I hope last month was a good month for you and your organization.
It is for most. According to Neon, 31% of annual giving happens in December. 12% in the last three days of the year.
So, with hope, I say “Congratulations!” And then: now what will you do next?
How will you keep those donors connected to your cause – and your organization?
If your plan amounts to “spend the money and wait until November to ask again” you’re probably not doing this right.
Do your donors remember they gave – and why?
You’ve worked hard to bring in gifts – renewed gifts, new gifts. Large gifts, small gifts. But none of your hard work will matter if you don’t work just as hard to maintain and build on your donors’ connection.
Retention is critical.
Gains of $6.008 billion in gifts generated from new, upgraded current and previously lapsed donors were offset by losses of $5.762 billion through reduced gifts and lapsed donors. This means that, while there was a positive $247 million net gain-in-giving, every $100 gained in 2017 was offset by $96 in losses through gift attrition.
The report also shared that in 2017, the average retention rate was 45.5%. In other words, we’re running in place. We’re getting nowhere for all the hard work.
So what can you do now? Act. Act now, before it’s too late. Here are two important steps you can take.
Thank donors in a way they’ll remember
Emotional. Connecting them directly to the change they want to make. No organizational pats on the back. Make the thank you all about your donor.
This really isn’t as hard as it might seem. You don’t have to be perfect. You do have to be sincere. Imagine you’re having a conversation with a donor who just handed you a big check. What would you say?
Your thank you isn’t only about a tax receipt. That’s necessary, but the least important part. The most important part is a simple message: You mattered. You helped someone. You are a good person, and we’re so grateful for you. (Not for your money, mind you. For you.)
Since it’s already mid-January, if you haven’t sent thank you letters, you’re late. But send the thank you anyway. Just make it a great one.
And if your thanks were formal and distant and business-like, remember there’s no rule that says you can’t say thank you again. Surprise donors with a second thanks – even a short note on a card can make a tremendous difference.
Feel like your thank you letters aren’t all they can be? Lisa Sargent’s got you covered with her thank you letter clinic on SOFII.org.
Organize a Thankathon for your board. Gratitude is a great way to start the new year!
Show donors why they matter
You need a donor newsletter. (Underline donor.)
Many organizations send a newsletter to donors. That doesn’t make it a donor newsletter. Most of the newsletters in my mailbox certainly don’t qualify.
They’re corporate. They’re focused on the organization. They say: “We’re amazing! You should love us!”
Or the focus is “We’re working hard over here!”
Both are the wrong approach. A donor newsletter isn’t about your organization. It’s about your donor and the great things she’s done by giving.
Remember what your donors want to know: Did my gift matter?
Show them it did. Tell stories of the people (or animals) they helped. Take donors on a journey. Make them feel so glad they gave that they’ll want to do it again.
And please remember the newsletter is for all donors. Don’t focus on only large gifts and corporate donations. I know you’re excited by that large grant. You should be! But your average donor probably won’t feel a part of that.
The message you’ll unwittingly send is that she doesn’t matter. And you don’t really need her.
Print newsletters are still more effective than email. Worried about expense? They can be done simply in your office, on the office printer. While good design is important, good and genuine communication is most important. Focus on the headlines and images. Caption the photos well. And yes, you can even ask donors to give again – so long as most of the messaging is about gratitude and impact. (More great information on print newsletters from Tom Ahern, the guy who wrote the book on it can be found here.)
Ask donors for feedback
So much of donor communications is organization to donor. But that’s not really the way it works in relationships, is it?
So ask donors what they think. Most people are happy to share their thoughts – especially if they feel you’ll take them seriously. You can do this with a stand-alone donor survey. Or you can ask for feedback on your website and with every email.
What should you ask? My favorite questions are about the donor’s reasons for giving. (This is also my favorite ice-breaker when you’re meeting donors at an event.) Make it open-ended enough so that you get a personal response.
Ask about what matters most to them at your organization. Ask whether they find it easy to give.
Then when donors do respond, remember to thank them for sharing that information with you. No one wants to feel like they’re talking into a vacuum.
None of these suggestions are hard to implement – even for a small shop. But none of them will help if you don’t make them a priority in the next months. So start now and thank, report and ask donors for their opinions.