You have been back in the office now for 3+ weeks since Christmas. This is a good time to take a few moments to gather the troops and discuss “Are we doing a good job thanking our donors?”
Talking it over with staff as well as your development committee helps get ideas on the table. Attending a session on “donor acknowledgment” at the next nonprofit conference you attend is time well spent. Learn what others are doing. Apply thanking techniques that feel right, that fit right for you and staff and volunteers who get the relationship part of fundraising. This is called “donor stewardship.”
Here are a few things for pause and reflect:
Thank all your donors.
“Tier” your thank you: post card for small gifts, letter for gifts $25+. Set tiers that make sense for your nonprofit.
Acknowledge online gifts with email.
Use appropriate stationery to acknowledge memorial gifts.
Use special thank you for special gifts from special givers. Organize a board “thankathon” (see Kay Sprinkel Grace in High Impact Philanthropy) for special/major gifts.
The important thing is to let the donor know that s/he is appreciated. That it’s more than the money. Confirm the relationship by letting the person know you remember something about him/her; how the gift will help those you serve in some specific way. Help make a link happen. Cement the bond.
I remember when I worked with the American Lung Association in New Hampshire, board members agreed to thank major donors to the Christmas Seal campaign. They called donors. The first year we did it, some donors thought we were calling for more money. Board members were coached to let donors know, “no, we just want to let you know how much we appreciate your recent gift of ___ to help fight lung disease. We are interested, if you care to share, in what inspires you to give. It helps us to know.” Well. Our donors were pleasantly surprised to get the personal touch and usually had something to tell us.
In this way, the “thank you” helps affirm the relationship. You and your team are being good stewards of your most precious asset: Those who provide the wherewithal to make the mission happen.
So the Annual Appeal is over, we’ve opened our returns, deposited the gifts, sent our thank yous to donors.
For the accomplished fundraiser, are we satisfied?
I am not.
Now in the offices of my clients, staff are scanning the donor list for those who received the appeal but have not responded.
The task: Identify lapsed donors who did not respond to our December 2014 appeal who we normally hear from. Who have some history of being steadfast donors.
We send the follow-up.
The outgoing package is a bit different from the initial appeal. You may want the ask to focus a bit differently this time. You may want to re-state the appeal in somewhat different terms. You may want the letter to come from a client who depends on you and your donors to deliver.
Make that follow-up ask.
It should bump up your appeal by about 10% net.
Here we are, ready to launch into 2015.
The New Year is a good time to take stock. How is our Annual Appeal doing? Are we going to meet or exceed goal? How are we doing reaching our friends and our potential new friends with a message that properly declares the need of those we serve?
In recent years, our economy has not experienced inflationary growth. Some might say that growth is far too gradual. We need to raise more funds from more friends of our mission to feel “successful.”
Nonprofit organizations must utilize their precious networks — to strengthen their ability to deliver on their mission today and to grow tomorrow.The goodwill, future financial support, and contacts developed by networking will be the silver lining to emerge if we work our resources well.
Networking is the art of identifying, cultivating, and engaging friends of your organization. These friendships ultimately may yield monetary support, sources of non-financial support, and ambassadors who can cultivate more friends. Now is the time to identify these potential friends, hone your messaging, and plan how to best deliver those messages. By getting your staff, board of directors, and other volunteers ready to communicate your message, you’ll build your capacity to thrive.The best place to start is a meeting of the board of directors, who must stay mindful of their role as emissaries for the organization to which they have committed. They know the mission, they know the goals, they know the good that the organization brings to the community. How do they communicate this value? How do they spread the good news with people they work with, play with, pray with?
Start with a conversation. Take some time at a staff meeting and the next board meeting to talk about reaching out to friends to share your mission. There may be members who are doing this now. Identify them before the next meeting. Ask them to share their techniques with the group. Use their experiences to kick off the discussion. Listen for the ideas that have been most successful. Share a summary of the results with all who can benefit from these experiences.
Continue the conversation. Be sure to put the discussion on the agenda for subsequent meetings. Find out in advance who is trying the new techniques. Ask one or two of the new practitioners to report on what they’re doing.
Engage communications experts to share advice. Do you have a director of communications on your staff? If not, does one of your board members or volunteers have communication expertise? Strategize with this person about your approach to engaging networks. Incorporate messages that are consistent with your brand so your staff and volunteers are talking about your work in a unified and consistent way.
Twitter? Facebook? Blogs? Is someone on your team familiar with social media and willing to show others how to effectively use these tools? It’s likely that this person will be younger than most of the team. If so, this is an excellent opportunity to let an up-and-comer show their stuff. An effective plan for social media can engage people you otherwise might miss who will support your mission once they learn what the organization is about.
What’s your story? Nonprofit organizations have numerous stories about your clients’ great experience with your services. Incorporate telling of stories as part of “conversation time.” A program staff person or a volunteer probably has more than one such story to share. Let your group hear a story or two each time you meet, and encourage your board, staff, and volunteers to retell these stories when they are out engaging their networks.
Begin at the beginning. Gary Stern, a marketing expert based in Portland, Maine, encourages nonprofits to be sure that their mission and clients are in the forefront of their thinking, planning, and doing. “Begin at the beginning” is his first admonition in his pamphlet, “Ten Things Every Board Member Should Know.” In your networking, you want your conversation and stories to be about the people you serve. That way, potential supporters and volunteers will be more eager to join your cause when they realize that it’s more about the people you serve than it is about your organization.
There is a reservoir of good will out there, ready to hear about the good you do. And every day, your volunteers and staff talk with many people who will want to help bring the “good” you deliver to more people. Your organization’s job is to forge links through staff, board, and volunteer networks so you can grow the circle of friends and supporters. When you take the time to apply creative approaches to communication through networks, you engage and energize people for your mission. It takes commitment and work, but it will put your organization in the strongest possible position as the economy continues to strengthen.
You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.” Well, there’s a lot of truth to that. Which is why, in part, Paul Harris started Rotary International in Chicago way back when. To develop a place for fellowship and sharing among business leaders in a community. So there could be a place to do good work for the community together. Yes, that certainly was part of it. But on another level, lunch at Rotary is a time and place for leaders of businesses, law firms, accounting firms and nonprofit organizations to gather and do a bit of problem solving. Because really: Whom can you comfortably share a problem with? When you have an issue that needs resolution and you’d like to talk it out, it’s helpful to bring it to a group of peers who can serve as a bit of a sounding board to hear the issue and give you some feedback. Of course, it needs to be done in confidence, in a trusting way, understanding that no one will go blabbing about the issue to others. So for the nonprofit executive dealing with a thorny personnel matter that doesn’t have legal implications, but is a challenge and the CEO would like some common sense (not necessarily official HR or legalese) help in sorting an issue out, talking with peers can be very helpful. So a sounding board like Rotary, or a Chamber of Commerce committee, or another community gathering place where peers gather and can freely, comfortably talk can be very helpful in sorting out an issue. In this way, the sense of isolation an executive feels can be neutralized a bit. It can feel just a bit less lonely or isolating. This is why many savvy nonprofit board executive committee members encourage their CEO’s to join Rotary and to freely network with other nonprofit CEO’s in the community. All of this helps keep the organization on an even keel. Life isn’t perfect, but trying to keep the seas smooth is helpful to all concerned.
My Nonprofit Marketing/Promotion class at Northeastern University College of Professional studies takes on client nonprofits and designs practical promotional material for them.
This fall my class of 23 online students created a Social Media strategy and a video for a shelter for pregnant teenage girls in the Merrimack Valley area of Massachusetts.
One group of students took the nonprofit’s Facebook approach and designed steps to grow Likes, expand relationships.
Another group visited the site and with cooperation and participation of some former clients, created a video showing briefly (150 seconds) what the young women accomplished with the program, and how the director works with clients.
The third group designed an over-arching Marketing Assessment incorporating work of the other two plus ideas on brand identity, messages for target audiences, and ideas for successful fundraising.
and these 23 students accomplished this in six weeks!
Nonprofit leaders interested in participating in a future class as a client can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.