This Month — A Brandraising Twofer
Did your parents make you write thank-you notes for every gift you got when you were a kid? Mine certainly did. (I remember bitterly using the last of my favorite note cards to thank a relative for the pink "ballet is on point!" T-shirt I got as a birthday gift during the height of my punk-rock adolescence. It was, frankly, heartbreaking.)
I also was taught to send thank-you notes after informational or job interviews, for professional referrals, or for just about anything else. The point was to let people know I appreciated the effort they'd made on my behalf.
Fundraising is, first and foremost, about relationships — and many of the basic tenets of good manners apply. Unfortunately, we often forgo the niceties of relationship-building in order to get through all of the day-to-day work that piles up. But thank-you notes? I have yet to meet a nonprofit that can afford to neglect them.
In her new book, "The Nonprofit Marketing Guide" (Jossey-Bass, 2010), author Kivi Leroux Miller describes an experiment in which she sent $25 donations to 16 nonprofits. The results are shocking. Of the 12 national organizations she gave to, only four acknowledged that she gave a gift. The three regional organizations had the same percentage — one of three recognized the gift. It took two weeks to hear back from one organization, and another's only acknowledgment of the gift was to sign her up for its newsletter.
I've had similar experiences: Most recently, the death of an extended family member prompted me to make a donation in his memory to an organization he valued. I never got a thank-you note from the nonprofit — and I'll probably never give to it again as a result. How can it build a relationship with me without first acknowledging my gift?
The thank-you note is the first chance your organization gets to steward a new donor relationship. It implicitly acknowledges that the donor had a choice to give or not to give, and continues to have that choice in the future. It also tells her how much of her gift is tax-deductible by law.
Thank-you notes don't have to be dull, stodgy or stale. I'm a fan of fresh approaches to anything you send to donors — as long as they're appropriate for the audience. New tools like Paperless Post let you send thank-yous that look like fancy stationery via e-mail, for instance. Artwork created by people in your direct-service programs can make for great thank-you cards, too. In fact, a thank-you note can be a great place to get inspired, express your organization's personality and reinforce the big idea you want people to think of when they think of you (a marketing concept called "positioning"). Here are five ideas that might help ensure your organization's thank-yous don't fall under the bus:
1. Preprint note cards with a basic thank-you message inside, artwork that reflects what your organization does on the cover and matching envelopes.
2. Once a week, personalize note cards or thank-you letters with the recipient's name, gift amount, and a line or two that shows you understand and value her relationship to your organization. Have your executive director sign the cards in a batch just before or after staff meetings. Handwritten notes — or if that's not realistic, signatures — are best.
3. Set up your donor database to send you an e-mail reminder as soon as a new contact is entered. The reminder to send a thank-you note should include the individual's name, address and giving history, and you'll want to get it done within a day or two.
4. Aim to send a thank-you for each gift within one week of receipt. If the gift is large for your organization, ask the executive director or a board member to call the donor (unless he has specifically asked you not to) to say thanks personally and promptly.
5. When people donate online, make sure the automated thank-you your secure server sends (you do have a secure server, right?) works and is written in a way that reinforces donors' belief in the value of supporting your work. Follow up the automated thank-you with something more personalized by mail within two weeks.
Lastly, as you look ahead to the end of the year, consider how you'll thank any new or existing donors. Your mother will be so proud.
Fundraising and the End of the Year
Yep, it's that time of year again, and many of us are immersed up to our eyelashes in the year-end campaign season. We've written and designed our appeals; developed campaigns; strategized with vendors, designers and consultants; and sent appeals out into the world hoping they will be lovingly welcomed by deep-pocketed donors.
Sure, it'd be fun to put your feet up on the desk and wait for the checks and online donations to come pouring in. But there are a few things you might want to do first.
Advertise on your own website
Most people who give to a year-end appeal are likely to visit your website before they donate — either because they prefer to give online or because they want to check you out. Make it easy for them to give fast by creating an ad that uses the same creative (design/copy) as your appeal that they instantly recognize and can click on to jump to a secure donations landing page.
That ad might garner a few gifts from people who didn't receive your appeal in print or via e-mail, too. Do it right and you might just entice a few of those visitors who Googled you, connected to your site via your social media or clicked through a link to become donors. It shouldn't cost much to create and code, and it could become a great acquisition vehicle this season.
Get ready to say thanks — fast
Haven't thought about how you'll thank your year-end donors yet? Time to sharpen your pencil and get cracking. Joanne Fritz at About.com wrote a terrific piece, "How to Write a Donation Thank You Letter That Seals the Deal" (another version can be viewed here), which offers useful tips on how your letter should be personalized, signed and produced. Fritz says your thank-you letter should go out to the donor within 48 hours of receipt of the gift.
The way you respond to and thank donors, whether they're new or have been giving to you for years, can have a profound impact on their future giving habits. Don't risk losing a potentially great new donor by sending a thank-you that's too late, badly written or lackluster.
Customize your campaign's online donation page
Got a particular headline, color or photo on your appeal designed to engage and inspire readers? Try adapting it to your website's secure donation page for the campaign by creating a masthead that looks and feels like your direct-mail or e-mail asks.
Use an easy-to-recall URL (like communitycenter.org/changing lives) in your letter that takes visitors right to the page, rather than having them start on your homepage and figuring out where to donate.
Connecting them quickly to a secure page where they can give and reinforcing the messages in the campaign piece they've already responded to might even boost their gifts. (At a minimum, it'll help ensure you don't loose them by asking them to click around your site a lot.) FS