Last week I had the privilege of soliciting someone for an annual campaign pledge over a cup of coffee. In addition to securing their pledge, this was a nice opportunity to catch up because we hadn’t seen each other in a few years. As I neared the bottom of my cup of coffee, this donor reminded me of something important concerning most non-profit organization’s annual campaign efforts and donor loyalty rates.
People give to people. This is a fundamental resource development principle. So, when a board member or fundraising volunteer moves along to greener pastures, it sometimes means there is no one sitting around the table next year with good enough relationship to feel confident to work their pledge card.
This donor reminded me of a time when I was in the executive director chair and one of the organization’s most prolific annual campaign volunteers stepped aside to focus on challenges dogging his business. I remember taking a phone call from a donor the next year asking what had happened to the volunteer and lamenting about only wanting to sit down with that specific individual.
Your annual campaign will likely experience donor turnover if your fundraising volunteers aren’t actively working at building a relationship beyond the annual solicitation meeting between the donor and your organization.
While there are many good reasons to maintain continuity in asking the same fundraising volunteers to steward the same donors they solicit, the following are a few simple ideas your organization may want to consider to help build stronger and more diverse relationships with annual campaign donors.
Segment your donor list
Identify donors who have been solicited by the same person for more than three years and change your strategy with these individuals. For example, rather than business as usual, ask the fundraising volunteer to bring someone else along with them to the solicitation meeting for introduction purposes.
More robust gift acknowledgement
Your organization’s staff are pulled in many different directions. They are undoubtedly busy! However, I am increasing concerned by how many executive directors and fundraising professionals who don’t seem to personally know the individuals appearing on their donor database reports.
Include in your organization’s individual performance management plans measurable goals focused on calling and meeting in-person with donors after they make their contribution. The focus of those meetings should be:
- appreciation and gratitude
- relationship building
- determining a donor’s philanthropic interests
I know that I sound like a broken record because I say it all of the time, but non-profit organizations need to figure out how to go beyond serial solicitation to more meaningful donor engagement. Additionally, it needs to be more than simply a phone call, written thank you cards and newsletters.
Here are a few meaningful stewardship activities that I’ve seen some organizations implement:
- Invite donors to the annual meeting and demonstrate the impact of their contribution via testimonials.
- Ask donors to consider volunteer opportunities.
- Send something unexpected like a box of chocolate covered strawberries at Valentine’s Day. When they call to inquire about why you did such a wonderful thing, take the opportunity to tell them why they are special and how their support is making a difference.
What is your organization doing differently to deepen its relationships with donors? Please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box below.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
I believe that sometimes the universe speaks to you, and over the last two days I’ve been beat over the head with reminders that your non-profit organization’s donor recognition must be meaningful. While there is a time and place for computer generated gift acknowledgement letters and donor gifts, you need to know your donor and appreciate them in a way that speaks to their inner philanthropic soul.
Yesterday, I met with a group of volunteers and worked on creating a written stewardship document. During that meeting, we discussed things like:
- When does a donor recognition gift (e.g. lapel pins, coffee mugs, tote bags, hard hats & shovels from a groundbreaking, etc), get to be too much and send the wrong message?
- How can appreciation of a contribution be personalized and meaningful?
- How can donor recognition societies go beyond superficial recognition and become more mission-focused?
This conversation was full of rich little tidbits. We used some of Roger Craver’s donor retention findings to frame our discussion and guide what we wanted to include in our plan. While I used a white paper from Roger that I purchased from 501videos.com as part of their Donor Retention Project package (and I’m not sure if that is still available for purchase), I suspect you could find similar good stuff in Roger’s book titled “Retention Fundraising“.
To sum up the results of yesterday’s discussion, the volunteers decided that donor recognition and gifts should be personal, mission-focused and meaningful.
Of course, this can mean different things to different people.
One of the volunteers said that she once made a gift to a faith-based children’s charity and received an envelope stuffed full of hand-made thank you cards from the kids. SHE LOVED IT! However, another volunteer spoke about a donor recognition society just joined that included a lapel pin, scarf and donor appreciation event. SHE SAW NO VALUE IN IT!
While there are donors who want to receive hand-made cards from kids, there are likely others who wouldn’t appreciate it as much. The same logic applies to donors who love (or hate) hanging out with their peers at an appreciation event. All of this is tricky because few (if any) non-profit organizations have the ability to customize every donor’s acknowledgement-recognition-stewardship program. Additionally, offering too much choice to donors can lead to frustration, which is never a good emotion to associate with your non-profit brand.
So, what is the answer?
Create a reasonable program that includes mission-focused recognition and appreciation. As you implement your program, engage in two-way communication with your donors and make adjustments (either individually or collectively) as you receive feedback.
So, up to this point I’ve shared with you my experiences and conclusions from yesterday. Today, I walk into a client’s office, and the resource development person was banging away on the computer. She was importing pictures from a recent special event into a graphics software package and creating pictures for individual sponsors that included the following:
- a montage of images from the event
- the sponsor’s name printed on the aggregated photo
- handwritten message signed by the organization’s executive director
I believe the picture is framed and given to the sponsor as a small token of the organization’s appreciation.
I was impressed with this effort because it was:
More importantly it didn’t feel over-the-top.
So, there you have it . . . these experiences in the last 24-28 hours convinced me that I needed to blog today about donor recognition.
I am very interested in how your organization walks the fine line that I’ve described today. Have you created a donor-centered donor acknowledgement-recognition-stewardship program? Do you think you’ve struck the balance I’ve outlined above? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC