What do you spend more time on? Asking or thanking?
I’d appreciate it if you’d take this quick 3-question survey and let me know. I’m taking the pulse of the community, and I will report back to you.
Go ahead. Take the quick quiz now. Then come back and read the rest of this article.
I’m guessing you picked “asking.” That’s what the lion’s share of nonprofits do (I think – but tell me your truth in the survey). If you did pick “asking,” it’s a BIG mistake.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to shame or blame you. Of course you have to ask. The number one reason people don’t give is they aren’t asked.
But… research shows most asks are being squandered.
Because most nonprofits have their priorities backwards.
If this is you, it may be time for a make-over.
First, ask yourself this important question:
Could you be squandering your asks?
The best way to answer this question is to look at your donor retention rates.
Look not only at your overall rate, but also your rates for first-time and ongoing donors.
On average, 77% of first-time donors never give again. And only 46% of all donors renew. Having less than half of your supporters stick with you puts you on a fundraising treadmill. Three steps forward; two steps back. It’s not a sustainable proposition.
This “churn and burn” has been going on for a long time, and nothing has changed. At least for the past decade the Fundraising Effectiveness Project has been monitoring results. Donor retention continues to be abysmal.
Why, oh why, is this happening?
- Could it be that no one is paying attention to the problem? (I say NO)
- Or is it that, when we do talk about the problem, we’re all “show” and no “go.” (I say YES)
It’s not as if nonprofit pundits don’t address the problem. We talk about it. All. The Time. You’ve probably read about it in blog articles. And heard about it at conferences. The information about poor donor retention is out there. As is information about potential fixes.
Still, little improves. Because talk is cheap. Or, as folks are wont to say, the proof is in the pudding. And most nonprofits are sitting in some pretty bland tapioca. They have no donor acknowledgement program to speak of. No plan. No written policies and procedures. No one who is assigned responsibility for donor service. Any recognition of their donor’s gift is “checklist.” A one-time transactional receipt is provided, rather than a transformational, ongoing donor experience.
How are you doing? Do you send a thank you guaranteed to stand out? To warm your donor’s heart? To make them feel like a hero? To show them the gift meant more to you than they even imagined it would?
Thanking donors is the one thing most nonprofits do not spend enough time thinking about.
It’s the Pareto 80/20 rule in reverse:
- 80% of the time is spent in acquisition mode — crafting the fundraising appeal, getting embroiled in design, layout, printing, postage, and project management.
- Only 20% of the time goes towards a focus on rewarding the donor and building the relationship that will cause that donor to give again.
Appeals are duly sent. Gifts arrive. But then what?!
After you’ve sent out your appeal is too late to start thinking about what your thank you letter or email will say. Or who will sign it. Or whether you’ll make a thank you call. Or who will make the call. Or whether someone who donates online will also receive an actual letter.
If you make thanking an afterthought… or relegate writing thank you copy to someone without demonstrated copywriting skills… or ignore the importance of creating donation thank you landing pages… or fail to prepare attentive, caring online acknowledgements… or neglect to make quick turn-around a priority… then you’re essentially bidding your hard-won donors farewell.
Thanking to stand out must be well thought-out in advance.
If you have no plan to woo your supporters, you simply won’t do it. They’ll feel ignored.
Out of sight means out of mind. When it comes to charities and their donors, absence most decidedly does not make the heart grow fonder. Neglected donors move on to other suitors who pay them greater attention and bestow more compliments.
Want to stand out from your competitors?
1. You must be ready to go, with different templates and strategies for different target audiences, well before you’ve asked for your first donation.
- Craft thank you copy thoughtfully, putting yourself in your donors’ shoes.
- What would they appreciate hearing from you?
- What do you think prompted them to give?
- What would make them feel rewarded?
- What can you say to make them feel like a hero?
2. Remember, not every segment of your donor base is the same. Don’t send everyone the same letter. Personalize as much as possible.
- Repeat donors get a different letter than first-time donors.
- Those who increase their gift deserve to have this recognized by you.
- Those who designate their gift for a specific program need to be reassured you’re using it as per their intent.
- Those who checked off a box (make this anonymous; notify someone this was made in their honor, etc.) need to know you’ll comply with their wishes.
You absolutely must show your donors you know them, and that you’re paying attention.
3. You must also have a plan for subsequent recognition and stewardship. Otherwise, the gift is apt to be a one-shot deal rather than the beginning of a lasting relationship.
- Let your donor know when you’ll next be in touch.
- Encourage them to get involved with you in ways other than making a financial donation.
- Thank them more than once, and be sure to report back to them on the outcome of their philanthropic investment.
- Get a bit creative, and throw in a few “moves” that surprise and delight them.
A thank you that stands out focuses more on the giver than the gift.
It’s the difference between beginning your thank you with:
- “You are awesome” or “You just made Mary’s day!” (Focus on the giver) OR
- “Thank you for your $100” (Focus on the gift).
Where is your focus?
Gift or Giver?
Transaction (money) or Transformation (donor’s feeling of being appreciated… doing good… saving the day… making a truly meaningful gift!).
Yes, you want your thank you to stand out!
Yet most thank you letters I see are just plain dull.
They blend into the woodwork. In fact, in one study 21% of donors report they were never thanked at all. My guess is that sometimes these folks did receive something, but they simply failed to notice it. Because it was a transactional receipt. Or it was boring. Or because it looked like another fundraising appeal.
— When you buy something at the store, and they give you a receipt, do you feel thanked?
— When you purchase something online, and then receive a pop-up with “here’s something else we think you may be interested in,” do you feel thanked?
You can keep sending what you consider “good enough” or “polite” transactional acknowledgments, or you can choose to stand out.
If you make a “stand out” plan, you’re likely to be perceived as “outstanding.”
It’s really that simple. You just have to make a commitment.
No more bland tapioca. Go whip up some outstanding pudding to serve to your donors. They deserve it!
As always, I look forward to seeing you in school!
REMINDER: Please complete the brief survey HERE. It will also give you the opportunity to let me know whatever is troubling you most, so that I can develop future resources to meet your needs. I”ll be back soon to report on the results. Thanks so much for your help and support!
Photo by Claire Axelrad as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums