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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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This is a Test, This is Only a Test

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Network For Good has dubbed today the first Be Your Donor Day.  It’s a fabulous idea, designed to get nonprofits to test their online giving forms to see how easy – or cumbersome – their process is.  Why stop there, though?

What other aspects of donor interaction could be improved, if only we could get a look at it through our donor’s eyes?

Vanna* is a development officer who wanted to test this theory, so she made an online donation to her organization . . . using her husband’s credit card, during last year’s holiday season.  She wanted to test the data processing department’s speed and accuracy in entering and acknowledging the gift when things were very busy.

“My husband’s last name is different than mine,” Vanna explained, “And, although I entered myself as the joint donor, I thought that this gift might be lost in the shuffle along with many, many others.”

More time went by than Vanna thought should have, and “her husband” still hadn’t received an acknowledgment, so she decided to check in the database, wondering if it had even been entered.  She was surprised to still find nothing under her husband’s name.

“Then, I thought: ‘Perhaps someone did notice my name and gave me some sort of special treatment after all?’” Vanna recounted.  “I checked under my name, and not only was the gift there, but had been for days!  The problem was that it was credited not to my husband, but some other man entirely . . . living in a different state!  Talk about your data entry mistakes!”

It turned out that Vanna’s “false husband” had an ID number close to that of her real husband, and the transaction opened up dialogue for better verification procedures in the processing department, particularly during peak times.

Wyatt* did something similar, but instead of using a spouse’s or child’s name, opted to submit his dead grandfather’s name for mail, email and phonathon lists.  The name was entirely different, and he maintained a separate email account, where he could receive messages for “him.”  It was his way of not only monitoring what his nonprofit was doing, but other nonprofits as well, since he subscribed “grandpa” to multiple lists.

Wyatt was pleasantly surprised when his new mailing went out to discover that his new mail vendor had done a diligent job of running his list through the NCOA database prior to sending it out.  It was obviously a cut above what his previous vendors had done, because “grandpa’s” mail had been returned, marked as nobody living at that address with that name!

“I can’t tell you how many, many pieces ‘grandpa’ has gotten at my address, from dozens of nonprofits!” Wyatt said.  He plans on staying with this new mail vendor.

Checking your website for mobile-friendliness is advisable, too.  Have you tried to make an online donation using your handheld?  Does that ramp up the level of difficulty?  What about other transactions on your site?  How much interaction do you ask of your constituents online?  Registering for events?  Purchasing items?  Signing petitions?

Whenever you are telling constituents to “Go to our website and [take this action]!” try to take that action with your mobile – and encourage the person responsible for that department to do it as well.

The more departments that engage in this activity, the more buy-in you’ll have as an organization to convert your website to a mobile-friendly one!

What other donor/constituent engagement areas can you think of to test that staff rarely uses?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Does Phonathon Make Money For Your Nonprofit?

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Some nonprofits hire companies to manage their ongoing, year-long phonathons, which seem to run like well-oiled machines.  But if you can’t afford that, do you have to abandon this event altogether? No – not by a long shot.

Although it can be a boon to your campaign to have year-around calling, many nonprofits benefit from periodic volunteer phonathon events, both for the fundraising, but also as an opportunity to bring supporters together and teach them to be ambassadors for their organizations.

Make no mistake:  All events are avenues for volunteers to shine and show their potential!  As you train your callers, reviewing the script, goals, prizes, etc. for the evening, make a point to circulate and listen.  In the beginning, all callers should start out with small donors’ names, as they practice.

While you’re listening, however, you’ll be able to discern between volunteers who can’t get beyond reading a script and those who are truly conversing with – and charming – your donors.  These people need to be upgraded immediately to calling your larger donors, since they know how to ask for larger gifts.

After your phonathon is over, these same outstanding volunteers can be recruited for other committees, or perhaps your board.

It’s essential to make your event – wherever it’s held – feel welcoming and festive to your volunteers.  This means including plenty of food, drinks and snacks.  If your organization can afford it, you may want to have a decorative theme.

Remember that social media can be useful before, during and after your phonathon:  Promoting the event and recruiting volunteers online prior to the phonathon will gain you additional workers.  Posting highlights of your progress throughout the event helps keep your momentum going – and remember to take plenty of pictures!  When the event is over, share the celebration and gratitude with everyone on all social media channels – as well as more photos.  (Remember to get permission to tag people.  Better yet, invite them to tag themselves in the pictures.)

Prizes for various levels of performance are important – although it’s a good idea to keep your goals in mind, too.  For example, if reaching a high percentage of credit card gifts is vital to your organization, don’t give prizes for pledges – only credit card payments . . . but vary the prizes based upon this theme, such as the first credit card gift each hour, the largest credit card gift of the evening, etc.

With caller ID, where you’re calling from is a careful consideration to make.  If your nonprofit opts to be identified – and has enough phones – it might make sense to have your volunteers work from your offices during the evening, using employees’ desks after hours.

On the other hand, depending upon your call list and volunteers, you might choose to have your callers each use their own cell phones.  Particularly if your call location is less likely to be identified with your organization (on caller ID), this might be a better alternative.

Although some would argue that each volunteer can simply make such calls in their own home – on their own time – with a list and their cell phone, this doesn’t lead to the camaraderie that is felt when people come together and share an evening of helping an organization they care about.

It also doesn’t allow staff to handpick their new talent from eyewitness experience.  Additionally, when supporters are called, they may have specific questions for volunteers that only a staff member can respond to.  It’s best to have such a person on standby.

Because people’s schedules are so full, it will take a lot of work to arrange a phonathon – and a lot of work to convince people that it was worth it . . . so that they will do it again in the future.

However – done well – a phonathon can still pay off as a worthwhile investment: in funds, goodwill ambassadors, and future officers for your organization.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

 

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The Dreaded Annual Report

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

Admit it – if you’ve been tasked with working on your organization’s Annual Report, “excited” is the opposite of how you feel about this duty.  It’s a chore – and a bore – and the sooner it’s done with, all the better, right?

The only thing worse than putting weeks (months?) into such a project is realizing that when all is said and done – and you’ve shipped it off to hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of your supporters – is that it’s so dry and boring that pretty much nobody will give it more than a passing glance, if that.

Think of it:  You spent all of that time, and it ends up in the trash?  Why bother?  Are the only people who are really looking at it your potential grantors, when you send the report with a proposal?  If that’s so, you could publish far fewer and be done with it (and it could be much shorter, too).  It may as well look like an accounting report then, right?  Wrong.

There are actually many ways that annual reports can be creative and grab donors’ attention these days.  Also, it isn’t essential to mail a copy to absolutely everyone.  Many reports are becoming much more interactive and web friendly.

Of course, it is still necessary to have printed reports to submit with your grant proposals – and many major donors do still like to receive documentation of how the organization is doing, but it doesn’t mean you need to publish a dry representation of your work that looks like everything and everyone else that has been published for the last couple of decades.

Consider the feedback you get (if any?) after your annual report is sent.  Is it positive or negative?  Should your report be longer or shorter?  Is it missing a component that people wanted to see, or could you really afford to leave several parts out . . . and nobody would even notice?

Irving* worked for a nonprofit that had quite a few wealthy donors, and considered the period after the annual report was published to be “hell month” because it was the time that his phone never stopped ringing.

Try as they might, his development staff never managed to get every donor listed exactly correct in their annual report, and it seemed that everybody paid attention to this section – to the exclusion of all else.

“We might list someone as giving at the $5,000 level,” Irving explained, “But we inadvertently neglected to count their additional $5,000 United Way donation, which would actually place them in the $10,000 recognition level.  This would really offend some people.”

“Of course, we would apologize for all errors,” Irving continued, “But after a while, I begin to wonder if these donors were giving for the cause, or merely so they could be on display for their other country club friends.  It just seemed so important to them!  And god forbid if someone’s name or title wasn’t exactly correct, or even missing a middle initial!”

Irving would be happy if there was something in his annual report of interest to his constituents besides the donor listing; however, the rest of it reads like a balance sheet, and hasn’t changed from that style since the founding of the organization.

Justine* worked at a nonprofit with supporters who were quite different.  They care deeply about the mission.

“I’m not certain that our supporters would notice or care if their names were listed at all in the annual report,” Justine remarked.  “We’ve been considering removing the levels of support section, and just making one single alphabetical list – which would certainly make my life simpler.”

Justine explained that, more important than the donor’s recognition section, they’ve been considering telling more “How your gifts impact the recipients” stories, but are looking to make an online – or possibly video – version, so that it doesn’t become too long, cumbersome (or costly) to mail an expanded version, with additional stories.  (Their mailed version will remain shorter and be sent to fewer people, as well as kept in reserve for grant submissions.)

Several innovative nonprofits and corporations have already stepped outside of the typical constraints and opted for new ways of producing their annual reports – and gotten attention and publicity for doing so.

•     an eyewear company
•     a solar company
•     the Amazon Conservation Association
•     a food company
•     a university athletics department

How could you apply these tactics to draw attention to the unique qualities of your organization and its mission?

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Please Support Us In the Most Meaningless Way of All

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Most nonprofits are still struggling to get back to their pre-recession levels of support.  While some have made it through unscathed, it hasn’t been easy. They can tell you that commitment to mission and donors is essential.

This is why I get so frustrated when I see corporations taking advantage of the nonprofits that are having more difficulties by offering funds to them in various “contests” that serve only as publicity stunts for the companies, really.

What started out as a national trend has already expanded to local companies, making the same types of offers to the very small – and desperate – local nonprofits as well.

These set ups remind me of various “Are you in debt?” commercials, offering distressed consumers options they might not otherwise take for high interest loans, credit cards, etc.  In other words, easy money.

A nonprofit that hasn’t yet made its goal has a pot of gold dangled in front of its eyes, and “all it has to do” is chant the chosen mantra of the corporation of the month that is throwing this particular bone into the pit of desperation.

Of course, it’s not enough that the nonprofit itself blather the company slogan on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, GooglePlus, and anywhere, everywhere else that the company is tracking it.  No, the organization must use all available venues to reach its constituents to nag, beg and cajole them to do the same . . . for the good of the organization(?)

Never mind that the bank, life insurance company, software developer, etc. has nothing whatever to do with the mission of the organization.

“Please, PLEASE text/post ‘Get 2 Free Boxes of Checks with a Bank ABC Checking Account!’ on every channel – once a day, until [deadline], so we can win the $XX,000!”

Like all scams, the easy money only appears easy.  Not only does staff become consumed with constant reminders to all supporters, then someone has to keep track of where the organization stands each day of the contest.  (“We’ve fallen to 2nd place!  Please remember to keep posting daily!”)

The saturation point of supporters will likely cost you in terms of loyalty down the road, even if your organization does win the contest, not to mention the fact that you’ve disconnected your supporters substantially from your mission.  A great deal will have to be rebuilt in the future.

And, if you plan on “winning” such contests as an ongoing part of your budget, both your staff and supporters will become exhausted and burned out, which means your churn rate will go through the roof.  Additionally, you’ll support the corporate notion that this is an acceptable way to support nonprofits, rather than directly via grants and sponsorships.  (Bad idea.)

Research has shown that the best way to gain long term support for your organization is through telling a compelling story about what you do by who benefits from your work.

Chanting some company slogan couldn’t be much farther off point than this, and is probably working to alienate your supporters more than just about any other activity you could be doing, short of a scandal.

The next time you’re tempted to participate in an easy money scheme, think about the story it tells.  If it doesn’t further your mission, toss it aside.  You’re wasting time and money pursuing it, not to mention constituent loyalty.

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Keep the base of the pyramid strong

 

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Don’t Sell Yourself Short

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