Showing Your Donors Some Love (Marketing for nonprofits)

In my recent post on New Year’s Resolutions, I talked about the importance of acknowledging donors NOW.

Here are 12 ideas and tips for your acknowledgement process. Some may seem obvious, others may spark a new idea for you.

Marketing for nonprofits

#1. Get the Personalization Right. Every letter should be addressed to the donor. Forget the “Dear Friend” approach here. But this is important: make sure the titles are correct.

I’ve seen situations where one of the donors has a “Dr.” prefix. Whatever degree they received, they worked hard for it, and could be sensitive to its exclusion on your letter. Trust me, they notice these things. Take a few extra minutes to make sure you’re including the proper prefix and suffix in your salutations.

#2. Pick Up a Pen. I hate, hate, hate scanned signatures on acknowledgements. Yeah, I know, you got a huge batch of gifts and it takes to long to sign them all.

I don’t care. You have to do it. If there are too many letters and your executive director balks, have him/her sign the letters to donors who gave at higher levels, say $250 and above. Someone else can sign the letter.

If I give a gift and the executive director (or surrogate) can’t take the time to sign the acknowledgement, then I don’t have the time to give again. Do not pass GO, do not collect $200.

#3. Postcards are for Vacations. Once I was walking through the development services area of a major university. I saw a bunch of thank-you postcards on a table. When I asked what they were, I was told that they were sent to acknowledgements under $100.

Really? REALLY? I don’t get it. Actually, I do.

Too many people in our profession focus on the higher-level gifts. That’s crap. Every gift, every donor is important.

I worked for a college president who understood this intuitively. One year-end, we received a $10 gift with a sticky note from the donor: “I’m unemployed right now, this is the most I can send.”

When I told the president about the gift, he asked for the donor’s phone number. Anticipating the request, I just happened to have it with me.

You don’t necessarily know who is behind that $10 gift. Send a personalized, hand-signed letter to EVERY donor.

#4. Enough with the Frigid Automated Emails. Today’s technologies allow for automated emails when a gift is made online. That’s terrific.

But how many of those automated emails have you received and that left you cold? I know, too many.

I’ve worked with enough of these online systems to know that you can program that email to say anything you want. Take a few minutes an warm up the language. The donor isn’t a robot, so the automated response shouldn’t be robotic.

#5. Automated Acknowledgements Don’t Replace Personal Acknowledgements. When I’m interviewing staff as part of a development assessment, I go in depth about their gift acknowledgement program. Too many times, I’ve heard that they don’t send letters to people who received the automated email.

Oh, just shoot me now!

Automated responses are fine. Actually, they’re good because it lets the donor know that their gift went through.

But they don’t replace a hand-signed, personalized email. (See #1, 2, 3 and 4 above.) Not ever.

#6. Use a Story. Hopefully, your solicitation materials and social media support were chock full of stories of how your clients benefitted from the work of your organization.

(Please tell me you did. Or at least humor me.)

Stories are one of the most powerful tools you have. Why not use them when acknowledging donors.

Find a great story to use in your thank-you letter.

Dear Mary and Steve,

Words cannot adequately express my appreciation for your gift of $100 to [insert name of organization]. So let me share this story.

Your gift has helped a child like Susie. You see, Susie came to us….

You get the idea.

#7. Try a Different Approach. Here’s another thought. Try writing the letter from the perspective — and over the signature of — one of your clients. Who says the Executive Director always has to sign the letters.

#8. Add a Personal Touch. In addition to personalizing and using wet signatures, the person signing should always add a personal touch. I love handwriting something like, “We really value your friendship, Ralph.”

If you use #6 above, the letter carries even more punch if the executive director adds such a personalized note.

#9. Remove “On Behalf of” From Your Vocabulary. If I see one more letter that includes, “On behalf of the Board of Directors, I want to thank you…” I’m going to be sick.

‘Nuff said.

#10. Remember, You’re Writing to a Friend. When you’re writing thank you notes, remember that you are writing to a friend, even if you may not know the person. Avoid stiff, formal language. Would you write to a friend, “We want to acknowledge your generous gift of a crystal bowl on the occasion of our marriage.”?

I doubt it.

#11. Consider Using Video. I love doing this. Most of us have a smartphone or tablet at our disposal. Whip it out and record a short video to say thank you to some of your best donors. You can do it, your executive director can do it, maybe even a client can do it.

It doesn’t have to be professional. It just has to be authentic.

#12. Rewrite. Take the time, at least once a year (as in right now) and re-write all of your acknowledgement letter templates. Hopefully, most of your donors give to you annually. You shouldn’t send them the same letter year after year.







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