Is One Charity about to Make You Look Bad?

The Charities Aid Foundation of America might have made your nonprofit organization look bad last year. Warning: They’re about to do it again!

Let me explain.

If you’ve sent your year-end appeal, written a solid thank-you letter series, and prepared a donor-engagement plan, you might believe you’ll be all set to take a holiday break between Christmas and the New Year. If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re not alone. Many charities operate with a skeleton staff between the holidays while others shutdown completely.

However, while many nonprofit organizations wind down in the closing weeks of the year, many donors are gearing up their philanthropic activity. Many donors make their philanthropic decisions at the end of the year, often in the closing days of the year. While the current federal tax law means fewer people itemize their deductions when filing their taxes, many of those people still make late year-end charitable gifts. Furthermore, many wealthy people who do itemize will wait until the closing days of the year before making their philanthropic gifts.

Some of your year-end donors will have questions. They may wonder about the best way to give (i.e., cash, appreciated stock, Donor Advised Fund recommendation, etc.). Others may have questions about your organization’s programs and areas of greatest need. Still others may simply need to know the formal name of your organization to put on their check.

If individuals with questions are unable to reach you for answers, they may not give or they may give elsewhere. This is something CAF America understands.

Last year, Ted Hart, ACFRE, CAP, President & CEO of CAF America, sent an email wishing donors a happy holiday and announcing his organization’s extended holiday hours. Not only would someone be available throughout the holiday season, staff would be available until 8:00 PM EST, well beyond standard business hours. Hart provided an email address and phone number. The email encouraged recipients to reach out if they needed any help or had any questions. You can find a copy of Hart’s email message and my detailed analysis of it by clicking here.

Underscoring his organization’s donor-centered orientation, Hart concluded his message by writing:

It is our pleasure to be of service to your domestic and international philanthropy on a timetable that suits you best.”

Hart’s email let supporters know that the organization is there to meet their needs on their terms. Even if they didn’t need to contact the organization as December 31 approached, they still appreciated knowing that the organization cared enough about them to remain accessible.

Based on the response to last year’s extended hours, CAF America will be doing the same this year beginning December 9. Hart explains, “We had many donors who made use of the extended hours. Many are very busy during the holidays and regular business hours do not always support busy holiday schedules.”

By comparison with CAF America, does your organization look good or bad as the year comes to a close?

I’m not suggesting that you need to stay at your desk through the end of the year. However, I am suggesting you remain accessible. Fortunately, technology allows you to be reachable without having to remain in the office. For example, you can set email alerts on your cell phone. Also, you can forward your office calls to your cell phone. So, whether or not you remain in the office, you can still be available to individuals contemplating a donation to your organization.

If, like CAF America, you let people know that you will remain available, you’ll be showing them that you care about them. Your organization’s supporters will appreciate the extra effort you make to be of service even if they don’t have any year-end needs.

At this time of year, the public expects to be inundated with charity appeals seeking support. What people do not expect is a message offering good wishes and service. So, pleasantly surprise folks this holiday season. Show individuals you care about each of them by letting them know you’re there for them. Offer them assistance. Give them an opportunity to engage. Provide useful information.

To determine if your organization is donor centered as the year draws to a close, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you offer prospects and donors service instead of just asking for money?
  2. Have you wished your supporters and potential supporters a “Happy Holiday”?
  3. Have you acknowledged how busy your supporters are? Do they know you appreciate their time as well as their money?
  4. Are messages focused on the recipient (e.g., you, your, yours) instead of your organization (e.g., I, we, our)?
  5. Are your messages sent from one person to one person instead of institutional communications to “all of our supporters” or “supporters like you”?
  6. Is your organization extending holiday hours for the benefit of your donors and prospective donors instead of shortening its hours for its own convenience?
  7. Are you giving people something of value instead of just asking them for something?
  8. Do you give prospective supporters and donors your email address and phone number? Can they actually reach a live person on the first try?

The more you answered “yes” to the above questions, the more donor centered your organization is and the more successful your fundraising efforts will be. Furthermore, your answers will tell you whether CAF America is making you look bad or not. Fortunately, if your organization is falling short, there’s still time to follow the example of CAF America and be more donor centric.

Here are some suggestions for you:

  • Minimally, maintain normal business hours throughout the holiday season.
  • Better, extend your business hours during the holiday season.
  • Notify prospects and donors someone will be available to assist them.
  • Let supporters know they’re appreciated.
  • Provide people with meaningful, useful information.
  • Give people an opportunity to engage.
  • Wish people a Happy Holiday (or, as appropriate for your organization, Merry Christmas or Happy Hanukah).
  • Give staff as much notice as possible and involve them in planning for coverage.
  • Test the email and phone system to ensure it works the way you need it to.

I thank Ted and CAF America for their terrific example.

If you want donors to show your organization some love, you better be sure you’re showing them the love. What are you doing (or now planning to do) this holiday season to show supporters you care about them? Please share your great ideas below.

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

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