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How (Often) Do You Thank Your Donors?

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Sally* made a donation using her son’s name to test her organization’s acknowledgment policy.  The results were disappointing.  The letter took three weeks, his name was misspelled, and the gift was posted to the wrong fund.

“Although it bothered me that we had so many mistakes in one gift, I suppose it was a blessing in disguise,” Sally said.  “This allowed us to find several problem areas all at once – and work to fix them.”  If it hadn’t happened this way, she admits, it likely would have taken much longer to convince all required parties that such sweeping changes were necessary.

Thanking donors is the last, most crucial point of contact, because it is this part of the communication cycle that will likely make or break the chance that the donor will contribute again in the future.  Acknowledging the gift in a timely fashion is important, but more essential than timing is making the donor feel appreciated – and letting them know that their gift matters.

Recent research shows that providing a thank you gift, for example, may lead to lower (or no) future gifts, because donors take this as a sign that organizations are wasting the funds they receive, rather than making the best use of them.

The best way to show donors that their gift matters is to tell a story, or show it working in action, such as giving a tour or testimony of the recipients/beneficiaries.  Of course, not every donor can come to a single location, but with the web and video, your nonprofit can now provide online testimony and include links with thank you letters and emails.

Depending on how many donors you have, a follow up phone call from staff, board or volunteers, thanking them, can speak volumes as well.

Six months later, Sally asked her father-in-law to make a gift and share what he received and when.  Of course, she had given him specific instructions about making a detailed type of gift, to see if her team got it right, and was pleased to learn that they had!

“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our donations and retention has increased since we improved our overall system of acknowledgment,” Sally said.  “Better customer service and record keeping has led to fewer people falling through the cracks.  Everyone wants to know that they are appreciated.  We always did appreciate them – we just didn’t demonstrate it very well before putting a thorough system in place.”

What can you do to make your donors feel more appreciated and a part of your organization . . . instead of just receiving statements from you every few months?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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How Is Annual Giving Significant To Your Donors?

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

One of the greatest challenges in Annual Giving is relating the giving levels to your mission. When a major donor gives a building or a fellowship, it’s obvious that they’ve made a visible difference. But what does $100 do?

Designing a campaign for constituents who are likely to give smaller gifts compels us to demonstrate – as vividly as possible – why it’s important for those donors to give, as well as what their gifts will accomplish.  Otherwise, you can come across sounding like a child begging:  “Pleeeeeeeez?

Darryl* recalls when he arrived at his community college that their fiscal year-end appeals had all pretty much said, “The fiscal year is about to end – help us make our goal of $X by [date]!

“I figured that nobody really cared about an arbitrary deadline set for an arbitrary goal that related more to staff evaluations, and never talked about our students much at all,” Darryl explained.

“For the next appeal,” he told me, “I talked to our financial aid office and asked them how many applications were pending.  Then, the appeal went something more like this:”

X students are hoping to attend classes here next semester on scholarship.  You can help them become future alumni by donating today to the scholarship fund.

“I never once mentioned ‘the fiscal year,’ although I did add a deadline for ‘helping financial aid students,’” Darryl says, “And this more than doubled what we had earned in the past for this appeal!”

Other schools go a step further and conduct a full blown campaign, designed to demonstrate the importance of Annual Giving, such as Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).  Emily Smeltz and Mary Jo Ludwig recently highlighted their successful campaign at the CASE ASAP District 2 Conference.

There’s a particular motivation to get students to donate while still in school, since this is the best indicator that they’ll continue to give as alumni.  Because most of them have little funds, though, the emphasis has to be on educating them about the importance of giving – regardless of amount – and what their gift will help do.  (Later, when they are earning more, their established habit of giving will pay off.)

The IUP campaign made a point to use a variety of media throughout the school year to reach students, including direct mail, QR codes, lawn signs, etc. – to drive home the point that there is a gap between tuition and the cost of an IUP education, which is where private gifts enter.  This culminated with an event in late January:  Free Tuition Day

Free Tuition Day was a campus-wide event with a great deal of fanfare:  media articles, photos, video interviews of students, free t-shirts, and so forth.

Students were educated – as they were interviewed – about which day in the semester their tuition “ran out” and private donations began covering the remainder of their expenses.

Email solicitations to students and alumni after the event have helped this campaign to become quite successful, as well as thank you notes hand-written by student volunteers to the donors.

This Free Tuition Day campaign model can also be applied to organizations other than educational institutions.  What’s important is that you consider how to make your statement and demonstrate your mission.

For example, the National Committee on Pay Equity has a campaign every April called Equal Pay Day.  In 2012, Equal Pay Day is on April 17th, to symbolize how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011 alone.  Participants are called upon to wear red that day to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay.  Another action that participants are asked to take is contacting congressional representatives regarding fair pay legislation.

How could you use these strategies to help your constituents better relate to your mission and donate more?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Congratulations, You Survived Another Year!

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

For many fundraisers, the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is dreaded the most.  It’s the sink-or-swim season, when everything you’ve got is thrown into appeals, hoping to make coffers swell.  Did you feel like you were drowning for a while?

A lot of organizations won’t know their final totals and how successful their efforts were for a few more weeks yet, until the dust settles and everything is entered, counted and analyzed, but as you’re winding down and regrouping, consider an additional question:  Did you accomplish everything you wanted to this year?

Making the overall campaign goal is certainly important, as well as increasing your average gift, number of donors, acquisition, and your other fundraising markers.  Beyond that, however, surely there are aspirations that you, as a fundraiser have made that too often take a back seat or get forgotten in the frenzy.

Were you hoping to spend more time in the field this year, so that you’ve gotten additional experience working with major donors?  Did you want to take a course in grant writing?  Have you been meaning to learn how to use Facebook and/or Twitter, or did you just want to grasp your database’s reporting system better, so that you don’t have to ask someone else to run them each week?  Perhaps it’s time to study for the CFRE exam and become certified in your profession.

Whatever it is that you would like to learn, improve or accomplish, make a point to consciously add it to your goals and calendar for 2011, instead of just getting around to it in your “spare time.”  The rest of the year may not be as frantic as year-end, but fundraisers rarely have any time to spare.

Just as you map out how you’re going to reach your fundraising goals:

•     I’m going to visit ___ prospects
•     I’m going to send ___ mailings
•     I’ll make ___ phone calls each week

so should you plan your career goals:

•     I’m going to take that grant writing class
•     I will create and use my Twitter account on a regular basis
•     I’m going to study for and take the CFRE exam this year

Keep in mind that you don’t have to navigate these waters alone, either.  It’s always helpful when your organization offers guidance and training, and your co-workers and supervisor are supportive, but even if that is the case, getting another perspective can be very beneficial.  (And, of course, for many people, their work environment is not as educational and supportive as they’d hoped, so that’s all the more reason to seek help elsewhere.)

Networking with a variety of others, through professional organizations such as AFP, CASE, AHP, APRA and NTEN, provide a plethora of resources that one nonprofit simply cannot offer alone, regardless of its size.

Another wise investment in your career is to spend one-on-one time with a mentor in the field – preferably someone who has particular experience in the area that you see yourself headed toward in a few more years.  Networking in larger professional groups is a good way to gain exposure to more people in general, however, to get a better idea overall of what direction you see yourself taking in the future.

As you begin tallying and analyzing those figures coming in, keep in mind that boosting numbers isn’t the only objective you should be striving for.  Certainly you want to raise more money, but consider what you’ll do to hone your craft this year and boost yourself as well as the organization.

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Starting in 2011, blog posts will alternate weekly, and the Annual Giving columns and the Fix It Or Forget It? columns will appear on Wednesdays.

____________________________________________________________________________________Good Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

What Will Year-End Bring – And What Will You DO With It?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

Nearly every non profit earns a substantial amount of its budget at year’s end. For some, this season is a do-or-die time of year. Either way, how many will take the time to analyze which appeals were most successful and which should be re-evaluated?

Overall dollars are important, certainly, but a great deal can be learned by delving into who gave what to which appeal when, why, by what means, etc. Reviewing details of response rates, click through rates and so forth now can help you better plan the upcoming year’s success, once you know what your constituents are responding to.

Take this challenge: Find the separate segments that are performing the very best and the very worst, regardless of whether or not you made more money overall. Where are your trends happening? Which demographics are taking off, and which ones are starting to drop off? Can you see that they are by age, geography, gender – or is it by the channel they are using, such as direct mail, email or social media? Perhaps it’s a mixture of several variables. How will you determine this to make next year’s appeals even better?

In addition to your analysis, it’s essential to keep up with current trends in the industry, which is rapidly changing. Although your organization most likely can’t respond to everything, a good goal would be to add two new things in 2011 that will interest and engage your constituents. For example, perhaps you might start a Facebook page and add video components to your email appeals. These don’t both have to begin on January 1st, but have a plan and work toward projected launch dates for each.

While assessing your year, consider other areas for improvement that affect fund raising indirectly, but may not come to mind immediately when you are doing your initial evaluation.

Find ways to boost your organization’s publicity. If you know a reporter, that’s wonderful, but reach beyond traditional means. What about bloggers? Consider asking several bloggers to write about your latest event, press release or promotion. Also remember to promote directly to your followers and friends, asking them to retweet/forward/share your latest news or video to their friends. This is the nature of social media, after all. (Remember to reciprocate now and then.)

Something else that is crucial to fund raising efforts, but often overlooked: database software. Does your database have dedicated fields for Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, text messaging, etc., or are you using [Other1], [Other2], [Other3] and [Other4]? This will make tracking next to impossible . . . and it’s only going to become more difficult as time goes on. What/how are you going to update your database with social media information or text messaging? Mobile giving and text messaging is only going to become more relevant as people have fewer land lines.

Actively seek feedback from those constituents who support you the most! Getting written documentation, as well as photos and video, will be very compelling testimony that can be used in your appeals (with permission, of course), to demonstrate to other potential donors why your organization is worth contributing to.

Just as you commit to boosting the value of your organization’s Annual Giving program by adding to its portfolio with a couple of new features, make certain that you add to your own professional portfolio as well, and increase your own skills and knowledge by a couple of features this year. Even if your training budget has reduced or evaporated completely, the Bilou Calendar lists many low cost and free online courses throughout the year, and you can subscribe to it. Don’t shortchange yourself or your personal career development.

Also remember that while online courses are very helpful, nothing takes the place of the value of face to face networking. Meeting with those in your profession on a regular basis can provide insight, education, mentoring and connections that possibly lead to a future job one day. If nothing else, staying in touch with those in the same profession helps one feel less isolated. Depending on your area of fund raising, you might find better networking with AFP, AHP, APRA, CASE or NTEN, or a combination therein.

The best year-end gift fund raisers can give to themselves is less exhaustion for next year by earlier, better planning for 2011. This begins with an in depth evaluation of what was done, but the follow through is not only adding some upgrades for the organization’s program, but investing in the fund raiser as well.

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
— Rita Mae Brown

What Are You Learning?

Monday, September 27th, 2010

People never stop learning.  In one form or another, we all continue to discover, absorb and conclude, whether we do it in a classroom or not.  Ideally, organizations realize the need for employees to continue keeping up with current trends and they budget for this.  Unfortunately, this isn’t typical, so what’s one to do?

Of course, everyone should grow and learn new things on the job, but some jobs require a steeper learning curve than others, because the evolution of their field is moving more rapidly than others.  Annual Giving is one such sector, since technology affects this part of fund raising more than, say, Planned Giving.  Certainly new laws on estate planning are important for professionals to know, but it’s doubtful that they are changing as quickly as the landscape of social media, for example. Often one feels that if you blink, you might miss something.

A recent study by Guidestar on the economy’s effect showed that five of the top six ways that nonprofits used to reduce costs were related to staffing, salary and benefits, which surely translates to less funds for training as well.

Couple this with the fact that when training budgets are doled out, Annual Giving professionals typically receive the smallest allowance, and you have a double whammy of those in need of the most training having the least means to receive it.  Seth Godin makes a good argument about how the old business model of worker and employer is disintegrating, and stresses the importance of a worker being “fast, smart and flexible” in our new, emerging economy.

Here are but a few examples of items that Annual Giving professionals will need to add to their toolbox:

•     Facebook has a reputation for changing its features on a regular basis.  Facebook Places is one of the newer features to learn.
•     Twitter is rolling out several major changes, including the ability to view photos, video and past tweets without scrolling.
•     Video – It’s going to be more than just creating something on YouTube or Vimeo and inserting it into an email or posting it onto your Facebook page.  Soon, every individual, company and organization will be able to have its own web-based “tv” channel.
•     RSS (Real Simple Syndication) or text messaging – see some examples of how it can (and is) being used, including a non profit example.  How can you use RSS to keep in touch with your constituents?
•     SlideShare  –  Beth Kanter has great suggestions.  Although I clearly don’t utilize it enough, you can see results of various polls I’ve taken on social media habits from audiences over the years.
•     LinkedIn is changing the specs on its site, upgrading the social networking and other features a great deal lately.  What will that mean for how you market yourself online?
•     Technology requirements to handle all of your applications and other needs.  The Seattle Public Library launched a matching gift campaign, and their site crashed soon after the campaign began, in response to the outpouring of the unanticipated support.

Patrick* made a point to sign up for as many classes as his organization – and professional society – offered during his first year on the job, in order to learn as much as he could.  He wanted to be well versed, and take full advantage of what the company (and his membership) had to offer.

At the end of his first year, he had raised a great deal more money than his predecessor and also implemented some successful new events, etc.  He arrived at his performance review with a list of his accomplishments and a calendar of the trainings that helped him learn how to achieve said tasks, as well as a proposed schedule of upcoming courses.

He was stunned at his manager’s reaction:  Instead of praising him for having a good plan and learning so much, he chastised Patrick for having taken so many courses:  “I had no idea you were spending this much time out of the office!”  His manager denied Patrick’s proposed training schedule for the new year, and said he would have to cut it by half.

“When I asked ‘Why?’ since I had clearly raised more funds,” Patrick recounted, all I could get was, “‘It doesn’t look good for you to be gone that much.‘”

Patrick made a point in the future only to highlight the end result (his accomplishments) and not the means of achieving them (his training) during performance reviews.

Ramona* also met with difficulty over getting training.  She knew that budgets were tight, so she rarely asked to go to seminars, but there was one that she felt was very valuable and was not terribly expensive, so she asked to attend.

When she approached her director, he only pretended to review the materials and listen to her argument, but turned her down almost immediately.  Ramona decided not to give up just yet, and searched the seminar website for scholarships, since she couldn’t afford the entire cost herself.  Finally, she contacted the conference organizer when she found no scholarship application online, and explained the situation.  She was successful in getting a free admission to the two day conference!

Ramona made a point to network with others in her professional society – locally and nationally – and had a friend in the nearby city, within a day’s driving distance.  She arranged to stay with her friend, rather than pay for a hotel.

Because her manager hadn’t bothered to notice the details of the conference during her initial request, Ramona simply put the dates down as a vacation request, stating that she was “visiting a friend,” and said nothing more about it.  She returned with more skills – and contacts – to put in her professional toolbox.  She knew enough about her manager’s dynamics to realize that he wouldn’t reward or praise her for her resourcefulness, but most likely subtract future opportunities from her if he knew she had received this training.

While neither Patrick’s nor Ramona’s situations are ideal, they each found ways to continue developing their skills professionally, working around the limitations set before them.  Although it’s important to invest in yourself when necessary, it’s also essential to know when to draw the line and realize if you’re simply not being supported – and never will be.

What then, are some tangible, low-cost actions that Annual Giving professionals can take, to sharpen their skills and become more knowledgeable about this profession that seems to be moving at the speed of light?

•     Network within the professionJoining a professional society such as AFP, AHP, APRA, CASE, NTEN, etc. is advisable.  Connecting with others who are dealing with similar issues can be invaluable.
•     Invest in a mentor relationship – Ask someone you admire to coach you in an area you’d like to learn more about, but also offer your skills to another who is eager to learn.
•     Research scholarships – Many organizations offer scholarships for membership and/or conference attendance.  Investigate and use these applications sparingly, since they’re often only valid once.
•     Take online courses – A great deal of training is available online, and because there is no space to rent or perhaps a limit on attendance, the cost is often very low or even free.  The Bilou Calendar lists many courses related to Annual Giving, and you can subscribe to it.

In the end, you have to drive your career and determine its direction.  You’re learning new things constantly, regardless.  The question is, what do you most want to learn?

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Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

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