As we stepped out of our car, I sensed some hesitancy on her part. "Do you think we'll be allowed to take a look around?" she asked. Her question seemed surprising to me. I couldn't imagine a reason why we as donors wouldn't be welcome to see how our support was being used. I am happy to share that we stepped in and were warmly greeted by a team of friendly volunteers. We spent the better part of an hour touring and visiting pets that were treated with dignity and compassion.
This got me thinking back on my experiences with donor visits or what I often refer to as Show and Tell. I've worked with several organizations - particularly in major gifts and institutional fundraising roles - where donor visits, tours and learning opportunities were an assumed part of the cultivation strategy. At the same time, I realized that too often individuals that didn't meet a predetermined threshold were rarely - if ever - encouraged to get an upfront look at how their donations were being put to work. This is a missed opportunity on the part of the charity.
While not every nonprofit may not be able to provide donors with opportunities to see, connect or even talk to those who benefit, if yours does, take full advantage of it. Here are some suggestions for a good start:
Make donors aware they can visit: Sounds obvious doesn't it? But using our case as an example, we didn't know that we were 100% welcome and were concerned that we'd be interrupting the work. As it turned out, there were volunteers that were more than willing to provide guidance. Remember, this is your chance to shine! Be sure you're getting the word out that your volunteers, prospective donors and donors are welcome and encouraged to see your mission in action. Make it part of your messaging on your collateral, social media and every part of your communication.
Make sure the visit has a specific structure: Ensure that your organization has a set structure for encouraging donor interaction and engagement when visiting. Involve your volunteers, staff and (if appropriate) clients in designing a tour that introduces visitors to the core elements of your mission, best practices and most importantly, the impact of your work.
Make the visit inspiring: In a recent post, I noted the "Johnny Can't Read" approach to introducing donors to the work of a charity. This is the classic tug-on-the-heartstrings approach and I'm not a fan. You show the children that can't read, the family without a home or food on the table, the isolated at-risk teen...you get the point. Do the opposite! Use your visit to highlight the impact your donors have made possible through their donation. Show them the children that now can read, the family that has a home and food on the table and the teens that are the first to graduate and go to college in their families. Tell them stories of Inspiration - not tragedy.
Make the visit actionable (with a range of options): You've had a great visit, your donors are enthusiastic and inspired. Now what? Be sure donor visits conclude with a specific and timely call to action or better yet, several options for action. Sure a donation is fantastic but there are other ways your donor might want to get further involved. Maybe your organization has a need for in-kind contributions or services. Let donors know that these are welcome. Encourage donors to volunteer or even consider board service. Think beyond dollars.
If your donor has taken the time to visit, you're already doing something right. Use the visit to educate, inspire and move them on to an even deeper level of connection with your organization. .