Are You Creating a Checklist or a Powerful Relationship?
Not surprisingly, most development professionals have a long "To-Do" list. It can feel overwhelming to keep up with data-entry, make donor phone calls, draft mailings and reports and more.
Being able to cross things off our list can feel great.
The important question is: Do we get so caught up in the satisfaction of crossing off our list that we forget the basis of our work is building deeper relationships with our donors?
Gina, a long-time development professional, reminded me recently that crossing off the "To-Do" list doesn’t always honor a donor’s connection to our organization.
Gina asked me to review a letter she was planning to send to a handful of donors who had lapsed on their annual pledges. She explained these people had made their initial pledges one to three years ago.
My question to her was, “When was the last time you had any personal contact with them?”
After a pause, Gina’s honest reply was: “Not for the last year or two, other than the thank-you call they received for their gifts. But they all receive our monthly e-newsletter.”
We spent the next few minutes discussing that while the letter was written well, these people cared enough to make a pledge at one time—when they felt deeply connected and moved by the mission.
To send a letter asking for payment would likely feel transactional and impersonal.
A more powerful option would be to connect via phone. It’s likely they are experiencing a lack of connection to the organization or even facing financial challenges.
We discussed a phone approach that felt authentic. We came up with a few questions about how they are doing. And even conducted a short roleplay for one of the lapsed donors before we ended our conversation.
The next day I received these words from Gina in an email message:
“I just finished talking with two of our lapsed donors. They were such terrific conversations that I had to take time to thank you for sharing your time, inspiration and guidance!
Deep down, I know this work is all about relationships and energy. Sometimes it is hard to remember in the midst of all the paperwork, the nuts and bolts details to manage and the emergencies that come at me.
It has been more convenient and expedient to send that reminder letter and cross the task off a list.
I can write a good letter, but I realize now that it bypasses the opportunity to authentically connect with our donors and take our relationship to the next level.”
Do you have lapsed donors that deserve a phone call? Like Gina, it may be time to reach out to a few of them.
Here are four steps to make powerful check-in calls:
- Dig into your database.
- Learn why or at what event the donor made the original pledge.
- Note any relationships you’ve identified in your database. It might be that you are not the correct person to make the call. Is it a board member or former board member? Another staff person?
- Check to determine which e-newsletters your donor has actually opened.
- Most email providers indicate opens and link clicks. This is a goldmine of information if you check it before making a stewardship or lapsed donor call.
- If you see no opens for over a year, something is up (email going to spam, no longer using that email, lost interest…or something else).
- The question to ask is: Do we have your correct email address?
- If you see many e-newsletters opened, ask about something from the most recent e-news.
- Share a short (two minutes or less) mission-moment
- Reconnect the donor to your mission by sharing a quick update about someone whose life is better because of your work.
- Remind your donor you are updating them on how gifts and pledges like theirs are making a difference.
- Ask how you can support them in making their next pledge payment.
- The gift only comes in when you remind your donor to make it.
Now, pick up the phone and make someone’s day.
When you are authentic, learn more about them and share something new about your organization, the conversation will be rewarding for both of you.
Lori L. Jacobwith, founder of Ignited Fundraising™, is a master storyteller and fundraising culture change expert. With a passion for the positive, she has provided coaching and training for more than 4,500 organizations and 500,000 people. Her work has helped nonprofits raise $300 million from individual donors… and counting.