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How to Be More Transparent in Your Fundraising

Posted by Ashley Shaw on 3/30/18 10:44 AM


Two statistically proven reasons that people give are because they see a need and because they can see how they can help meet that need. But in order to help people find these two reasons in your organization, you need to be transparent.

Transparency is important for many reasons:

  • In some cases, it's legally required (there are state and federal laws that make some information legally open to the public).
  • In other cases, it is ethically required - take a look at what the Council of Nonprofits has to say about that.
  • In yet other cases, it is just plain smart because it will attract more donors your way.

While all of these reasons are great motivators for transparency, in this post, we are only going to focus on the last one: ways to be transparent so that donors want to give to you.

5 Ways to Increase Donations Through Transparency

The more transparent you are, the more people are able to trust you. Think about this: when you meet someone really shady - they won't tell you what they are doing or why they are doing it - don't you have problems trusting them?

Maybe they are the most honest person in the world, but their secretive behavior makes them seem like they have something to hide.

You don't want to be a shady organization. If you have nothing to hide, then show the world! (And if you do have something to hide, is it because you are doing something you shouldn't be doing?)

See how you are doing by looking at charity rating sites like Charity Navigator. These sites let people know how you rank as an organization in areas such as accountability and transparency.

There are a lot of ways that you can make your organization open and transparent. Let's start by looking at 5 big ones.

One: Honest Communication

keep it real in your face GIF by The Meredith Vieira Show-sourceCourtesy of GIPHY.

When you send out any communication to any person, you should pretend you are on the stand in court: tell the truth and nothing but the truth (you don't necessarily need to tell the whole truth since that could make your message really long!)

Telling partial truths or outright lies not only brings up legal and ethical questions, but it is so easy to get caught! Watch dog organizations are out there keeping organizations honest, and it is much better to tell the truth from the beginning than to be caught in a lie later on.

So don't say you are making great strides in building wells in a foreign country if you haven't started building yet at all. Let your donors know that you haven't started yet (and maybe explain why), and then let them know the future plan to get going. In the long run, they will respond a lot better to this.

Two: All Things Financial

jerry maguire money GIF-sourceCourtesy of GIPHY.

In our free ebook, 25 Tips to Increase Your Donations, way #14 is to show people how their gift will be used. One way to do this is to be as open and clear about your budget as possible.

Download the Increase Donations Ebook

  • How much goes straight to support your cause? (Building that well if you are a well builder, fighting cancer if that is what you do, etc.)
  • How much goes to operations?
  • How much is salary?
  • And on and on...

How you spend the money that people give you matters a lot. So make sure you are letting them see exactly what you are doing.

This can mean a few different things, actually.

  1. Have financial reports available and accessible online for anyone who wants to view them.
  2. Think about sending an annual report to your email list.
  3. When you are raising money for a specific project, make sure everyone knows that the money they donate will go to that specific thing.

Other ideas include:

  • Letting people know what you used past gifts for when you ask for new gifts;
  • Sending success stories with your thank you note; and
  • Telling individuals the specifics of where their money went.

Three: Acknowledgment

harvey specter honesty GIF by Suits-source

Courtesy of GIPHY.

Another way you can show donors that you are trustworthy is by acknowledging their help. You aren't doing this alone, and when you show appreciation, you prove that you are aware of this fact and grateful for it.

There are many ways to show donor appreciation. But let's talk about some specific ways that help inspire accountability and trust:

  • Send a gift acknowledgment (and a thank you) immediately upon gift receipt (in certain cases, this is legally required. So make sure you know the laws.) When donations are taken online, you can do this automatically.
  • Where appropriate, add the donor to any public donation list you may have (but see tip 4: respect for requests. Sometimes you should specifically not add them to public lists.)
  • If you promised a gift for donating, make sure they get the gift. (And, again, make sure you know and are following the laws about this.)
  • Even when you don't (or can't) name the donors by name, make sure that you are acknowledging their general help in all of your publications. If you say that your organization has helped X amount of people, then mention that you couldn't have done it without the money donated by your supporters.

Basically, what it all comes down to is this: making your donors feel appreciated makes them want to give to you even more. And, on top of that, when you are open about the way that you are raising funds and about the people who are helping you, then you are going to seem a lot more trustworthy.

Your donors want to know that they can trust you. The more you do to acknowledge that you couldn't operate without them, the more that trust will grow.

Four: Respect for Requests

tipping derek jeter GIF-source                     Courtesy of GIPHY.

Sometimes, people make requests when they make a donation. Whenever possible, you should do everything you can to respect and grant that request.

This does not mean anything too crazy: if someone asks you to do something outside of the functions of your organization, you don't need to change your focus for them. (Though you may want to let them know that you cannot complete their request before you take the money.)

However, most requests aren't going to be crazy or over the top. Some examples of things you should do your best to honor include the following:

  • Requests to remain anonymous. If someone asks you to keep their name off their donation, then why wouldn't you do it? It's nice if you list out your donors to give them credit and make them feel special, but if someone asks you not to name them, you should just list the gift as from anonymous. This will make them trust you and want to give to you more in the future.
  • Requests to donate to a particular project. When you have multiple things you are raising money for, and someone wants to help with a particular one, why not let them?

For example, let's say you are fundraising for a school. You need a new playground and a new science lab. A local scientist wants to help create the future of his field, so he makes a big donation to you and asks that it be used for the lab. However, the playground is cheaper and putting his donation into that pot will help you get that project off of your plate faster.

What should you do? If you want to encourage trust and make yourself more likely to get a future donation, you will use his generous donation in the manner he requested: on the science lab.

There are sometimes reasons why you wouldn't or couldn't honor these requests. That is fine too, as long as you handle the situation openly and appropriately. If you aren't going to honor requests like this, it is better to let the donor know up front that all the money goes into one fund that is allocated to each project, and that you can't use money for one particular project. Again, the important part is to just be honest.

You may also want to establish a gift acceptance policy to help with these issues.

Five: Attributions

                                              page acknowledgments GIF-source                                                       Courtesy of GIPHY.

The final thing we will talk about in this post is attribution. You probably use a lot of images, facts, stories, and information in your fundraising efforts. That's great!

However, unless they give you permission not to or ask that you don't, you should always attribute this information to the correct source.

This not only helps you look better because it adds credibility to what you are saying, but it lets the people giving you these resources know that you are trustworthy: so they will want to help you more in the future.

You can easily do this by adding text such as "This image was provided by so and so" or by linking to the source content when you use statistics and other information. And when you use a story to represent your organization - and you should because stories work better than stats - ask for permission to use the story first (when you can), ask them if they are fine with you using their name and likeness, and then let them know when you have done it.

Some Final Thoughts

Hopefully this has all been helpful to you. Do you have more information or ideas on accountability and transparency? If so, let us know in the comments below.

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