Archive for ‘Stewardship’

October 23, 2018

Do You Want to Avoid Being a Fundraising Horror Story?

With Halloween just days away, horror is in the air. You can watch any number of classic or recent horror films on your television, or other electronic device. You can also go to your local movie theater to see the latest scary movie.

However, if you want to avoid being a horror story yourself, I have some important advice for you borne out of my wife’s recent donor experience with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Allow me to tell you the frightening tale, and share what you can learn from it.

My wife regularly reads a blog written by a nutritionist who is focused on a particular health condition. Not long ago, the blogger published a post about the research being conducted at Cedars-Sinai for this particular health issue. The post contained a link for readers interested in donating to the research project.

My wife clicked the link and was taken to the appropriate donation page on the Cedar-Sinai website.

Here’s where things start to get a bit scary.

It’s a good thing that the blogger provided the link, because the Medical Center’s homepage does not contain a link to its donation page at the top of its homepage. To find it, you need to take the time to search for it; if you go looking, it’s at the very bottom of the page.

The other disturbing part of the organization’s website is that, when making a donation, you must select a Title from a drop-down menu. The options are Cantor, Dr., Father, Mr., Mrs., Ms., Pastor, Rabbi, and Reverend. Notice any missing options? Well, they are missing others such as Honorable, military ranks, and other religious titles. They are also missing Mx., the preferred Title of many transgender and non-binary people. Sadly, there’s no way to write-in one’s own preferred Title. Furthermore, this is a required field. In other words, a transgender person who prefers the Mx. Title is compelled to choose between the wrong Title or simply not donating online to Cedars-Sinai. That’s the very opposite of rolling out the welcome mat.

Because my wife was provided the appropriate link and prefers either the Mrs. or Ms. Title, she was able to make an online donation. When doing so, she restricted her gift to the particular research project mentioned by the blogger. She also included a note in the comment field alerting the Medical Center that this would be a one-time gift.

Now, the fundraising horror really began for my wife.

Despite having clearly indicated that the gift was a special, one-time event, Cedars-Sinai insisted on sending a number of appeals to her. Making matters worse, none of those appeals had anything to do with the health issue that my wife contributed to. The institutional magazine that was sent to her contained no information about the health issue of interest. She never received any information from Cedars-Sinai about the research project.

My wife contacted Cedars-Sinai to once again inform them that her donation was a one-time event. She requested that Cedars-Sinai remove her from its mailing list. Weeks later, she still receives mail from them. A lot of mail. All of it unwanted, none of it relevant to the initial restricted gift. With more of her donation wasted with each mailing, my wife’s level of frustration and annoyance continues to increase.

Are you writing a horror story for your donors? Don’t.

Here are three things you can learn from the Cedars-Sinai fundraising horror story:

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October 5, 2018

9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century

In the Oscar-nominated film A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson’s character famously shouts, “You  can’t handle the truth!”

Well, if you want to be a successful fundraising professional, you better know the truth and be prepared to handle it.

If you want to be successful at anything, you need to face the core truths involved no matter how challenging. Ignoring reality is a certain pathway to failure.

One nonprofit development truth is that authentic, donor-centered fundraising results in more donors giving more money than would otherwise be the case. Penelope Burk wrote about this years ago in her landmark book Donor Centered Fundraising, available October 15 in a new second edition. I wrote about the subject in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing.

Recently, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, released his powerful new book that reveals a straightforward, meaningful way fundraisers can embrace the concept of donor-centered fundraising.

In Engagement Fundraising, Greg passionately reveals the 21st century donor-centric strategy practiced by MarketSmart. Some people might be angered by or afraid of the core message of this book while others will find it to be simple common sense. However, one thing everyone can agree on is that Greg is a disrupter, and that’s a good thing. If it wasn’t for society’s disrupters, we’d still be riding around in horse-drawn carriages, and you’d be reading his book by candlelight. His fresh, technology-driven approach is a powerful way forward for those interested in engaging people to inspire more philanthropic support.

At the end of this post, I reveal how you can download, for free, the introduction and first chapter to Engagement Fundraising. But now, I want to share Greg’s additional insights with you as he outlines nine hard truths every fundraiser needs to face in the 21st century:

 

1.  Competition is fierce and everywhere. Nonprofits don’t only compete with other nonprofits. They also compete with private sector businesses and Uncle Sam (the tax collector) for every donor’s “share of wallet and attention.” Plus they want non-exclusive, polyamorous relationships with organizations. In other words, they will decide when they’ll cozy up to other charities. Of course, you can influence their decisions but you can never control them. You are at a disadvantage. Private sector companies and the government have deeper pockets. In order to win, you better be smart!

2.  Most of the time donors spend involving themselves with your organization happens without a fundraiser present. More than 99 percent of every donor’s time and energy spent involving themselves with your organization’s mission is done without you. You must accept this new reality and enable your supporters’ self-education and self-navigation of the decision-making process.

3.  The consideration continuum is open-ended. Donors are fickle. Their needs, passions, and interests will change. As they do, they might decide to give more, less, or stop giving altogether. They might involve themselves deeper in your cause or end their involvement (perhaps even by removing your organization from their estate plan). As a result, customer service (stewardship) is more essential now than ever.

4.  Your job is to make them feel good, not ask for money. In order to generate major gifts (including legacy gifts) and inspire high-capacity mid-level donors to give more, you must make your donors feel good by engaging them politely and persistently with offers that deliver value over time. If you do that, your donors self-solicit. They’ll step up to make a difference so they can find meaning in their lives. Then they’ll ask you, “What can I do to help?” Yes! Seriously! If you make them feel good, they will give, give more, refer friends, get more involved, become more committed, and make legacy gifts.

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October 1, 2018

Here are 3 Simple Steps to Avoid a Year-End Appeal Disaster

We’re now in the fourth quarter of the calendar year. It’s that special time of year when most charitable giving happens. That’s due, in part, to the fact that charities are out in force soliciting contributions as the year nears a close.

While there are many things you can and should do, I’m going to keep it easy. I’m going to give you three simple steps (and a bunch of useful tips) that will help you avoid a year-end appeal disaster:

Step 1 – Make a Year-End Appeal: You should test doing a beginning-of-the-year appeal in January/February since tax-avoidance is less of an issue for more people under the new tax code (see my post about this by clicking here). However, the fourth-quarter season-of-giving certainly remains the traditional time to ask for support. So, unless you have data for your organization that suggests otherwise, make sure you have a year-end appeal. The surest way to have a disastrous year-end fundraising appeal is not to have one.

As you plan your appeal, be sure to segment your prospect file. Treating your prospects as one homogeneous group may make your job easier, but it won’t help you keep your job. You’ll achieve much better results if you segment your prospect pool and target each segment with a tailored appeal.

For example, your message to existing donors will be different from your message to acquisition prospects. For starters, you’ll want to thank existing donors for their support before asking for another gift. Other segments might include monthly donors (You do have a monthly-donor program, right?), volunteers, past service recipients, event participants, etc.

In addition to tailoring your message to each segment, be sure to customize the ask. It’s inappropriate to ask an acquisition prospect for $1,000. Conversely, it’s also inappropriate to ask a $500 donor for $50. Just as bad, it’s a horrible mistake to not ask for a specific dollar amount or not to ask at all.

Step 2 – Have a Solid Case for Support: If you want people to give money to your organization, you need to make a compelling case for support. This is particularly true at this time of year when virtually every other nonprofit organization is out there looking for donations, too. Why should people respond to your direct-mail appeal (or phone solicitation, or face-to-face ask, etc.) instead of the appeal from another organization, perhaps one with a similar mission to yours? Address that question, and you’ll have greater success.

A strong case for support is particularly important when appealing to folks who have already contributed this year. They’ll want to know how you spent their money, the impact they have already had, and why you need more. Tell them those things, and you’ll increase the chance of getting another gift.

In addition to having a solid case for support, you’ll want to create some urgency. Why should people give to your organization now? If you’re the Salvation Army, people automatically get why you’re asking around holiday time. For pretty much any other organization, you’ll have to give prospects a good reason. And if that reason magnifies the impact that the donor’s gift will have, so much the better.

For example, you can have a challenge grant that matches all gifts received through the end of the year. Or, you could have the cost of your appeal underwritten by a major donor so you can legitimately tell prospective donors that 100 percent of their contributions to the appeal will go toward mission fulfillment. Both of these ideas will create urgency while magnifying the impact your donors can have.

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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 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:

read more »

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:

read more »

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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January 26, 2018

Are You Making the Same Mistake as Whole Foods Market?

Whole Foods, a supermarket-industry leader recently acquired by on-line retailer Amazon, has received some bad publicity this month. Consider the following headline appearing in The Boston Globe:

Empty Shelves at Whole Foods Have Customers Going Elsewhere”

The Globe reports that many customers are beginning to shop elsewhere because of empty shelves and declining quality:

Whole Foods customers in Bellingham have been struggling to find English cucumbers and sweet onions. In Newton, shoppers have been disgusted to realize that the organic celery they purchased was mostly rotten. Shoppers in Hingham have complained about half-rotten bags of clementines, while those in Newtonville say they were unable to purchase tofu all last week.”

My wife and I shop at a Whole Foods Market just a few blocks from our home in Philadelphia. We’ve experienced similar problems with out-of-stock or poor quality items. Now, we shop far less often at Whole Foods, despite its convenient location. Instead, we increasingly shop elsewhere. For example, MOM’s Organic always has a great selection of high-quality items. In addition, we’ve found that our local Acme Market, a traditional supermarket, has a better selection of high-quality organic items than our Whole Foods.

Whole Foods is making a number of serious mistakes:

  1. assuming it can rely on brand loyalty and its now outdated reputation.
  2. being unresponsive to customer needs.
  3. ignoring the fact that customers have options of where to shop.

Sadly, those are three mistakes that many nonprofit organizations also make. As a result, donor-retention rates are pathetically low. The average overall donor retention rate is approximately 45 percent, according to the 2017 Fundraising Effectiveness Survey Report. The Fundraising Effectiveness Project is a partnership between the Association of Fundraising Professionals and The Urban Institute. The FEP website provides a variety of reports and helpful tools for enhancing donor retention.

Many charities think they can rely on their reputations to achieve strong donor retention rates. Unfortunately, while that might have been the case with brand-loyal Baby Boomers, it’s no longer the norm. Donors want to know that their gifts are making a difference. Moreover, they’re not willing to assume you’re using their money wisely. They want evidence of your effectiveness.

Nonprofit organizations need to be responsive to donor needs. Every member of your organization’s staff, not just fundraising professionals, should be trained to meet the needs of donors. You can read more about this in my post: “The Most Important Part of Any Grateful Whatever Campaign is…

If you don’t provide a meaningful experience for donors by providing them the information they demand and by meeting their varied needs, they will stop giving to your organization. However, that does not mean they will stop giving. They will simply give elsewhere.

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December 15, 2017

Avoid a Big Misstep Now to Raise More Money in 2018

Fundraising can be complex and challenging. We need to consider strategies, tactics, technology, staffing, budget, and so much more.

What if I could help you cut through all of the clutter, so you can avoid a big misstep now and raise more money in 2018?

Well, here you go:

If you want to raise more money, do not fail to send a proper thank-you letter.

It’s pretty simple, right? I think it is. Unfortunately, so many nonprofit organizations mess up this important step in the development process either by not sending a thank-you letter at all or by simply dashing off a letter with little thought. While professional fundraisers expend considerable effort to master the complexities of the fundraising process, many stumble when it comes to something as simple as the thank-you. Don’t be one of those fundraisers.

The thank-you letter is an essential part of a sound stewardship program. Every donor should receive a thank-you communication. It amazes me that some organizations still refuse to send thank-you letters to lower-level donors. Sending a simple receipt is not the same as a thank you.

A wise person once observed that the most important communication a donor will receive from you is the first thank you after the first gift. At that point, many donors will decide whether to ever make another gift to your organization.

So, what are the three essential principles of a great thank-you letter?

1. Immediacy.

The first rule of effective thank-you letters is: Be sure to send them. The corollary is: Be sure to send them immediately, within three to seven days of the gift coming in. If you delay, donors will likely think that you do not need their money or that you do not truly appreciate them. Wise organizations that don’t have the infrastructure to do this will outsource the gift acknowledgment process recognizing that it’s a worthwhile investment.

2. Caring.

Let your donors know you care. You can do this by sending a thank-you letter out on a timely basis. In addition, make sure you spell the donor’s name correctly, acknowledge the amount received, encourage the donor to contact you with any comments or questions, include an appropriate gift receipt and tax information. If your organization hosts events or programs for the public (i.e., a theater company that has a new stage show about to open), take the opportunity to share this information with your donor. These are just some of the things you can do to show you care.

You should also remember that a thank-you letter is not another solicitation piece. So, don’t appear ungrateful by asking for more money or enclosing a gift envelope. I know this is a controversial issue so, for more about this, read “Can a Thank-You Letter Contain an Ask?”

3. Meaningfulness.

Don’t just send a simple thank-you letter that shows you didn’t spend much time thinking about it or drafting it. One way to force yourself to be a bit creative when writing a thank-you letter is to not use the words “thank you” in the first sentence. This prohibition will slow you down and force you to be more thoughtful when writing the letter.

Another tip is to remind donors of the impact their gifts will have. Better yet, tell them how their gift is already being put to good use.

Whenever possible, hand sign the thank-you letters. Even better, hand sign the letters and write a short P.S. This will go a surprisingly long way in building a meaningful relationship with the donor.

For her book Donor Centered Fundraising, Penelope Burk reviewed hundreds of thank-you letters. Based on her analysis, she outlined 20 attributes of great thank-you letters. I felt so strongly about her list that I cited it in my own book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

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February 24, 2017

What is the Special Ingredient that Leads to #Fundraising Success?

Do you know the special ingredient for creating fundraising success?

You’ll notice I didn’t say “secret ingredient.” That’s because it’s not a secret. It’s actually common sense. The reason I’m writing about it is that it is not yet common practice to the degree it should be.

The special ingredient is: building relationships.

Gerry Lenfest, 21st century philanthropist and Giving Pledge member, explained the importance of developing relationships when writing the Foreword to my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

Knowing your prospects and understanding what motivates them are two critical steps in the [philanthropic] process. Quite simply, you cannot skip cultivation and relationship building and expect a successful outcome…. Do not make the mistake of forgetting about us once you receive our gift commitment. We may truly appreciate how efficiently and effectively you handle contributed funds so much that we entrust you with another planned gift. We are also in a position to influence others to do the same…”

While Lenfest’s comments were about planned giving, they certainly apply to any type of fundraising. Strong relationships are the key ingredient to a successful philanthropic process. By building meaningful relationships, you will:

  • Acquire more donors
  • Retain more donors
  • Upgrade more donors
  • Acquire more planned gifts
  • Generate more major gifts
  • Inspire donors to become ambassadors for your organization

Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector in general is terrible at building relationships. This is one major reason that donor-retention rates have been steadily falling for years, according to the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. While there is no shortage of great how-to material out there, charities are still failing to grasp the importance of embracing a robust stewardship program as part of the philanthropic process. You can search this site for donor retention to get some great tips.

For now, however, I want to share a heartwarming story of what can happen when you establish strong relationships with donors and inspire them to be ambassadors.

John’s Roast Pork is a destination sandwich stand in Philadelphia. John Bucci’s family-owned establishment has been around since 1930 serving the best roast pork sandwiches in the city. (Hey, Philly is about more than john-bucci-of-johns-roast-porkcheese steak sandwiches, though they serve those, too.) The James Beard Foundation designated the establishment as an “American Classic” for roast pork.

Unfortunately, earlier this month, John’s was burglarized. The perpetrator(s) got away with a few thousand dollars. The burglary also shut down the business until repairs could be made. The stolen sum included $1,500 that had been collected to benefit Be the Match, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. The charity maintains the world’s largest and most diverse bone marrow donor registry.

Be the Match is important to Bucci. Several years ago, he fought a fierce battle with leukemia and was ultimately successfully treated with a bone marrow transplant. Since then, Bucci has been a supporter. At one point when he contacted the organization, he requested to meet his marrow donor so he could thank the person. However, he was told that the organization’s guidelines did not permit this. Here’s what Bucci told Philly.com he did instead:

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