Building ‘Matterness’ Into Your Holiday Giving Season

#Giving Tuesday was yesterday, more or less kicking off the giving season. Studies show that more than one-third of all annual giving to causes happens from October through December, with more than 17 percent in December alone.

Most organizations have already spent considerable time and energy planning their year-end fundraising campaigns. But too many of these efforts will lack what I call matterness.

Matterness is the deep desire we all have to count, to be heard, to be considered important as individuals and not just donors or customers.

I asked my friends online when and how nonprofits have made them feel as if they don’t matter. The litany of complaints began: When they spell my name wrong; When I send in a donation and the next month get another ask; and, When I go to an event and am treated like a stranger. It is a lonely, alienating, dehumanizing experience to be treated like you don’t matter.

Everyone has something important to contribute to a cause — ideas, time, expertise, and, of course, money. Too often, organizations treat donors just as current or potential check writers. And once the first check is written, we are coded, batched and categorized in an automated giving system to be asked over and over again.

It happens because of the overwhelming pressure on organizations to meet their financial goals. The mantra of constant growth is one of the poor lessons taken from the for-profit world that nonprofits have adopted. Nonprofits don’t need to grow bigger. They need to better connect with other people and organizations in more meaningful ways to be more effective. Treating individuals like they don’t really matter, as opposed to treating them like passionate, smart, creative, social beings, is a huge lost opportunity for organizations.

Here are a few ways organizations can begin to build matterness into year-end giving this year:

Stories Over Testimonials. Stories are about people, testimonials are about organizations. People stories are what inspires and moves people. Here is a great story produced by Dove soap about how women feel about their looks. The stories don’t mention Dove soap, and Dove’s sales increased. You don’t have to create stories like this one, your people have beautiful, moving stories to tell and your job is to find them and help tell them.

Thanking People Publicly. The idea of thanking every donor personally is, of course, overwhelming. However, there is an opportunity to showcase your thankfulness by taking to your social media channels and thanking one person publicly as a representative of others. Thank the donor who has been giving $10 every month for years. Call out the volunteer who spent hours organizing meals for other volunteers, or the board member who put up a match for the annual campaign. By helping them to tell their story about your cause and thanking them personally and publicly, others will feel good about how your organization treats its people.

Solve Problems Together. Too often the social media channels are used as online press releases. Places to push out “look how great we are” information that no one really cares about. Making people feel that they matter means asking them to help solve real problems. Not window dressing problems (e.g. should our event be great or super great?) but real ones. This is a better alternative to, “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, we will take it under advisement.”

An organization I know did this by taking the complaint about getting too many emails to their Facebook group. We know how it feels to get too many emails, the group wrote, but we have information we think you need to know. How can we do this better? People chimed in and the solution was to segment the list and have people opt into the topics that were of greatest interest. Their participants felt appreciated, smart and important.

Matterness means that someone is really listening to your interests and concerns, that you are being cared for not just cared about, and that you have opportunities to help strengthen the institution. In return, institutions get the best kind of participant, a “sticky” one (To Keep Your Customers, Keep it Simple, Patrick Spenner and Karen Freeman, Aug 9, 2013, HBR) who is a repeat donor or volunteer and ambassador who recommends the organization to other people.