7 Practical Ways to Surprise Your Donors
As Richard and I have repeatedly said in this blog, caring for, nurturing and developing relationships with your donors is what major-gift fundraising is all about. If you do that well, the money will follow.
We personally believe that providing your donors with amazing service will set you apart from all the other charities that are clamoring for your donors. Make no mistake; as much as you may not want to think about it, you are competing for the attention of your donors with dozens of other organizations.
So how can you stand out with your donors? Surprise them in ways that will make sure they never forget you and endear them to your organization in the process. I’m not talking about manipulating or tricking them. I’m talking about going the extra mile with your donors in ways that honor them for who they uniquely are and points them to the need.
And, that’s the thing. Most nonprofit organizations don’t go the extra mile for their donors. They don’t see the value in it because they don’t see their donors as part of their missions.
You can. Today, I’m going to give you seven practical tips on how to surprise and endear your donors to your mission, and keep your organization at the top of their minds. Here we go:
- Learn what your donors' hobbies are. Don’t laugh. If you really take time to understand who your donors are and figure out what they do to relax, it can be a huge advantage for you. Imagine this: You find out that one of your donors is a fly fisherman. You happen to know an exclusive outfitter that knows the best spots in Montana to fish. So, you call your donor to give him the contact information, and the donor is beside himself with joy. The donor goes to Montana, has the time of his or her life, and has you and your organization to thank. It’s indelibly locked in the donor's brain.
- Understand the industry your donor is in. People love to talk about what they do. If you are a good major gifts officer (MGO) and are curious, you will find out what your donor's work is all about. Say you are at a reception and instead of small talk, you are able to talk intelligently about real things your donor is involved in at his or her work. “Hey, I was reading about some of the challenges the oil industry is facing at this moment. I was wondering how it’s affecting your business?” The donor is not expecting that.
- Write personal handwritten notes. Yep, I know this is not some new idea. In fact, it’s as old as the invention of paper, but no one does it anymore. And, that is the point. I will guarantee you that when a donor goes to his or her mailbox and scans through the mail, he or she will open that handwritten note 100 percent of the time. Why? Because no one expects it anymore. You can stand out from all the other organizations. My guess is you’ll get a "thank you" for writing a thank-you note.
- Email the donor a video from someone who is benefiting from his or her gift. I’ve seen grown men of great wealth uncontrollably weep after seeing a video of a project they helped complete with their gifts because it was so powerful. All it took was a small child to hold up a sign with their names on it and the child saying, “thank you.” That’s it. Be creative with this. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Use your iPhone and make a video. It’s that simple, yet it’s so powerful. Your competition is not doing this. You can.
- Email a thank-you video from a celebrity, a personal friend or CEO of your organization. Here’s why: The donor will not expect this. Imagine if you sent your donor an email with a short, one-minute video from a well-known celebrity, thanking the donor personally for the gift he or she gave to the organization. Do you think that donor would ever forget it? No way. Or, what if you had one of the donor's best friends do a video telling him or her how much that friendship means and how great it is that he or she supports the organization. Hello? The donor will be flabbergasted.
- Give a personal tour of your program and projects. We just don’t do this kind of stuff enough. As Richard always writes, take the donor to the scene. Get him or her to see, hear and smell the pain, hurt and discomfort of the need. I’ve never seen a donor come back unaffected by such an experience. That donor most likely will be changed forever. Think of ways to surprise your donor when you take them “to the scene.” Perhaps in the middle of a homeless shelter visit, a choir breaks out in song, or when visiting a hospital, the chief surgeon makes a surprise visit to thank the donor. There is so much you can do.
- Hand deliver a personal message of thanks. If you think a personal handwritten note will make an impression, then think of the impact of personally delivering a thank you for a recent gift. Of course you have to be respectful of your donor's time, but to drop off the donor's thank-you letter personally will leave an impression. That’s the point.
OK, there you go. These seven tips are meant to get your creative juices started and to give you a kickstart in how you think about cultivating and stewarding your donors. It’s personal. Newsletters and organizational pieces that show impact are important, but it’s that personal attention that will set you apart. Now, go get creative and surprise your donors.
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.