Transactional Nonprofit Work vs. Transformational Philanthropic Progress
|Your donors are special people who deserve to be savored.|
For good things once a year is not enough. Why do so many of us only eat turkey once a year? Or pumpkin pie? I’ve no idea! It’s not rational. These are special foods we value and take great delight in.
It’s also not rational to thank your donors only annually. They keep you going all year long. They deserve your gratitude all year long as well.
What better time to thank supporters than today, after a holiday filled with gratitude? Seriously, I’m not kidding. Today!
Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) is over. There’s a natural let-down for many. Wouldn’t it be lovely for your donors and volunteers to get a call from their favorite charity? A call that simply expresses gratitude?
“Joe, how was your holiday? I just called because in thinking over the week-end about all for which I’m grateful, I realized I’m grateful for you and all that you do to make our community a more caring place. I just wanted you to know how much your support is appreciated. Thanks(for)giving.”
My hunch is that there’s nothing better you could do with your time today. Because all the “strategies” in the world cannot substitute for a genuine, personal connection that comes from the heart. Connect! Express your thanks! Don’t let weeks and months go by. Don’t wait until you’ve got a perfectly crafted letter or email or insert piece.
Do it now, because life’s blessings are short – both for you and for your donor. The one thing I most regret in my life as a development professional is not spending more time connecting personally with my donors. Once I was engaged in a long (seriously, it was over an hour) phone conversation with a supporter who was a Holocaust survivor. She was telling me a harrowing story of escape from a concentration camp. Riveting for me; cathartic for her. Yet at a point where she was still in danger in the story, I thought I had to cut the call short to join a staff meeting. Did I really have to? At the very least, I should have called her back. I didn’t. She passed away; I never learned the end of the story.
Join your donor’s story. Research show us that when we enter into a story world our thinking is altered . Swap stories. Listen. Share. Become an important part of your donor’s life. It’s really the only sure way to have your donor become a part of the life of your organization. To help your donor feel connected requires you to connect as well. And aside from enriching your own life, there’s also a benefit to your charity.
The average nonprofit is losing 60% of its donors each year. This is astounding! It means we’re definitely not doing enough to build the relationships we need to retain existing supporters. So rather than simply planning how you’re going to ask folks for a donation, you need to spend more time figuring out how you’re going to stay connected with donors once they’ve made their gift.
Connected donors are giving donors. Two recent studies – one study from Charity Dynamics and NTEN – the Nonprofit Donor Engagement Benchmark Study – as well as the Donor Perspectives Study from Blackbaud – found that charities that meet donors’ needs have the greatest success. There’s a lot to be learned in these studies but, for now, the bottom line is that it’s very important to establish an emotional connection with supporters.
So take the opportunity to connect NOW, while we’re all still thinking about gratitude. Even if you’ve thanked your donor before, it’s not enough. You have to thank donors several times. A form letter or receipt isn’t sufficient. You must find ways to explain the difference the donor has made. And, in this regard, it’s better to be specific because this is a lot more personal and meaningful:
“Joe, I wanted you to know that the last gift you made helped us reach our goal to establish the ______ program. I got a letter from someone in that program last week, and wondered if you might like me to read it to you?” [or, if you get a voicemail, tell them you’re going to send a copy to them].
Donors need to hear from you about their impact. They need to hear this because it’s the very reason your donor is involved. And chances are your donor is also grateful to you for all your nonprofit is accomplishing. Your call may even prompt them to tell you a story or two while they have you on the phone. You never know what you may learn!