Product Plug, Not-So-Shameless

Avery Matte White Postcards have done wonders for my donor communication efforts.  Below is an example of a very simple “Thank You” postcard I send to donors during my weekly thank-a-thon when I don’t have a phone number or email address. I like that it feels a little more special than a formal letter, and I don’t have to risk that it will go into the recycling without the message being seen. I have also used these for house party invitations (inside an envelope) and program updates for giving society members. I always try to choose a photo for the front that someone might think is worth holding onto, hoping to make it onto a refrigerator or bulletin board. Since my office has been blessed with a high quality color printer, this has been a very cost effective way to increase donor touchpoints.

Thank You

There is no time like the present…

…to do the things that have been relegated to your Procrastination List.  Over the last month and a half, that has included things such as filing my taxes, cleaning the refrigerator, and blogging.  I DID run a half marathon though!   (Which is why I didn’t do anything else.)

In every organization that I have worked for or volunteered with, I have seen donor stewardship get cast onto the “next week” or “next month” pile.  It’s easy to do.  There are no deadlines, unlike grants, which seem to be due Every. Single. Week.  There is also no immediate return on the investment of your time.  It can be a struggle to make relationship building a priority for your staff and board.  If your team does not already have a stewardship plan in place, deciding when and how to start can be overwhelming.

My advice is to start now.

Find yourself reading this post on a Tuesday afternoon?  Then Tuesday afternoon will be the time that you make donor appreciation calls.  Pull up a list of all the gifts you have received in the past 7 days, call them, thank them, and listen to what they have to say.

But I don’t have a phone number!  I almost always get lucky with  But if you can’t track one down, or your donor is a young whippersnapper without a land line, an email is also a nice point of contact.  Thanks to the marvels of the interwebs, it is very easy to find out where someone works and to then find their work email if you don’t have a personal.

Deep in conversation with my new best friend.

Deep in conversation with my new best friend.

I don’t like to talk on the phone!  You might be in the wrong line of work.  That being said, most folks won’t answer.  Of those who do, I guarantee you that you will brighten their day, which will in turn brighten yours.  If you don’t want to wing it, use the following script:

Hi, I’m calling for Nikki…  My name is “me” and I’m calling from “my organization.”  We received your gift last week, and I am just calling to say thank you, so much, for your support.  [pause, let them speak]  It’s a really exciting time at “my organization.”  Last month, [accomplishment], and next month [upcoming event]  I just want you to know that your gift does make a difference, and I want to thank you for making these things possible.  [pause, let them speak]  Thank you, have a wonderful afternoon!

Just remember…

1.  Say “thank you” three times.

2.  Pause, and give them time to respond.  They will!

3.  Listen, listen, listen.  Don’t try to cram in too much information.  You have already made the sale.  Consider this a fact finding mission.

Quick Tip, LinkedIn Edition

I have always felt guilty about not doing more constituent engagement through LinkedIn. It seems so obvious – there are our donors, board members, volunteers, and all of their networks! At one point I took over a not-at-all-utilized Friends of ZUMIX LinkedIn group with very lofty aspirations. I invited a bunch of new people, and then did nothing else.

This morning I got the one tip I have been looking for – a way to engage in a meaningful way that doesn’t require continuous maintenance – at a HandsOn Tech Boston workshop on social media for nonprofits.

Mike Byrnes, presenter and ESC consultant, suggested using the recommendations feature to acknowledge the work of Board members, volunteers, and active donors. By doing so, you can publicly offer a sincere thank you, give that person a professional boost to their profile, and also get your organization some added LinkedIn visibility. Triple win!

Beware the Chatty Cathy’s

Mark Twain - the Greatest American of All Time - (allegedly) said, "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead."

Mark Twain – the Greatest American of All Time – (allegedly) said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

I think we all know someone who talks too much. If you don’t, then you are that person and this post is for you.  In some contexts, one might choose to find this endearing.  But for fundraisers, where so much of our work hinges in our ability to communicate and connect with people, it can be a real hindrance (and also super annoying).  And so, I am going to lay out a few reasons why conciseness is next to godliness.

1.  Nobody likes a salesman.

A donor meeting goes well when I do about 25% of the talking.  If you are lucky enough to meet with a donor, remember that the conversation is all about them.  At this point, you have already sold the product!  The question is, why did they buy it?  You can’t find out why someone gave and what their connection is if you do all the yakking.  For prospects, I still apply the 25/75 rule.  While they are not yet as familiar with the program as you might like, the important thing to remember is that the vast majority of donors only know a handful of facts about the organizations they support.  Donors will choose you, not because you managed to ramble out the contents of the annual report, but because there was a story or a photo or a simple fact that stuck with them.  And how will you know what that is, or could be, unless you sit back and listen?

2.  The longer the pitch, the weaker the message.

Many nonprofit staffers, especially those fired up with passion for their work, seem to assume that there can be no harm in mentioning one more statistic, or telling just one more story.  In Robin Hood Marketing, Chapter 1 includes a discussion of the dilution effect.  The basic premise is that the opinions of audience members are weakened by information that is neutral to the message – meaning, when people babble, we tend to view them as less credible.  I don’t want to pilfer too much content because the book is wonderful and you should read it, but the gist is this – if you have a good point to make, make it, and then STFU.

3.  Make the conversation a pleasant experience.

On a very basic level, at the end of a conversation, you want the other person to leave feeling good about it.  This is a bit of a personal preference, but what I can say is that I do not enjoy exchanges where I am being talked at, or where it feels like the other person has an agenda and cannot be steered from it.  Rather than sticking to a script to try to make a donor, be flexible and try to make a friend.




Urban Dictionary defines a “Yes Man” as “‘a person who agrees to every opportunity they come across, no matter how crazy it may seem and they do not weigh the consequences.”

I bet you know a fundraiser who fits this description. For development folks, it can be hard to pass up an opportunity, especially when we look at those financial statements every month. After all, our job is basically to raise as much money as possible. But perhaps the biggest lesson I have learned  over the past four years is that oftentimes you need to do less to raise more. Doing a handful of projects really well will usually result in more money and better relationships (not to mention a less stressed you) than a lot of thrown together endeavors.In my experience, it is wise to say NO to the following things:

Continue reading

How to Avoid a Host Committee Mutiny

It’s not that often that a muggle (a non-fundraiser) tells me about a really great fundraising encounter. It’s much more likely that I will hear about an organization that sends too much mail, a boring gala, annoying dinnertime solicitations, etc. The most recent gripe came from someone who was asked to serve on the host committee for a large fundraising event and ended up feeling a little resentful of the process. Given that I am currently working with a host committee of people I do not yet know very well, I was happy to have some insight into the volunteer’s experience.

Continue reading

How do I thank thee? Let me count the ways…

I recently had a conversation with someone who commented that a nonprofit he used to be very involved with only ever reaches out to him when they want him to buy tickets to a major fundraiser.  Actually, I’ve had variations on this conversation with many people.  And this is an area where I am fully committed to making significant improvements in my new position.  With the recent launch of a major giving society, I have mapped out an annual communications plan will be applied to each major donor.  The overarching premise is that, in addition to the standard phone call and official acknowledgment upon receipt of the gift, we will reach out to them a minimum of four times over the course of a year where we are not asking for any type of support – and that we must do this before another request is made.    And so, this will require us to come up with some creative ways to share updates and give thanks.

Continue reading

“An Evening to Benefit…”

Following a presentation on house parties at the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network conference in October, the most common request I received from attendees was to share examples of language that can be used in an invitation. The text of the invitation is incredibly important, as this is essentially Ask #1. You want your invitees to know, without a doubt, that they are being invited to a fundraiser. With this clarity, your host can feel confident making Ask #2 in person, because all of the attendees know and expect that it will be coming.

Continue reading