Another lesson learned from a donor about relationship building

On Tuesday of this week, I shared with you a story that a donor had shared with me while walking me down his driveway to my car, and it had to do with a skunk and an incredible moral to the story for all of you workaholic non-profit professionals out there. Today, I am excited to share another short donor story with you about relationship building.

caricature1Earlier this week, I found myself walking into a title company to interview a donor for a client. As I walked into the office building, I noticed the following things:

  • the employees looked busy
  • there was a sense of purpose in the air
  • there were lots of smiles and people seemed genuinely happy to be doing what they were doing
  • the office was ringed with framed pictures of people drawn in caricature

At first I found the caricature pictures to be out-of-place. I’ve never been in a professional office environment with cartoon pictures everywhere. (By the way, I do mean EVERYWHERE.) However, I quickly realized that these pictures created an atmosphere that permeated the workplace.
When the donor greeted me in his waiting room, I asked: “What’s up with all the caricature pictures? Is it a local hall of fame?
He explained that the pictures were of local real estate professionals who use the services of his title company to close their property deals. He said that he used to make bobble head dolls of his customers, but that practice got a little bit out of hand. So, they started doing caricature pictures instead.
caricature2I walked away from the conversation thinking this was a unique, fun and quirky business practice. I also came to understand that this business practice was a genius idea on so many different levels:

  • it was obviously a form of recognition
  • it was a practice that allowed the company to express gratitude to their clients for choosing their company
  • it created a fun office culture infecting employees with an attitude that couldn’t help but bring a smile to their faces
  • it served as a constant reminder to everyone that these are the people they work for and the reason they are in business

Throughout the entire interview, I had the theme song from the 1980s television sitcom Cheers — “Where Everyone Knows Your Name” — running through my head. LOL
As the donor walked me to the lobby and the front door, I expressed again my love of his framed caricatures. He graciously accepted the compliment and then summed up his business practice with these few words:

“It’s all about relationships.”

Business is all about relationships and so is your non-profit organization’s fundraising program.
As I walked through the parking lot back to my car, I couldn’t peel the smile off my face. I just love it when a donor touches your heart and teaches — or reminds you of — something.
Driving away to my next donor interview, I made a promise to myself. If I ever find myself back to the front line of a non-profit organization as an executive director or fundraising professional, I am going to incorporate this framed caricature idea in some way, shape or form. Here are just a few of the ideas I came up with for framed caricature picture:

  • distinguishing an employee of the month
  • spotlighting successful clients
  • recognizing board volunteers
  • appreciating donors who join a monthly giving program or donor recognition society
  • identifying great program volunteers

Has a donor ever inspired a new business practice at your agency? If so, what was it? Can you think of other creative ideas on how to incorporate caricature pictures into your workplace that we can add to the list above? Please scroll down and 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

Cash back for non-profit donors? Hmmm … Ah-ha!

laughing1Sometimes I see things at just the right time and in the right place, and it results in me seeing something differently. Usually, when this happens it results in an AH-HA moment. This is exactly what happened to me yesterday when I opened an email from my friends at Non-Profit Humour featuring their latest piece of satire (reminiscent of the Onion newspaper) titled “Charity offers cash to get people to donate“.

Here is the part of the post that caught my attention and almost had me fall to the ground in laughter:

The charity started the program quite by accident when a donor event turned ugly. A frustrated fundraiser couldn’t get key donors to make extra pledges.

“Sara just lost it at our wine and cheese party a month ago, and asked out loud what it would take to get our donors to give. She pulled out a $10.00 bill and waved it around just to make a point and sure enough all of our donors started signing pledge forms,” said Snidely. “That’s when we realized that all the stuff we were doing was all wrong.”

The visual of some fundraising professional reaching her breaking point and waiving around cash for pledge cards was hilarious to me. However, I know that I’ve been close to that breaking point and many of you probably have, too.

And by “breaking point” I, of course, mean being flummoxed and absolutely frustrated by what more it will take to engage donors in a manner that inspires loyalty. Just yesterday in my post titled “Uh-Oh: ‘The only time I ever see you is when you’re asking me for a donation’,” I rattled off a long list of things many non-profits employ as part of their donor communications program. If you missed yesterday’s post, here is that list:

  • 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 went on to talk about how important it is to add a Moves Management component to this laundry list that involves engaging your agency’s volunteer solicitors in reconnecting periodically with those who they solicited for your annual campaign.

laughing2So, the title of today’s blog post had the word “AH-HA” in it, which implies that my friends at Non-Profit Humour inspired a light bulb of some sort.

The thing that struck me while reading their satirical piece was that maybe non-profit organizations would do better with inspiring donor loyalty if they STOPPED looking at the aforementioned laundry list of tools/tactics as a “Donor Communications” program and STARTED looking at it comprehensively as a “Donor Loyalty” program.

The second part of my AH_HA moment was that there are soooooo many great examples of “loyalty programs” that work in the for-profit sector, this situation surely screams out for some young, entrepreneurial non-profit agency to engage in a benchmarking project.

I am literally at no loss of benchmarking ideas when it comes to loyalty programs. Consider this initial list:

  • Hilton’s HHonors program
  • Holiday Inn’s Priority Club
  • United Airline’s MileagePlus
  • National Rental Car’s Emerald Club (e.g. pick a car from any aisle)
  • Starbucks’ My Starbucks Rewards (e.g. their gold card)

laughing3Yes, yes, yes . . . I know what you’re thinking: “Our agency doesn’t have things like hotel rooms, flights and cups of coffee to give away like these for-profit corporations.” But are you sure about that? Because I’ve attended many charity auctions in my life.

You’re already spending money on donors all in the name of “loyalty,” right? After all, those newsletters and special donor receptions cost you money — both direct and indirect costs.

What if some creative marketing genius told you that you could bundle up many of the aforementioned engagement tactics/tools and create a multi-level donor recognition society? In such a brave new world, newsletters, special tours of your facility, receptions and phone calls from board members might be seen as “rewards“.

I’m sure some of you aren’t biting on this idea yet, but you should check-out what the Indiana University Foundation is doing with its donor recognition societies. For example, if you give a combined $2,500 to the foundation in one calendar year, then you can join the prestigious 1820 Society. And membership has its privileges! Just check out these “rewards“:

  • Invitations to campus and regional events
  • Insider communication from IU leaders
  • Other opportunities to stay connected with IU

Some of you are probably worrying about those donors who tell you to: “Save your money and stop sending me stuff and fussing over me! I don’t make a contribution to your agency for you to spend it on recognizing me!

Ah, yes! Those donors exist. And those donors are loud. However, many of those donors are the same ones who stop contributing because they don’t see their contribution being put to work or having the impact they envisioned.

Your mission — if you choose to accept it — is to engage your donors in a way that inspires loyalty and doesn’t irritate them.

I wonder if there is a for-profit company in your town that will give special discounts to members of your donor recognition society? Oh wait . . . I suspect your National Public Radio (NPR) station has blazed this trail. I’m particularly fond of WBEZ’s High Fidelity monthly giving program (aka loyalty program).

Does your non-profit organization provide donor recognition societies? What types of “courtesies” do you offer those donors? If you’re not buying into today’s big idea about “loyalty programs,” please share with us what you’re doing to inspire donor loyalty. Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Here’s to your health!

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