Saturday, December 10, 2011

Anyone can thank a donor. Just do it!

December is a fabulous month. This is the time year where we make a special effort to connect with people who are important to us. Many of us decorate our homes. We make special foods that are high in fat, sugar and ingredients we don’t normally use like dried fruits, nuts and cardamom. I love the smells, tastes and sounds of December.

If you work as a fundraiser in a charity December has an added dimension. This month can fly by in blur. All of your revenue channels are extremely active and suddenly your donors are ringing with special requests to be processed before year end. This is good. You should be busy at this time of year. Raising less money or being less busy simply isn’t an option when you are working to improve lives for people, animals and the environment.

In our office volumes have easily tripled. We have several direct mailings coming in, reports for corporate donors to prepare, a large campaign finishing up with a strong online component, major donor events, meetings and solicitations as well as pending deadlines for budgeting and planning for next year. Perhaps the most exciting piece is that for the first time in several years we have reintroduced a direct mail acquisition campaign. And the really good news is that people are responding. But last week I had a concern. Can you guess what it was?

Brilliant! You are of course right. I was worried about the new donors.

Acquisition is a big investment and it is very VERY exciting when the mail arrives. When I see new donors signing up I feel like Sally Field when she won the Oscar – “You like me; right now you really like me!” (Well, not me of course but you know what I mean)

I especially like the donations of $2.00 and $5.00 in cash that come in. So what is the concern?

You are so smart. That’s right – fast forward to the second gift. “Right now” they like us…what about three months from now? In order to build a strong base of support we must secure a second gift. And how do we do that? We need to earn it.

First time donors need to know that their donation to your organization was a good decision. They need to know we value them. They need to know their gift made a difference about something they care about. We must tell them these things and we must do it quickly.

It is so easy to write about best practices in isolation. It is far more difficult to implement them in a hectic and small fundraising shop. The perfect welcome pack and thank you letter looks easy in a blog post or in an exhibit on the beloved SOFII. But when you add implementing good stewardship practices to a complex mix of activities at such a busy time of year, even the simplest things can be onerous. Can seem impossible.

Implementing best stewardship practices in the trenches of a busy small fundraising shop in December is not easy. Still, I would argue that good stewardship is even more important in smaller organizations since we don’t have the large churn of donors that mega organizations have.

So what is the solution?

Ask for help.

In our organization we sent an email to all staff and invited them to help us thank donors. We now have a team of people who, in addition to their busy jobs, have agreed to be part of our Stellar Stewardship Team. Within a week of receiving their gift, often before we can process their donation, our new donors will know that we received their donation and are grateful. They will be told that we truly care about them and that they are now an important part of our community. Their tax receipt will follow and an impact statement won’t be far behind. We will get to processing the gifts as soon as we can, right now the most important thing is to say thank you.

As far as I’m concerned anyone in the organization can thank a donor. So, this is a shout out to the awesome stewardship team that I work with. Thank you for making time to go above and beyond your job description for our donors. Thank you for helping spread a culture of philanthropy throughout our organization. Thank you all for helping us to EARN that second gift.

I think there are times when we need to put the idea of “best practice” aside and just do what we can today to let our donors know they are truly appreciated and that their donation is important. I believe, this is how we will earn that second gift.

What is your big challenge this month and how will your organization innovate in order to rise above it?

Merry Christmas and thank you for spending time here,

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