Fundraising is essential to the survival of faith-based organizations and charities — but there are good and bad ways to do it.

It goes without saying that organizations should carry out their fundraising work with honor and integrity, and avoid using aggressive tactics. Charities are only as good as their reputations … and without the trust of the public, won’t be able raise any money. Organizations cannot afford to irritate or annoy supporters, so they need to carefully examine their fundraising tactics to keep donors coming back.

A New Look at Old Techniques

For most charitable organizations, two of the time-tested methods of the past — door-to-door and telephone solicitations — are far less effective than they used to be. What’s worse, these tactics may add to a negative perception about your own organization, and about charitable organizations in general.

Let’s start with effectiveness.

Fundraising door-to-door and solicitation telephone calls at home are generally ineffective. Why? Because they have a limited chance of success, and also a high likelihood of irritating potential donors. In this day and age, most people hesitate to open their door to strangers — in fact, they may simply ignore the doorbell or knocking. Likewise, most people have caller ID on their home phones, and many of them have gotten accustomed to ignoring calls from unknown individuals and organizations. Even if they don’t have caller ID, they may be unlikely to answer a call if it comes during dinnertime, because they know their family and friends know better than to call then. On mobile devices, similar screening tactics make it hard to get through.

But even if the old door-to-door or telephone solicitation approaches still worked at reaching donors (and they don’t), they also fail in another way. Many people consider such solicitations annoying at best and an invasion of privacy at worst — and don’t see any differences between door-to-door fundraisers, telephone fundraisers and legacy fundraisers. Instead, what they see and hear is a person pressuring and badgering them to do something they don’t want to do.

A Bad Impression

Negative experiences like these stick in people’s minds and hurt the reputation of not only the particular charity involved, but also of fundraising as a whole. Unfortunately, this attitude is becoming increasingly widespread. A survey by YouGov, an international internet-based market research firm, highlighted how people are losing their faith in charities. It found that recent negative news stories about fundraising badly affected public trust in charities, with only 38% of respondents saying they considered charities trustworthy.

Fortunately, there is a more positive solution — and like faith itself, it is centered on core beliefs. NextAfter, a fundraising research lab, has its own Fundraiser's Creed, which says in part:

“We believe people give to people, that people don’t give to organizations, or from websites; people give to people. Fundraising is not about programs; it is about relationships. We believe brand is just reputation; fundraising is just conversation, and giving is an act of trust. Trust is earned with two elements: integrity and effectiveness. Both demand that you put the interest of the donor first.”

This creed says it well — and is a great summary of best practices in building donor loyalty and avoiding donor irritation.

The Power of Asking

Most of all, fundraising is a relationship and trust that your organization builds with its own donors and supporters. So when in doubt, reach out to your donors to get insight into which fundraising practices and methods they prefer. Survey them to learn:

1. How they like to be thanked for their donation (i.e. personal letter, phone call, email)
2. Whether they like to be thanked publicly for their donation and if so, how (i.e. annual 
    report listing, honor roll brochure, website listing, social media posting)
3. What type of correspondence they like to receive from you (i.e. success stories, 
    events, volunteer opportunities, news)
4. How often they want to hear from you
5. How long you should wait before asking for money again

The answers to these questions are worth more than gold. Not only can they help make your future solicitations be more effective, they can also help you avoid alienating your best supporters. These survey questions could be listed on your website as an interactive poll, included in a direct mail piece with a stamped return envelope or collected on a follow-up card at an event.

The main thing is to ask — and listen. Only then can you succeed at raising funds and at the same time, build donor trust and loyalty.