Archive for ‘donor relations’

August 3, 2018

Fantastic News and Opportunity for the Nonprofit Sector!

The nonprofit sector received a major piece of good news at the end of July. American Gross Domestic Product in the second quarter of 2018 grew at the annualized rate of 4.1 percent. This represents the economy’s fastest growth rate since 2014. GDP growth in the first-quarter was a healthy, though unremarkable, 2.2 percent.

I don’t really care if you love or hate President Donald Trump. I’m not making a political statement. I’m simply reporting on an economic fact that has profound implications for nonprofit organizations.

The news is fantastic for charities because overall-philanthropy correlates with GDP. For more than four decades, philanthropy has been between 1.6 and 2.2 percent of GDP. In 2017, philanthropy was once again at 2.1 percent (Giving USA). This means that when the economy grows, we can expect growth in charitable giving.

Think of it this way: For more than 40 years, the nonprofit sector has received about a two percent slice of the economic pie. It’s safe to say that that approximate proportion will continue. So, if the economic pie becomes larger, that two percent slice becomes larger as well.

While I’m oversimplifying, my fundamental point is sound: When the economy grows, so does philanthropy.

Some economists and commentators believe the robust GDP growth rate is not sustainable. However, if the impressive economic growth continues, or even if growth continues at a more moderate pace, we can still expect 2018 to be a good year for charitable fundraising.

Given the positive economic environment, you have an opportunity to successfully raise money for your organization. But, it’s up to you to seize that opportunity while the positive economic environment lasts.

Here are 10 things you can do to raise more money while the economy is good:

1. Hug your donors. Ok, maybe not literally. However, you do need to let your donors know you love and appreciate them. Do you quickly acknowledge gifts? You should do so within 48 hours. Do you effectively thank donors? You should do so in at least seven different ways. You should review your thank-you letters to ensure they are heartfelt, meaningful, and effective. Have board members call donors to thank them in addition to your standard thank-you letter.

2. Tell donors about the impact of their gifts. Donors want to know that their giving is making a difference. If their giving isn’t making a difference or they aren’t sure, they’re more likely to give elsewhere. So, report to your donors. Tell them what their giving is achieving and that their support is being used efficiently.

3. Start a new recognition program. One small nonprofit organization I know started a new, special corporate giving club. CEOs of the corporate members are placed on an advisory board, receive special recognition, and are provided with networking opportunities. This new recognition program generated over $50,000 in just a few months. While enhancing existing recognition efforts is beneficial, starting a new recognition program can yield significant results.

4. Ask. Your organization is providing important services. It needs money. Give people the opportunity to support your worthy mission. When you ask for support, just be certain not to limit the ask to cash gifts. Research shows that organizations that receive non-monetary donations (e.g., stocks, bonds, personal property, real estate, etc.) grow significantly more than organizations that receive only cash contributions. Partly as a result of the new income tax code, the number of Donor-Advised Funds has grown significantly. So, make it easy for your supporters to give from their DAFs.

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July 27, 2018

How to NOT Make a Mistake Worse

There is an adage, first published in The Bankers Magazine (1964) that advises wisely:

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

The Law of Holes suggests we should strive to not make bad situations worse through further unhelpful, counter-productive behavior.

Sadly, many people, including nonprofit managers and fundraising professionals, fail to heed that fine advice. Instead, when in a bad situation or when confronted by criticism, many folks make matters worse by reacting defensively, acting helplessly, remaining in denial, criticizing the critic, or ignoring the situation altogether.

Fortunately, many people handle criticism gracefully and, in the process, set a fine example for the rest of us.

Recently, I wrote about my wife’s failed attempt to donate to a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Therefore, it was with great interest that I noticed that the charity was hosting a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. However, due to a website glitch, she was unable to complete the transaction. So, she then called the organization during office hours. Not being able to reach a live person, she left a voice-mail message. No one from the organization returned her call. We ended up not attending the event.

After I posted about my wife’s experience and what fundraisers can learn from it, I sent the organization’s Executive Director an email and a link to my article. I sent the email on Tuesday evening at 7:01 PM. I expected one of two things to happen: 1) I thought I might receive a defensive response the following business day, or 2) I might not receive any reply, ever.

Instead, my guess was happily wrong. That very evening at 7:21 PM, I received a message from the Executive Director. We can learn much from the tone and content of his response:

Dear Michael,

Your email was both upsetting and instructive. I appreciated the spirit of the message and have already begun to think about how to use it to create change and improve. Also I read your blog. I’m curious if you are a professional fundraiser? Either way you and your wife have my apologies for this unfortunate experience. It is clearly our loss when customers and potential friends are turned off. It’s contrary to the purpose of running these events and clearly counter productive.

In addition to my apologies you have my gratitude for bringing this to my attention.

Sincerely,

(name withheld here)”

Here is what we can learn from the email response:

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July 20, 2018

Make It Easy for People to Give You Money

Two different stories this week have inspired me to write this blog post, and provide two pieces of simple, essential advice.

My first tale involves a local charity. While my wife and I have never supported the organization, we do agree with its mission. Earlier this week, the charity hosted a fundraising event with a speaker I wanted to hear. My wife went to the organization’s website to buy tickets. She saw there were two options: 1) general admission tickets, and 2) tickets to both the talk and a pre-talk meet-and-greet reception with the speaker. We opted for the pricier tickets.

That’s when the trouble started.

As my wife began entering her contact information, the website would not allow her to change the town name in the address section. This was a big problem because our hometown is different from the nearby town where the charity is located. Compounding the problem, this was a required field although it did not have to be so.

Unable to buy the event tickets online, my wife called the charity to try to purchase the tickets by phone. No one answered. She left a voice-mail message. No one returned her call.

That was the end of it. My wife could not complete the transaction. We were both annoyed. While our intended contribution would not have been huge, it would have been a significant first-time gift. Unfortunately, for the charity, it lost its chance to engage us. Instead, the charity alienated us. Sadly, we likely weren’t the only people who experienced this problem.

So, what can we learn from this story? The lesson is as simple as it is significant:

Make it easy for people to give you money!

Here are some tips:

  • If you’re having a fundraising event, create a landing page on your website to make registration easy.
  • Make it easy to find the event landing page.
  • Make registering easy by ensuring the registration or donation page is functional.
  • Make it easy for people to donate money online, even when there is no special event, by having a donate button at the top, right corner of every web page on your site.
  • In addition to a donate button, have a donate tab on your website’s menu bar to make giving easy.
  • When seeking donations online or by mail, keep it simple and easy. Ask only for the information you need. The more information you seek (particularly the information you require), the greater the risk that the donor will not complete the contribution.
  • When sending direct-mail appeals, enclose a Business Reply Envelope to make responding easy.
  • Provide your full contact information (name, title, mailing address, phone number, fax number, email address) for donors to reach out to you easily with any questions or issues. Your organization’s general contact information should be on every website page.
  • When a donor or prospective donor calls, answer your phone. If you’re not going to answer your phone, be sure to respond to messages as quickly as possible. This is especially true leading up to an event or at year-end.
  • Accept gifts of cash or donations made through credit card and PayPal. In other words, make giving easy by accepting the donor’s preferred payment method.

The bottom line here is that your organization needs to make it easy for people to give it money. Donors have choices. Your charity is not unique. There are other charities with a similar mission. If you mistreat prospects or donors, or make giving a challenge, they’ll simply support another organization with a similar mission that more effectively engages them.

While making it easy for people to give is important, it’s not enough as the following story from the for-profit sector demonstrates:

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July 6, 2018

One of the Most Important Questions You Should Ask

Two recent mainstream news items, and one tweet about a charity, remind me of a powerful lesson I once learned from my father-in-law, Malcolm Rosenfeld. He taught me to ask myself the following important question before opening my mouth or taking action:

What is my objective?”

Now, before I illustrate the value of that question by reflecting on some news stories, I must warn you that the following examples include vulgar language. If you want to bypass the examples, you can skip down to the next boldfaced sentence several paragraphs below.

At The 72nd Annual Tony Awards (2018), actor Robert De Niro walked out on the stage after being introduced. He then said, “I’m gonna say one thing. Fuck Trump. It’s no longer ‘Down with Trump.’ It’s ‘Fuck Trump.’”

What was De Niro’s objective? If he wanted the approval and praise of the Tony audience, he succeeded when his remarks received a standing ovation. However, if he wanted to convince some Trump supporters or independent voters to support the political positions of the Democratic Party rather than President Donald Trump, I doubt he moved anyone. To the contrary; he may have actually strengthened their resolve.

Comedian Michelle Wolf voiced her displeasure with Ivanka Trump in a recent episode of Wolf’s Netflix series The Break. She said, “If you see Ivanka on the street, first call her Tiffany. This will devastate her. Then talk to her in terms she’ll understand. Say, ‘Ivanka, you’re like vaginal mesh. You were supposed to support women but now you have blood all over you and you’re the center of a thousand lawsuits.’”

What was Wolf’s objective? If she wanted to solidify her base of liberal viewers, I suspect she might have succeeded. With the publicity she received for her comment, she may have even attracted some new viewers who share her liberal views. However, if she wants to use her humor to change the political policies of the Trump Administration or to drive independent voters to support Democratic Party candidates and positions, she probably failed.

Whether you’re pro-Trump or anti-Trump is not the issue. What the two examples above demonstrate is the importance of defining objectives. If De Niro and Wolf wanted to diminish Trump’s political support – and I recognize that might not have been their objective — they flopped even as their fans cheered and laughed.

Let me explain. In 2016, I participated in a focus group involving independent voters. It was clear that personal attacks on Trump led many participants to be more likely to support him. By contrast, discussion of specific issues led people to thoughtfully consider which candidate better aligned with their own thinking. Based on my experience with the focus group, I wasn’t surprised when I looked at recent poll numbers.

Despite recent harsh comments by De Niro, Wolf, and countless others in recent weeks, the RealClear Politics polling average shows that Trump’s disapproval rating continues to oscillate just above 50 percent, where it has been consistently since March 15, 2017.

While celebrities leave me wondering about their objectives, many nonprofit organizations also have me scratching my head. I recently read one puzzling example from The Whiny Donor (self-named) on Twitter:

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June 15, 2018

Raise More Money by Understanding Generational Differences

When you understand the behaviors and motivations of different generations, you’ll be in a better position to build stronger relationships and, ultimately, raise more money. That’s the belief behind the Blackbaud Institute’s new report, The Next Generation of American Giving. Catherine LaCour, Chief Marketing Officer at Blackbaud and Senior Advisor to the Blackbaud Institute, writes:

[T]hese insights serve the core purpose of helping you—the social changemakers—build bridges to those who care most about your causes. Use this information to inform your outreach, but know that the relationships you cultivate are still the key. With this deeper understanding of your supporters and the tools they use, there is no limit to the positive change you can achieve.”

The report identifies eight key findings:

  1. Fewer Americans are Giving. Blackbaud is not alone in uncovering this disturbing trend. Among every generational cohort, with the exception of Baby Boomers, there is a decline since 2013 in the percentage of cohort members who say they give to charity. During the same period, total giving has nevertheless increased because those contributing are donating more.

 

  1. The Greatest Generation is in Its Sunset Years. Those born prior to 1946 are declining in number. That’s why they are no longer the dominate philanthropic group that they were in 2010. However, they remain a vitally important philanthropic cohort. These individuals give to more charities and give more money than any other generational group.

 

  1. Baby Boomers Remains the Most Generous Generation. Boomers donated 41 percent of all money contributed last year. By contrast, Gen X accounted for 23 percent, Matures 20 percent, Millennials 14 percent, and Gen Z 2 percent.

 

  1. Generation X is On Deck (and there are way more Gen-Xers than you think). While there are far fewer Gen-Xers than Boomers (65.6 million v. 74.1 million), their population is almost as large as the Millennial generation (67 million). Furthermore, Gen-Xers are approaching the life stage known to be the prime giving years. Given the population size of this cohort and their approaching life stage, they will likely continue to be a growing philanthropic force.

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May 9, 2018

Setting the Record Straight about Jimmy LaRose

Jimmy LaRose, founder of the Inside Charity website and co-founder of the National Association of Nonprofit Organizations & Executives, continues to be a controversial figure in the nonprofit sector. However, I have refrained from addressing his statements that trouble me.

Until now.

LaRose recently copied portions of one of my recent blog posts, altered their intention, and purposely misattributed them to someone else in an article he wrote attacking the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

When I confronted him with what he had done, he admitted to and defended his actions. Furthermore, he refused to apologize or delete the article at issue. In his last email to me, despite the fact that I never mentioned NANOE in my communications to him, he wrote, “NANOE’s Board of Directors has directed our staff to forward all your communications to counsel.” Do you think he might have sent me that message in an attempt to intimidate and silence me?

Well, you deserve the truth. Therefore, I will not be silent.

I published my blog post “Are Donors the Hidden Enemies of Charities?” on April 16, 2018. On May 6, 2018, the LaRose article “Is There a Secret Reason AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Is Hating On Donors?” appeared at Inside Charity.

In my post, I reported on the findings of The Harris Poll survey report conducted for AFP and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. While I recognized that most donors are good people, I did point out that some donors do bad things. The Harris survey found that 25 percent of women and 7 percent of men, who are members of AFP and who were surveyed, report having been the victim of sexual harassment. In the cases cited, 65 percent of the perpetrators were donors.

In his article, LaRose attempted to discredit the survey report though he offered no evidence of his own.

Neither AFP nor I are demonizing all donors. We are simply giving voice to the survey respondents who have said that donors sexually harassed them. This is a real problem that some of our fellow fundraising professionals have faced. It’s something that we should not ignore.

Toward that end, I suggested some actions that individual nonprofit organizations should take:

1.  Have the organization’s board adopt a sexual harassment policy. If a policy already exists, it should be reviewed with an eye toward improving it. The policy should define sexual harassment (regardless of the source), map the reporting process, and explain the consequences of harassment. The policy should also make it clear that no donation is worth mental or physical harm to staff or volunteers; people should be clearly valued more than money.

2.  The senior management team or board of the organizations should set policies regarding meetings with prospects and donors. The policy should include answers to several questions including:

  • Where is it appropriate to meet with a prospect or donor?
  • When should more than one person from the organization meet with a prospect or donor at the same time?
  • When dining out with a prospect or donor, who should pick-up the check?
  • What prospect or donor behaviors should not be tolerated?
  • How should misbehavior be treated in the moment and following an incident?

3.  Procedures should be adopted for providing feedback to prospects or donors who misbehave so that they understand that their missteps are inappropriate and unacceptable.

4.  Staff and volunteers (including board members) should be provided with the policies and trained to ensure they understand all of the provisions of the policies

5.  As part of training, make all staff and volunteers aware of the problem. For example, share the Harris Polling report with them along with a printed copy of the organization’s sexual harassment policies.

6.  Re-assure staff and volunteers that they will be fully supported, and that they will not be penalized or lose their jobs for filing a legitimate complaint.

In LaRose’s article, he lifted the questions I asked in item two above. He then mislead his readers when he introduced the questions by writing, “In response to The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s ‘poll’ AFP’s IDEA Committee (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access) has just announced another set of provisions they’re going to burden you with after they determine the proper answers to the following questions.”

To the best of my knowledge, the AFP IDEA Committee has not adopted my questions to guide its discussions. The questions I posed were clearly mine and mine alone. As I stated in my post, the questions are just some that should be addressed as nonprofit organizations discuss their own policies and procedures. I did not ask AFP to impose such a requirement on nonprofit organizations. It would have been foolish to do so because AFP has no mechanism for such an imposition even if it wanted to issue such a mandate.

By twisting the intent of my words and by providing incorrect attribution, LaRose has erected a straw-man.

LaRose writes:

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April 27, 2018

The Best Way to Ensure Your Volunteers Do Not Fail

Let’s make sure our volunteers do not fail. Let’s do a better job of recruiting and retaining volunteers while helping them be more successful. Remember, when volunteers are more successful, our nonprofit organizations are more successful.

This is the second part in a series of posts about volunteers. I’m publishing this series for three reasons:

  • It’s National Volunteer Month.
  • Volunteerism is on the decline in the USA, and we can and must reverse that trend.
  • Volunteers are a valuable resource to the nonprofit sector. They serve as organization ambassadors, provide free labor, and donate generously. We need them!

In the first part of the series, we looked at how to avoid major pitfalls and manage volunteers more effectively. Now, we will consider the best way to ensure that your volunteers do not fail. The result will be a win-win relationship between your volunteers and your organization.

Once again, we’re fortunate to receive some terrific insights from Kelly Ronan on Twitter. Kelly is an Indiana State University Bayh College of Education Scholars-to-Teachers Program Scholar and a candidate for the Certified Nonprofit Professional credential offered through the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.

Kelly believes that a robust orientation program for volunteers, as part of a training effort, will help them avoid failure and, instead, meet with success. So, before tossing your volunteers into the proverbial deep-end of the pool, make sure they first receive a solid orientation consisting of the eight key elements Kelly suggests:

 

An effective orientation will provide an overview for a volunteer that is new to your organization, and a refresher for a returning volunteer. It will provide a general understanding of who the organization is, what the organization does, and how volunteers play a key role.

The following eight elements will make your volunteer orientation great, and will help ensure that your volunteers have a meaningful experience as they help your organization.

1.  Make volunteers feel like they belong!

The “belonging” atmosphere should begin the moment you make contact with the new volunteer, whether that is speaking on the phone or through emails. Be sure to reach out to a new volunteer while the excitement of volunteering is still fresh on their mind. Hosting an orientation is a powerful way to engage volunteers and help them get off to a good start.

Once they reach orientation, it is time to make them feel like your organization is the right fit for them. Have your volunteers get connected with staff and other volunteers. Consider planning a fun ice-breaker activity or planning for partner/small group interaction as part of your orientation. It is important that your new volunteers feel welcome and appreciated.

2.  Effective, meaningful communication is key!

No one likes to feel lost. Orientation is the time to state, in appropriate detail, what is expected of volunteers. This includes things like behavior standards, dress codes, confidentiality, time commitments, and more. Taking the time to address expectations up front can save a lot of time further down the road once the volunteer has started their assignment. Remember that you can’t expect your volunteers to meet expectations that you haven’t clearly defined.

3.  Share the mission of organization!

Just like staff members, volunteers should know your organization’s mission. They need to know what they are putting their time and talent towards. Sharing a bit of history about the organization, the mission statement and goals and objectives are helpful to a new volunteer. This also helps them to see how their role as a volunteer fits into the organization’s plan. Additionally, you can include a brief description of programs, and you may want to share some impacts your organization has had on the communities it serves.

4.  Review policies and procedures!

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April 16, 2018

Are Donors the Hidden Enemies of Charities?

Donors are not usually the enemies of nonprofit organizations. Instead, they are the friends who provide much needed resources allowing charities to save lives and enhance the quality of those lives.

However, some donors at some times do become the enemy of the good. They behave in ways that humiliate and, at times, even endanger those with less power. That’s one of the disturbing findings of a new survey report sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Chronicle of Philanthropy and produced by Harris Polling.

Among nonprofit professionals surveyed, 25 percent of women and 7 percent of men say they have been sexually harassed. Of the harassment incidents cited, 65 percent of the perpetrators were donors with the balance being colleagues, work supervisors, and organization executives. Harassers are most often men (96 percent). The median number of sexual harassment occurrences personally experienced by survey respondents is three (which is why some of the statistics in the report add up the way they do).

“Harassment is always about power, so the results here might indicate that the real power in these organizations rests with the donors,” Jerry Carbo, a professor at Shippensburg University who served on a federal committee studying harassment in the workplace in 2015 and 2016, told The Chronicle. “I would normally expect to see a much higher response rate for supervisors.”

The most common types of sexual harassment experienced in the fundraising profession include: inappropriate comments of a sexual nature (80 percent), unwelcome sexual advances and requests for sexual favors (62 percent), and unwanted touching or physical contact (55 percent).

Mike Geiger, MBA, CPA, President and CEO of AFP, commented on the alarming findings:

The number of cases involving donors is eye-opening and points to a unique and very troubling situation within the profession. As we look at how to proceed with the data from the survey and begin developing anti-harassment education and training for fundraisers and others in the charitable sector, we will have a special focus on the all-important donor-fundraiser relationship. We know most donors have only the best interest of the cause at heart, but our message will be clear: no donation and no donor is worth taking away an individual’s respect and self-worth and turning a blind eye to harassment.”

Sadly, many nonprofit organizations fail to take appropriate action when they receive reports of sexual harassment, regardless of whether the perpetrators were donors or fellow staff. Consider the following:

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February 22, 2018

What do Abraham Lincoln and Jennifer Lawrence have in Common?

President Abraham Lincoln and actress Jennifer Lawrence each learned something that can help your fundraising efforts. Before I tell you what that is, let me share a bit of history with you.

Earlier this week, the USA celebrated Presidents Day. Congress originally established the Federal holiday to commemorate the birth of George Washington, the nation’s first President, born on Feb. 22, 1732. At some point, the holiday also began to include Lincoln, born on Feb. 12, 1809. Then, all of the US Presidents were lumped into the holiday. Well, sort of. Despite its commonly excepted name — Presidents Day — it remains officially Washington’s Birthday.

To honor a President this week, I thought I’d share some wisdom from one of them. Then, as I was preparing to write this piece, I stumbled upon an article about Lawrence, and realized she has learned the same lesson as Lincoln.

Paraphrasing 15th century poet John Lydgate, Lincoln is believed to have stated:

You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.”

Lawrence, definitely in a different league than Lincoln, has nevertheless learned the same lesson. While she likely had this insight well before this year’s British Academy of Film and Television Awards, she had a reminder of it resulting from an interview hosted by Joanna Lumley.

Lumley introduced Lawrence by saying, “And we start with the award for Outstanding British Film and who better to kick the whole evening off than the hottest actress on the planet? Soon to be seen in ‘Red Sparrow,’ it’s the ravishing Jennifer Lawrence.” The American actress then came out and modestly said, “Hi. That was a bit much, but thank you, Joanna.”

Following the exchange, the social media battle began. Some people thought that Lawrence was being “discourteous,” “a spoiled brat,” “rude,” and more. On the other side, there were plenty of people who sided with the actress with one even questioning, “How is that rude?”

Lincoln Memorial

Yes, you can never please all of the people all of the time.

That’s an important lesson for all of us.

Your fundraising plan will not make everyone happy. Your direct mail copy will not make everyone happy. The graphic design for your annual report will not make everyone happy.

At some point in your career, likely far more than once, you’ll hear, “We can’t do that here. We’ve never done it that way.” You might even have someone in upper management comment negatively on your direct-mail appeal because it’s not how she would write a letter to a friend — “Do you really need to use bullets and boldface?”

You get the idea.

You just need to understand that you will never make everyone happy all of the time. When confronted by senseless criticism based on emotion rather than knowledge, keep these five points in mind:

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February 14, 2018

How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year

Showing donor love and asking for more money should not be mutually exclusive activities. Inspiring upgraded support requires both to work hand-in-hand.

Unfortunately, for many nonprofit organizations, stewardship is the poor stepchild of the fundraising process. It is often ignored or poorly implemented. It is usually an underfunded activity. As a result, donor-retention rates for the nonprofit sector are pathetic.

Development professionals who think about stewardship usually believe that it is something sandwiched between when a gift is received and the next appeal. In other words, stewardship and fundraising are separate functions. However, Joe Garecht, President of Garecht Fundraising Associates and Editor of The Nonprofit Fundraising Digest, believes that the next appeal is actually an integral part of a robust stewardship process. An upgrade appeal will not achieve maximum success without sound stewardship. Done well, an ask is an extension of the stewardship process.

Joe’s thinking makes sense. If we love our donors, why would we want to deny them the satisfaction of continuing to support a cause they care about? Why would we want to deny them the opportunity to make a larger commitment? Helping donors to continue feeling good about continuing to do good is part of good stewardship.

We want our donors to feel important, feel needed. One way to do that, is to ask and to ask for more than they gave last year. However, we shouldn’t make an upgrade appeal in a vacuum.

It’s not just about asking. As Joe explains in his guest post below, it’s about incorporating the ask into a sound stewardship system so that the upgrade appeal is a natural evolution of our relationship with the donor. Stewardship and asking are not separate activities; they part of a cohesive system.

I thank Joe for sharing his stewardship insights and his four-step strategy for asking for donation upgrades:

 

One of the most important fundraising systems you can build at your nonprofit is an effective donor stewardship strategy. Donor stewardship starts with thanking your donors for their gifts… but is much more than that.

There are three main goals for your donor stewardship system:

  1. Donor Retention: You want to make sure that your donors keep giving year after year.
  2. Referrals: You want your donors to introduce you to their friends and colleagues who also might want to get involved with your organization.
  3. Donor Upgrades: You want your donors to give more this year than last year, and to move to major gifts and planned giving, if they have the capacity to do so.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at that third goal. We’re going to answer the question, “How can you get your current donors to give more this year than they did last year?” To understand how to best upgrade your donors, we’re going to first explore why donors make the decision to upgrade, and then review a simple, four-step strategy for getting your donors to upgrade this year.

Understanding Why Donors Upgrade

If you want to successfully solicit your donors to give more this year than they have in the past, it is important to understand why donors decide to upgrade their gifts:

Donors upgrade because they have been stewarded effectively.

The most important reason why donors upgrade is because they have been properly stewarded. This means that your nonprofit has appropriately thanked and recognized them for their past gifts, and has continued to build a relationship with them. Your donors want to feel like they are an integral part of your team. They want to feel appreciated, valued, and heard.

If you are treating your donors well, keeping them updated on your work, seeking their advice and input, and reporting on outcomes in between asks, your donors will be far more likely to upgrade their gifts. If your donors are investing their emotional energy, knowledge, and time in your work, then upgrading their financial investment will be the next logical step.

Donors upgrade because you are casting a big vision.

One of my favorite maxims in fundraising is this: Donors don’t make big gifts to small visions. Your donors want to change the world. They want to make a difference. If you are not casting a big enough vision, your donors will make their big gifts elsewhere, investing in organizations and companies that are.

Every nonprofit can cast a big vision…even small, local organizations working in one small corner of the world. Start by asking yourself, “How are we changing the world? How are we changing lives? How are we saving lives?” Your answers to these questions will help you think through the real impact of your work. If you want your donors to give more this year than they ever have before, you need to cast a bigger vision this year than you ever have before.

Donors upgrade because they are asked to upgrade.

Donors only upgrade when you ask them to do so. Very few donors will upgrade their gifts without being asked.  Thus, if you want your donors to give more this year than they did last year, you need to go out and ask them to do so. While the majority of your stewardship system should be focused on cultivation, asking for donations from current donors (including renewals and upgrades) is an essential part of the fundraising cycle.

In order to be successful, the upgrade process should be systematic. This means that you shouldn’t ask for upgrades here and there, whenever the whim strikes you. Instead, you should have a defined plan in place to review your donors’ capacity and ask them for upgrades as often as appropriate.

How to Ask Your Donors to Upgrade

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