I have a confession to make. For years, one of the ideas I’ve shared with clients is that a postcard can be an effective stewardship strategy. The truth is that I’ve doubted the effectiveness of this strategy primarily because I had never seen it done well. Today, I’m able to say that I’ve seen the light and officially have become a believer thanks to my alma mater — University of Illinois (UIUC).
Let’s take a moment to review . . .
Back in December, I blogged about how the University of Illinois finally convinced me to make a contribution to the annual fund. I explained in that post how my first gift had been a long time in the making. Click here to read about the initial solicitation, the rejection, the expert use of donor management systems and the persistence involved in securing gift number one 20 years later. It really is a great story in fundraising persistence.
At the end of my December post, I said this:
“For the record, I am excited to now see how the university stewards its donors. Stay tuned!”
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the fundraising professionals at UIUC are good at stewardship. Here are just a few of the stewardship strategies they’ve used on me:
- an automated gift acknowledgement letter
- another letter from the Department Head with a little handwritten notation on the letter
- a letter from the President of University thanking me for my support and updating me on what’s been going on since I made my contribution
- a number of different email communications
- a postcard with some many different subtle (and not so subtle) messages
Have you done the math yet? I made my contribution in mid-December. It is mid-August and I’ve probably already received between five and seven stewardship pieces and countless marketing impressions with targeted messaging all designed to secure a second charitable contribution.
It was this last stewardship piece that convinced me that postcards can be an affordable and effective strategy for donor stewardship. I scanned the front and back of the postcard and inserted them below for your viewing pleasure.
This is the front of the postcard. Here are some of the things that jump out at me:
- The content of the picture conveys a happy graduate and implies that my support helped make her future very bright.
- The picture also features the most iconic and powerful image that every UIUC graduate loves — Alma Mater. Every graduate I know has some story and happy memory associated with this statue. Just seeing it again on the front of the postcard brought a smile to my face and fond memories flooding back.
- The two simple words — “Thank You” — are printed on the front of the card. In combination with the words “Illinois Annual Fund” in the lower right hand corner, I don’t even need to turn the postcard over to understand what they are trying to communicate to me.
A picture is worth a thousand words and this stewardship postcard exemplifies this in spades!
This is the back of the postcard. There are 165 words used in the letter. Here are some of the things that jump out at me:
- I am updated and told what my charitable contribution is doing (In reality, my gift was made to a department scholarship fun, but that doesn’t stop them from giving me credit for lots of other great things)
- I am thanked again in gracious tones
- They specifically recognize that I was a first time donor (so this postcard is obviously targeted)
- They specifically recognize that my first gift was secured as part of a solicitation to support the Department of Urban & Regional Planning
- They tell me how I can make a second gift online (this time to the annual fund). Obviously, this stewardship tool is also a cross-channel ePhilanthropy solicitation tool. It is also a crossover strategy to move me FROM a donor restricted gift to a departmental scholarship fund TO the annual fund.
- The words are few, but they are powerful and emotional. They are purposely used to repeated hit my heart. Here are just some of those emotional words and phrases: generosity, impact, invest, choosing, transformational, discovery, innovation, friends, makes a difference, shape the future, etc
We can learn a lot from this stewardship postcard. What do you see? What impressed you? What ideas are you walking away with and plan to incorporate into your next stewardship postcard? Please scroll down and share your thoughts in the comment box below. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC
I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with my graduate degree in Urban Planning in 1994. In the summer immediately following graduation, I received my first fundraising appeal from the university. So, this story started almost 20 years ago, and it ended last night in an Applebee’s restaurant in Roswell, NM. In my opinion, there are lots and lots of little lessons throughout this story that every fundraiser should internalize.
I graduated at the height of the Chief Illiniwek controversy. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is akin to what the Washington Redskins are currently going through. It is simply a question of whether or not a sports team mascot can be a racist and insensitive symbol.
I came down on the side of the argument that “racial stereotypes dehumanize people“.
So, when my first fundraising letter came in the mail, I responded with a letter asking the university to stop soliciting me until the board of trustees addressed the Chief Illiniwek issue.
Believe it or not, the letters stopped.
Almost 13 years later, The Chief danced his last dance at a football or basketball game.
I couldn’t believe it when the fundraising letters started arriving in my mailbox again. Wow … 13 years later. I kinda thought they would’ve forgotten about me.
Not only did the letters start coming, but it felt like I got something every few months.
And then the phone calls started coming.
And then the email started coming.
I almost caved at first. After all, I kind of felt obligated to give to a fundraising solicitation that was 13 years in the making. Yet, I held off on making my first contribution. Our charitable giving budget was big back then and we had lots of charities we liked to support.
I decided that my alma mater would have to earn it just like the other charities did.
On September 17th of this year, I blogged about the Urban & Regional Planning Department at the University of Illinois and their 100th anniversary. I used their event to talk about how your agency should use anniversaries to engage donors as well as do some fundraising.
In that post, I shared some of the activities and communication strategies being employed by the university. I openly wondered if I would attend the big weekend celebration or make a contribution.
Fast forwarding to last night . . .
I am on the road for business and find myself in Roswell, NM. Across the street from my Holiday Inn Express is an Applebee’s restaurant, which is where I found myself for dinner eating alone and reading a white paper on monthly giving campaign best practices. (LOL . . . isn’t my life glamorous?)
While I’m on the road, I forward my home phone to my cell phone because I hate weeding through tons of voicemail upon returning from the road.
In the middle of my wedge salad, my phone rings. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it anyway. Of course, it was a student from the university asking if I would like to make a contribution to contribute to a scholarship fund as a tribute to the Urban Planning Department’s 100th anniversary.
Six years of countless mail . . . a steady stream of email . . . and diligent phone calls from students . . . and it finally happened last night.
She asked me specifically for $300. I declined, but countered with my first $100 contribution to the University of Illinois. It is perhaps the hardest earned $100 contribution any non-profit organization has ever received.
Why last night? I have no idea. The spirit moved me? The ambiance of Applebee’s set the stage? The case for support language included support of a scholarship fund and had a tribute angle? Who knows!
I think this story is ripe with lessons for fundraising professions. Here are just a few
- Persistence is an important element for a successful fundraising program
- Donor databases (when used appropriately) are powerful tools
- Multi-channel communication is the wave of the future (e.g. mail, email, phone, etc)
- The case for support is important
- What your agency does on the front line impacts donor perceptions (e.g. Chief Illiniwek impacted my charitable giving; whereas, bad press or not offering certain programs may impact your donors’ appetite for giving)
For the record, I am excited to now see how the university stewards its donors. Stay tuned! 😉
Are there other lessons that you see from this story. Please use the comment box below to share. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health! (And congrats to the university for a job well done)
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC