Make the Most of 2016’s Gifts to You: These 3 Donors

No matter how you feel about 2016, it’s now in the rear view mirror for fundraisers (except those who are frantically working to receipt the donations that were made or mailed before the clock struck midnight and 2016 faded into the past). But every nonprofit organization has three gifts from 2016 that are filled with potential for 2017—if only you take advantage of them in this new year.

They are:

1. The group of donors who have now given to you at least two years (2015 and 2016) in a row. These people are like gold; they obviously have some connection with your organization, as they remembered you and cared enough to make a financial commitment year over year. They represent an amazing resource, so here are some ways to take advantage of this gift:

  • Let them know what happened in 2016 that will make them proud to be supporters. This doesn’t mean an annual report—many people just don’t have the time to invest in reading a slick, multi-page booklet. Instead,send them an update (electronically and in the mail) with three or four stories that engage their hearts and their heads. For example, tell a great story of a person they helped (heart) and then add that they also helped X-number of others just like this person (head). Show your donor that she did something truly wonderful by choosing to support you in 2016.
  • Commit to being prompt and truly grateful with your receipting in 2017. Making a donation should not be like dropping a quarter in a wishing well—it’s gone and you never hear about it again. Your donors have choices—and they chose you. Wow! That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. So let them know that’s how you feel.
  • Give them exciting reasons to support you again in 2017. Make sure your communications focus on the donor and don’t just talk about you. Show them tangible ways they can do heroic things in 2017.
  • Don’t hesitate to honor them (literally or just in words) for their year-over-year commitment. We all like to feel like we are more than an account number in a system somewhere. Think how you respond when you get what feels like a personal thank you for an order or a special offer to celebrate your birthday from a favorite restaurant. Your donors deserve to know that they matter to you, so find ways to reinforce that message—with sincerity—throughout the year.

2. First-time donors in 2016. These folks took a risk—they gave a gift to you without really being sure you deserved it. They liked your mission or related to something you said, but they weren’t totally in. They may have been testing you (consciously or unconsciously) to see if giving to you made them feel like they had made a good choice. Did they feel valued? Did they really, truly make a difference? Here are ideas to help reinforce to your new donors that they are rock stars for giving.

  • For those that gave at year-end, make sure you receipt them, even if the amount wasn’t big. (You should be always doing this, but I can’t turn back time.) Are you a donor yourself? If so, how do you feel when you don’t get a receipt? I know how I feel—it’s pretty obvious (to me) that my little donation doesn’t matter. A first-time donor is on the fulcrum—they can either give a second gift or disappear and never be heard from again. What are you doing to tip them toward giving again?
  • Take time to send these first-time (and for many, only time to date) donors a short report on what they made possible. This can be the same kind of report you send to your multi-year donors, but since some of them gave later in the year, they may not feel that they really made any of that happen. So, add a short note telling them that their gift is being used to do more of this good work. Talk about how you moved into the new year with strength to tackle the challenges you work every day to address and how much it meant to know they were right there on the front lines with you.
  • Make sure you send a mailing (or two or three) that welcomes them and gives them a little more information that helps them feel confident that they made a brilliant decision when they gave. Don’t overwhelm them with the past six issues of your newsletter, an annual report, a dense brochure and a 20-minute DVD. These are “infant donors,” so feed them accordingly. I’m not saying you need to patronize them, but don’t dump everything you’ve got on them and leave them overwhelmed. I know some of you are better than I am and will find this example irritating, but many of us get a new car that comes with an inch-thick owner’s manual that we put in the glove box without opening it. Why? It’s just too overwhelming when we’re still trying to set the time on the clock and program our favorite radio stations. That’s why many car dealers provide a quick guide. What’s the quick guide you can provide these new friends?

3. Donors who reactivated after not giving in 2015. They used to give, but they missed a year or more. But now, they have come back. Your challenge is to never take them for granted. Here are some tips to help you avoid that:

  • Welcome them back. A receipt letter or another letter can politely say, “We are so glad that you once again chose to support this amazing work we are accomplishing together.” Without piling on guilt, talk about how you are stronger when they stand with you to tackle the challenges you are addressing. We’re too quick in fundraising (I think) to poke at our donors to tell them they didn’t respond, but not as good at showing gratitude when they come back to us.
  • Don’t start bombarding them with requests to give. Definitely stay in touch, but treat them like an old friend that just came back into your life. Go slower. Yes, ask them for money, but also report (see above), thank and re-nurture.

Three gifts—three different donor groups to nurture while making them feel like they did the right thing by supporting your organization. This old dog knows that neglecting any of these gifts can result in a less-than-desired group of donors: lapsed donors. Take time early in 2017 to think about how you can build up these three donor groups; they are gifts to value.

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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