It’s easy to talk about the subject of empowering donors as a theoretical option for forward-thinking nonprofits.

It’s not going to stay that way.  If you don’t give donors power, they’re going to seize it, leaving you all goggle-eyed and confused, like Marie Antoinette, wondering what happened.

At Network For Good, an online giving portal, 20 percent of donors choose to be anonymous when they give.  Their gift goes to the nonprofit of their choice, but their receipt is issued by Network for Good.  The organization they gave to can neither thank the donor, report back, nor ask again.  It’s not a very attractive situation for nonprofits.

Last year, anonymous donations through Network for Good were more than $7 million, with an average gift of about $100.

While some donors may choose anonymity for noble or spiritual reasons, a significant group like what nonprofits do (like it enough to shell out a sizeable gift), but they don’t like the nonprofit—they don’t want a relationship at all!

The old contract with donors was this:  You give to us, and we have the right to do whatever we want with you after that—send as much mail as we want, telemarket, rent their names to others .... Worse, many nonprofits fail to report back on the impact of their giving, fail to offer donors meaningful choices, and don’t treat donors with respect.

A lot of donors don’t buy in to this contract.  They want to do good deeds, but they don’t want the stuff that follows.  And now, with places like Network for Good at their disposal, they can opt out of the contract.

This is going to get bigger, not smaller.

Your only defense: earn the right to have relationships with donors.  Make it so being on your list is the coolest experience around, and they spread the word.

For more on this subject, read Your Secret Donor Hates You at Trent Stamp’s Take, a blog by Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator.

imageJeff Brooks is creative director at Merkle|Domain, a direct-response agency serving the nonprofit world.  He blogs at the Donor Power Blog.