You might think I’m writing about the one that got away. The donor we courted and counted on. And then disappeared. We’ve all been there, right?
Well, not today. Today I’m writing as a donor. And about communications that reduce me to a number on a list. That don’t see me as ME, but as one of many.
Fundraisers, your donors are not an ATM. They’re not names on a list. And they’re not all the same.
For example, I’ve been receiving some pretty fancy stuff from my college this year. Heavy paper, professional design. I’m sure most colleges and universities generate similar publications.
Here’s some of what all the money and effort was used for:
A gift acknowledgement that consisted of an expensive, but generic “Thank you” postcard and a tax receipt slip.
Nothing personal. No letter, no signature. No sign that I mattered – me, as an individual. (I’m an alumna, an alumnus’ parent and an occasional volunteer).
An alumni magazine.
One that I enjoy, especially the class notes. My whole family has ties to the school and loves it, so the news is interesting.
A “report of giving” mailed with the magazine this time.
The entire piece is about how much money they raised this year. It’s good news, and I’m sure they’re proud. But the perspective is institutional. It’s written from the school’s point of view, not the donor’s. I counted the word “you” used 9 times in the whole piece. Ouch.
A capital campaign introduction piece.
It’s lovely. And the plans look interesting. But once again, the perspective is institutional.
It’s as if emotion is unprofessional.
So many missed opportunities! It bothers me because I love my school. And every person who went there, every person who sent a child there, has the same potential for an emotional connection. Instead of ignoring it, the school ought to focus on it.
Even if you don’t work in higher education, there are good lessons here. First and most important: your donor, your donor, your donor.
Don’t leave your donors feeling their love isn’t returned.
Start with your language. I mentioned the “you” count above because, as Tom Ahern says, you is glue. Not only because the word holds your reader’s attention. But because when you use it generously, it forces you to change your focus. You have to talk about and to your donor!
Then follow through with emotionally meaningful stories and photos. The school is a wonderful place – academically rigorous, small and personal. That individual experience is an important selling point for them, in fact. The campus is beautiful and they wisely feature it. They also feature some testimonials from graduates – both very new and pretty old. (Pretty old meaning older than me.) But I would give these stories more space, and the charts of how much was raised less. Lead with the emotion.
And please, if nothing else, take the time to thank your donors – of any level – in a personal way. I don’t expect personal treatment from the convenience store. A receipt is fine. But I do when I choose to make a gift to a nonproft. Choosing them means not choosing another organization. As a donor, I make them a priority. There’s no excuse for not reciprocating. An acknowledgement that’s not personal is simply not acceptable.
More to read here:
An old but good piece from Tom Ahern on “you”.