Mistakes Creep In — Always Be Alert for These 2

A week ago today, I woke up to two e-mails. One was from a large for-profit company. The other was from a small nonprofit. But both made avoidable mistakes that every fundraiser needs to always be on the lookout for.

E-mail No. 1
The first e-mail was from my mobile phone provider. Two days earlier, I had dropped one line that was no longer being used. Since I had three other active lines that I left in place, I considered myself an active, loyal customer.

But the e-mail had this subject line: “Pamela, what will it take to win you back?” And the e-mail bemoaned, “It’s just not the same without you.”

Really? Where do you think I went? Aren’t three phone lines enough to assure you I am still a customer?

Lesson for fundraisers: Reaching out to lapsed donors is a great strategy. Let them know you miss them. Invite them back. Talk to them about the work they love and helped make possible.

But make sure they are really lapsed.

Is your database regularly cleaned and duplicate records merged? If a donor gives online, does that gift get added to her donor record so it’s a complete record of all giving? Are you checking white mail carefully to connect these gifts with existing names in your database when that’s accurate?

Love your lapsed donors back into the fold, but don’t irritate current donors by making the mistake made by this large communications company.

E-mail No. 2
This e-mail came from a grassroots theater group. It does great work. I have been to the theater and also advised it (pro bono) about its fundraising program because I believe in its mission. About six weeks ago, I purchased tickets to an upcoming show and included a donation equal to the cost of two tickets.

The e-mail was a very personal note written by the woman I had met with to discuss a fundraising campaign. She talked about the campaign and invited me to support it. Her e-mail built on the personal relationship we have, gave specifics about the campaign and what it will accomplish, and created excitement. So what is my complaint?

She asked for a gift, but my previous donation had never been acknowledged. No receipt. No nice thank-you message. All I received was an e-mail about my ticket purchase with a section labeled “Order Detail” that included a line labeled “Donation Amount.” A great opportunity to start building a relationship had been squandered. Imagine how much more likely I would be to send in a gift in response to this recent e-mail if I had gotten a warm, personal-feeling e-mail when I gave a gift five weeks earlier.

In case you’re wondering, since this person had asked for my guidance in the group’s fundraising, I did send an e-mail and tell her of my concern. She immediately sent a reply, deeply apologetic and explaining that the organization’s service bureau had assured that it was working correctly — but clearly it wasn’t. Within a half hour of that reply, I had an e-mail acknowledgment, and I received a lovely, written thank-you within five days.

The moral from this Old Dog: Never assume systems are working. Always check and check again. Mistakes creep in and software glitches show up for no reason known to us non-technical types, so always validate your systems to be sure they are doing what you expect them to do.

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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