The response to my offer last week to make a year-end donation to the organizations represented by the first 10 readers who wrote in and told me about their receipting (pros and cons) was overwhelming. The Barden household will be stretching its generosity next December to some very fine organizations since stopping at the first 10 seems harsh (but the offer is officially closed now).
The strategies for thanking donors — and as a result (hopefully) retaining more donors — varied. But one thing kept striking me as I read the emails, and that was “hunger.” Often, the hungrier a fundraiser is, in terms of needing to acquire and retain donors, the more he or she is willing to do to when it comes to donor service. And that’s not a function of being a small organization; rather, as I read the emails, I saw passion for the mission as the driving force — an insistence on always improving because it really does matter.
What’s being done right
Check out these strategies that are already happening at nonprofits staffed by readers of this column:
“We usually send out a thank-you letter within 48 hours of receiving the donation.” (This is a volunteer-run organization, which makes it even more impressive.)
“We truly believe in timely thank-yous. It is our aim to respond within 24 hours of receipt of a gift.” (Great idea to set the standard; without that, it’s tough to make it a priority.)
“We built into our schedule for resource development staff (to work) on Dec. 31 so that any transactions received from Dec. 24-Dec. 31 are input into our donation tracking software; acknowledgments are printed, signed and mailed; and items are deposited.” (Tough policy for staff, but the focus is definitely where it needs to be — on the donors.)
“I personally call each donor over $50 to thank them and get to know them a little. I also do the same for new donors of any amount … I recognize that as we are a smaller organization I am able to do that, but for sake of clarification I made over 500 calls in 2014.” (Wow! I don’t think I ever called 500 donors a year — that’s hunger in action!)
“If a gift comes in today, the receipt/thank-you goes out tomorrow. It would probably be same day except that our mail person delivers quite late. I have to say that I owe this diligence to a development associate who is obsessive in completing this task in record time.” (Great strategy — hire people who are as passionate as you are.)
What’s the 2015 focus?
Not surprising to me, most of the people who took the time to email me weren’t satisfied; like all passionate people, they had goals to make receipting donors even more of a priority in 2015. While everything may not be accomplished, it was exciting to see how many fundraisers are not settling for today’s good work; they want tomorrow to be great. For example:
”This upcoming fiscal year, we will be spending MORE time on speed and also a significantly larger effort to provide ongoing stewardship/cultivation to donors below the $500 level (en masse, but heartfelt) and also making sure that our staff AND board do thank-you calls/emails/notes for every gift of $500+, in addition to getting the receipt letter out in a speedy fashion.” (You go, girl!)
“I wrote a comprehensive plan that segmented our donors and included a new donor welcome kit as well as a strategy to reach donors who have donated one time but not again. We also segmented 100 major donors and enlisted the board to help reach out to them.” (It’s a cliché, but “plan your work and work your plan” matters — great strategies!)
“My goal for this year is to send a second thank-you from the president for any first-time donor, at any level.” (With new donor retention at crisis level, this is terrific.)
“I will look at all our standard thank-you letters to see if we need to update them or perhaps make them more personal.” (Excellent! Someone else wrote that at the beginning of 2015, the organization “retooled the language in our donor acknowledgments to reflect less of a ‘look at us’ stance, but a ‘thank you, you’re valuable!’ stance” — time well spent, I think.)
And in the same vein, “We’re hiring a part-time donor services assistant to make sure we get our turnaround for acknowledgment letters much closer to 48 hours. Also, we will no longer send full-page letters full of language no one will read! I’ve rewritten them to be … focused on the donor.” (I love it!)
“This year I am committed to receipts, personal thank-you notes from either me or my board president, as well as an additional recognition in a holiday card, recapping what their donations enabled us to achieve.” (That’s a great example of relationship-building.)
So what next?
This old dog knows that reality can sometimes interfere with the best intentions, and that fundraisers need support from the rest of the team (especially leadership) to make changes that involve staffing or other costs. But here’s something to think about: If you spend 1 percent more to thank donors, do you believe you can recoup that with additional giving from now-happier donors? Will it pay back fivefold? Tenfold? Make a best-guess estimate of the value of the change; focusing on how much more money you can raise can justify the added cost or work.
The sad truth is, as one reader wrote to me, “Sometimes, the intention is there, but the reality doesn’t match the desire. And sometimes the urgency just isn’t there.”
So here’s the challenge to us all: Let’s get hungry, because that hunger can lead to greater efforts that yield more money to accomplish our missions.
Originally published in NonProfit Pro.