Love Your Donors Every Day
According to Wikipedia, "Valentine’s Day is a celebration observed on Feb. 14 each year. It is celebrated in many countries around the world although it is not a universal public holiday. St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. ... The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished."
The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are given each year in the U.S. While Valentine's Day is very symbolic for us, I will never forget what I was told decades ago: to show affection every day of the year and not just one special, designated day. I always have carried that premise over to donors in my career. We need to love them all of the time. Unfortunately, many professionals have not developed a proper method or process to do this over time.
There are a variety of ways to engage donors. Here is an example of what I do as a starter. I obtain two lists. One list contains a list of donors by number of gifts. You will be amazed how many donors have made more than 100 gifts to your organization. I want to know the duration of time between the first gift to the last gift. In some cases, it may be 25 years or more. In addition, I want to know the area of priority for these gifts. Are the gifts unrestricted or designated for a particular area of focus? If you can narrow the donor’s engagement with you, it will be easier to determine how to build a relationship with them. Start with your top 50 givers by number of gifts, and move onward from that number. Determine how these gifts were made. That will help you understand the processes of their giving. Look for giving patterns. This is your first list to love.
The second list I call the cumulative, descending donor list in rank order by amount given. I want to know the total amount a donor gives and largest gifts made. I want to understand how many gifts have been made and what is the average gift size. I need to know whether these gifts are unrestricted or restricted in use and how they were made. In many cases, donors may have given through direct mail without making any personal solicitation. Start by studying the names of your top 50 donors, and move on from that number. Look for giving patterns, such as when they make their annual gifts and what triggers the gifts. In this analysis, begin to understand your attrition rate and contact these donors beginning at the highest level of gifts and working downward. This is love-list No. 2.
Once you have these lists of donors, see if there is a match between donors that make many gifts and donors that make significantly sized gifts. In some cases, quantity and quality will match. You quickly will determine whom you need to love—and love first! When you determine who your key donors are, create a communications plan for them. Your challenge is to build this donor list over time. Examples of communication plan items include:
- Special letters from the president and a preliminary letter of donor relationship introducing you
- Special handwritten cards from you to them on birthdays, Christmas, etc.
- Personal thank-you calls when gifts are made
- Special invitations to attend functions, or meet leadership or you
- Schedule contacts with donors to seek brief visits
- Send a small token of appreciation to them
- Invite them to volunteer and, at times, seek time, not treasure
- Create new ways to have board members and others reach out to donors
- Ask for donor advice, and have donors talk to other donors
- Seek best-of-class ways to love donors
Your goal is to have long-term institutional relationships with donors that you can hand off to future staff members when you leave your employment. When it comes to your donors, share Valentine’s Day love throughout your fiscal year. If you deeply care about your mission and your donors, they will know and appreciate it. Successful professionals love engaging with their institutional donors all of the time!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.