I was talking with a retired friend the other day and he mentioned that he reached out to a local organization that he had donated to in the past. He hadn’t heard from them for a couple years, so he contacted them to see if they needed anything. They told him they would let him know and that was the end of the conversation. He decided to send them a donation anyway, because he knew that they could use it even though they didn’t give him much to go on. Are you lucky enough to have donors who are that proactive? I’m guessing it’s pretty rare.
Anyway, that brief exchange started me thinking about the obvious benefit of keeping in touch with your donors, why some organizations don’t, and how to overcome obstacles in being present for your donors.
Avoiding “The Ask”
As I’ve said before, know your style. Maybe you’re not comfortable directly asking for donations. You wouldn’t be alone. I really don’t like making a direct request, preferring instead to let the program successes tell the story. I’ve found that a short summary of the organization’s big achievements for the year, with a “thank you and we couldn’t do it without you” note is very effective for my communication style. I also like to handwrite a personal ‘thank you’ on every letter I send versus an unsigned report or pre-printed signature.
Try out some different ideas that work for your comfort level. The more confident you are in a particular method, the more likely you are to utilize it in order to keep in touch with your donors. It’s more important that they hear some information from you, rather than nothing. Nonprofit organizations come and go; you don’t want your donors to assume that you’ve gone because they haven’t heard from you!
No Donor Database
You don’t have to resort to an expensive donor management system, put your information “in the cloud”, or learn some wacky new technology. Just start a simple spreadsheet (Excel, Google Docs, whatever works for you) that allows you to list the donor name, contact information, donation date and amount. By using this simple spreadsheet, you can sort by those fields and use the basic information to reach out to donors based on frequency of donation, dollar amount, and so on. A simple spreadsheet can be extremely useful and it sure beats not tracking donors at all.
Not Understanding Who Your Donors Are
This particular organization we were discussing provides aid to first responders. Their primary fundraising effort is an annual gala and tickets sell out. However the income produced from that gala is necessarily limited, because only a fixed number of people can attend the event.
There are a large number of retired first responders in the community, and many of them are now at the age where they don’t like to drive at night, or attend fancy black-tie galas. The organization is missing out on a huge opportunity to reach out to those retirees with an annual appeal timed six months away from the annual gala.
Understanding who your donors are will help you understand how to best reach them. When you picture your likely donor, who do you see? Male or female? Age? Income level? Be targeted and purposeful in your outreach. If your likely donor doesn’t use email, then don’t plan on an email newsletter to bring in the donations. OK, that example was obvious. Are you overlooking the obvious?
Not Enough Help
A lot of organizations are so understaffed it’s a small miracle they can function at all. If you’re in this position, keep it simple. Reach out to your local high school and find out if you can participate in the community service program to get some teens to help stuff those envelopes for you.
Those were the four main obstacles I came up with off the top of my head (ouch – lol). Do you have any to add? How else can organizations improve their donor communication?