5 Ways to Report Back to Donors on Their Gifts' Impact
You know that if a donor gives a gift, your first job is to say thank you as quickly as possible. Amazingly, my colleagues in our industry, including Richard and myself, have written, conferenced and webinar'ed this subject to death — and it still hasn't sunk in.
But today, just for kicks, let's just say we've all got this down. A donor gives, and we're all over the thank-you. Good, you got it.
Now, almost as written about as "thanking the donor" is what you do next. That is, report back and tell the donor how her gift made a difference. I know for a fact our industry has been talking about this for more than 15 years. Just Google it, and you have enough content to never stop reading for a month.
Yet, when Richard and I talk about the donor life cycle with prospective clients, it's amazing how this still seems like a new concept for folks. Often, when I'm presenting this concept, I see a couple of folks across the table look at each other in that knowing way, thinking to themselves, "See, I've been saying this forever, and no one is listening."
Everyone agrees how important this is ... but rarely is it ever done right. Why? I think it's because of a couple of reasons.
- Human nature. We are a people that once we get the "sell" or the "win," i.e., gift, we tend to think about getting the next one from someone else. We like the new stuff.
- It's hard. Reporting back to donors takes a lot of work, money and time from multiple staff. So, because most nonprofits don't have a culture of philanthropy, they don't "spend" enough on the resources needed to adequately report back and tell donors how they helped change the world.
This is so shortsighted. If you read any surveys on why donors stop giving, not telling the donor how his gift made a difference is always the top reason. I don't know how else to get this point implanted in your brain and make this an absolute priority.
Richard and I have story after story about how donors stop giving to an organization because they never heard back from it after they were thanked. It was crickets. Nothing. Nada. This is after giving some very large gifts.
And we have the data to back it up. When we delve into a prospective client's major-gifts data, we continually see attrition rates in the 50 percent to 60 percent rate — many times, losing millions of dollars in total from individual donors who are essentially telling you they love you so much they will give you thousands of dollars.
Why is attrition so bad? What's No. 1 in those surveys? You have to make reporting back a priority for your organization, or you will always struggle with donor retention and you will never grow like your executive director is demanding.
OK, so here are some ideas on how you can effectively report back to donors how they are making a difference.
- Invest in it. As you have done with thanking donors, now you need to do in reporting back to donors. This means educating your staff, getting program folks on board and spending the resources to make it happen. It's a whole change in mind-set, both for development and program.
- Evaluate everything your organization does. Every program or project you have must be evaluated for effectiveness and impact. If that is part of your culture, you will have valuable resources and stories to report to donors who are funding them.
- Get out of the once-per-year mentality. I know a lot of nonprofits that do report back to donors but only once a year. The major-gifts officer grudgingly puts together that famous "yearly report," slaps a cover letter on it and is done with it. First, you can't assume your donors are going to read it. So, you may have "done your job," but it's not really reaching your donor. Consider sending monthly or quarterly updates that may be one page long. Send it different ways beside mail. Email it or text them a link to a PURL.
- Use social media — you have so many tools available to report back to donors. Facebook, Twitter, PURLs, etc. Reporting back doesn't have to mean a long, boring report. Use photos, stories, even video to tell donors they are making a difference.
- Surprise your donor. This is easy because most donors have been conditioned not to expect much from nonprofits. But you can get creative to have your program staff take video, audio and photos of their programs that show action, emotion and change and send them to your donor through social media or email, or heck, even a personal, handwritten note. This will blow your donor away and make a huge impression.
There you go ... a few ideas for you to help show your donors how they are making an impact on the world. I'm not going to lie. It's not easy. You have to put in thought, time and resources and get your staff on board to really be effective at this. But in my mind, you have no choice — not if you want to grow and not if you want to make your donors happy.
This is important stuff. You can do it.
If you like baseball, tennis, golf, Gregorian chant, jazz, rock, good wine and deep conversation, then you’ll like to hang out with Jeff.
If you are passionate about fundraising, Jeff will inspire you to be a true “broker of love” for your donors, helping you bring together a donor’s desire to change the world and the world’s greatest needs. Jeff believes that if nonprofits truly want to grow and obtain more net revenue for their mission, it will come through creating, building and successfully managing major-gift programs. The Connections blog will give you inspiration and practical advice to help you succeed. Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit fundraising experience and is senior partner of the Veritus Group.