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The Thank-You: Key to Effective Donor Stewardship

For most nonprofits, January is an important month. For the majority, the annual appeal for donor support was mailed in November, gifts began arriving in December, and for some, a respectable portion of donations come during January.
Each nonprofit organizes its “thank you” process at the same time the appeal hits the street. Some will get a note via card or letter, some will get an email, some will get a phone call, and in some cases, a board member will visit the donor to express thanks in person.
Some nonprofits conduct a board “thankathon” (see Kay Sprinkel Grace in High Impact Philanthropy) for special/major gifts.
The important thing is to let each 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. Log this information in your database. It’ll come in handy for your next appeal.
In this way, the “thank you” helps affirm the relationship.

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Introducing Donors to Legacy Giving

Wills and Trusts (Planned Gifts) can be significant sources of revenue for your nonprofit organizations. It all starts with the right approach to your donors. How do you broach the subject: “Please remember us in your will.”
One place to start is in your newsletter. I recommend that you have a short paragraph or two in an easy-to-find place that lets your supporters know they can approach a designated person on your team who, at their request, will advise them on how to go about identifying your nonprofit as a beneficiary in their will or trust.
Who is the right person associated with your nonprofit to provide this service?
If you have a qualified, full-service development director who has experience in this area you are all set.
But not all nonprofits are so blessed.
My suggestion is that your nominating committee recruit an estate planner to become a member of your board. And if not a board member, then perhaps a member of your development committee. This is a person who will talk with your donors on a pro bono basis, advising them on language they should ask their attorney to insert in their will or trust.
Further, you might have the name of three to five attorneys at local law firms who are qualified estate planners who will welcome referrals if a donor contacts your office seeing an attorney to help them write a will. I strongly advise that no one associated with your nonprofit prepare the document for your donor. This is (in my view) a conflict of interest.
I also recommend that you take a look at my post of January 23, 2012 “Simple Plan to Start a Planned Giving Program” for more tips on getting this revenue stream going for your organization.

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Welcoming Comments, Discussion with Nonprofit Donors

Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) is a frequent social media/marketing commentator teaching at NYU. I’ve followed him on Twitter for several years. I am particularly drawn to his observations on the changing state of communication in the USA and the world. Here is a recent blog post from Jay: http://publiceditor.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/25/trying-to-keep-a-celebrity-class-of-commenters-happy/?_r=0.
I find it interesting that the NY Times is looking for ways to boost comment opportunities for readers on their stories. In part, the paper/website attracts a sophisticated level of readership. The comments frequently are as interesting (sometimes more) than the writer of the original piece.
What does this topic have to do with us in the nonprofit realm?
Social media give us many new vehicles for discourse with our customers: Primary (those benefiting from the work we do) and Supporting (those who make our work possible through donations and volunteering). To the extent possible, we should encourage this communication. Stimulate it when we can. Because enhanced communication helps firm up the relationship. And this is a good thing.
Granted, we do have haters out there who are disappointed in us and what we’re delivering and what it costs us to make our goals come to fruition.
Sometimes the criticism is justified, and can help us reflect. And maybe even change the way we go about our business. Imagine that!
Communication improves our ability to imagine. And as we move along in our work, it serves to improve the quality of what we’re delivering. Chew on that a bit. Please.
All thanks to some words of wisdom from Jay Rosen. A guy I admire from afar.

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Strategic Thinking V: Following Up After the “Ask”

So as I was saying last year about this time, when I wrote my first four posts about “Strategic Thinking,” we need to act in a way that reflects the broader direction we want to go in our fundraising approach. And of course, the fundraising approach we take should dovetail with our nonprofit Mission. So it all works together in a seamless way.

Here we are in February. Most of us have conducted our Annual Appeal. We have our results, we’ve organized follow up activities to lapsed donors who gave in 2013 but we didn’t hear from in 2014.

Most all of our “major” donors (in our case, those who give $1,000 or more each year) have executed their pledge. A few have not, and we’ll be back to those we know might need prompting to write that check.

Now we’ll determine what kind of “thank you” event we’d like to host for our most loyal donors. Cocktails and hors d’hoeuvres? Desserts and coffee? A social gathering at a nice place…maybe an art gallery in our city will accommodate us for a modest fee so we can be surrounded by some beautiful objects. In the Merrimack Valley, maybe at the Western Ave Studios in Lowell. We want the right ambiance so our supporters get the clear message that we do appreciate them.

This is an act of donor stewardship.

It’s part of the Relationship Fundraising approach we want to embed in our nonprofit. The culture we want to establish. So the communication doesn’t end with receipt of the gift. Or our thank you note. We take it a step further.

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Your Board and the Annual Appeal

This post comes to you in early November. This is the time when nonprofit organizations are sending, or preparing to send, their annual appeal for support to donors (and donor prospects). Nonprofit leaders try to organize the appeal in a way that will generate more net revenue in the current year than last year. How might we involve the Board of Directors in helping make this hope reality?
All Board Members Give. The chair of the Board, or the chair of the Development Committee, organizes a campaign to seek board members’ gifts to the appeal. And hopefully, a larger gift than last year. There is a letter or an email involved. But there can also be a direct ask. Where members who have a history of giving make a point to ask members who haven’t given for their gift.
All Board Members Are Asked to Ask. At a meeting of the Board, members are asked to ask their friends and colleagues to consider a gift. At many nonprofits, the donor list is shared at the meeting and members are asked if they recognize names on the list. Will they write a personal note asking for the donor or prospect to consider a gift? Or a larger gift this year than last?
Special to Major Givers Active members of the Board, and perhaps members of the Development Committee, are asked to help make a personal visit to donors who make much larger than average gifts to make the gift this year. The personal approach usually results in larger gifts.
Compelling Message Of course, the appeal is centered on a compelling story or message that will inspire the donor to give more. Some staff think it’s compelling to provide a long recitation of statistics of all the various program activities. This is not as successful as a great story about a person who used a service and whose life was made better because of it. A good story is very helpful.
Apply these techniques and you should see a net gain in your annual appeal.

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