The Unfair Exchange Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling.
That will be eight dollars,’ the woman, who is carefully weighing and wrapping two serves of freshly made fettuccine for us to take home, says.
As my husband is about to hand her the cash, she takes another handful of the pasta from behind the glass and adds it to our package.
She doesn’t announce that she’s giving us twenty per cent extra for free.
She doesn’t even invite us to notice the gesture at all.
It’s enough for her that she knows she has added value.
We think of value as a hard metric—the anticipated fair exchange of this for that.
But value can be a surprising, generous, unfair exchange.
Something that is given because we can, not because we must.
Wow, wow, WOW!
This is what all fundraising, fundamentally, is about.
Yet one side of the exchange is a hard metric: The donor’s cold, hard cash.
While the other side of the exchange is something decidedly less tangible: Freely given gratitude from you and your organization.
Or at least that’s how it should work.
The Difference between ‘We Must’ and ‘We Can’
What does your donor love and loyalty plan look like?
Do you even have such a plan?
If the only reason you acknowledge donations is because you feel you ‘must,’ it’s likely your donors aren’t walking away from the encounter feeling much more than matter-of-fact. The transactional receipts many organizations send out are registered by the donors as “Ho, hum. Guess I’ll go file this with my tax receipts.”
This kind of exchange is fair, sure.
But it’s not generous.
I always say, if you want donors to be generous with you, be generous with them.
When you simply do the minimum you must do, it’s unlikely to have the WOW factor that makes your donor:
- Warm, fuzzy and filled with the joy of giving.
- Open to engaging more with you.
- Want to give again.
For a donor to feel “Wow! That was so nice. I never expected that, and actually feel I’m getting more out of this than I’m giving,” you need to come at the process of acknowledgement and stewardship from the perspective of ‘can,’ not ‘must.’
‘Must’ Gratitude is Transactional
What would Miss Manners or your Mom have to say about the way you too often focus more on the gift than on the giver? She would not be happy. Not happy at all.
Does your thank you letter begin with: Thanks so much for your $100 gift?
That’s a transactional acknowledgement. It’s focused on cold hard cash. You’ve done your legal duty in sending a contemporaneous receipt, but that’s about it. This type of acknowledgement won’t remind the donor of the good feeling they had when they made the gift. And if you don’t make your donor feel something – if you don’t give them a little dopamine rush – they’re unlikely to want to give again. In fact, only 32% of first-time donors renew; only 46% of all donors renew.
Why not begin with what the gift accomplished?
- Because you cared, Jimmy will go to sleep with a full tummy tonight.
- Alicia is going to college, because you cared.
- Your help is reuniting immigrant children with their parents.
Do you see the difference?
Slip in the ‘thank you’ and the dollar amount later in the letter.
‘Can’ Gratitude is Transformational
Let’s make Miss Manners, your Mom and your donors happier campers by thinking about what else you can do to give them the WOW factor that will result in a win/win for both you and your supporters.
- Your donors win because you’ve shown them they matter more to you than they even knew.
- You win because your donors want to build a relationship with you.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Create a donor-centered welcome package for first-time donors (click the link for full description).
2. Enclose a piece of gum, a mint or some gold star stickers with the thank you letter, writing:
— Thanks for sticking with us.
— Your gift really ‘mint’ a lot to…
— Did you know you’re really our star?
3. Send a snapshot of your donor having a good time at an event, writing:
— Looks like you had a great time. We did too… because you were there! Thanks for always showing up and supporting those who rely on our communal support.
4. Create a donor gratitude calendar for major donors (click the link for full description).
‘Must’ Gratitude is Efficient
Even if you manage to get a donor thank you letter out promptly (within 48 hours), that alone will not be perceived as a meaningful, grateful gesture.
It may be efficient from your organizational perspective. You get to check it off your task list.
But what does your donor care about your task list?
Donors are on a quest for personal meaning.
If you want more than a one-time donation, it’s your job to give them this meaning.
What else do you have to give?
Donor-Centered Fundraising author/researcher Penelope Burk exhorts us to remember donors want three things from you after making a gift. They want acknowledgement that’s:
- Powerfully indicative of how the gift helped.
Being prompt is certainly better than the alternative. It says something about whether you can be trusted to be efficient in your approach to your work. But… lots of organizations are efficient.
What will help you stand out from the crowd?
Make no mistake, the philanthropic marketplace today is very crowded. There’s lots of competition for your donors. So you need to think, long and hard, about what else you can do to really WOW your donor.
How can you begin to build a relationship that’s personal and powerful?
‘Can’ Gratitude is Meaningful
I suggested a few ideas above. I’m sure you can brainstorm many more. Or simply grab my 72 Creative Way to Thank Your Donors and feel free to borrow any of the strategies you believe will speak to your supporters.
Don’t limit yourself to the transactional thank you letter –however meaningful and glowing you manage to make it. It’s a great start, but it’s only the beginning of what you hope will be a beautiful relationship.
Step into your donors’ shoes and think from their perspective.
Were you your donor, what might you appreciate?
- Perhaps it’s a personal thank you call or handwritten note from the person responsible for implementing the program for which you earmarked your gift.
- Perhaps it’s an invitation to a behind-the-scenes tour.
- Perhaps it’s an emailed or texted 10-second video of you, or those you serve, saying thank-you personally.
- Perhaps it’s a brief fiscal year-end gratitude report describing how the gift specifically made a difference.
- Perhaps it’s _____________ (you fill in the blank).
Donor-centered organizations, before doing anything else, put themselves inside their donors’ heads.
Which brings you back to facilitating the value-for-value exchange.
What might your donors value?
How to Use the WOW Factor to Woo Donors
You can, and should, make donors happy
At least if you want to see them again.
I think of this a lot like dating. Imagine you go on a first date and you hit it off. What do you do next if you want a second date?
You tell them you’re happy with them. You compliment them. You recognize them. You talk with them. You write them little notes. You invite them to get together. You take them out once in a while. You think of them fondly and let them know now and again. You don’t wait until the next time you want a gift to tell them how you feel.
It’s pretty simple, but for some reason most nonprofits don’t do it that well.
Giving is not always its own reward.
Sometimes you have to help it along (just as you must do with dating if you want the relationship to progress).
Think about all the different ways you can show thanks; then ask yourself what reward your donor may expect, and derive, from each expression of gratitude:
- Why do they need a thank you letter?
- Why do they need a phone call?
- Why do they need an e-newsletter?
- Why do they need an annual report?
- Why do they need a video?
At the most basic level, these are accountability tools. At a deeper level, these are emotional feel good tools.
Make sure your communications are both efficient (prompt) and effective (personal and powerful).
Effective donor stewardship makes donors feel really, really good.
Forget about using them to puff yourself up or make your E.D. or board feel good.
Commit to giving donors the meaning they seek; that’s your job!
Make donors happy — because if donors are happy they’ll give again!
Want More Strategies to Thank, Woo and Retain Donors?
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Image by Richard Duijnstee from Pixabay
This all seems so simple – but it’s so easily forgotten when we sit down to write a fundraising email in the midst of a busy day. Thank you for this article. It’s a great reminder!
Thanks. I always tell folks it’s important not to throw common sense out the door when we cross the office threshhold. 😉