6 Ways to Run Your Fundraising Efforts Like an Ice-Cream Parlor

[PUBLISHER’S NOTE: Michael J. Rosen, CFRE will be presenting “How to Launch and Market a Planned Giving Program at Your Nonprofit,” a webinar for the Fundraising Authority on July 25. A podcast will be available following the webinar. To learn more and to register, click HERE.]

Based on the headline of this post, you might be wondering: “Why should I run my fundraising efforts like an ice-cream parlor?”

Fair enough. I might have ice cream on my mind because it’s been so consistently hot in Philadelphia this summer. While we’re not setting any local records, we’ve Little Baby's Ice Creamstill had more heat and humidity than I like. So, yes, my thoughts have been turning increasingly to ice cream. But, not just any ice cream. Great ice cream.

As I have thought about my favorite ice-cream place in Philly, Little Baby’s Ice Cream, I got to thinking that a lot of their philosophy could help nonprofits raise a lot more money from happier donors.

So, let me share six ideas inspired by Little Baby’s Ice Cream that can definitely enhance your fundraising efforts:

1. Give people what they want. On a typical day, Little Baby’s sells a dozen, or more, unusual flavors of super-premium dairy ice cream and non-dairy coconut-milk based “ice cream.” Some of the inventive flavors include: Cardamom Caramel, Coffee Toffee, Earl Grey Sriracha, Peanut Butter Maple Tarragon, Chipotle Chocolate, Balsamic Banana, and even Pizza flavor. Well, one day, I planned to buy some, but I also wanted to taste every single flavor they were offering.

So, I asked the gent behind the counter if I could have a taste of every flavor. He smiled at my enthusiasm, and told me it wouldn’t be a problem. Then, he started cheerfully serving up small spoonfuls of creamy heaven.

Contrast that with an experience I had many years ago at a TCBY frozen yogurt store. I told the person behind the counter that I wanted to buy a cone but was torn between two flavors. I asked for a tiny taste. I was told, “I’m sorry. It’s not our policy to give out tastes.” I responded, “Well, it’s not my policy to buy a frozen yogurt without knowing whether I’ll like it.” After a chilly but polite exchange, I walked away without buying anything, and I never again entered a TCBY store.

Here’s the take-away for charities: If it’s in your power and it costs little or nothing to make a donor’s wish come true, take advantage of the opportunity to put a smile on your donor’s face. It’s a great way to begin and build a relationship. The more often you can give prospects and donors what they want, the more likely they will be to feel good about your organization. If they feel good, they’ll be more likely to give, continue giving, and give more.

For some ideas about what donors want and don’t want, read my post “8 Valuable Insights from a Major Donor.”

2. Provide options. At Little Baby’s, they offer many flavors, both dairy and non-dairy. You can get your favorite flavor in a cone or cup. You can get it as a milkshake or ice-cream sandwich. You can even buy pints. You can eat in. You can take out. You don’t even have to go to their store; you can get their products at select retailers or at festivals the Little Baby’s cart attends.

When you provide options for your prospects and donors, you engage with them on their terms. You also give them a dimension of control that will make them feel more comfortable. So, give your prospects and donors choices. For example, on the “Contact” page of your website, allow folks to communicate with you via a form on the web page. In addition, give people the option of contacting you in other ways by providing your mailing address, email address, and phone number. By the way, provide the actual name of a person for them to contact as well.

Another way to give people options is to include your donation web page URL in your direct mail appeal along with a response envelope. Some people might prefer giving online rather than by mail.

While you certainly do not want to overwhelm people with too many choices, providing some options will make your prospects and donors more willing to engage. Be flexible and accommodating. People will appreciate it.

3. Be friendly. At Little Baby’s, my extreme request to taste every single flavor was met with a cheerful, friendly response. The guy behind the counter could Little Baby's Ice Creamhave rolled his eyes in annoyance, sighed at the extra effort required, or told me no. But, that’s not what happened. Instead, he appreciated my excitement and reflected it back.

This gave us the opportunity to talk about the product, how it’s made, where it’s distributed, and more. In other words, the staff’s friendliness created an environment to build our relationship. I felt so good about the experience that my wife and I even helped convince some retailers to carry Little Baby’s products.

Yes, donors can call us at inopportune times. Board members can be demanding. Prospects can be full of questions. But, these are not interruptions to our work. This is our work. If you’re friendly and helpful to your prospects and donors, they’ll reciprocate. Even if you’re dealing with an angry prospect or donor, simply being friendly and professional can sometimes be enough to soothe the person.

4. Be customer (donor) focused. At Little Baby’s, the attitude is all about spreading joy. They just happen to do it with ice cream. Simply put, Little Baby’s is customer focused. This even comes across in an interesting way on the company’s website. I went to the site to lift an ice cream photo for this post. Frankly, it was difficult. While I was able to find plenty of pictures of happy customers, there were surprisingly few photos of the actual product. Quite literally, Little Baby’s puts the focus on the customer.

Throughout your entire development operation, be donor centered. If you’re sensitive to the needs of prospects and donors, if you provide information of value to them, they’ll be more likely to support your organization. When preparing to interact with a prospect or donor — on the web, through an event, with direct mail, with a newsletter, etc. — always ask: What’s in it for them? Then, make sure you have a really good answer.

5. Ensure high quality. Little Baby’s does not sell inexpensive ice cream. However, they offer a good value. The products are super high quality. That’s why customers don’t mind paying a premium price. That’s why they keep coming back.

In everything you do, make sure you do it in a high-quality way that reflects well on your organization’s brand. I once received an umbrella from a client PBS station. It was very nice of them. However, when I took it out for the first time, it blew apart instantly and completely despite the fact there was no wind. It was a defective umbrella. I got wet. I wasn’t happy.

If you can’t do something in a high-quality fashion, don’t do it. Limit your efforts to the things you can do well.

6. Wow them. Little Baby’s wows people. People are wowed by the quality of the product, the unusual flavors, the variety of flavors, the quirky store paired with a pizza shop/pizza museum, the ice-cream bicycle cart at festivals, the great staff.

In your fundraising efforts, look for ways to wow people. Find ways to surprise folks in little, unexpected ways. For example, in 2013, donors certainly expect a “personalized,” word-processed thank-you letter when they donate money. What they don’t expect in the computer age is to get a handwritten thank-you note.

Do you want to surprise one of your donors and bring a smile to his/her face? Send a handwritten thank-you note the next time they give. Better yet, send a handwritten thank-you when they’ve simply agreed to have coffee with you but haven’t necessarily committed to giving. If you do it right, you’ll get thank yous for your thank yous.

You can find six lessons for surprising your donors in my post: “When is it OK to Surprise Your Donors?”

Well, I hope you appreciate the food for thought. (Yes, the pun was intended. Sorry.) If your nonprofit organization runs more like Little Baby’s Ice Cream, you’ll have happier, more loyal, more generous donors.

I invite you to comment below. Tell me your favorite flavor. And tell me what you’re doing to create smiles.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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