All posts pertaining to the philosophy named donor-centered fundraising and espoused by Penelope Burk

Nonprofit Blog Carnival call for submissions: Letting the non-profit sector go to the dogs

Betrys3Approximately 14 years ago, I was a young and eager executive director of a non-profit organization in Elgin, Illinois. While I had already worked in a number of different capacities in the non-profit sector, it was the first time I had held the job of “executive director.” Thinking back to that time in my life is where I pull my inspiration for the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival.
As a new executive director, everything was new and there were days I found my head spinning, especially when I thought about which metrics and indicators I needed to watch with regard to my agency’s health.
However, I very clearly remember the day when all of that stopped. It happened after a Board Development committee meeting, and one of my board members pulled me aside. He asked me how things were going.
We talked about the organization’s health and how I knew what I thought I knew. It was at that moment he decided to play Oprah and pointed me in the direction of the following two books written by Frederick Reichheld:

Just to give you a small taste of what these two books are all about, here is a short quote from chapter one of “The Loyalty Effect“:

“. . . businesses that concentrate on finding and keeping good customers, productive employees, and supportive investors continue to generate superior results. Loyalty is by no means dead. It remains one of the great engines of business success. In fact, the principles of loyalty — and the business strategy we call loyalty-based management — are alive and well at the heart of every company with an enduring record of high productivity, solid profits, and steady expansion.”

Not to be too dramatic, but that informal book club assignment changed my point of view on all things pertaining to the non-profit sector. After reading those books, my personal non-profit management litmus test usually centered around this simple question:

“What would Betrys do?”

As you’ve probably guessed, Betrys is our 13-year-old Welch Terrier who is featured in all of the pictures you see in this blog post.
This brings me to the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival . . .
With all of the talk about donor loyalty in recent years, I thought dedicating an entire Nonprofit Blog Carnival theme to the broader idea of LOYALTY might be fun.
So, calling all bloggers!  Please write and submit a post this month focused on how non-profit organizations can and should be building loyalty among any of the following stakeholder groups:

  • donors
  • employees
  • volunteers
  • board members
  • social media networks

If you can identify another type of stakeholder group with which you believe a non-profit organization needs to build loyalty, then please feel free to blog about that, too. This is intentionally a broad topic. Feel free to get creative. All I ask is that you include in your blog post strategic or tactical suggestions on how to build loyalty so that our collective readership can walk away from our content with lots of new ideas.
To help get into the spirit, I will dedicate all of the content at DonorDreams blog in May 2014 to the idea of building loyalty.
Betrys1But wait . . . there is more!
If you couldn’t tell from the title of this post, I am a dog lover. Is there anyone or anything in this world that embodies LOYALTY more than dogs?
At the end of the month, there will be difficult decisions made about which submissions get published and which ones end up on the cutting room floor. If you can incorporate some reference to the canine community in your Nonprofit Blog Carnival submission, then you will get bonus points.  🙂
So, I’m sure some of you are wondering what I mean.  
A reference to the canine community could be as simple as working your dog (or someone else’s famous dog like Spuds MacKenzie, Snoopy or Lassie) into your post. It could be more complicated like the time when John Greco centered an entire organizational development blog post titled “Puppy Perspective” around his dogs.
Good luck and regardless of whether or not you get a dog into your post, please have some fun with this month’s carnival!

Betrys2How to submit your work for consideration?

You are welcome to write your blog post anytime during the month of May (or even submit a post you may have previously published); however, I must receive your submission by the end of the day on Monday, May 26, 2014:

How do you submit? Simply email the following information to nonprofitcarnival[at]gmail[dot]com:

  • Your name
  • The URL of your post
  • A two of three sentence summary of your post

We will publish the May 2014 Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 right here at DonorDreams blog.

Go visit April’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival

In April, the carnival was hosted by Nancy Schwartz at ” her blog — Getting Attention!”  The theme was “The Work Behind Your Work: Your Methods and Wants for Nonprofit Blog Carnival“. She asked bloggers to consider the following questions:

  • the methods and tools you use to stay focused, productive and happy on the job
  • or the barrier that keeps you from getting there

If you’re interested in reading what some very smart and talented bloggers had to say about this Nonprofit Blog Carnival theme, click here.

Betrys4Miscellaneous details?
Click here to learn more about the Nonprofit Blog Carnival. If you want to view the archives, then you want to click here.
Do you want to become a “Friend of the Carnival” and receive email blasts twice a month with reminders about the Carnival? Click here if you want to receive those reminders.
In a tip of my hat to the Nonprofit Blog Carnival that I hosted last May, I leave you with this Dr. Seuss-inspired quotation to inspire your much anticipated submission:

“You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go . . .”

I am very much looking forward to see what you decide to do and where you decide to take this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Meet Ernie Gamino: The best fundraising pro who isn't a fundraising pro

ernie gaminoIt happens every year. My partner and I get a phone call from Cindy, who is Ernie Gamino’s assistant, and she asks us to please schedule a year-end sit down meeting. Ernie is our Edward Jones financial advisor, and getting time in both of our calendars is a challenge. However, we found some time this past Saturday. I’m glad we did because I discovered that Ernie is a really good fundraising professional, who has never been trained as one or worked at a non-profit organization. We can all learn a lot from Ernie and his colleagues.
Let me set the stage for you. It was Saturday morning. I was cranky after spending too much money on a Friday night. I really just wanted to hang around the house. The last thing I wanted to be doing was talking to my investment advisor about retirement, which seems like a far away fantasy world to this 43-year-old.
The meeting
ernie2I started the meeting off by growling at poor Ernie. I wanted to know why this annual meeting is necessary? Can’t he just go about doing his job and call me when he needs to get permission to do something with my investment portfolio.
Since the customer is always right, Ernie responded perfectly and with a smile. He simply said that he can do anything I ask of him, but he didn’t stop there. He continued quickly to share the following:

  • He has it set in his calendar to call me every two months.
  • His bi-monthly calls prompt him to review my portfolio and look critically at whether or not anything really needs to be done.
  • His annual year-end sit down meeting is a best practice. It allows him to educate me on where the market has been and where it is going. It also allows him to tell me what I should be doing differently.

Sigh! He made his point. He is right. I am wrong. So, I shut up and let him continue with the meeting. Here is what we talked about over the course of approximately 60 minutes:

  • ernie3We talked about his Northern Illinois University (NIU) football team and the state of the BCS football system.
  • We re-visited the reasons my partner and I chose Edward Jones over the countless other financial management firms out there. We like the old fashion Edward Jones approach to business development and asset management. It was nice to talk for a few minutes about that decision. It was re-affirming and rewarding.
  • We talked about our personal information. We reviewed email addresses, phone numbers, accounts, etc. While I  thought this was mundane, it turns out that we did have some information change in the last 12 months. It was a good thing he asked so our records could be updated.
  • We talked about a recent seminar Ernie facilitated for his clients about the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). While we didn’t attend, it was a subtle reminder that he offers those free services and we should be participating. Hmmm? Maybe some day. Besides, what a nice value added service.
  • We looked at our investments as well as the market. It was a good thing we did because my partner’s portfolio was unbalanced because of how the market has evolved recently.
  • Ernie showed us projections of how our assets might grow or shrink based upon decisions we are making today. He made a few suggestions about increasing our savings, reducing our expenses, and doing some estate planning. He even got us talking about whether it was smarter for me to close my consulting practice and go back to work for a non-profit agency who could match my retirement account contributions. I dunno . . . but these were good things to be thinking and talking about.

The truth of the matter is that I like to see how my money is invested. I like to feel involved in the decision-making process even though at the end of the day I always tell Ernie to do whatever he thinks makes the most sense. He is after all the expert.
Regardless, it is nice to feel informed and involved.
At the end of our meeting, Ernie walked us next door in the strip mall and introduced him to a fellow merchant, who just so happens to be a client. He made a connection.
Lessons learned
As I walked away from this encounter with Ernie Gamino, I realized how wise this young man is and how much fundraising professionals could learn from him.
Here are just a few of the takeaways:

  • Communicate regularly with your donors. They want to feel involved.
  • When a donor pushes back, listen to them. Offer to adjust your communications plan with them, but educate them about why you’re doing what you’re doing. You may be surprised at how they respond.
  • Personal information changes regularly. You need to review it and change it or your donor database will become garbage. Routine phone calls and sit down meetings are the perfect opportunity to do this kind of work.
  • Talk about things (e.g. football, tattoos, etc) with donors. While it might not have anything to do with your mission, you’re deepening a relationship, which is the most valuable thing you can ever do when it comes to donor communications.
  • Share information with the donor about what their contribution is helping support and the results coming from those programs. People like to feel involved. When this happens, then you get a deeper sense of engagement and donors don’t walk away from your mission.
  • Share other opportunities with donors about how they can do more. You never know where that conversation goes, and it can be done in a donor-centered way that doesn’t feel like you’re pushing.

Ernie doesn’t sit down and call all of his clients. He said that some people are really passive with their investments. So, he just periodically checks in on them to see if their circumstances have changed and to update their records. In other words, you should segment your donor database and decide who needs to hear from you and how often.
Does your agency have a formal donor communications plan and strategy. If so, what is it? What does it look like? If not, then why not and what are you planning to do about it? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Uh-Oh: “The only time I ever see you is when you’re asking me for a donation”

stewardship1Last week I was out with a friend for a glass of wine after work. We hadn’t seen each other in a few months, and we were catching up on lost time. “How are you? How is the new job? How’s your wife? Kids? Grandkids?” You know the drill. It was during this exchange that he dropped the bomb: “So, how is your partner? Ya know … the only time I ever see him is when he is asking me for a donation.

I’ve been doing non-profit work for a long time now, and I’ve trained myself to recognize this for what it is worth. Whenever I hear donors say something like this, I immediately think of it as a cry for help. It is a donor who is screaming for attention. They want to know:

  1. Was my contribution appreciated?
  2. Is my contribution being put to work in the manner in which I was told it would be during the solicitation visit?
  3. Is my contribution making an impact?

This is classic Penelope Burk stuff right out of her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“.

donor centered fundraising book coverWhat does your donor communication program look like? Does it include:

  • newsletters
  • bulk email / eNewsletters
  • annual reports
  • impact bulletins
  • computer generated gift acknowledgement letters
  • handwritten letters
  • donor recognition societies (featuring stewardship activities)
  • donor receptions
  • donor surveys and focus groups

I suspect many of you utilize some of these best practices, but are you missing the most powerful and simple stewardship activity of them all? My gut feeling tells me that the answer to this question is probably ‘YES’.

If you are using a “prospect assignment process” that allows you to pair prospects with volunteer solicitors who they know well, then you need to take it one step further and design a stewardship program around those relationships.

You should not assume that two people who know each other fairly well don’t lose touch with each other. It happens all the time. Take a moment to mentally review everyone in your life with whom you own a phone call, email or letter. I bet that list is longer than you originally thought.

If you want to improve your donor loyalty rate (and stop losing donors for silly reasons), then I suggest you do these two simple things:

  1. Amend your written volunteer solicitor job description to include one more task that includes two personal touches (e.g. phone call or sit-down meeting). The first conversation is a simple touch focused on saying thank you and updating them on how their contribution is being used. The second touch is equally as simple with a reiterated message of appreciation and an update on how their contribution is having an impact.
  2. Develop a tickler system and poke your volunteers when it is time to make these two calls. We’re all busy, and reminders are necessary. You shouldn’t expect your volunteer solicitors to remember when stewardship calls should be made.

stewardship2These personal touches do not have to be all about your non-profit organization. I suggest that you train your volunteers to be less obvious. For example, both stewardship touches could be as simple as three minutes worth of messaging in the middle of a lunch meeting or after-work cocktail. It should feel organic and nature. It shouldn’t feel forced or contrived.

Making these additions to your donor communication program will likely improve your donor loyalty rates, but it should also help your volunteers become better solicitors . . . less reluctant and more confident.

If there is one thing I hear all of the time from volunteers, it is how fearful they are with  “over-soliciting” their friends for charitable gifts. I believe this is rooted in the fact that volunteers aren’t involved in the stewardship process. So, they have doubts that the right things are being done in between solicitation calls to demonstrate return on investment.

So why not involve them?

Oh yeah . . . there is one more added benefit to adding these tactics to your stewardship plan. You end up stewarding your volunteer solicitors at the same time because you are providing them updates to share with their friends and your donors.

Does your agency have something like this folded into its stewardship program (e.g. Moves Management)? If so, how well does it work for you? Have you tracked your success? What was the impact on your retention rates? What were your challenges and how did you overcome them? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

By the way, my partner is a subscriber to this blog. So, my shout out to him is: “I think you should reach out to you-know-who and schedule time to catch up over a glass of bourbon.”  😉

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Lights. Camera. Action! Are you watching this stuff?

lights camera actionLast year I wrote a post titled “FREE fundraising movies every Monday morning? Sign me up!“. It was all about Chris Davenport and 501 Videos. I talked about some of the services provided to non-profit organizations by this company, but I focused mainly on the free videos that come out every Monday morning on a variety of fundraising topics.

Of course, I’m a subscriber to the “Monday Movies for Development Directors” service. Why? First, it is FREE. Duh! Second, I love listening to fundraising professionals and donors talk about philanthropy. I find it uplifting and a great way to start my week. Finally, each video is only approximately five minutes in length. Anything more would be too much of a time commitment on a busy Monday morning.

Have you been watching lately?

I ask because there was some amazing content published by 501 Videos in the last few months. Today, I will focus on two videos that I believe have the power to transform your fundraising program if you let them.

Looking at Donors as Partners

penelope burkEpisode #228 . . . this video is simply a testimonial from Sara Morris, who is the CEO of Alliance for Education. The content is focused on donor-centered fundraising.

I think this video grabbed my attention because donor-centered fundraising is one of those BUZZ words that has been circulating in fundraising circles for years. God knows that I’ve been worshiping at Penelope Burk’s alter for a good long time and blogging about it, too. (Penelope is pictured here. Click it to see her blog.)

Talk is talk, and it can be cheap. What I love about this video is that Sara tells us what she and her agency actually did to shift FROM transactional fundraising TO donor-center fundraising.

Testimonials are powerful. I was transfixed to my computer monitor.

Click here to watch that video.

While you’re there, I suggest you subscribe to 501 Video’s free Monday morning video service if you already haven’t done so. Also, please scroll down and take a minute to share your thoughts and reactions in the comment box below.

Emotional Triggers and how to use them

the written wordEpisode #239 . . . Tom Ahern. Do I need to say anything more? OMG! It is Tom Ahern, who I consider one of the rock stars of the written word.

I personally subscribe to Tom’s eNewsletter. As many of you know, I used to run a small town weekly newspaper in a different life. I didn’t win any Pulitzer prizes, but I did receive some awards from the Illinois Press Association. So, listening to Tom talk about how to use the written word to speak to a donor’s soul was a real treat for me. In fact, it was so inspiring that I ran out and bought Tom’s DVD titled “How do you create a compelling Case for Support?

In this Monday morning video, Tom masterfully speaks to the idea of emotional triggers. This is where the art of writing and the science of psychology meet, and I find it fascinating.

Click here to watch that video.

As I said in the previous section, I suggest you subscribe to 501 Video’s free Monday morning video service if you already haven’t done so. Also, please scroll down and take a minute to share your thoughts and reactions about what Tom Ahern has to say about donor communications in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Dear board volunteers . . . I’m sorry about so very much!

mardi gras mask11DonorDreams blog is honored to be hosting the May 2013 Nonprofit Blog Carnival. The theme this month is “Dear board volunteer . . .” and the idea is “If you could write an anonymous letter to a nonprofit board about something they do that drives you crazy, what would that letter look like and what suggested solutions would you include?” If you are a blogger and would like more information on how to participate and submit a post for consideration, please click here to learn more.

I wanted to expand the Nonprofit Blog Carnival concept in May. So, I reached out to real non-profit people and asked them to also write an anonymous letter to their board volunteers. These folks are executive directors, fundraising professionals, board members, donors, community volunteers, consultants and front line staff. I promised everyone anonymity in exchange for their submissions.

We will celebrate May’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival on Wednesday, May 29, 2013. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this real look at real issues that our community deals with on a daily basis.

Here is today’s letter:

Dear Board Members,

Over the last several years, we have accomplished much together. Our budget has nearly tripled, we serve nearly twice as many youth, and the community recognizes us as an effective and trustworthy not-for-profit. Despite our great successes, we certainly could have done more.

Rising short of our full potential, there are some things I need to share with you.

First, I am sorry that many of you came on the board and were not adequately engaged in the work of the board. Far too many of you just simply coasted along without more regular contact from me or the board leadership team. We wasted your potential.

Second, I am sorry that so many of you were not more thoroughly cultivated before you were brought on board. Far too many of you needed to be exposed to the message and the mission before you were brought on board. We didn’t stoke your passion and develop your commitment near enough.

Third, I am sorry that many of you were brought on board (and this is really hard to say) and never should have been invited in the first place. Too many times, we were bringing people on who just lacked the connectedness within our community. Too many times we were bringing people on who lacked the passion, lacked the ability to work as a team, or lacked the wisdom of life that could make all the difference. We brought you into a situation that set you up for failure.

Fourth, I am sorry that we have not committed enough time to exploring and understanding the board-staff relationship. The challenge of making sense of this complex relationship demands that we spend more time researching and examining best practices, adding to our wealth of knowledge and molding a strategic direction. We owe it to ourselves, our organization, our donors and our members, to become the most effective team possible. To date, we continue to find our “sweet” spot. We need to do more.

Lastly, I look forward to our coming years together. Like the members we serve, we have great potential for growth. So much has been done in such a short time. So much more needs to be done.

Let’s move forward having learned from our recent success, striving to realize our full potential.

Most Sincerely,
I’m sorry . . . so very sorry!

If you have some advice for the author of our anonymous letter, please share it in the comment box at the bottom of this post in a respectful manner.  If you want to submit an anonymous letter for consideration this month, please email it to me at the address in your signature block below.If you are a blogger looking to participate in this month’s Nonprofit Blog Carnival and want to learn more, then please click here.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Fundraising professionals say “Open sez me”?

popeyeWhen I was a kid, I loved to watch cartoons. One of the first cartoons I fell in love with was Popeye. It was because of this early childhood idol that I first ate my spinach. It is also why I’ve been struggling with something I recently read in Tom Ahern’s “Love Thy Donor” eNewsletter.

First things first, here is the passage I’m referencing in Tom’s recent publication:

Last year, my colleague Jen Shang, “the world’s first philanthropic psychologist,” as the New York Times dubbed her (and wife of chief fundraising researcher, Adrian Sargeant) was quoted. “Seven adjectives define what Americans see as a ‘moral’ person,” Jen told the reporter. Here are those seven words, in a sterling silver bracelet custom-crafted by The adjectives: kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest.

So, what does Popeye have to do with any of this for me?

Well, there is an episode where Popeye meets Ali Baba’s Forty Thieves and one of the lines of dialog is:

“Open sez me!”

These were magic words that opened something like a cave or possibly his can of spinach. The bottom line is that these were magic words.

When I read Tom’s eNewsletter, all I could hear was Popeye reciting those nine magic adjectives: kind, caring, compassionate, helpful, friendly, fair, hard-working, generous and honest.

popeye2Here were some of my initial thoughts:

  • Jen Shang told the New York Times reporter that there are “seven words,” but I could “nine words” on that bracelet. Where did the extra two words come from? Hmmmmm? I smell a mystery! Perhaps, this is where Scooby Doo and his meddling friends enter the picture?
  • Wow! How can I use these magic words in my donor communications? If I use them in a solicitation vehicle (e.g. mailing, email, social media campaign, annual campaign case brochure, etc), will they be as magical as when Popeye uttered the words “Open sez me“?
  • Is it the use of the those words or are these feelings and conditions I need to establish in my donor communications?
  • A little voice inside my head is starting to crowd out Popeye, and the name of that voice is Penelope Burk. I’m beginning to worry that this doesn’t feel very “donor centered”.
  • Maybe I should start getting concerned about all of these voices in my head!   😉

OK, OK, OK . . . I think I can reconcile my concerns about magic words and donor centered fundraising. However, that is another topic for another blog. I suspect a case can be made for the nine adjectives being the essence and soul of donor centered fundraising if you use them as guiding principles rather than magic words in a direct mail solicitation.

Let’s keep today’s blog post at 50,000 feet and end it with the following questions:

How do you instill any (or all) of the nine magic words as principles into your donor communications? In other words, what do you do and how do you say things to make a donor feel like they are being: Generous? Helpful? Honest? Compassionate? etc

Can you share some examples? If so, please do so in the comment box below.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Can you read your donor’s mind?

why1Ever since the first day I was introduced to the concept of fundraising, I’ve seen lots of people around me struggle with one basic question: “Why do people make charitable contributions to non-profit organizations?” Maybe it is just me, but I think our profession is obsessed with finding an answer to this question.

Here are just a few examples of situations where I’ve seen a version of this question debated:

  • Board volunteers who are reluctant fundraising solicitors trying to rationalize why they won’t make an ask,
  • Fundraising volunteers who are grappling with an organization’s internal case for support document, and
  • Fundraising professionals and non-profit executive directors who are trying to craft a strategy or develop a resource development plan that results in increased revenue.

This question reminds me of the plot in “Moby Dick“. The characters I just described above are Ishmael, and the answer to the question that I posed in the first paragraph is Moby Dick. Am I off base? Or is this one of those age-old questions that are elusive and difficult to really answer?

Last night I was back in my basement unpacking boxes and I came across more training materials from the Boy Scouts as well as Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Those two documents got me thinking about this topic.

why3The following are the “six reasons why donors give” according to my Boy Scout training material:

  1. They are asked.
  2. They believe in the ideas of the organization, and care.
  3. To achieve prestige and recognition.
  4. To seek power and influence.
  5. Because of peer pressure.
  6. For tax consideration.

When I looked at the Boys & Girls Club’s training handout, it was based on survey research found in Jerold Panas’ book “Mega Gifts“. In that book, he listed TWENTY ONE reasons donors give (e.g. major gifts individuals who give more than $1 million) to non-profit organizations and he listed them in the order these individuals ranked them. I won’t give you the entire ranked list (because you need to click the link above and buy his book), but here are the top six for comparative value to the Boy Scout’s list:

  1. Belief in mission of the institution. (1)
  2. Community responsibility and civic pride. (15)
  3. Regard for staff leadership. (17)
  4. Fiscal stability of the institution. (20)
  5. Respect for the institution locally. (4)
  6. Regard for volunteer leadership of institution. (9)

After each of the ranked reasons, I provided a number in parenthesis. The number in parenthesis is where fundraising professionals ranked the same reasons they believe donors give to their charities.

why2What conclusions can we draw from all of these lists? Here is what I think:

  • Generalizations are dangerous, and we need to stop stereotyping donors’ intentions.
  • I believe donors are like snowflakes. While there might be a few generalizations we can make, we need to invest time into getting to know our donors and understanding their individual motivations.
  • Reviewing all of the lists and rankings, we apparently don’t know as much as we think we know.

What strategies and tactics do you and your organization use to figure out donor intent on an individual level? Are there big reasons you believe donors give to your agency that aren’t on any of the aforementioned lists? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment box below because we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Donor retention in two easy steps

hole in bucketLast week I spent an hour on the phone with Jay Love, the founder and CEO of Bloomerang, which is the new online donor management and retention service. Jay is the same guy who brought eTapestry to the non-profit industry before selling it to Blackbaud a few years ago.  It was during the product demonstration with Jay that I had the following thoughts:

  • Donor retention is a huge issue that is killing too many fundraising programs.
  • There are tons of tools and best practices available for those wanting to tackle this problem.
  • The root problem contributing to the donor retention epidemic is likely lack of resources and time for most non-profit organizations.
  • The solution doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, simple solutions are probably the most sustainable.

Let’s take a few minutes to flesh out a few of these thoughts.

Donor turnover is an epidemic

donor retention1Allyson Kapin at frogloop blog did a nice job of capturing this issue and included an awesome infographic from Bloomerang in her post titled “Strategies to Increase Nonprofit Donor Retention Rates“.

  • Non-profit donor retention rates currently stand at 41%.
  • The turnover rate is getting worse not better.
  • Our for-profit cousins do a substantially better job with customer retention. Their retention rate is 94%.
  • Non-profits seem to do better with retaining larger donors than smaller donors.

The problem is likely rooted in the non-profit sector’s short-term view when it comes to revenue generation. So, we over-invest in cultivating new donors and under-invest in stewarding existing donors. When we do invest in stewardship activities, it is focused on larger donors and not the base of our giving pyramid — smaller donors.

Best practices and tools

donor centered fundraising book coverPenelope Burk tells us in her book Donor Centered Fundraising that donor retention is as simple as:

  1. Thanking donors promptly. Being enthusiastic. Being personal.
  2. Circle back around to donors and show them that you’re using their contribution in the manner that you told them you would when you originally solicited the contribution.
  3. Circle back around again and tell donors what impact / outcome their charitable had with your clients and throughout the community.

Of course, the devil is in the details. I believe it is HOW you go about accomplishing these three simple principles where people get tied in knots and lose their way.

Consider this list of donor retention tools and communication opportunities:

  • There are countless donor management services and products (e.g. Blommerang, eTapestry, Results Plus, Raisers Edge, etc).
  • There are countless social media tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Constant Contact, etc).
  • There are paper newsletters and eNewsletters.
  • Annual reports
  • Impact reports
  • Annual meetings and town hall meetings
  • Mailings and phone calls
  • Personal visits

In fact, Penelope Burk spends a number of pages in her book talking about what the donors who she surveyed like and dislike.

Back to basics

donor solicitorIf there is one thing I know about the vast majority of non-profit organization, it is that they are busy and overwhelmed. Looking at the donor retention statistics and the long list of remedies only adds more fuel to that fire.

So, it makes sense to simply.

If you’re a small non-profit organization and want to improve your donor retention rate, do the following two things:

  1. Set aside one afternoon every month to call donors who made a contribution in the last four weeks. Get through as many as you can. Make sure you are enthusiastic about their gift and generally tell them how you plan on putting their gift to work. Ask them how they would like you to communicate with them in the future (e.g. newsletter, eNews, snail mail letters, etc), and make sure you follow-through on your promise.
  2. Set aside enough time in your weekly schedule to sit down with one of your top individual donors every week. Share a cup of coffee or buy them lunch. It doesn’t matter. While you have a little bit of their time, casually share success stories. Tell them that those successes wouldn’t have been possible without their help and generosity. Do this once a week and you will meet with your Top 50 individual donors over the course of a calendar year.

I have worked in small non-profit organizations. Doing these two things is not unrealistic for an executive director or fundraising professional.

What is your agency doing to stem the rising tide of donor turnover? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Be intentionally personal with your non-profit donors

handwritten letterWelcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a post titled “Just a Note; Just a Phone Call!” John talks about the power of a simple handwritten note or well-timed phone call.

After reading John’s post, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how many emails and texts I now get and how few phone calls and handwritten notes there now seem to be. For example, I went on a road trip on Wednesday of this week, which meant being in a car for six hours and away from my email inbox.  I spent tons of time talking to clients on the phone, but when I arrived at my destination and looked at my email inbox . . . OMG!

Maybe it is just that I am getting older, but the world seems to be moving at an insane pace. I’m also not smart enough to know if our communications tools (e.g. text, email, etc) are fueling this speed or if it is just a necessity or symptom of this acceleration. However, I am smart enough to know that people who donate to non-profit organizations are special people who deserve a little more attention than a form letter generated from your donor database, a simple text or quick email.

In my experience, being intentional and personal gets you and your organization noticed.

I believe Penelope Burk, author of Donor Centered Fundraising and CEO of Cynus Applied Research, says it better than could:

“A handwritten letter is the ultimate in personal recognition because it proves that someone in your organization spent at least a few moments thinking specifically about that donor.”

As many of you know, Penelope does a ton of survey research and looks specifically at donor and organizational behaviors.  According to the research in her book, the following reasons were cited by agencies as to when they compose a handwritten letter to a donor:

  • the donor is well-known to the writer;
  • the gift is of exceptional value;
  • the donor is a leadership volunteer;
  • the donor has been giving for a long time; or
  • the donor is prominent in the community.

A very dear friend of mine, who is the former executive director of one of my favorite local charities, used to employ handwritten note techniques with me all the time.  Here is what I saw her doing:

  • I would receive a handwritten note on my donor database, computer generated gift acknowledgement letter;
  • On my birthday, I would receive a card with a handwritten note wishing me well and thanking me for my longtime support;
  • When a donor’s name shows up in the newspaper or someplace public, she would clip it or copy it, attach a nice handwritten note of congratulations and send it to them.

Phone calls are also super effective, but I believe you need to be very careful with who you put on the phone.

phone callFor example, one local charity likes to conduct “thank-a-thon” events during the Thanksgiving season. I cannot tell you how upset I get as one of their donor when I pick-up the phone and there is a client at the other end telling me how much they appreciate my donation.

What? Huh? You’re probably wondering “Where did THAT just come from?” or “What is wrong with THAT?”

For me, it goes back to Penelope Burk’s research and the number one reason why non-profit agencies get more personal in their acknowledgement and thanks:

“. . . the donor is well-known to the writer . . .”

  • Do I know the client making that thank-a-thon phone call?   No.
  • Did I get solicited by the client?   Nope.
  • Do I want to make the client feel uncomfortable?   Definitely not.
  • Does a client, who is “obviously reading from a script,” come across to me as “personal” and “heartfelt”?    Absolutely not!

Am I opposed to thanks-a-thons as a donor stewardship tactic?  No . . . but speaking personally as a donor I can honestly say that an informal, unscripted, personal phone call from the person who had originally asked me for money would’ve been something special and memorable.

What is your organization’s policy, procedure or practice around handwritten notes or phone calls to donors? What has been your personal experience as a donor? Any thoughts on what appears to be a trend around using more and more forms of impersonal communication (e.g. text and email) and what can be done to guard against its overuse? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts, opinions and experiences.

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

Your donors are impressionable. Are you impressing them?

indelible2Welcome to O.D. Fridays at DonorDreams blog. Every Friday for the foreseeable future we will be looking more closely at a recent post from John Greco’s blog called “johnponders ~ about life at work, mostly” and applying his organizational development messages to the non-profit community.

In a recent post, John shared an experience he had 20 year ago with a housekeeping employee who helped him out as he prepared to facilitate a big meeting. This customer service oriented employee left a lasting impression on John so much so that he can’t shake the memory.

Of all the things we forget as humans, why do some things stick with us for a lifetime?

For this fundraising professional, I look at John’s blog post and my mind starts spinning on the following questions:

  • How can I leave a last impression on donors?
  • What techniques, strategies and best practices should use to increase the odds that I am leaving that indelible mark on a donor?

As a newly minted executive director way back in 2001, I made the decision to change the format of my agency’s annual dinner special event fundraiser. As part of the event format, we had our Youth of the Year recipient speak for a few minutes about how the agency impacted her life.

Her name was LaShaunda. As I recall, she was a junior in high school at the time, and she was a reluctant public speaker. Prior to the event, we polished and practiced her speech.

As she stepped to the podium, I paced the back of the room. I was nervous for LaShaunda and I was rooting her on because this was her big moment. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this wasn’t just her moment . . . it was also one of those “lasting and impressionable” moments for the agency and a group of very important donors.

LaShaunda spoke eloquently about her parent’s divorce, running with the wrong crowd, street violence, teen pregnancy and racism. Most importantly, she talked frankly about how the agency helped her through a tough time in her life.

indelible1In that five-minute period of time as I paced the back of the banquet hall, there was a moment where I stopped listening and worrying about LaShaunda and I focused on what was happening in the room:

  • You could hear a pin drop. Everyone was locked-in on what this 16-year-old was saying.
  • I saw the former police chief, who helped found the agency, fighting back tears.
  • I saw a bank president and one of our biggest donors at the time, wiping tears from his cheek.
  • At the end of the dinner, the city manager made a bee-line across the room (she literally looked like a salmon fighting upstream as the room emptied) so that she could ask LaShaunda to take a picture with her.

I wish I could say that I was the evil genius who engineered that evening to unfold the way it did. I’d be over-stating things if I took that much credit.

I still periodically come across donors in my community who talk remember that special evening and talk about how moving LaShaunda’s five-minute speech was.

Truth be told . . . I learned a huge fundraising lesson that evening and it echoes what John is talking about in his OD blog:

  • Donors are people and they are impressionable.
  • Good fundraising professional should always be focused on how to leave that lasting impression.
  • This isn’t about manipulation. It is about showing people “how” we’re using their contribution, and “what” the return on investment actually is in human terms.
  • Facts and figures (e.g. program outcomes data and community impact statistics) are important, but people want to hear about those things as part of a story. Individuals give for emotional reasons. So, you need to connect with them on that emotional level if you want to leave a lasting impression.

What are you doing to make a lasting impression with your donors? The following are two interesting resources I found online that speak to the issue of “making an impression”:

Do you have a story to share with your fellow DonorDreams blog readers about a time you made a lasting impression (aka a transformative moment) with a donor? In sharing that story in the comment box below, would you also share what you think you did right to make it an impressionable moment?

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847