini’s second strategy and how it can improve the effectiveness of every interaction you have with a donor…

The Principle of Commitment and consistency

For example, a key problem for health services is the money that is wasted when people fail to turn up for their doctor’s appointments. In the UK this costs over £800 million per year.

In the small BIG, psychologists Martin, Goldstein and Cialdini describe research into how to reduce the number of ‘no-shows’. The decision-making principle they used was Commitment and Consistency. This principle describes a deep motivation that most of us have to behave consistently with the previous commitments we have willingly made.

They found that when patients initially called up to make their appointment, simply asking them to read back the date and time of the appointment led to a small but significant reduction in ‘no-shows’. And they found the effect was even stronger when the receptionist asked patients to write down the date and time of the appointment on a card themselves.

In this study, this simple change – which takes a few seconds – led to an 18% reduction in appointments being missed which would equate to a saving of around £144 million.

Each step builds commitment

I once heard that on a first date, even if you really like someone, it can be counter-productive to start talking about what you would want the first dance to be if the two of you were to get married. Apparently, if you have high hopes, the best strategy is to focus on making the first date a success, and build from there.

And the crucial lesson I take from the research into the principle of commitment and consistency is the importance of building relationships with donors one step at a time. When planning communication in high value, corporate and community fundraising, how clear are you on the best outcome from this next meeting?

This seems obvious, and yet in talking to thousands of fundraisers on my training courses, I have found that most people find it harder than it looks. For example, when fundraisers are asked what they would like this letter (or pitch or phone call) to achieve, usually the answer they give is ‘for her to agree to a gift’ or ‘to get them to agree to a partnership with us’.

Whereas when you think carefully about it, it is very unlikely that a pitch, letter or proposal, in isolation, can achieve these big results.

So in most high value fundraising situations, a useful answer to the question ‘what would you like this piece of communication to achieve?’ is likely to be just the next step in this journey, such as ‘for the donor to confirm a meeting date by email’ or ‘to put us through to the staff vote’.

Once someone has agreed to, and taken any of these steps, the chance of the relationship leading to a gift or partnership clearly increases.

Shift your results by shifting what you focus on

Why is this principle so important to fundraising income? Because it is easier to ask someone to write down the date of their doctor’s appointment than it is to actually get them to turn up, and yet if they do write it down, they are more likely to show up. This is one reason why participants on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme secure more contact with donors and more gifts. It’s because they’re not focussing on gifts nearly so much. I have them place their focus and creativity on how to book more ‘test drives’ (ie cups of coffee with donors) and less on ‘trying to raise money’.

The wonderful paradox to this shift in what you focus on, is that each step the donor willingly takes, builds their commitment.  And this in turn increases the chances that they will act consistently with that commitment, in terms of a deeper relationship and ultimately more gifts.

Need to increase major donor / trust income? Find out how the Major Donor Mastery Programme will help.