What if you had a new strategy for building the types of committed, transformative relationships with donors necessary to build, nurture and sustain a meaningful major gift fundraising program? Most nonprofits know how important a major gifts strategy can be to their overall survival. After all, the 80-20 rule is than alive and well…Details
Twice at the end of last calendar year I was asked for a major gift.
Pretty much out of the blue.
Without much preparation, relationship-building or making of an inspiring case for support.
It was clear to me what the charity would get out of it: my money. It was not so clear what I would get out of it. Should I not care?
Perhaps if I were the ideal, perfect donor I would give with no expectation of receiving anything in return.
Perhaps if I were less ego-centric, I’d just do it because it was the “right thing to do.”
Perhaps if I were not on a quest for personal meaning, I’d give just because the person who asked is someone I know (though, not all that well); it would give them a feeling of success, and that would bring me some happiness.
Perhaps if I were not searching for a community of folks who share my values, I’d give without quite understanding the depth and breadth of values enacted by these charities or without having met more of the people involved.
Perhaps if I were not examining what it is that sparks joy in my life, I’d give whether or not this cause was currently at the top of my list or I’d been given opportunity for reflection and consideration.
But I’m not perfect.
I’m betting most of your donors aren’t either.
Donors have expectations… egos… personal meaning they’re seeking… communities they’d like to form… and cups of joy that need filling. Otherwise they wouldn’t be human.
And even if you could find a perfect donor prospect, in the instances where I was asked the case for why this was the right thing for me to do wasn’t even made all that well. The ask was about money, not impact.
There was simply an assumption that since I’d shown interest in the past, I would welcome this opportunity to demonstrate my interest even more passionately.
Okay. That’s not a bad starting place. But… you should never assume. You know what they say about the word “assume,” right?Details
Trust defines the credibility and legitimacy not only of your organization, but of the entire social benefit sector. Yet too few organizations make the effort to operationalize this construct into their fundraising and marketing planning.
Without donor trust and confidence in philanthropy there’s no future for social benefit organizations.
Donor retention guru Professor Adrian Sargeant has spent 20+ years researching the relationship between trust, philanthropy and continued donor commitment. And he has found, unequivocally, that trust is the essential foundation of the philanthropic relationship.
Ignore this at your peril.
Actively Build Donor Trust
The Donor’s Bill of Rights is a great starting point. But simply using it as a checklist is not enough. Too transactional. I encourage you to go above and beyond. Because the best predictor of future giving is when people feel good.
You can make giving to you a transformational experience. How? By actualizing what you learn here into a series of multi-step plans for:
Gift Acknowledgement that Satisfies Donors
Donor-Centered Communications that Instill Happiness
Useful Content Marketing that Offers Gifts
Consistent Branding that Instills Confidence
Relationship Fundraising that Creates Meaning and Builds Loyalty
If you take these five steps, implementing the 10 strategies incorporated below, I can guarantee you’ll steadily build trust and make donors happy. They may seem simple, and they are. But honestly ask yourself if you really do these things right now? Trust must be earned, and it can be fragile. So, I’m going to guess you could do better. Please read these action steps with an eye to what you might do to make your donor retention plan – what I prefer to call a “donor love and loyalty plan” – more vigorous. It’s up to you to establish trust and magnetically pull your donors toward you so they never let go.Details
Let’s begin with a question: What do you spend more time on? Asking or thanking?
You’ve probably just completed a quarter hyper-focused on asking. I’ll bet you devoted a lot of time to this endeavor.
Now… you should be devoting at least as much time to thanking the donors who responded to your appeals, with the goal of retaining and upgrading them over time.
This is especially true with first-time donors, who cost you much more to acquire than you receive (on average, you spend $1.25 to raise $1.00). The only reason to acquire these supporters is to sustain them over timeso their lifetime value to you merits your investment in them.
Alas, the lion’s share of nonprofits spend a lot more time asking than thanking and reporting back on impact.
Thank you’s are often left to the last minute. They may be delegated to a lower-level support person. They’re treated as a realtively unimportant affterthought. And they’re often carelessly written, coming across as little more than a transactional receipt or a pre-printed Hallmark card with nothing more than a signature (often, also, laser printed).
It’s a BIG mistake.
The number one reason donors don’t give again is they aren’t properly thanked!
You may think you have a proper thank you letter template. But, if your thank you looks like this, it’s not helping you bond with your supporters.
TYPICAL THANK YOU LETTER TEMPLATE
Dear [donor name],
Thank you for your generous donation of $[donation amount] to [nonprofit name].
Your donation is making a difference. Because of your $[amount] donation, we are able to [impact of donation].
[this paragraph usually gives a general description of what the organization does]
Thank you again for your contribution! [nonprofit name] relies on the gifts of donors like you to make a difference.
[name and title]
Wah, wah, wah (sad trombone).
Most thank you letters are simply boring.
This could come from almost any nonprofit. It’s generic, not specific.It looks like a form letter.
You can do a lot better, and it’s not hard.
To Retain Donors, Stand Out from the ‘Get Go’
Believe me, most donors aren’t sticking around. Your own retention rates may be better or worse than average (do you know them?), but generally only 19% of new donors give again. For ongoing donors, it’s just 43%.
The time to nip this in the bud is now.
Did you know a study from Charity Dynamics and NTEN found 21% of donors say they were never thanked at all? My hunch is some of these supporters did receive something from you, but it was so perfunctory they didn’t really take notice.
- Maybe you just sent a form receipt.
- Maybe you took them to a thank you landing page; then called it a day.
- Maybe you sent a brief, formal email that confirmed the gift, but didn’t make them feel particularly special.
- Maybe you sent a letter, but talked more about the ongoing need than the impact of their gift (i.e., it sounded like another fundraising appeal).
If you don’t have a killer thank you letter prepared to send to the folks you hope will be giving to you again between today and next year, now is the time to right this wrong.
If you thank well you’ll see retention rates increase significantly.
In fact, research from Penelope Burk, author of Donor-Centered Fundraising, found 70% of donors reported they would increase their giving if they received what they needed from you.
Brilliant, warm, authentic, personal communication stands out and leads to renewals. And this is a much less expensive strategy than new donor acquisition which, again, costs from $1 to $1.25 to raise a dollar. Whereas renewing a donor costs only 20 cents on the dollar — if you prioritize this as a strategy.
By now you may be thinking: Sounds good, but how do we stand out? There must be some specific strategies that incline donors towards giving again, but what are they?
Today I share my top secrets with you. They’re simple and foolproof.
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 surely not rational. These are special foods we value and take great delight in. Yet we get into a bad habit of thinking on auto pilot. If it’s not Thanksgiving, the idea of roasting a turkey or making cranberry sauce doesn’t even enter most or our heads. And egg nog, hot mulled cider, panettone and stollen are mostly Christmas things. And then there are the once-a-year only potato latkes. Why are we missing out on an opportunity for greater joy and satisfaction?
When things are good, they bear repeating.
And this is most certainly the case with expressing gratitude to your valued supporters!
What better time to thank supporters than right now, and all through the coming weeks, after a holiday season filled with gratitude?
“Joe, how was your holiday? I just called because, in thinking over the past few days about all for which I’m grateful, I realized I’m grateful for you and all you do to make our community a more caring place. I just wanted you to know how much your support is appreciated. Thanks so much, and may the new year bring many blessings.”
All the “strategies” in the world can’t substitute for a genuine, personal connection that comes from the heart.
Sometimes major donors give less than the previous year. Sometimes they stop giving to you entirely. What’s the worst sin committed by fundraisers when this happens? Not noticing. What’s the second worst sin? Assuming it has nothing to do with you. Sure, sometimes donors’ priorities change. Or some of their money goes to an emergency…Details
This Thursday folks in the United States will celebrate what I consider to be the social benefit sector holiday of the year.
So it’s time for my annual Thanks(for)Giving post!
Just think about what ‘Thanksgiving’ means.
Literally, it’s a day for giving thanks for the blessings given to us.
Who, and what, do you count among yours?
I’ve noted when we go around the table at my family Thanksgivings, saying what we’re grateful for, most folks respond with people-based answers. Yes, gratitude for the feast in front of us is mentioned, yet what folks are most grateful for are caring friends, loving family, embracing community, and simply for being together sharing the warmth of good company. This year, with parts of the world completely unbalanced by barbaric acts of war, extreme poverty, and a spreading global divide teetering on the edge between democracy and autocracy, giving thanks may seem like a stretch. Which is why leaning into your connections with people, and all the good things you share with them, are more important than ever.
But not all connections are around a Thanksgiving table with family and friends.
A lot of connections for nonprofit workers are with donors, volunteers, clients and co-workers.
Gratitude in the social benefit sector extends to all the people working to restore balance and repair our world. It’s difficult work, to be sure. Rather than fall prey to doom casting, tears and hand wringing, let’s take a moment to breathe deeply and welcome gratitude into our hearts. And let’s extend that gratitude to the people who care (including yourself). As Margaret Mead famously said:
Who are you grateful to at your organization?Details
This year Giving Tuesday is November 28th. So, soon.
If you’ve not done so already, now is a good time to think about whether or not you want to jump on the bandwagon and, if so, how. There is more than one way to slice this particular piece of pie. And, really, that’s what Giving Tuesday is – just one piece of your total annual fundraising strategy.
You don’t want to blow it out of proportion. But you probably don’t want to ignore it. Rather, plan ahead to put it into a context where it will complement your other year-end communications and fundraising strategies.
Let’s take a closer look.
What is Giving Tuesday?
I confess I’ve been a bit of an apologist for the “holiday.” I like to turn the tables by actually giving to donors, rather than asking them to give yet one more time during this busiest fundraising time of the year.
Plus, I often say if you want gifts, you must give them. What better time to do so than on giving Tuesday?
Of course, asking can also be a form of giving. So, I love appeals on this date that give people the option of giving money or supporting you in other ways (e.g., volunteering; in-kind donating; advocating, etc.).
It’s all philanthropy (aka “love of humanity”).
Key: Approach GT Strategy with a Giving SpiritDetails
You likely collect a lot of data in your donor database, but is it really valuable to you? It’s not if you just let it sit there, rarely lo at it, and never run reports based on data that will help you with meaningful donor segmentation for appeals. And by that, I mean meaningful from…Details
As explored in Part 1 of this 2-part series, small to mid-sized organizations are uniquely capable of creating a sense of community, even family. This is what people yearn for. And it gives you a secret advantage when it comes to nurturing the relationships essential to developing and sustaining a strong mid-level and major gifts…Details