Lost: Donor Service. Reward If Found

It sometimes feels that treating donors as valued partners has been a victim of the recession. Instead of listening and helping, they (and their communications) can be viewed as interruptions to our day. It reminds me of the old “Peanuts” cartoon when Charlie Brown said, “I love mankind. It’s people I can’t stand.”

Are some fundraisers “in love” with their donor bases but not all that fond of the individual donors? Maybe that explains some of the disservice I’ve seen lately.

Where’s the receipt?
I know postage is 44 cents and nonprofits have to be wise stewards of their donated funds, but it seems the threshold for getting a receipt is moving ever higher. While a receipt isn’t required for donations less than $250 (unless goods or services are provided; in that case, the threshold is $75), it’s a great opportunity to thank a donor and encourage future giving.

Assuming a donor gives $25, you may spend almost that much following up with her over the next year or two. Spending a dollar today to mail a gratitude-laden receipt for that $25 gift, gently encouraging another gift, may help those future mailings receive better receptions.

Give them what they want — and maybe they’ll give you what you want
When a donor calls with a request, take the time to help him. If you don’t know the answer, tell him you will find it out — and then do so.

Don’t simply direct a donor to your website. If that’s where the answer is found (or if she wants help navigating your site), take the time to walk her through the menus so she ends up on the right page. Most nonprofits have a lot of information on their websites; the challenge sometimes is finding it.

Donors with unanswered questions aren’t likely to remain donors. Helping them discover the information they want is a good way to keep them as donors — and friends.

Don’t overlook letters they send you
It’s hard to ignore a ringing phone, and e-mails tend to demand attention. But what about the letters your donors send? Are you promptly answering them, providing information and thanking your donors for taking the time to write?

Many older donors use e-mail, but others prefer to write to you. Providing a prompt reply is a great way to strengthen your relationship. Of course, if something isn’t clear, give a call to get more information. Then send a warm response.

In today’s mail, I received a small gift card from a company with which I recently shopped. I also received an order from another company; a small token gift was enclosed.

I know donors don’t give so we can spend their money on sending them gifts. But is there something you can do to surprise them with your gratitude? What about sending a card on their birthdays or calling to thank them for supporting you for three years? You don’t have to spend a lot, but people who get a pleasant surprise from you may feel more loyal toward your cause.

Look for something in common
Especially if a donor is upset, mentioning something that you have in common can help turn the conversation around. For example, does he live in a town where you went once for a memorable vacation? Is her first name the same as your favorite aunt’s?

If nothing exists, don’t make up a connection. But I have found that being able to get a frustrated, soon-to-be-former donor talking about her hometown, for example, is a good way to get her to accept a less drastic solution than removing her permanently from your mailing list.

Many of us learned the “Golden Rule” when we were children: Do unto others as you want them to do unto you. That’s not an old-fashioned idea when it comes to donor service. The more a donor feels like he is also your friend, the more likely it is that he will remain a donor.

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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