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

Does your non-profit really give thanks at Thanksgiving?

Let me start off on a positive note by saying Happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful to those of you who subscribe to this blog as well as those who participate in the discussions using the comment box. The last few years have been lean years for the non-profit sector, and I know many of you are thankful for donors, board members, staff, clients, and volunteers. We should all give thanks today as we sit down to enjoy a nice plate of turkey.

Over the last few days, I have been bombarded with stewardship emails, eBlasts, snail-mail, social media posts, text messages, and thank-a-thon calls from various charities and non-profit friends.

If you go back and look at my blog archive, you can see that I am a HUGE fan of these kind of activities. However, I can’t seem to get this one simple thought out of my head this year:

Are we just going through the motions?

Are we conveying heartfelt thanks this way?

I honestly don’t know the answer to these questions. As more and more non-profits engage in these types of stewardship activities, I wonder if they lose their impact and luster? I used to love getting a thank-a-thon call from a charity I support. Now those thank-a-thon messages line up one after another on my voicemail like planes at O’Hare airport.

If board members, staff and donors are part of our “extended non-profit family,” then maybe the test for our stewardship activities should be this simple question: “Is this how I would engage a member of my family?”

For example, would you send you Mom & Dad a Thanksgiving card and be done with it? Maybe some of you would, but I’m guessing many wouldn’t.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I used to cook a Thanksgiving dinner for the Boys Scout district for whom I served as their scouting professional. That seemed to feel right to me because it is what I planned on doing with my biological family.

I understand that non-profit organizations cannot host a number of different dinners to give thanks with all of their stakeholder groups. I guess that I am suggesting we need to all be vigilant and mindful that giving thanks should never become a rote activity.

My Thanksgiving recommendations for your consideration are:

  1. Keep doing what you’re doing
  2. Evaluate & critique your efforts afterward
  3. Engage a small group of donors in a post-Thanksgiving Day discussion about what should change with next year’s efforts
  4. Pick-up the phone and call each of your board members and personally say thank you to them one-on-one (no voicemail and no group speech in the board room)
  5. Start thinking about who you might invite to your non-profit family Thanksgiving dinner next year. Host it the week before Thanksgiving 2013. See how it goes and how it feels. You may just like it.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Remember that this day can be more than just being thankful. It can be about showing people you’re thankful.

Here’s to your health!

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

Echoing Penelope from the trenches. Do your volunteers “get it”?

As all of you know, I am a Penelope Burk fan from my head down to my toes. Her book Donor Centered Fundraising is a resource development manifesto for me. I’ve dedicated a number of blog posts to various donor-centered topics ranging from cultivation and stewardship strategies to newsletters and gift acknowledgement letters.  I just love blogging about these topics. So, it is especially thrilling for me when a volunteer picks up on these themes and joins the ranks of people spreading the donor centered fundraising message and Penelope’s work.

Last week, an old Boy Scout friend and volunteer who subscribes to this blog sent me an email. Jim is still a volunteer at Northwest Suburban Council in Mount Prospect, Illinois and he is very involved in the parent-teacher organization at his child’s school. Needless to say, he has been involved in countless fundraising activities throughout the years.

Jim’s email was simply him forwarding me an eBlast from Guidestar that was titled “More Money For More Good” and promoted one of Guidestar’s free guidebook resources that they call “More Money for More Good: Your Nonprofit Guidebook to Fundraising with Impact“.

I always love it when friends, family and blog subscribers send me stuff because I am always on the lookout for topic ideas. So, I read the Guidestar eBlast and it echoed all of the good teaching of Penelope Burk on the subject of donor centered fundraising (e.g. impact, donor communication, etc).  I even clicked on the cute, informational YouTube video about “How Nonprofits Can Improve Fundraising, Increase Effectiveness, and Better Engage with Donors“.


Guidestar is great. They are smart. Their stuff is always quality, and I hope you click-through and access some of their resources because it will surely help your agency with its year-end fundraising efforts.

However, it was the words from my friend, Jim, that resonated most with me because it was straight from a volunteer’s mouth and his point of view (which I think is much more powerful than what any professional organization can communicate).

Here is what Jim said in his first email that included that Guidestar eBlast:

“We know what we’re doing because we do it (almost) every day, but our donors don’t necessarily live and breathe our mission/passion. They’re more apt to help if we remind them what we’re doing & how they could help.”

I couldn’t have said it better, Jim!

In his second email responding to my request to use his name and story as part of this blog, he elaborated more on his original point:

“The reminder about having donors understand my organization’s impact is what jumped out at me. I have people who are so involved and they are my organization’s best cheerleaders, but they do not realize that the people they are soliciting do not really know what we do. Making people understand what we do and why we exist is the key to making them care.”

Again, I think Jim hits the nail on the head with this last statement and it should give every fundraising professional a tingling sensation when they hear one of their fundraising volunteers or board members vocalize such powerful points of view.

Perhaps, at this point, you’re wondering how close Jim might have nailed the concept? Well, here is something Penelope Burk said on page 87 of her book about her donor research and this topic:

“23% of study donors always or most of the time receive measurable results of their gifts at work; 29% receive this information sometimes; 55% never or rarely get this information. A number of other questions in the study confirmed that measurable results influence donors’ future support more than anything else.”

How much would you pay to be in the trenches with a fundraising volunteer who ‘gets it’ like Jim? The better question is “what are you doing to help your volunteers achieve these ‘ah-ha’ moments? Once one volunteer has this epiphany, how do you position that same volunteer to become an advocate and help their fellow volunteers have similar revelations?

I think there is an important lesson for all fundraising and non-profit professionals to be learned from Jim’s story. Please scroll down and share a few quick thoughts and answers to the questions above in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

A Philanthropy Day present for you

As I explained in Tuesday’s post titled “Happy Philanthropy Day 2012,” I was in Rochester, MN helping the Southern Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals celebrate National Philanthropy Day. There were awards for philanthropists and fundraisers. Training sessions were offered to both staff and board. It was uplifting, celebratory, engaging, and education.

People typically turn holidays into opportunities for gift giving, and I don’t believe Philanthropy Day should be any different. Obviously, the Southern Minnesota Chapter was very thoughtful in their gift giving when they decided to give the gifts of recognition and professional development to their members and the Rochester community’s philanthropic community.

When I thought about what I should give the readers of this blog for Philanthropy Day, it was an idea that came to me very quickly.

At the end of one of the training sessions I had facilitated, I asked that very talented group of fundraising professionals to engage in a brainstorming session around what a set of donor centered fundraising policies might look like for a typical non-profit organization. I did this because in my travels I just haven’t seen many agencies tackling this project. So, my gift to you this Philanthropy Day is that I will share the results from that exercise. (A special thanks to the Southern Minnesota Chapter for collaborating with me on this gift.)

Before I begin, I should mention that there was a robust discussion about whether or not this list should be “policies” or something else (e.g. practices, procedures, parts of a plan). Regardless, we did build consensus around the idea that this list should begin with a “P”.   😉

The following is a draft list of ideas and is intended to get you and your resource development committee discussing possibilities:

  • [gifts of X amount] get a phone call from a board volunteer within [Y number of days] of sending out the initial acknowledgement letter.
  • [gifts of X amount] get a phone call from a volunteer and client within [Y number of weeks or months] of sending out the initial acknowledgement letter. This call should include verbiage that conveys a sense of what the donor’s contribution has helped produce.
  • A written policy on when to “discontinue contact” with a donor.
  • A written policy that speaks to the idea of how to handle donor data (e.g. sale of lists, distribution of reports, etc)
  • [asks of X amount] must always be done face-to-face with someone who has a relationship with the donor participating in the solicitation.
  • A written policy pertaining the collection, capture, and use of donor centered data (supported with training)
  • A procedure written about the board mentoring policy specific to how board members model participation in a donor centered fundraising program
  • A written policy about pledge payment options designed in a donor centered way (e.g. how about asking the donor to what is most convenient for them rather than just depending on them to check boxes on a form)
  • A written policy dealing with donor confidentiality of information (and perhaps engage donors in helping write that policy or give input via a focus group)
  • A written procedure for sending a personalized gift acknowledgement letter within [X number of days] that includes the following information: 1) confirmation that the gift was received, 2) expressed appreciation and excitement for the gift, and 3) a reaffirmation of what the gift will be used for.
  • A written policy or procedure clearly stating that there must be [X number of cultivation/stewardship touches] in between solicitations. (Note: the group who offered this recommendation suggested seven might be the right number)
  • A written policy or procedure on issuing a press release for all gifts larger than [X size gift]
  • A written policy or procedure on sending letters from beneficiaries/clients to donors to demonstrate thanks and illustrate impact/ROI.
  • A written policy or procedure on when a board member signature should appear on a gift acknowledgement letter
  • A written policy or procedure on when handwritten notes should be used in addition to the donor database generated letter
  • A written policy or procedure addressing the issue of when and with whom to use “events” to cultivate/steward donors (Note: please note they were not referencing fundraising events but rather friend-raising events)

Again,  a special thank you to the Southern Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for helping me produce a thoughtful blog post that doubles as a great Philanthropy Day gift.

What do you plan on doing on Philanthropy Day? It could be as simple as calling a special donor (regardless of whether or not they are a donor to your agency) and thanking them for what they do. Or you could scroll down and use the comment box below to add one more suggestion to the list that was started above.

Here’s to your health!

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

What non-profits can learn from a homeless man in Indianapolis

A few weeks ago I attended Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Leadership Conference in Indianapolis as an exhibitor. I love conferences because they are great opportunities to learn and meet new people.

However, this time I walked away a little surprised at myself because the biggest takeaway for me didn’t come from any of the sessions or people I met, it was an ah-ha moment generated by a homeless person panhandling on the streets of downtown Indianapolis.

Meet Fred (or at least that was what I was told his name was).  Fred is homeless and needs money. His revenue generating strategy is to sit on the street and ask people to give him money.  From what I’ve seen, this is a fairly typical strategy employed by many homeless panhandlers.

However, Fred knows something that many non-profit organizations don’t understand and something that Seth Godin blogged about this morning:

The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Please take a close look at the two pictures of Fred that I’ve included in this morning’s blog post.

Fred’s revenue strategy goes beyond the typical homeless person’s approach that I’ve seen, which includes tugging at my heart with a story about being stranded, cold, down on their luck, or hungry.

Fred figures that you already know the typical homeless person’s case for support, and he communicates that without having to say a word. However, he is trying to do something that makes him stand out from every other homeless person in downtown Indianapolis.

As you can see from these two pictures, he is flashing a simple message about the Presidential election to people who pass him on the street. If he sizes you up as a Republican, he flashes his anti-Obama sign. If he thinks you’re a Democrat, then he reaches for his anti-Romney sign.

Here are a few things that I think non-profit organizations can learn from Fred:

  • A picture is worth a thousand words. Your case for support can be effectively supplemented using a visual or picture.
  • Know your audience. Your case for support doesn’t change, but how you talk about it and present it can vary based upon your audience. Segmenting and targeting your audiences is critical to your fundraising success.
  • Grab their attention. Prospects and donors are bombarded every day (in fact every minute of every day) with information from other non-profits and for-profits. You need to figure out how to cut through that noise if you want consideration. (Note: I wouldn’t advise that you use Fred’s tactic, but whatever you decide to do, it should be equally effective)
  • Personalize your message. Fred’s approach of sizing people up by guessing their political affiliation base upon your appearance sends a powerful message of:   “Oh, he is talking to me“.   I’ve always believed that “general appeals, get generally ignored”.
  • A smile and good humor go far. OMG . . . everyone is so serious and uptight nowadays. Using humor (e.g. jokes) can be dangerous when talking about serious issues; however, smiling, good humor (e.g. mood, temper, state of feeling, etc), and having fun when cultivating, soliciting or stewarding prospects and donors will likely set you apart from others.

Again, Seth Godin summed it up best in his post this morning better and quicker than I can: “The easiest way to get people to do what you want them to do… is to start with people who want what you want.

Not only did I want Fred to get some food in his belly and get off of the street, but I wanted to laugh along and join in the joke that: 1) my small contribution can sway his vote in November and 2) this down on his luck gentleman was mocking Obama and Romney for their pandering to voters and donors. LOL   (Maybe I’m over-thinking this, but I think I’m close)

How have you targeted your prospects and donors? How have you adjusted your messaging to different audiences without changing your case for support? What appropriate visuals have you used to convey and supplement your case for support? How do you prepare and support your volunteers to have fun, smile and break through the noise with their network of friends with your case?

Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts and experiences. Not only can we all learn from each other, but we can learn from some unexpected and surprising people.  Please take a minute or two out of your busy day and share with your fellow non-profit professionals and volunteers.

Here’s to your health!

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

More lapsed donor best practices

For the last few days, we’ve been talking about lapsed donors. On Tuesday, the discussion started with a personal example of a LYBUNT letter from HRC. Yesterday, we talked about one lapsed donor reactivation strategy that Gail Perry at Fired-Up Fundraising talks a lot about. Today, I am circling back around to the HRC lapsed donor letter that started this entire discussion.

A few days ago, I was critical of the tone in HRC’s lapsed donor letter as well as their ineffective list segmenting efforts. Putting those criticisms aside, it is clear that the folks who constructed HRC’s LYBUNT letter were successful at employing a number of other best practices, such as:

  • They tried to be very personal and mentioned me by name a number of different times throughout the letter and response card.
  • They pointed to a number of their recent accomplishments in an effort to say that another investment from me would be well used by them.
  • They spoke of a few deadlines to create a sense of urgency.

The best practice that I liked the most was that they included a survey in the envelope and asked for feedback. The survey started off with this language:

“Erik, if you have decided not to renew your HRC membership, please let us know why by completing this brief survey and returning it right way in the envelope provided. Your input will help HRC understand the reasons for your decision and help HRC strengthen our grassroots support . . .”

I really like this language because it clearly communicates one simple message:

“We’re listening and what you have to say is important to us!”

The survey was short and sweet and to the point. They asked the following four questions:

  • Which HRC accomplishment are you most proud of helping make possible over the past year?
  • Why have you decided not to renew your HRC membership for 2012? (please check all that apply)
  • Which of the following statements best describes your view of HRC’s advocacy efforts?
  • Please rank the following HRC advocacy priorities in order of importance (1 = most important)

Obviously, these were multiple choice questions, and the entire survey takes no more than 30 seconds to complete before sliding it into a “business reply mail” envelope.

What best practices have you used to reactivate lapsed donors? What have you seen other non-profit organizations do that struck you as particularly effective? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other because no one has time nowadays to re-invent the wheel.

Here’s to your health!

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

Reactivating lapsed donors doesn’t have to be complicated

Yesterday, my blog post titled “Take great care when trying to reactivate your LYBUNT donors” focused on a direct mail story of mine that I thought contained some valuable lessons for all of us. Today, I will attempt to pivot and start a discussion about simple things you can do to reactivate lapsed donors at the end of the year.

Last week, I spent the entire week in Indianapolis at Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Midwest Leadership Conference as an exhibitor and trainer. When I saw one of my favorite bloggers — Gail Perry at Fired-Up Fundraising — as a general session speaker, I got very excited because she is a bundle of energy when it comes to fundraising.

As she dazzled the audience with her fundraising stories, she turned her attention for just a moment to the idea of reactivating lapsed donors. She talked about the boring, ineffective and sometimes upsetting LYBUNT letters (like the one I talked about in yesterday’s post) that too many non-profit organizations use at the end of the year to re-engage lapsed donors. While direct mail is probably a necessary re-engagement tool, Gail suggested that throwing a party for some of those donors might be a better strategy. She shared a story about such a party that she had themed:

“We love you, we miss you, we want you back!”

These 10 simple words got my mental wheels turning. I envisioned a Thanksgiving or holiday themed event with a room full of lapsed donors who didn’t pay a penny to attend. I pictured mission-focused activities and possibly even activities (e.g. focus groups) designed to solicit input on how to improve your fundraising and donor communication programs.

Hmmm . . . how does this strategy compare to the HRC letter strategy that I talked about in yesterday’s post? For me, it feels like night and day. I like Gail’s suggestion of throwing a party for the following reasons:

  1. It feels personal
  2. It is what we do with our family and friends (and aren’t donors part of our extended family and friends circle)
  3. It is fun and energetic
  4. It fits with the spirit of the season
  5. It sends a donor-centered message rather than a “me-me-me” message

For some non-profit agencies that have a large direct mail program and hundreds (or thousands) of lapsed donors, this strategy might be a little more difficult to implement. However, this problem is easily overcome by segmenting your LYBUNT report into two lists: 1) those who get invited to a party and solicited at the event or using a follow-up solicitation letter AND 2) those who just get a well-crafted, personal LYBUNT letter that doesn’t use “guilt” as the message.

There is literally a bushel basket full of good ideas and best practices when it comes to reactivating your lapsed donors at the end of the year. Throwing a party is just one of those ideas.

Would you please take 60 seconds out of your busy day and share one idea from your agency’s year-end LYBUNT strategy playbook? You can easily and quickly do this by using the comment box found at the bottom of this blog page. Please? After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Take great care when trying to reactivate your LYBUNT donors

When I resigned from my last job in May 2011 to start my non-profit consulting practice, my partner and I sat down and reviewed our charitable giving portfolio. We made the decision to temporarily stop giving to certain organizations because our household income was about to drop. Needless to say, I showed up on a number of LYBUNT (aka Last Year But Unfortunately Not This Year) donor database reports and we’re still digging out from underneath the avalanche of direct mail.

Today, I want to share a few things from a donor’s perspective that might be helpful as you put together your year-end lapsed donor strategies.

One of the charities affected by my decision to change jobs was the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Throughout the years, my partner was a Federal Club member, and I was a member of their Partners monthly giving program.

This big, bad national non-profit advocacy organization has a very slick direct mail program and a hundred thousand or more individuals as donors. In fact, it is so big that in addition to calling me by my first name, it is common for this agency to reference me by my membership number (which truth be told always makes the hair on the back of my neck bristle).

Two months ago on a lazy Saturday afternoon, my partner was canning vegetables from our garden in our kitchen and I was opening mail that had built up in our mailbox. For what seemed to be the umpteenth time since we made the decision to temporarily withdraw our support from HRC, I opened another “Won’t you please come back” letter from this organization.

The letter spurred a kitchen discussion that resulted in a decision to re-join HRC’s monthly giving program, albeit at a smaller level (but with the intent of growing our commitment in the next year or two).

As you might expect, we received a gift acknowledgement letter a few weeks later that read as follows:

“On behalf of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board, staff and volunteers, I want to thank you for joining our Partners program with a monthly contribution of $10. The leadership that you have taken . . .”

Yada, Yada, Yada. It was a typical computer generated gift acknowledgement letter, and one that I’ve read countless times throughout my life. It was technically proficient and everything I expected from this world-class direct mail giant. It made me feel good about our decision to re-engage with an organization that we had been supporting for a decade.

Unfortunately, this good feeling didn’t last very long because a few weeks later, I received another letter from HRC and this time the letterhead said it was “From The Desk Of” Cathy Nelson, who is the organization’s Vice President of Membership. I opened the letter expecting more appreciation and thanks, but my heart sunk when I read the following first few sentences:

“The news couldn’t have come at a worse time for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights movement. I wanted to write to you personally as I have heard you have not yet renewed your Human Rights Campaign membership. We are counting on our active members in this critical year . . .”

To say that I felt punched in the gut might sound a little dramatic, but it isn’t far from the truth. In the first 10 seconds, here is want went through my head as a donor:

  • OMG, did I forget to mail our check? Where is that gift acknowledgement letter confirming our re-enrollment in the monthly giving program?
  • I felt guilty upon reading the words “the news couldn’t have come at a worse time . . .
  • I felt angry because they were making our charitable giving decision seem like it was all about them, when it reality it was all about our new economic reality.
  • I felt manipulated and confused.

Any amateur fundraising professional and volunteer probably knows that these emotions and thoughts are not what you want to invoke when trying to reactivate a lapsed donors. If your non-profit organization is committed to transforming its resource development program to a donor-centered fundraising paradigm, then you need to walk away from this blog post dedicated to not replicating this bad example provided by HRC.

Over the next few days, I will blog about LYBUNT donors and provide a few tips I hope you will find helpful as you design your year-end lapsed donor appeals. So, stay tuned for more!

Have you ever been rubbed the wrong way by a lapsed donor appeal? Or has a lapsed donor ever reacted to one of your appeals and provided you with some feedback? How did you respond? Did it change your approach? If so, how? Please scroll down to the comment box and share your stories or thoughts. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

How many undiscovered “diamonds” exist in your donor database?

Welcome 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 re-told a story about an African farmer, who sold his farm to go in search of diamond mines, only to find out that the farm he sold turned out to be one of the worlds largest diamond mines. John applied the story in OD terms to your co-workers and all of their talents (aka diamonds that are unmined in your organization).

When I read this story, my mind naturally wanders to fundraising and all things having to do with donors. I think of your organization’s donor database and imagine all of the undiscovered diamonds that exist in those data records.

I commonly get asked by agencies how they can better mine those diamonds out of their donor database. After all, we’ve all heard stories about those $100/year annual campaign donors who go on to give millions of dollars to capital campaigns and endowment campaigns.

Of course, the easy 30 second answer is investing in donor analytics services like Blackbaud’s Target Analytics or WealthEngine.

I am a data-kinda-person, and these services are amazing, but . . .

The more complicated (yet amazingly simple) answer is exactly what John encourages you to do his post about the African diamond farmer. Before investing in expensive data analytics services, you really need to commit yourself to “getting to know people”. It starts with you and that is the easy part. The harder part is changing your organizational culture to embrace this idea.

I am by no means an “OD expert,” but it seems to me that changing your agency’s fundraising culture will entail some of the following:

  • hiring the right people (e.g. people who like people)
  • looking at all of your systems, identifying obstacles, and eliminating those barriers to change
  • aligning your systems (e.g. performance management systems, compensation, recognition, etc) with your new vision of “getting to know donors”

If you want to read more about change leadership, click over to John’s blog and thumb through a number of his posts on change and culture.

All of the data in the world won’t help you identify your donor database diamonds if you aren’t willing to get out of your office, sit down with your donors, and get to know them and understand their passions.

Do you subscribe to a donor analytics service, but find it a little disappointed that the big gifts aren’t magically appearing? What do you love about your analytics services? What don’t you like? How have you inspired your organizational culture to celebrate “getting to know” donors?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below. After all, we can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

What is your non-profit agency’s year-end stewardship strategy?

Yesterday, I posted about the importance of developing your organization’s year-end fundraising strategy and doing so ASAP (by which I mean get it in writing by the end of this week). As I reflected on my post all day yesterday, I started thinking about all of the great holiday opportunities with regard to donor stewardship activities.

Over the years, I posted a number of articles immediately before, during or after a holiday talking about how organizations could have piggy backed on the holiday to implement some effective stewardship activities. After each of those posts, I remember thinking . . . “Hmmmm, perhaps I should’ve posted this a few weeks or months ago and readers might have had some time to put thought and planning into such an idea.”

With this in mind, let’s go back in time and revisit two blog posts from the fourth quarter of last year that spoke to the idea of using holidays as stewardship opportunities. Here they are:

Another thought that I’ve shared with a number of clients throughout the years is the idea of taking the “Twelve Days of Christmas” song and using it as a December theme for “The Twelve Days of Stewardship”. It can be as simple as doing 12 stewardship activities in December or as complicated as the song suggests (e.g. giving the donor two of this, three of that, etc etc etc).

If you’re rolling your eyes at this suggestion, I encourage you to stop and think about it for a moment. I bet that right now off the top of your head, you’ll be able to rattle off three or four stewardship things your agency does around the holidays, such as:

  • mailing holiday cards
  • hosting a holiday party for supporters and donors
  • thank-a-thon (e.g. stewardship thank you phone calls)
  • annual report
  • Running a “A few of my favorite things . . .” essay contest with your clients about your services and sharing the results with your donors.

With a little bit of thought and creativity, I bet you can weave things that you already do into a 12 day tapestry of stewardship opportunities.

The bigger point that I am trying to make today (and yesterday) is that these things don’t just happen. They require some thought and planning (and more than just a few days before).

The fourth quarter and holiday season offer unique and fun opportunities to steward donors, and it is something you need to start thinking about this week because the fourth quarter will be here starting Monday of next week. (Eeeeek! Talk about a scary Halloween gift)

What is your organization doing to steward donors for Halloween? Thanksgiving? Hanukkah? Kwanzaa? Do you have thoughts or ideas to help flesh out the aforementioned 12 Days of Stewardship concept?

Please scroll down and share your thoughts, plans and questions in the comment box below. We can all learn from and inspire each other.

Here’s to your health!

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

Non-profit inside-the-box thinking: Donors are the boss

As promised in last Friday’s post, I am dedicating yesterday, today and tomorrow to challenging proponents of “outside-the-box thinking” and examining various “inside-the-box thinking” principles. This week’s posts were determined by DonorDreams blog subscribers who took the time to voice their opinions via a poll last Friday. Thank you to those of you who voted. Additionally, the foundation of these posts are rooted in Kirk Cheyfitz’s book “Thinking Insider The Box: The 12 Timeless Rules for Managing a Successful Business.” 

DonorDreams blog subscribers voted to hear more about chapter five of Cheyfitz’s book, which is titled “The Box Top: Customers Are The Boss”.

I love how the author starts each chapter with a short sentence that serves as “food for thought”. The following is how chapter one was started:

Give customers what they want, not what you want to give them.”

Most of this chapter talks about how the “customer experience” has been the foundation of our economy for centuries and is easily traced back to the Middle Ages. Cheyfitz does a great job telling readers about customer-centric lessons we can all take to heart that were developed by the silk merchants in the 1300s, the town butchers in the 1700s, and the department store barons like Sears and Wards in the 1900s. It was eye-opening to see how the author took seemingly “modern” business practices (e.g. using CRM to segment customers into niches, using customer loyalty programs to reduce turnover, etc) and trace them back to pre-Magna Carta days.

As I attempt to make heads-or-tails out of this chapter for non-profits, it strikes me that non-profits have a more difficult challenge than their for-profit cousins when it comes to focusing on customers and thinking inside-the-box.

Why? Because when a non-profit reads the word “customer,” two different images are conjured up . . . “donor” and “client”. I believe that successful non-profit leaders are able to balance these interests and develop customer-focused approaches for both audiences. However, for the balance of this blog post, I am just going to focus on the donor side of this equation.

For those of you who routinely read DonorDreams blog, it won’t be surprising to learn that everything Cheyfitz talks about in chapter five aligns perfectly with what Penelope Burk espouses in her book “Donor Centered Fundraising“.  You can see this is clearly the case from the following language on page 74:

Simply put: Find out what customers really want, then give it to them. Make sure they have plenty of choices — in what they buy, where they buy, how they buy, and how they pay for it all. And address them personally, talk to them honestly, and treat them well every step of the way.

The bigger question for me is: “How many non-profit organizations are really doing this?”

  • We work hard to convince donors to give us unrestricted gifts rather than funding a specific program.
  • We write funding proposals aimed at telling donors what we need.
  • We solicit donors using tactics that fit our needs and match our resources rather than how the donor feels most comfortable being solicited.
  • We fire off a database generated thank you letter and skimp on the transparency when it comes to showing donors exactly what their contribution paid for and what good it helped do.

As I think back to some of the most successful donor relationships that I’ve personally built, it really goes back to personal interaction, building a relationship into a friendship, understanding what the donor really wanted to get out of the relationship, and treating them like I treat members of my family.

So, how can non-profit organizations get back to the customer service principles used by the small town butcher or general store owner? How do we build our box and think inside of it rather than trying to “think outside-the-box”?

At the end of this chapter, Cheyfitz offers six different tips on how to build this box. I won’t ruin the surprise (because you should buy this book and read it), but I will share two of his tips to whet your appetite:

  1. Never assume you know the reason a customer does anything. Always ask. Always listen. Always use the resulting information.
  2. When creating a customer relationship plan, ask . . .
    • Who needs to be talked to and courted?
    • What different groups do they fall into?
    • What outcomes are desired?
    • What messages will be delivered?
    • How will success be measured?

Not only will these tips help you craft an awesome stewardship plan for your donors, but they are the basis for almost any plan you will ever write for you organization (e.g. strategic plan, marketing plan, business plan, board development plan, etc).

It is easy to conclude after reading this chapter that if you’re not personally sitting down with at least one donor every day, then you’re not living “inside-the-box” and your organization is not donor-centered.

How do you meet your donors’ needs? How do you know what those needs are? How do you successfully align donors needs with your clients’ needs? What are you doing to keep this “inside-the-box” principle in front of you every single day? Please use the comment box below to share answers to these questions or any other thoughts that this post may have inspired.

Here’s to your health!

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