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.

Chapin’s Monthly Fundraising Tips – You Can Now Listen!

 

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Some exciting news for 2018! I am going to be a monthly contributor to the podcast I’ve been on a couple of times, Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster (if you want to check out my posts about the two other episodes I was on, check out I’m On a Podcast! and Fundraising Tips for the Last Two Months of the Year). I’ll be focusing on different topics related to fundraising. My episode comes out the third Monday of each month, so look forward to the first one this coming Monday!

I’ll also do a blog post that complements each episode, so as long as you’re subscribed to my blog, you’ll get notifications every time there’s a new episode. You can also subscribe to the podcast through your preferred podcast listening method – just search Social Entrepreneurship with Nathan A. Webster.

If you or someone you know might be interested in sponsoring the podcast, let me know here!

And thanks to Nathan for having me! I’m exciting to share fundraising tips with his audience!

-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.

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.

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.

Do We Need Consumerism to Have Philanthropy?

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A recent piece in The Atlantic, Is For-Profit the Future of Non-Profit?, initially caught my eye because of its provocative title. As I started reading, it kept my attention with its message of individuals criticizing and downplaying the importance of the nonprofit sector.

The piece profiles a few people who believe that philanthropy is most effective when folded into consumerism. People behind companies like PRODUCT (RED) and FEED believe that human nature is to want to shop, not to donate. So if we want to get the most amount of money from people, we must go to the source of what they do the most often – shop.

What this piece illustrates, and I agree with, is that this argument and point of view cheapens the importance of philanthropy. The third sector, just like the for-profit sector or the government sector, has a place in our society and has its own successes and challenges. Just because it doesn’t look like the traditional big business money exchange doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an important role in the lives of many. I can’t help but wonder if these people have ever made a large gift to a nonprofit or even understand what fundraising means. By making these sort of bold statements, they are undermining the value that philanthropy has – not just for the nonprofit or the people served by the nonprofit, but also for the donors themselves.

“Philanthropy should imply a categorically different relationship with money than the one we have a consumers: something we embark on because we want to participate in a larger goal of improving the world and linking our values, histories, and resources with the needs of other people.” 

The feeling a donor gets when they give a donation is a completely different one than when a consumer buys a good. The donor gets to be part of the greater good and she gets to know she is making a difference in the lives of others who need her. That kind of feeling can’t be replicated by buying a shirt. That kind of feeling is because of the ripple effect that her money will make, ultimately changing the world.

-N.C.

The Joy of Fundraising

 

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I love this opinion piece from Sunday’s New York Times: Why Fund-Raising Is Fun. When I tell people I do nonprofit fundraising for a living, I usually get a reaction that is a mix of awe and respect. I’m told “that must be hard” and “I hate asking for money.”

Fundraising is not just “asking for money.” It’s not a one way street, not solely a “gimme” or “begging” job. There are a long list of benefits for donors, including everything from the benefits of acting altruistically, to tax benefits, to making new contacts. The most important benefit, the one that makes the biggest difference, the one that moves people to act, is that:

Through donating to a nonprofit, you are changing the world. Fundraisers make that happen.

Donating is your way to be part of something bigger than yourself. It’s your chance to make a difference in the world for people who need help. It’s how you can make an impact on nonprofit organizations that are doing important work.

So, fundraisers actually have a very fun job: we get to make things like this happen. We get to connect people to causes they believe in, and we get to ensure that people make a mark on the world. I love being a fundraiser, and I have no problem “asking for money.” In fact, instead of asking for a favor, I am demonstrating an opportunity for people to make a difference. I am grateful every day that I get to do so.

-N.C.

 

 

Reactions to Dan Pallotta’s TED Talk

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Nationally acclaimed fundraiser and nonprofit sector guru Dan Pallotta recently did a TED Talk entitled The way we think about charity is dead wrong – you can watch it here. There has been a lot of chatter about the Talk amongst the sector and people have started to ask my opinion of it, so I finally took the chance to sit down and watch the 18 minutes.

It’s 18 minutes worth watching, just so you can know what the hype is about, but from a nonprofit insider standpoint, it’s (mostly) nothing new. Dan details five ways the nonprofit sector is kept small: because of closed minded thinking about compensation, marketing, risk, time, and profit in the sector. I would say that none of these five points are anything I want to jump up and down about except the third one – risk – definitely something that the sector needs to switch its aversion to if it wants to get anything meaningful done.

The second part of the talk resonated more with me as a big issue that we should all stand up and pay attention to. He detailed the misconception that “overhead” is not part of the “cause,” and the fact that this misconception is ultimately forcing charities to not spend money on overhead and not expand and innovate in ways that are necessary to address such huge problems as the ones we are trying to solve.

Spot on, and I especially believe this as a fundraiser. Any activity that works toward the mission of a nonprofit: whether it is purchasing meals for the homeless, paying for lights at a shelter, or paying the salary of the marketing professional, should be considered part of the “cause.” The arbitrary designation of some of these expenses as more “worthy” than others of donations is ridiculous. In order to make real change in the world, we need to support all aspects of a nonprofit’s operation, whether it is directly touching a client or not.

I hope people come away from this Talk with that message at the very least. The next time you make a donation to a nonprofit, remember that they are the experts and know best where your support is the most needed. Give an unrestricted gift – you will do more for the nonprofit than you know.

“Don’t ask about the rate of [a charity’s] overhead, ask about the scale of their dreams.” – Dan Pallotta

-N.C.

UnderDeveloped

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I am thrilled to share a phenomenal report about the challenges faced by nonprofits surrounding fundraising. If you work in development or are a senior level employee at a nonprofit, you must read this! UnderDeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Nonprofit Fundraising is a joint project of CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that surveyed development directors and executive directors across the nation to understand their relationship to each other and to fundraising. The report includes insightful numbers on high turnover rates, skills and abilities around fundraising, and an entire section about nurturing a culture of philanthropy in organizations.

I believe the biggest takeaway from this report is that we must reframe what it means to raise money – whether that be by development directors, executive directors, or line staff. We need to have an honest conversation about money, what it means to all of us in society, and what it means to nonprofit organizations. Money, as I’ve mentioned in this blog before, is an incredibly taboo subject. People aren’t comfortable talking about finances in a really open way. It is not deemed to be an acceptable conversation topic. This is a problem when that is what fundraisers are supposed to do – talk about money all day. What does this mean for the success – or lack thereof – of fundraisers?

We need to get to a place where we all understand that money is necessary for nonprofits to provide the services they do, and without donors and their generosity, there would be none. We need to be comfortable to share that with outsiders when we are talking about our programs. We need each other – nonprofits need funds to run, and donors need causes to support and believe in. In the end, we will all win.

Please, read this important report and share it with everyone you know! It can have a great impact for people in need.

-N.C.

Why #GivingTuesday Is Important

 

Since you’re reading my blog, you probably already know what #GivingTuesday is. But in case you live under a rock (or are new here – welcome!), #GivingTuesday is a response to the consumerism of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday – a way to launch the upcoming giving season and celebrate the nonprofit organizations that make the world go ’round. You can learn more at the #GivingTuesday website here.

There have been a crop of critics to the #GivingTuesday movement, and they are actually coming from inside the philanthropic sector. This one, an opinion piece in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, is what finally caused me to write this post. The author’s post argues that there is no concrete evidence that #GivingTuesday actually increases giving. In actuality, although it might spur people to give, it might mean that they won’t give their gift another time of year. He believes that because of this, #GivingTuesday won’t “work.”

The author is being too short-sighted in determining what success would look like for #GivingTuesday. You can even look to the mission of #GivingTuesday to explain this:

#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. It celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

While of course it would be good, I see nothing in that statement about increasing donations.

In fact, I would argue that the best part about #GivingTuesday is that the day’s conversation is about nonprofits, donations, and the change we wish to see in the world. While I whole heartedly believe in the nonprofit sector, I don’t believe that it has the respect it deserves amongst general society. The words philanthropy and donation simply aren’t uttered enough in the public eye. #GivingTuesday starts a global conversation about these important topics – it brings nonprofit organizations and philanthropy to the forefront – something that doesn’t happen often enough. The fact that we are talking about it at all is a win.

The author of that post said it himself:

I don’t think it will work. That’s not to say that I don’t think the idea will catch on. I think we’ll see a huge number of tweets and
Instagrams on Giving Tuesday. And I expect that the effort will grow each year. What I don’t think it will do is materially affect giving in any positive way.

I’d challenge him to think outside the box of what “affect giving” might mean.

-N.C.