Year-End Giving: The Check’s in the Mail

Like many of your donors, I hope, I have been actively doing some year-end giving. That included mailing gifts to 19 organizations that had responded to my article earlier this year, offering to make a donation to the organizations of the first 10 people who responded. (I just couldn’t stop at 10.)

I don’t write this to brag about my giving (trust me, my gift will hardly make a blip for these organizations). And this isn’t my annual article on receipting as a relationship-building tool; that will come out in January after I’ve given these organizations a chance to receipt me. Rather I’m concerned with the experience of actually giving the gift—something every donor to your organization can relate to, although in every organization it likely will be different for different groups of donors.

But some things are just human nature.

People give to make a difference. Yes, tax deductions matter, but there’s also a bit of giving back that comes into the equation for some of us. This year, my husband and I made a few personal gifts that won’t gain us a deduction; rather, we wanted to help a few people we knew who financially were hurting this year. It makes me feel good to know that the family with a dad out of work will have a bit nicer Christmas because of our small gift. We were glad to support a friend who helps people with physical challenges get the equipment they need. In both cases, we knew that there would be near-immediate impacts because of our small gifts.

How are you communicating impact? Are you overwhelming donors with statistics, or are you trying to make them feel a connection to a real person (animal, issue, etc.) who demonstrates a genuine need? When they write the check or go online to give, will they know it’s not just a gift toward the “big pot of money,” but an opportunity to have real impact, no matter how small the donation? With face-to-face fundraising, it’s often easier to do this, but we need to paint that same kind of word picture on our website, in e–appeals, on Facebook, in the mail, and everywhere else that may trigger our donors to respond.

People give up when it’s just too hard to give. I mentioned I sent a gift to 19 people as a result of my article last January. Actually, there were 20 I planned to give to, but one didn’t provide an address and there wasn’t one on the website. Sure, I could have given by Paypal, but that wasn’t my choice. (I often give online, but since part of this giving exercise was to measure response, I wanted to mail a check like a lot of donors still do.) Unfortunately, No. 20 lost out because there was no way I could give via my preferred way.

The key there is the donor’s preferred way. It’s not about what is cheaper for our organization to process, or what we think is the most logical way to give. It’s what our donors expect when they want to make a donation. We need to make giving to us easy for the donor, not expect the donor to conform to our systems. If it’s not easy to give to you, there are many other choices that are much easier.

People give because they are asked. Each organization that received a gift from me did so because someone had taken the time to send an email and ask. I had never heard of all but a few of the organizations, but the passion with which their representatives wrote about what they do was infectious. There are amazing organizations—large and small—that are doing truly important work; it was fun for me to learn about them.

So now is the time to start preparing for year-end 2016 asking. The reality is that people are fickle in their giving, so building loyalty matters. You most likely are going to get gifts from some first-time donors this month. How will you welcome them? Sending a receipt is the first step, but what happens next? Is it just a bombardment of messaging, or is it a deliberate stream of communication to reaffirm that they made a very good choice in supporting your organization? Or just as bad, it is months of no communication because you don’t want to seem pushy? If you want a relationship, the time to start “courting” is immediately after the first gift—not next fall when they have all but forgotten you.

This old dog knows that the next two weeks may well be the first chance you have had to catch your breath since summer vacation. So do that! But make a note to come back in January and look closely at any mistakes or shortfalls from year-end 2015, and think about ways to improve them in the new year. We may never achieve the perfect donor experience, but it’s really fun to see the impact even a small change can make.

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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