It’s that time of year — the time when you get donations from people you have never heard of before. They give online, send in white mail, call your toll-free number or even stop by with a check.
Unfortunately, many of them won’t be around in 2012. “Attrition” is a fact of life at nonprofits, but what you do now can increase the number of first-time donors who remain loyal in the new year.
Check your receipts
Make sure your receipt is valid for tax purposes. Sure, donors don’t need receipts for smaller gifts, but many want them and feel they should have them before filing taxes. You can reduce a lot of angst by sending receipts that acknowledge their gifts and meet the IRS’s criteria. Be sure to review IRS Publication 1771, “Charitable Contributions: Substantiation and Disclosure Requirements,” if you aren’t sure that your receipt meets the requirements.
What about sending a summary receipt for the year after you close your books on 2011? A good idea — and one that might even net money if you enclose a warm letter of appreciation and a return envelope.
Tell your donor on the receipt that you used her gift for the project she requested. New donors especially need assurance that you listened and honored their wishes. Having a receipt that includes the gift designation builds confidence in your integrity as an organization.
In addition to having the “gift designation” shown on the receipt, another option is to have a basic receipt letter with one paragraph that is variable depending on the designation. Talk specifically in that paragraph about how the donor’s gift will help advance your mission in 2012 through the project he helped fund.
Plan a welcome series
Research shows that you have a 90-day window to get a second gift from a new donor. How you treat donors for those three months is essential. Your goal is to strike a balance; you don’t want to overwhelm them with contacts, but you also don’t want them to feel ignored.
Once the receipt is mailed, send a welcome mailing. Don’t simply put your latest brochure in a No. 10 envelope and expect that to say “Welcome!” Make sure you include information about your successes, a story (or two) that shows results, and a warm message of welcome. Provide a phone number a new donor can call if she has questions.
Consider offering a small mission-appropriate premium for a second gift in 45 or 60 days. This can trigger additional giving, especially from donors who gave smaller amounts as first gifts. A bookmark, booklet with helpful information related to your mission (i.e., 10 ways to protect your family from fires) or other item that reinforces your mission is appropriate.
Your welcome series may include a telephone call (if the donor provided a number) to say “thank you,” a few of your best mailings that showcase your flagship projects and have a clear offer, an undated newsletter that provides stories showing your accomplishments, and e-mails that reinforce your success — and ongoing need. Unless the gift is especially large, don’t mail unrequested annual reports or expensive brochures — it is too much too early in the relationship.
Find creative ways to say ‘thank you’
Do you have a great picture drawn by a recipient of your services? Is there a photograph that shows your work and is “keeper” quality? Can you send a short, handwritten message of thanks on a note card? Your goal isn’t to spend so much that the new donor thinks his gift only went to more communications; it’s to give donors additional reinforcement that their investment was a great decision because it is bringing about positive change.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed at year-end by donations, and many of us are focused on relaxing a bit over the holidays. But before you head home on Dec. 30, put the process in place to say “thank you” in the first few weeks of 2012 more than once and as sincerely as possible. You’ll stand out to your new donors as a nonprofit that really appreciates them — and isn’t that how we all want to feel?
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.