My Tips of Giving Donor Appreciation by Saying Thank You

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This post is a complement to a podcast episode of Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster, of which I am a monthly contributor. To listen to the episode about this topic, click here.

Happy New Year! Now that you’ve received a mountain of donations for your cause (hopefully!), it’s time to get down to business and say something important to your donors: thank you.

Before getting down and dirty with your donor recognition, let’s take a moment to remember why it’s important. In the everyday madness of running your organization, it can be easy to take your donors for granted. But saying thank you – and stewarding donors – will pay off in the long run.

Donor retention (getting a donor to give more than one year in a row) is vastly more cost effective than donor acquisition (recruiting a brand new donor from the general community). And the best way to retain a donor is to say thank you and illustrate the impact their donation made.

Now let’s get down to it. Before we talk about how you can say thank you immediately, remember that involving your board and other volunteers is critical. As a donor, receiving a call or note from someone who’s not getting paid by the organization is very powerful. Plus, you can’t do everything yourself!

Here’s a few ways you can say thank you to your donors immediately.

Phone Calls:

  • Consider doing a thank-a-thon. Depending on your group, you can do a lunchtime event with pizza or an early evening event with wine and cheese, and invite board members, volunteers, and program staff to make calls.
  • Prepare a script that your volunteers can go off of. Keep it short and sweet – name, affiliation with the organization, thank you for the donation, and perhaps a short comment about why it made a difference. Personalizing it is even better. Don’t forget to smile, too!
  • In the donor lists for your volunteers to call, and include: name, phone, donation amount or range, and year they’ve been donating since.
  • Save major donors to get calls from the board chair, executive director or other management staff.

Mail:

  • Send acknowledgment letters immediately (or as soon as possible, within a week), for tax purposes & immediate communication from the organization.
  • Prepare some inexpensive notecards – you can ask volunteers to handwrite some and return to you to send out.

Don’t forget to record all of this activity in your donor database!

Here’s a few ways you can create a culture of gratitude throughout the year.

  • Pay attention to your customer service. Make sure everyone in your organization is saying thank you to anyone who is a donor. If you’re sending an email, say thank you in the beginning and at the end of the message.
  • Try to recognize small moments like birthdays or donor anniversaries – donors are often only receiving solicitations from nonprofits, so it’s nice for them to receive other types of communications, even if they are informal.
  • Consider doing a mid-year stewardship mailing. Mid-year is a great time, keeping them updated on what’s going on and priming them for an end of year ask. Make the mailing directly related to your mission, and have fun with it!

These tips may seem obvious, but you might be surprised how many nonprofits don’t take the chance to say thank you beyond the standard acknowledgment letter. A little gratitude goes a long way, so make it a goal to implement even just one of these tips this year. You’ll see your donor retention rates improve!

And thank you!

-N.C.

Fundraising Tips for the Last Two Months of the Year

We’re in the home stretch, friends! We’re in the final two months of the year and we’re ramping up for the busiest part of the giving season. If you’ve found yourself here thinking – well what do I do to raise money? – you’ve come to the right place.

A few months ago, I was honored to be a guest on the podcast Social Entrepreneur with Nathan A. Webster (you can check out the recording here). Nathan and I had such a good time that he invited me back to talk about five tips of things to do before the year wraps up. Here’s the link for the new one: 5 Fundraising Tips for Q4. Because I have your back, I’ve written up some notes from what we talked about.

Let’s get into it!

  1. Think of a story that illustrates your impact.
    1. We’re all emotional creatures, and we love a good story. It’s a great way to draw people in and show your impact without telling them what you do with tons of jargon and fluff. In this story, try to get as specific as possible, describing the people involved and using descriptive language about the setting and the feelings. Show, don’t tell!
    2. You can use this story everywhere, whether in mail, email, social media, or even in person. You might feel like you’re telling the story over and over, but you won’t oversaturate your donors – your donors only hear a fraction of your messages, and will pay attention to even a smaller portion than that.
  2. Tell your story & communicate it out.
    1. If you have the capacity, send out a mail appeal. You can stick with a simple letter and donation envelope. Mail it out to donors from the past three years, and if you have the time, you can segment the list more and send more targeted communications.
    2. Definitely make time, however, to focus on electronic communications, email and social media. A few email tips: keep your email as simple as possible, from the subject to the text inside. Make it very obvious what you’re asking for in the email. Make sure the donation request is above the fold; while many people are accessing their email on their phone, it’s still important. Speaking of the phone, make sure your website is both ready to go and mobile friendly.
  3. Use Giving Tuesday.
    1. Giving Tuesday is an annual day of giving, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as a response to Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It’s a fun day celebrating nonprofits and what they give to the community. Since we’re just a few weeks away, don’t spend too much time and energy on it – but at the very least, send out an e-blast with a donation button and post on social media (remember to use the hashtag #GivingTuesday!). If possible, find a donor or company who will match donations on that day.
    2. This is also a great day for a meme! Take an image from your organization (a cute animal, a beautiful outdoor setting, a cute kid) – and use language about impact, donating, feeling good, etc. Ask a young person if you need it! This is a fun way an intern or volunteer could help.
    3. Finally, check out their website at givingtuesday.org – it has tons of great resources.
  4. Use your board & other passionate volunteers.
    1. Ask your board to talk to their circles about the work your organization is doing. Make sure to send them details about your impact story so that they can tell the story themselves. Draft an email requesting donations that your board and other volunteers can send to their contacts.
    2. If there are a few extra passionate board members, have them follow up with donors who did not give their gift by the last two weeks of the year. If there are board members who are uncomfortable with asking, have them make some calls to say thank you.
  5. Say thank you!
    1. Make sure your acknowledgment letter template is ready and fits in with the message you set with your story. Try to get your thank you letters out as soon as possible. I’m not as much of a stickler to get them out 48 hours after receiving the donation, but sending them out within a week is ideal. Make sure your electronic acknowledgment message also reinforces your story.
    2. Try to have an attitude of gratitude while working with your donors. The end of the year can be a stressful time of year, and customer service is key in making sure donors have a positive experience with your organization.
    3. And extend that attitude of gratitude to yourself and the other staff or volunteers who are working tirelessly during this season. Saying a genuine thank you on a regular basis can mean a lot and make the work more enjoyable.

Speaking of saying thank you, thank you for the great work you’re doing. I hope you can take some of these tips and implement them to get your story out and raise plenty of money. Your cause is worth it, so it’s up to you to tell your donors and prospective donors all about how they can be part of it.

-N.C.

Announcing My New Website

As I pivot into contract based work helping nonprofits do fundraising, it’s important that my message is clear: and so, I’ve launched a new website! It’s likely you’re reading this post on my new website, but if you’re reading this post from an email subscription or another way, check out www.nonprofitchapin.com and let me know what you think!

Last Thursday was my last day with my previous employer, a wonderful theater nonprofit in the East Bay of the San Francisco Bay Area. I have a few weeks off before I start my first contract, where I’ll be helping a nonprofit put together a three year fund development plan and evaluate their fundraising systems, including their donor database. It’s going to be a whole new type of relationship to my work, and I’m excited to try something new!

This transition has not been easy, and it has not been quick. It’s been something I’ve been thinking about for over a year now. But after a whole bunch of informational interviews and a lot of soul searching, I’m proud of this leap I’m in the middle of. And I implore you to think about a leap that you’ve been considering. Get out there and do some research! You never know where those thoughts might lead you…

-N.C.

Celebrating Six Years of Blogging & the Next Chapter for Nonprofit Chapin

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I’ve been waiting to write this blog post for months. I’ve been waiting to make these career decisions for even longer. And today, on the sixth anniversary of this blog, I am ready to share what I’ve been thinking about for so long – my plans for the future.

Over my eleven years of working in fundraising and marketing for nonprofits I have learned so much. I’ve learned about the joys and the challenges of working in nonprofits, that there is always work to be done, and that at the end of the day, the work changes lives.

I’ve also learned to key in on the elements of work that I enjoy and that I’m really good at.

  • I have eleven years of experience of working in various roles in development teams, and have a real knack for thinking about efficient operations. I know how to effectively manage direct mail appeals, put together major gifts programs, write and report on grants, put on a gala, or maintain a donor database.
  • I love thinking about how teams work and supervising staff. Empowering nonprofit staff to do their best work – while taking care of themselves and their needs – is a real passion of mine.
  • I love working in periods of change and transition – I like thinking on my feet and introducing new solutions to problems. And I have a knack for being a calming force during a time of chaos.
  • I’d like to work with a greater variety of nonprofits. Ever since I got my Masters in Nonprofit Administration, I’ve been craving the ability to use the breadth of knowledge I received with a wide range of organizations.
  • I want more flexibility with my time. I’ve realized that when I work constantly, I get in a zone and more quickly burn out, not doing my best work. I want a better balance so that I can do better work.

I’ve taken a lot of time to think about all of this, and had a bunch of informational interviews with people who have worked in development for a long time, and have landed on my next career move:

I’m looking to move into interim development director work.

I’ll help manage your development team, ensure your daily operations are taken care of and that money is raised, and even evaluate your current development program and make some recommendations. I’ll help during your search, help make a smooth transition to your permanent development director and then leave you to succeed.

With the constant state of turnover that many nonprofits find themselves in with this key position, I hope to fill a real need. Just because you’re between development directors doesn’t mean you have to put additional pressure on your current team or redirect someone else’s time. I can come in and help make sure everything runs smoothly.

My last full time day with my current employer is April 7. After some time off, I’ll be looking for jobs like this. If you hear of anyone who might need something like this, please think of me! I’ll be relying on my community of support – and that certainly includes you – to get me plugged in where I need to me. Many thanks in advance!!

-N.C.

You’re in Control

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It’s super easy to get caught up in the day to day. You wake up at the same time, do your same morning ritual, get to the office, and move on with your work. After a few months, you start to get the hang of it and it’s almost as if you’re going on autopilot.

It’s easy in these moments to keep going with the status quo. Even if you’re not feeling fulfilled by your work, your boss is terrible, and your hours are long, the easiest path to take is staying put.

But – it’s not the best path to take.

Moments where you’re entrenched in the usual routines are the moments I challenge you most to consider your actions – or, inaction. Are you happy with where you are and what you’re doing? Is there anything you would change about your situation if you could?

Speaking of “if you could” – chances are, you can. You’re in control of more things than you may think. You’re in control of where you work, how much you make, and how many hours you work. Heck, you’re even in control of whether you’re employed. Sure, there are external factors (including the need to make money to buy food and pay rent), but even those can be manipulated to some extent. Can you cut down your grocery bill and save up enough to have a month’s rent cushion? Can you tell your boss that you need a more flexible schedule? Or, more drastic, can you move to a different country and work remotely? The possibilities are endless, and it’s only your excuses that are holding you back.

Jobs will come and go. Remember that, for the most part, you’re in control of your situation. And try to stay true to what will make you the most happy. Because at the end of the day, there’s only one person whose feelings matter: you.

-N.C.

Be Mindful of Your Vibes

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In the nonprofit sector, we’re all working like crazy. Sometimes I get to the end of the day and think, what did I accomplish today?? Of course, the actual answer to that is a bunch of stuff, but sometimes the time just flies by. And before you know it, it’s time to go.

We’re all working at 110%. Which is why it’s super important to be mindful of how we talk about that fact. It can be easy to default to complaints:

“I worked 12 hours yesterday, and 11 the day before. This is too much! I just have so much work to do. I’m exhausted and by the time I get home, I don’t want to spend time with my family, I just want to go to sleep. Also, I just gave my first born baby to my boss!”

OK, that last complaint went too far, but you get the picture. And I’m not downplaying the work that anyone is putting in. But I am saying that the way we frame the hard work we are doing makes a difference. It’s very likely that someone heard that venting session and thought to themselves,

“Well gosh. I only worked nine hours yesterday and a measly eight hours the day before! I feel bad, my colleague is working her butt off and I’m sitting around eating bonbons. I’d better work longer hours and put in more time!”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Your colleague working longer days does not mean that your day will be any shorter. In fact, it will probably just make the mood more miserable, since everybody will be stressed out. Instead, I’d recommend framing your feelings this way:

“Because of the board meeting yesterday, I worked a pretty long day. Sometimes things like that happen. I’m planning to leave early tomorrow to make up that time.”

Boom. No additional explaining, no apologizing for leaving early. Of course, you might want to frame this as a question if you’re talking to your boss. But if it’s a colleague, just leave it at that. It’s no one else’s business if you’re working more than eight hours a day. I’d argue that it’s usually something within your control. So, keep it to yourself. And be mindful of your vibes. They really make a difference.

-N.C.

Top Ten Fundraising Lessons I’ve Learned in Ten Years

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Today I’m celebrating ten years of working in the nonprofit sector doing fundraising for nonprofit organizations! When I think back on all of the experience I’ve gotten over the years, I am overwhelmed and humbled by all I’ve learned, as well as the people who have helped me learn it.

I thought I’d celebrate today by sharing the top ten lessons I’ve learned over these past ten years. Hopefully some of these tidbits can reinforce what you’ve been thinking or allow you to consider a new idea. Because that’s the thing about fundraising – we are never done learning about it.

1. While fundraising might be our world, to most people, it’s a small piece of their lives. We might toil over a fundraising letter, spend hours hundreds of hours working on a three hour fundraising gala, or write a lengthy grant proposal. While the work we are doing is important, usually, the details matter less and the intention matters more.

2. We are not fundraising for the nonprofit organization, we are fundraising for the cause. It’s easy to get caught up in all of the nuances that your organization offers, and the activities it is doing. But in the donors’ eyes, they don’t care about what you are doing, they care about why you are doing it. They care that because you exist, the world is a little different. And that’s what we’re working for.

3. Donor centric communications and activities are key. Being wrapped up in the organization you work for can easily lead to communications and activities that are full of organization-specific jargon. As often as you can, take a step back from your communications and read it with fresh eyes. Remember, donors just want to change the world. Your organization is just the way to do so.

4. It’s all about the relationships. Maintaining relationships with donors is just like maintaining relationships with your friends or loved ones – it’s important to keep them updated through the good times and the bad. No friend is going to stick by your side if you ask for a favor every time you call them. Cultivation and stewardship should make up 90% of your communication with a donor – solicitation should be 10% at most.

5. Fundraising is not a dirty word. Society has made us scared to talk about money. Many people think there are power dynamics at play when it comes to money, so they think of fundraising as begging. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Every organization, nonprofit or otherwise, needs money to function. Donors know that, and they want to be part of the change.

6. Fundraising is a two way street. We need donors just as much as donors need us. Fundraising is an equal exchange, where donors get just as much out of the relationship as nonprofit organizations do. There are a plethora of benefits that donors enjoy in making a donation, everything from changing the world to public recognition to tax benefits.

7. There is always more work to be done. There are always more donors to thank, prospects to find, research to do, solicitations to be made… the work is never done.

8. Fundraisers need to take care of themselves. Since the work is never done, it can be easy to burn out. Expectations just keep growing higher and needs of program staff just keep increasing – which is great – but, we need to remember that we are not all miracle workers. We must do our best and accept that it is enough.

9. Fundraisers need to take care of each other. We are a community. It is time to band together and support each other in the work we are doing – whether through professional associations or informal meet ups. We are our best allies!

10. The learning is never done. As I mentioned in the beginning, there is always something new to learn. The field is always changing and it’s imperative to keep up. That’s part of what I love most about fundraising – it’s always changing.

I am tremendously grateful for all of the experiences I have had and the people who have been part of my journey. You know who you are! Here’s to the next ten years – I have a feeling I’ll be impacting even more nonprofit organizations through my work!

-N.C.

Five Years Old Today!

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Five years of blogging as Nonprofit Chapin! You know what that means – a complete blog overhaul. New layout, new photos (courtesy of the supremely talented Krishna Patel), new About Me page, even some new stuff on my Twitter page. It’s a new year and time for a refresh. Let me know what you think!

Professionally, I have grown a tremendous amount this year. I moved from a Donor Relations Manager role, where I was focusing mostly on direct mail, grants, and donor database management, to an Associate Director of Development role, where I am in charge of a fundraising team while there is no Director of Development. I am jumping head first into some meaty management issues and getting a ton of great experience thinking about how to be strategic with my energy and efforts. With managing a department comes a variety of different types of tasks, and it can be tough to manage my time without working 12 hours a day. But I’m learning it, and gaining a lot of wonderful experience.

If you (or someone you know) has found yourself at a loss of how to move forward with your development team, I would love to help. I have gained so much great experience that I’d enjoy working with other nonprofits to reimagine how their team might work best. Feel free to contact me on my About Me page or by leaving a comment here, and we can talk about working together. I’d love to be of help, wherever you are!

Here’s to another five years!

-N.C.

Spreading My Leadership Wings

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Here I am again, another two months after my last post. And while it really hasn’t been that long, there have been some changes at my new job that are allowing the space for me to really, I mean really, spread my leadership wings.

One thing’s for sure – I’ve spent the last few months steeping myself in nonprofit staffing issues. Whether it’s hiring new staff, appreciating more seasoned ones, or thinking about division of duties and workloads, the human resource discussion in nonprofits is as important as ever. Now more than ever, as I manage a team of development staff, I think about the ways we can make sure our nonprofit employees are satisfied in their careers and lives. What’s my role in making sure this happens? At the moment, it’s with my own team and at my own nonprofit. What is my obligation to make change on a deeper level? I consider these questions as I move through my changing role.

I hope you also think about this as you do your work. How are you modeling behavior that your nonprofit peers can appreciate and emulate? Do you have clear goals and expectations in your role, and are you being fully appreciated for them? For that matter, are you being outwardly appreciative of your colleagues? We should all shower each other with a little more love! No matter where you are on the totem pole, you can make a difference with your actions.

Thanks again for your patience. I assure you, something big will come out of these changes. And I’ll try to be better about bringing you along with me. Because I’m learning so much, and what’s the point of that if I’m not sharing my learnings with you?

Happy working, my nonprofit friends!

-N.C.

A Brand New Role in a Brand New City

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It’s been some months since I’ve blogged – I’m sorry about that! But I promise there’s a good reason: I’ve been busy learning and growing in a brand new role in a brand new city. I accepted a new position: Associate Director of Development at a theater nonprofit. I started there on August 19 and have been getting to know the ropes and my role in the development team.

I was attracted to this position because I was ready and craving the next step in my career. Over the past few years, I have gained multiple direct reports and realized that my favorite time at work was working with these folks. I really enjoy thinking about how development teams work and I was looking for a new step that would allow me to contribute to that most thoughtfully.

And that’s where my current job comes in. This brand new position was created to inject capacity into a department where everyone is working at 150% and no one is able to step back and plan (sound familiar?). I am able to serve as the liaison between the development director and the rest of the development staff, manage daily operations, and assist the development director with department strategy. I was excited that this nonprofit identified the need for this kind of role and happy I could fit in to help.

I am learning a tremendous amount at my new job, and the possibilities are endless about what I could write about here. In addition to the development operations, I get to focus on developing the people in our department, which I love – a nonprofit is only as good as the amount of happy people working for it.

So thanks for being patient with me, and I hope you’ll read the coming posts as I navigate through my new role. It’s not always going to be pretty, but it’s always going to be honest. I appreciate you understanding that.

-N.C.