Good Surprises Can Benefit Your Fundraising

As most of us with a birthday falling within the few weeks following the year-end holiday season can attest, it’s easy to get less “fussing over” than children born at other times. After all, everyone is just plain worn out. So don’t blame me for the fact that I always celebrated my “half birthday.”

So imagine my pleasure when I saw an email from one of the online stores from which I occasionally buy with this subject line: “Happy Half Birthday Pamela.” The company even included a discount as my gift — and yes, I went to the site, entered my discount code and bought myself a half-birthday gift.

Surprise. A personal touch. Feeling like I mattered to them. These played into a sale for the company — and all it did was instruct its computer to send me an email.

What a great lesson for fundraisers. When was the last time you surprised one of your “customers”? When was the last time your subject line didn’t sound a lot like every other one in her inbox? When did she feel special, just for a minute, like a real friend and not just Donor #46523?

That same day, I received an email from The NonProfit Timesquoting Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor: “Every time we had a meeting, we said the donor is king, but we weren’t acting like the donor was king.” That led the organization to a three-year process to reinvent fundraising to be donor-centric. (This year’s Engage conference featured an in-depth case study of that process.)

As a nonprofit organization, we probably can’t offer donors a discount on their half-birthday. But how can we surprise them?

1. Use emotive language
Forget business-as-usual copy, even on the receipt. I cringe every time I’m told, “We need the receipt to be more transactional.” Cold, business-like language does not inspire warm, personal relationships. Sure, there are things you have to include to keep the IRS happy, but why can’t you show true gratitude for the donor’s sacrificial gift? (Hey, even $5 means sacrificing a chai latte.)

2. Be genuine
If you were thrilled when the gift arrived, say so. If you would be delighted if the donor sent in a gift today, write that in the appeal. Be honest, not over-the-top — but let me know I (and my gift) actually do matter to you (both the letter-signer and the organization).

3. Treat me like a friend
After reading the article about Food for the Poor, I opened the latest letter I received from that organization. I’m an annual donor of a small amount, so I cut some slack for that, but the “Dear Caring Friend” salutation didn’t make me feel like a “king.” Just saying …

On the other hand, I like that the Veterans of Foreign Warsalways says above my name in the address block, “Loyal Supporter Since 2008.” Nice they remember. (I don’t!)

Sorry to be pedantic, but you can’t get out of your database what you don’t put in. To address a donor by his or her first name, you have to store the name in parts — title, first, middle (if provided), last and suffix (if provided). Personally, I find “Dear Pamela Barden” to be a bit odd and not very friendly. I know some people get upset if you call them just by their first name, so maybe we can be more proactive and ask donors how they want to be addressed. If Mr. John Smith goes by Jack, calling him John might mean his first reaction when he opens your letter or email is to cringe and think, “I wish they wouldn’t call me that.”

4. Stay in touch
OK, maybe this is an age thing, but I hate it when I am unaware of a close friend’s important announcement only to be told, “Well, I put it on Facebook.” Am I the only person on Earth who doesn’t read every single post on my Facebook feed? I wish I could, but I have to work, buy groceries, pay bills and do all those other pesky things required to survive. Don’t rely on any one form of communication; talk to your donors via different channels, but …

5. Always keep it interesting
Surprise me with unexpected communications (like the email that began this post). Talk to me like a friend (see above). Share videos, photos, stories and facts. I like oatmeal — just not for every meal. And I like information about your nonprofit – as long as I’m given variety.

This old dog is now more than half-way to the next birthday, when I will be even older. But that’s OK, as long as I know I’m more to you than Donor #46523.

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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