You are busy. I get it.
You have a thousand emails to read, a dozen grants to write, and an eNewsletter that needs to be edited. August is now here, and you are beginning to worry about your year-end giving: the numbers are just not looking good.
And you haven’t even thought of checking your voicemail in a week…. because, you know, it’s 2016. And who leaves voicemails???
Amidst this mess, you’ve forgotten something really important: your donors.
You’ve convinced yourself that knocking out projects is more important than investing time in relationships. You tell yourself this even though you know that — as my friend Andrew Kramer wrote here last week — the best way to raise more money is to build relationships.
What to do???
Build a System
Well, I have good news: you don’t have to invest the time to get to know the intimate personal details of every single one of your donors; instead, you can build a system that makes the donors feel like you know and love every one of them.
Big difference. The first is focused on you and your knowledge; the latter is focused on your donors. And better still, it will not depend on the people involved (i.e. no more worrying about what happens if you drop dead with all of your donor relationship info in your head).
For me, the easiest place to do this is to improve your donor acknowledgment and gift receipting process. If you can do a great job at saying “thank you,” donors will give you even more reasons to thank them (i.e. they will send you more gifts!).
Case Study: PEP
This is something that the Prison Entrepreneurship Program has perfected. They know that their mission does not exactly appeal to everyone — adult, male felons are hardly on the top of anyone’s charity list. So, every one of their donor relationships is precious. And it all starts with their data: they have an amazingly detailed donor database that tracks nearly everything they could possibly want to know about a donor.
(“Need a list of every person who came to the Pitch Day event in Fall 2014, who volunteered outside of prison in 2015, who received the Spring appeal letter but who has not yet donated in 2016? No problem.”)
Better still, they have built a system that treats donors like gold: personalized receipts that includes notes from graduates; regular phone calls from staff and released graduates to thank donors; emails that simply share stories of the impact of gifts; and more. And for those who attend PEP’s events in prison, they can often be surprised a few weeks later with a big envelope that includes photos of them volunteering in prison along with personalized notes from the incarcerated men whom they met.
The result of this massive investment of time and energy is the strongest donor retention rate of any organization where I have ever worked, coupled with a remarkably high number of gifts-per-donor (which I believe is a stronger indication of support than total dollar value of gifts).
Take Baby Steps Today, Dance Tomorrow
But don’t worry: you don’t have to build that big of a system overnight. You can just take small steps towards it. Once you begin to see the returns, you will certainly want to build more from there.
Here are a few ideas of small things that could make a huge impact on your fundraising:
- MAKE THE CALLS: Per the advice in Jerry’s story here, the development team should do everything they can to call every donor (or at least every donor above $100). Maybe dedicate time each week to making calls; for example, have the team close their Outlook and close their office doors on Friday from 1:00 – 2:00 to make calls. And if a conversation goes well, follow-up with a hand-written note. See above for the power of a note.
- LEVERAGE STAFF MEETINGS: Every staff meeting, dedicate five minutes to donor cultivation: give each staff member a single donor to whom they can write a hand-written note. If you have ten people on staff and a weekly staff meeting, then that is 520 notes that you can easily write each year. And if everyone does two notes at each meeting, that’s 1,040 notes. Just keep it simple and focused on showing the donors that their gifts matter. Something like this: “My name is _______. Thanks to donors like you, I can serve our community as the ___(job title)___ for __(organization name)__. Every day, I get to ___(briefly describe what you do)____. Just this week, I had the chance to ______(quick story about a client)_____. Thank you for giving me the chance to serve our community in this way. I hope that you consider volunteering in our program one day soon so that I can meet you!”
- ENGAGE YOUR CLIENTS: Consider giving out index cards to your clients with a single question at the top: “Why does ____(organization name)_____ matter to you?” or “What difference has ____(organization name)____ made in your life?” Ask them to fill it out while they are waiting for services, during a break, or before they leave. You can then take the best ones and include them with the receipts that you send to your largest donors. In the receipt letter, include a postscript that says: “p.s. Enclosed is a note from one of our clients. I hope that you can see what an impact you are making!” (ADDITIONAL BENEFIT: Pictures of these notes make great social media posts!)
- SHARE THE LOAD: Once per quarter (or better, once per month!), divide up your top 100 recent donors among your staff and board. Ask everyone to call them just to thank them, share some good news about how well your programs are going, and say that you wanted to ensure that they know their gift matters. If the conversation goes well, maybe invite them to tour the office or to volunteer. But be sure that they know that you are not calling to ask for anything; you just want to thank them.
- THANK-A-THON: On the last work day before Thanksgiving, host a “Thank-a-thon.” Make it a party. Have your whole board and staff show up for a shared meal and to make calls to as many donors as possible just to thank them. This is a slow news time, so you might even be able to spin it to get some news coverage: “At a time when most charities are asking people to give more, ___(organization name)____ is giving thanks.”