Bliou Enterprises


Posts Tagged ‘gift acknowledgment’

Which Donors Do You Remember?

Wednesday, February 15th, 2012

In Annual Giving, we “Keep the Base of the Pyramid Strong,” as I say, but it’s awfully crowded down here. Unlike Major Gifts, we rarely get to know our donors personally. Still, some become memorable. Which ones are yours?

Although Annual Giving professionals deal in mass quantities of thousands of donors, sometimes we have a memorable encounter with a donor – either at an event, over the phone, or simply from a feedback form or note included in an email or direct mail contribution that makes us stop and smile.  The single donor becomes distinguished from the masses, and we often remember that person . . . perhaps for some time.

When such a contributor makes an impression, it’s a good idea to follow up with them and ask if they would be willing to share their views on your organization, written as an appeal (and/or video).  The most dedicated champions for your cause can provide compelling testimonials on your behalf, and often end up as excellent fundraising advocates.

Some others in Annual Giving have shared their recollections of such donors below:


When I got a personal note attached to a check, explaining that, “Since I’m out of work, this is all I can afford to send, but I want to help…” That’s when I knew I had a great appeal letter!  I modeled a couple of letters after that donor’s feedback, and they were quite successful.


One of our phonathon volunteers asked me to assist when the questions “got too hard” on the other end of the line.  It turned out that the person we called had a few complaints – about our newsletter, her missing receipt for the last gift, and so on.  I spent at least ten minutes on that call, plus a follow up call the next day, but she was so pleased to have someone listen and respond to her concerns, that she ended up doubling her (fairly small) gift once I fixed the problems.  She’s now a major donor.


I remember a boy who wrote to us, saying that he decided to ask for donations to our charity from his family and friends, in lieu of gifts for his bar mitzvah.  That was quite touching.


One donor sent us a check for $2.  We’d gotten cash in small amounts on rare instances, but a check?  I decided that this must be a test, to see if, how and when we acknowledged the gift.  I figured that, based upon our response, perhaps a larger gift would follow, and that he had sent similar “tests” to several organizations.  I sent a very glowing thank you letter promptly.

A few months later, he sent us a check for $5!  Again, I sent an appreciative letter right away.

This went on about every quarter, to the point that when his envelope arrived, we had an office pool, wagering on our “small donor’s” amount:  $5? $3? $2?  In two years, he never gave as much as ten dollars in a single envelope, but he gave regularly – and was still doing so when I left.  I still maintain that I was cultivating a larger donor, but didn’t stay long enough to learn if I was correct or not.


The donor who asked questions and listened when I said what the money was going to be used for.  When I got to the part about how we needed a new printer, she said that even though she couldn’t afford to contribute much, she thought she knew someone who could donate that equipment, and put us in contact with them!  Even though she hasn’t been able to give a great deal of money, she has been able to procure us several items for the office at a discount, through her connections.


I remember a certain donor who called to complain about our constant database errors.  It seemed that between our event database and donor database, we continually accidentally listed him as being married to a woman in town with the same last name, although they weren’t even related.  He knew quite a bit about her contact information, and this clearly wasn’t the first (or second) time he had tried to get this resolved, so that her name was no longer on the mail we sent him.

I apologized, and assured him that I would make attempts to correct the matter – in both databases.  I could tell that he had doubts, but was grateful not to have a “fake wife” on his documents any longer.  Later, I noticed a larger gift from him the next time, because I was watching for any problems with this record getting entered incorrectly during the next event cycle, etc.

We saw in the last presidential election how essential – and powerful – the Annual Giving donor could be.  It appears that the same may well be true in this upcoming election as well.  Preliminary results show that 48% of Obama’s primary contributions in 2011 were received from “small donors,” defined as those giving $200 or less.  This same study also listed Obama raising nearly the same amount of personal funds as all ten of the GOP candidates combined, most of whom did not fare as well with smaller donors.

When cultivated properly – and listened to – many Annual Giving donors can be moved up into major donors, or at least mid-level donors.

What do you find helps to keep the base of your pyramid the strongest?

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Can Capital & Annual Campaigns Play Nice Together?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Many Annual Giving professionals dread the words Capital Campaign more than any other two that get uttered around the office. They’re considered more obscene than stretch goal, performance review or even database conversion!

Why do so many feel this way?  Because all too often, when a capital campaign is engaged, the Annual Giving staff is ignored at best and sacrificed at worst.  As the board and CEO pursues this bigger, better money, the nitty-gritty plans to obtain it are rarely shared with the everyday staff.  When all is said and done, however, much of the heavy lifting, clean up  –  and accountability  –  is left to whom?  You guessed it:  the Annual Giving staff.

It’s not that any development staff member in their right mind wouldn’t want a few hundred thousand – or million – extra dollars in the coffers, not to mention the added engagement of dozens of willing constituents, but at what cost?  Often, capital campaigns aren’t very well planned from the beginning . . . or thought out to completion.

Ike* recalls one campaign his small nonprofit began, where his Executive Director decided to hire a consultant from a big shot firm to lead their campaign.  The consultant was a well known person with a fine reputation, but also from a small shop, and he expected their organization to “type this up,” and make all of his follow up phone calls, etc.  He also informed them that, “I don’t really do email.  Leave me a message, and I’ll get back to you.”

Ike’s small staff was not in a position to take on the added burden of being this consultant’s personal assistant as well.  They had expected him to assist them, not the other way around.  Big reputation or not, Ike’s nonprofit had to let the well-known consultant go and hire a larger firm that could give them a staff member temporarily in the office during most of the capital campaign, to provide backup assistance, rather than expect them to work double and triple time.  This mistake in hiring delayed the capital campaign launch by almost a year for their organization.

Jean* was in charge of the Annual Giving campaign at her organization when it started working on a capital campaign.  She wasn’t pleased to be left out of the meetings, but believed that her Director of Development would keep her apprised of all aspects relevant to her campaign.

She was shocked when she learned that the board and Executive Director had decided that when the capital campaign was to launch the following year, they would be folding all aspects of the annual campaign funds into the capital campaign, which would last for three years.

Jean tried to explain, in vain, that not only did very few of the major gift donors (and therefore capital campaign donors) overlap with their annual campaign donors – as defined at their organization – but that if they essentially looted the annual campaign for three years, there would be nothing left of it at the end of the capital campaign.  Everything she had built would be gone, and she’d basically have to start over.

“The response I got from my argument,” Jean said, “Was, ‘Well, this is the way it’s going to be.’  So, the next day, I updated my resume, and I was gone before the capital campaign began!”

Kyle* recounts that his organization took care to continue feeding and nurturing the annual fund in a thoughtful and active way.  The capital campaign deliberately designated a small percentage of each individual’s capital pledge for the annual campaign, most of which were over a three year period.

“I’ll be honest,” Kyle said, “These were difficult to keep track of every year.  The donors didn’t always remember that they’d ‘already given,’ but we had to, so as not to ask them for an annual gift ‘again.’  We also had to make certain to acknowledge the gifts, and keep in touch with them in other ways.  Otherwise, when we resolicited them in the fourth year, it would appear as being from out of nowhere.”

Lamont’s* nonprofit had tried to save on expenses a few years before, and switched to a cheaper database system.  He was already feeling various pains from the conversion, and upon hearing the organization’s plans for the upcoming capital campaign, he saw a disaster approaching.

Lamont was in charge of sending out acknowledgments and pledge reminders.  Just in the past year, his nonprofit had offered recurring monthly donations with their online giving forms, and the new database system was constantly having problems getting this correct.  Lamont was spending nearly a week every month, manually fixing the few dozen recurring donors in the system.

Upon hearing plans for the capital campaign – which would allow monthly, quarterly and annual recurring pledges – and projections for hundreds more pledges coming into the system, Lamont inquired as to whether the organization planned on investing in better software prior to launching the campaign.

The executive director’s response was no, but told him that depending upon the success of the campaign, they might be able to afford better software afterward.

Lamont, like Jean, decided to start looking for another job with this news.  He felt that executing all of the pledge statements with such limited software would be impossible, and if he didn’t leave now, it would only be a matter of time before he was blamed for the problems that were sure to come.

For many in annual giving, hearing the words, “We’re going to be starting a Capital Campaign” is enough to send a chill up the spine . . . or a resume out the door.  Has it been a good or bad experience for you?  Does it affect how and where you interview?

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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Diversity Requires Effort, Not Merely a Posture

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

Nonprofits know they need to better diversify their marketing efforts.  New research shows that most companies do a poor job of advertising to ethnic minorities.  (When asked for an effective brand, most respondents couldn’t name one.)

To ensure that your nonprofit is in the forefront of constituents’ minds, what can you do? It will take more than being available for them to contact, donate and volunteer!  You will have to learn how to appeal to the various segments of people in your target markets.  Most likely, they each have their own special wants, needs, likes, dislikes and preferences.

In addition to understanding the ethnic makeup of your supporters, many other demographics are necessary, but it doesn’t stop there – and you shouldn’t presume to know without due diligence.  Many people will make assumptions about age, for example, rather than doing research.

A common misperception has to do with age and technology.  Often, people take for granted that Boomers (and older) are not online, don’t donate online and don’t use cell phones, texting, etc., while Millenials are the primary consumers of all things technical, leaving those in between somewhere in the middle.  This is a dangerous assumption, not to mention full of holes.

Research is showing that smartphone penetration is not only increasing across all markets, but Gen X and Y account for the largest market share.  In addition, all segments donate online, and Convio’s The Wired Wealthy study dispels myths about online gifts only coming from younger, smaller donors.

When looking at differences between the genders, it’s been established that women – particularly wealthy women – drive the philanthropic decisions in most households, so particular attention must be paid here, not only to the type of appeal, but in details such as follow up, acknowledgment, etc.  It’s important to most women donors that they learn about how their donation is being used and what affect it has had.  Not providing personal, meaningful feedback is a sure way to lose women donors.

A subset of Millenials has been identified recently – the Post88s.  GirlApproved has identified this demographic as a separate segment of female consumer/donor who responds differently than her predecessor, and therefore, will require a different marketing pitch.  Would you agree?

Another thing we know is that women spend more time on social networking than men do, while men spend a greater amount of time watching videos online, and the amount of video consumed is increasing substantially.  These are things to keep in mind when preparing your campaigns.

You still may have a couple of annual or semi-annual appeals that you want to send across the board, but clearly, it will help to really study your constituents and understand how they exist in smaller clusters of people, too.  Have they been long time supporters for years, or are they specifically donors to your XYZ fund?  Do they always attend your spring event?  Are they inclined to volunteer?  What sets them apart from other constituents?  How do they typically respond?

The need for segmentation was recently demonstrated by a Dunham + Company study which showed that email length and relevance were the most important factors compelling donors to either respond or disengage from a campaign.  Surprisingly, frequency of communication was not among the complaints found.  Effective, targeted – and concise – messaging is what’s most desired.

Diversity also includes more than ethnicity, age and gender.  How accessible is your organization to people with various disabilities?  When you hold an event, are you certain that it is wheelchair accessible?  Do you ask on your registration forms if attendees will need interpretive services for the deaf?  What about your website?  You may be planning to make it mobile-friendly in 2012, but what about making it equal access for the blind?

Of course, a nonprofit that does or doesn’t dedicate itself to true diversity in marketing most likely has a parallel situation internally.  Much of the problems an organization has with their prospecting approach begins with internal issues, such as lack of diversity with their staff and board.  This hasn’t changed much over the years.

When all the ideas are coming from one type of perspective, it’s not surprising that there’d be a homogenous approach resulting from the organization.  There’s even a greater danger when all the power is resting with one set of individuals over another, staffing-wise.  This is when power corrupts.  Diversity has many benefits.

Marketing with old stereotypes and assumptions just won’t cut it any longer, even if you do segment.  Consumers and donors are more demanding now.  If you want them to remember you (fondly), you’ll have to work for it.

Keep the base of the pyramid strong

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