Valentines Day: a chance to love your donors?

So, the annual balancing act is almost upon us. It’s tough though getting it just right. Too much of the stalker is never good, too little thought and effort is potentially worse, too lavish is trying too hard. Valentine’s Day is a formal occasion to celebrate love. But how?

And for charities and their supporters it might be a real chance to do something special. Now, this is potentially harder than it is for all of us in our private life, because of the question around exactly what is that relationship?

Relationship fundraising has been alive and well for nearly three decades now. And while the notion of having some form of relationship with a donor (for which donations are a by-product) intrinsically feels right, what sort of relationship is it? Is ‘relationship’ slightly over engineering reality? Where on the relationship spectrum should we largely concentrate?

There is of course a financial transaction involved, and hopefully a depth of emotional benefit for the donor, but how much further should it go? Leaving aside major donors and other special relationships, surely most donors don’t really care too much about any charity per se. They want to see good use of their funds (good stewardship), they want to know that the beneficiary is in a better place thanks to them (impact), but the charity itself is principally a bridge to connect the donor with what they really care about.

In the UK alone, just under half of the population spends money on their Valentines and around £1.3 billion is spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent, according to the British Retail Consortium. So, it’s not just about love, its big business too.

Wikipedia note that since the 19th century, hand written valentines have given way to mass-produced greetings cards. And, that sort of sums things up. Whatever a charity might do around Valentines Day, it’s likely to mean mass production and a lack of real personalization, even in a digital arena (beyond various ways of integrating an individuals name or perhaps references to specific areas of work that might be of interest).

But, perhaps that’s exactly right. The notion of a deep and highly personal relationship between a charity and donor is inappropriate. It’s an inappropriate use of the charity’s time and resources. And, for donors, there are plenty of other places to go to buy a little love.

Imagine showing up on Sunday 14 February at a donor’s home bearing flowers and chocolates to demonstrate the charities love of that supporter. It’s just all wrong. And why does any charity, or anyone in their own life need a special occasion to celebrate love? It should really be happening across the whole year. And, if its not, then perhaps the relationship can be given a little tap to hear exactly how hollow it is.

For any charity, the notion of celebrating a relationship with supporters might best be served by concentrating first on getting the basics right. It would be good to spell supporters names correctly; to know what they have given, when and to what. Simple enough questions, but actually this can be pretty challenging. Then, beyond that, to slightly surprise by exceeding expectations would be a great thing to aim for, throughout the whole year.

The heart (sorry) of the point is that an appropriate way of viewing the charity / supporter relationship is with realism. The donor should not be viewed just as an ATM, but their prime role lies in providing financial contributions. They do that to a body they may not especially care about in itself. So, let’s start there. Let’s not forget to provide opportunities to give, let’s not avoid demonstrating clear impact for beneficiaries, let’s not miss out on every chance to highlight the emotional benefit to the donor. And, of course, what better expression of real love could there be, than offering someone a chance to change the world?