Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Monday, May 26, 2014

Are You Treating Your Cats Like Dogs?

I love dogs. Who wouldn't? They're fun, happy, and above all, loyal. It doesn't take much to earn a dogs love... a scratch behind the ear in just the right spot, a tossed tennis ball, or dropped bits of food of any sort will do the trick. Dogs are easy.

I love dogs, but I prefer cats. Cats are seen as aloof. Cats can be fickle. Cats demand respect. Some people say that cats are incapable of love. I feel sorry for those people. Earning a cats love is much more rewarding than the easy affection that flows from dogs.

But this is a nonprofit blog, not an animal blog, so let's talk about your donors. Are you treating them like dogs or like cats?

There was a time when most of our donors were more like dogs. If you fed them once, they were yours for life. You could depend on tossing a stick, and having them come back to drop a check at your feet almost every time. At least, it seems like it was that easy.

Whether or not it was ever really that simple, times have changed. Donor loyalty is not something you can assume, or just press the right buttons to activate. Each donation must be earned. The donors preferences must be honored.

A few examples:
  • Information Preferences: Most donors today want better information. Some may want better financial understanding, but many want to know about your impact. And that's not just the usual roundup of total numbers served, like the old McDonald's signs, but getting down to the who and how their dollar is helping.
  • Method Preferences: Yes, some of your old dogs may still depend on your direct mail piece. Other donors may prefer responding to an email. Still others are looking for you on Facebook. It's not one or the other, it's as many channels as you can effectively manage.
  • Campaign Preferences: Related to each of the points above, but your annual campaign for your total budget is not going to appeal to many of your cats. They may want to be a part of a specific project, with well-defined objectives and clear budgets, and they may be looking for this campaign on crowdfunding websites.
Does all this mean that I'm saying we're now the dogs, chasing sticks, jumping through hoops, and begging for treats? Heck no! I'm talking about mutual respect, with donors and nonprofit professionals working together to better our communities.

Being responsive, learning about our donors' preferences, and paying attention to subtle changes in what works (and what doesn't) keeps us on top of our game, and more effective at our work. It keeps us nimble. Like a cat.

The pictures on this page are of a couple of my neighbors, Emma and Rocky, visiting on my front porch.

Rocky - the pup - is sweet and lovable, and will play with any living, breathing thing on the street. We don't generally feed the neighbor's pets, but on this day he was choking on a bone he'd dug out of somebody's trash, and the only way to get it away from him was to tempt him with a bowl of left-over chicken. Rocky's great, but he's a bit of an idiot.

Emma - the kitty - is different. Emma is very particular about which humans she associates with, but when I come home from work, she runs across the street to see me. That is, if she's not already waiting on the railing. I have never fed her; she does not stay in our house. All she gets here is love and respect. Emma is my best friend on the block, and the only neighbor I truly and fully trust.

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