I love my Agitators, I really do. I’m hoping they meant to provoke, and were really being tongue-in-cheek with their recent article. Forget About Donor-Centric is very provocative, and certainly there’s truth here. Nonprofits do seriously ramp up their fundraising activities at this time of year, and it may appear they’re thinking more about money than their donor. It’s solicitation time, not stewardship time. And “Donor Tom” (Tom Belford) tells us he understands. He reasons that at this time of year he’s going to be so bombarded by appeals that he’s not going to be thinking about building a relationship with you. He just wants to give to those he’s already given to and “escape with some spending money for Christmas presents.”
That’s exactly the perspective you don’t want your donor to have. And if that’s how they feel, I would offer that you’re doing something wrong. And that’s why I cannot condone forgetting donor-centric. Because if you get all ATMy at this time of year you’re going to lose these donors by this time next year. Or you won’t get them to give more. Or tell their friends how great you are. Or do any of the other things that donors do when they love you.
You want your donors to feel terrifically warm, fuzzy and inspired after they give to you. Yes, you’re going to ask — maybe multiple times — at this time of year. But to get the desired response – and feeling — you still have to ask the right way. And that means segmenting your mailings, personalizing your mailings, proofreading and all that good stuff that shows your donors you know them. You understand their passions, their worries, their need to support themselves and their families, and their desire to also help strangers and make a difference in the world. You want to help them be able to do all these things. With those from whom you’re asking for major gifts you must do this in spades.
Most important, you’ve got to be ready with a strong, donor-centric acknowledgment program. After folks give they must receive a prompt, personal thank you. And I don’t just mean a form receipt. Something that reassures the donor their gift has been safely received and wisely applied to the purpose for which it was given. Something that indicates you appreciate them for more than their wallets, and maybe there are other ways they’d like to become involved. Maybe even give them a warm phone call (Penelope Burk’s research revealed that donors who got thank you calls from board members within 24 hours of the gift’s receipt gave 39% more the next time they were asked than donors who did not get called). Or send them a welcome packet. Or give them the direct phone number of someone they can contact if they ever have any questions, concerns or needs you can meet.
The acknowledgment program is particularly important for the folks you acquire via direct mail or email appeals, because research shows you’re otherwise going to lose 70% of these first-timers! So all this “ATM” activity right now will be a lot of sound and fury, signifying relatively little in the long run. Donor Tom may not be THINKING about building a relationship, but the nonprofits who reach out to Donor Tom in a donor-centric manner will be the ones he begins to think about staying in touch with. It’s your job to get Donor Tom thinking he really, really wants to be your friend. You don’t just want him giving you a drop in the bucket this one time.
Fast and furious donor acquisition strategies at the end of the year may help you meet your budget goals this year. But if they aren’t donor-centric, and if they aren’t part and parcel of a comprehensive plan that includes ongoing stewardship of these supporters, they won’t help you that much in the long run. The last data I saw showed that for every $5.35 raised $5.54 was lost through attrition. It’s just a silly, transactional way to do business. You’ll be right back in the same place next year.
I implore you to move towards a more transformational business model that moves your organization forward.
What do you think?
If you want to develop a strategic donor acknowledgment program, check out How to Cultivate An Attitude of Gratitude and Keep Your Donors. 41 full pages jam-packed with the theory and practice of gratitude, one of the most effective yet least effectively utilized donor retention strategies. I give you my 100% guarantee you’ll find it helpful.
Photo, Flickr: Don J. Schulte