Smart nonprofit organizations create as many pathways to giving as possible: mail and phone are obvious, but then there are gifts via the web, mobile, and social networks. And the method of giving that your donors use is just as important as the platform they use to make their gift. Donors should be able to give by cash and check of course, but then there are credit cards, EFT, and PayPal and more.
As you add pathways for donors to support your cause, stick a Post-It note to your forehead with the following letters: “K.I.S.S.” Repeat after me: Keep It Simple Stupid. The worst thing we can do is make gift giving difficult. In our quest to provide as many ways to give as possible, we overlook the donor who just wants to make a gift.
If you are expanding your pathways to giving or simply performing an audit of the monster you created, consider the following:
Customer Service is Key
A great way to surprise your supporters and donors is to take their phone call. When a donor is having difficulty making a gift to your organization, you hope they will pick up the phone or compose an email message. You should be listening! What better time to help a donor than when they are in the moment, trying to make a gift to your organization, but have a question or are having trouble with your website.
Make sure that someone on your staff is responsible for answering these questions by phone, email…and yes, on social networking sites. There is no more basic service that you can provide than to be available for your supporters and donors and to do everything you can to help them make a gift to your organization.
Align Path with Preference
Do you throw the kitchen sink in with your appeals? You know what I mean: you’re adding that crucial “P.S.” to finish up your winter appeal and you feel you just have to list the website, include the phone number, remind them of the courtesy reply envelope, and plug your monthly giving program. Wrong. Instead of making things easier, you’ve created a speed bump in your pathway to giving. Your donor is now faced with a decision, not how much to give to your organization, but how.
Show some respect to your donors by encouraging them to give the same way they did last time. Chances are, you have this information in your database already (and if you don’t…tsk! tsk!). When you send a letter to John and Jane Smith, you know they gave by phone last time, so their letter can be personalized to include this giving path and this giving path only. You can also take a closer look at your database and see who typically gives in response to, say, your spring phonathon. Those folks ought to be the first to get a call come April.
Obviously, you want to give your donors as many chances to support your organization as possible, but go farther by clearing the clutter on their pathway to giving.
Match Giving Path to Method
When you’re preparing an appeal, think carefully about matching the giving method to the pathway to giving. For example, it doesn’t make any sense to send someone an e-blast solicitation and then ask them to call a phone number. Don’t send a direct mail letter and neglect to include a courtesy reply envelope/postcard. And for goodness’ sake, don’t call someone who has asked not to be solicited in that fashion before.
If you send an e-blast, the “Make Your Gift Now” link should take them right to your giving form on your website. Do not, under any circumstances, link them to a special landing page, a flowery page listing all of the great reasons to support your cause, or some fancy video you’ve put together. They are ready to make a gift, otherwise they wouldn’t have followed the link! (The other cardinal sin is to make your online giving process unnecessarily long, but that’s another blog post altogether.)
When a donor or potential donor receives your appeal, your goal is to provide so much grease that their gift giving is effortless.
Connect the Dots for Donors
Our donors are often generous with the wallets. What they are more protective of is their time. So when you are reaching out to donors about methods or paths of giving that take some explanation, realize that it will take more than one letter, email or phone call; it may, in fact, take many conversations.
Whether it’s the complexities of a charitable gift annuity, gift of stock, or your monthly giving program, you job is to connect the dots for donors. That means demonstrating the impact of not only their gift, but their method of giving.
For example, you may want to increase the number of donors who use your monthly giving program by EFT (electronic funds transfer from a checking or savings account). A donor may ask, “Why can’t I just send my check like I do every year?” Take the time to connect the dots. Explain how their using EFT as their method of giving not only saves them time (no writing checks) and is convenient (no need to remember when to send their gift) but it also helps the organization save money (you don’t send a renewal by mail) and helps those that you serve (less time asking for support and more time providing services).
So, take a strategic approach to connecting the dots for those methods or pathways that require a little extra effort. Write an article for your newsletter, include an insert in all acknowledgements about stock gifts, planned giving, etc., and rotate those messages every month or quarter; send a direct mail piece to existing donors (they don’t need to be sold on supporting you) that describes the path in clear and concise language. The possibilities are endless, but the point is to invest your time in connecting the dots.
The Big Picture
The hard part is over; you’ve provided your donors with as many ways to support you as might be convenient for them. Now, don’t blow it by confusing your donors about which option to choose. Remember those donors who just want to make a gift.
They’ll thank you for it.
Brendan Kinney is a fundraising and marketing professional. He has worked in higher education and public media and is the moderator of #fundchat. You can follow him on Twitter at @brendankinney.
Guest Blog Post by Ligia Peña.
I have been loving Volkswagen cars since I was young. Simply put, they are good, stylish cars that are a pleasure to drive. But this blog post is not about cars. It’s about loyalty: Volkswagen style.
After many years of living without a car in downtown Montreal, I decided in June of 2010 to buy a car. There was no doubt in my mind that it would be another Volkswagen. After all, my last car (15 years ago) had been a Jetta and I had some great adventures with it! As a new client, I automatically became a Volkswagen “Plus Member.” Admittedly, I had no clue what that meant. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey.
Within a couple of weeks, I received a welcome package – I mean fancy, Apple-style packaging and all – with a letter addressed to me, a catalog of VW accessories and a shammy to clean my new (gee, thanks VW, throw in the guy who’ll clean the car and now we’re talkin’!). At Christmas, I received a greetings card. On my birthday, a friendly birthday card from the dealership.
I have subsequently received free movie passes, invitations to special events and just today, I was invited to the “ultimate freedriving tour.” As VW put it: “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to discover Autobahn-ready performance in conditions you’ll never get on the road.” Wow! Being adventurous as I am, how can I say no to that?
After I registered to the event, I realized VW has been thanking me for being a customer and making sure I remain loyal to their brand. By using these events, reminders,and other perks, VW was treating me to a complete customer experience that put my needs and interests at the forefront.
The birthday and Christmas cards, the free movie tickets, the Autobahn-like driving experience are all part of the VW loyalty program they carefully designed to ensure that customers like me feel special, valued, cared for and respected. Intrinsically this ensures customer loyalty and, naturally, return business.
As it has become apparent, what I have talking about is the company’s approach to long-term relationship building. Much like you and I do every day with our donors. In the past, I dismissed their cards and letters as just another marketing piece. It took the “ultimate freedriving tour” to hook me and make me realize that I am loyal to the brand because I like and believe in the product.
Nonprofits can learn a lot from Volkswagen about loyalty and stewardship. So whether you are creating a new stewardship program or freshening your current one, ask yourself these questions:
- What do I do or what can I do to make my donors feel special, valued and respected?
- What am I doing to ensure my donor’s loyalty to my organization?
- How am I creating a unique experience for my donors?
- What journey do I want to take my donors on?
Take the time to think how you would want to be treated as a donor and the answers will come to you. We all want to be part of something bigger than we are – as fundraisers it is our job to facilitate that process for our donors.
Good luck and enjoy the ride!
Ligia Peña, M.Sc., CFRE, is a Fundraising Coach and Diversa Consultants (www.diversa.ca) located in Montreal, Quebec. Ligia Peña has 10 years of experience in fundraising and communications in the community, humanitarian, and governmental sectors. Since 2006, Ligia has been consulting small to medium-sized charities on fundraising, campaigns, communications, strategic planning and governance. Ligia is a board member of the Quebec chapter of the AFP and she volunteers for Equitas – a human rights education organization. Follow Ligia on Twitter.
Guest Blog Post By Meg Hoffman
What are the essential components of your fundraising program? Major giving? Membership? Events and marketing? From my experience, the most often under appreciated (yet essential!) function of any fundraising program is “development operations.”
Data integrity is one of the essential roles of development operations (DO) and key to the success of any development department. Whether you use Raiser’s Edge, Donor Perfect, or any other system, data integrity is crucial for how your department functions and achieves eventual success toward your fundraising goals.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
Most importantly, you must be vigilant in entering the data into your system as accurately as possible. If a donation is accidentally entered with an error – for example, if Jane Doe’s gift is entered as $100 instead of $1,000 – the acknowledgement letter will not recognize the correct amount of the gift. This becomes frustrating for Jane and very embarrassing for your organization. A mistake like this can indicate the team is careless, even if an error like this rarely happens (perception is reality!). Plus, the department is now at risk of losing Jane as a donor and any future gifts she might contribute.
Attention to Detail
It is essential to be focused and articulate when working with your data. I know many of us get glazed-over eyes when we spend too much time in the database. I’m guilty of this, too! If you feel this happening, get away from it! Go for a walk outside; spend some time on another task; take your lunch break. Lack of concentration is a threat to your data integrity.
Trust, But Verify
Check the acknowledgement letters against the data and against your photocopies of the original transaction before you mail them. Whether it is a copy of the check or a printout of the online transaction, dig it out and compare. For every single letter (you heard me!). Make sure Jane’s address matches the one on her check or how she entered it for the online transaction. Show your donors respect and show you value their support by making sure the letters you send to them are pristine. The only exception to this is if you know her as a donor and know she has a different “preferred address” for her mail.
Another risk you face when data gets entered incorrectly is the domino effect. Let’s go back to the example of Jane’s $1,000 gift accidentally entered as $100. It’s possible she will not bring the error to your attention and the amount will go uncorrected in your database. Now it’s time to pull the donor lists for the annual report. If that is the only gift she made during this fiscal year, she will be put in the “Under $250” category instead of being credited for her significant contribution. This is unfair to her because her generosity is not recognized at the appropriate level.
The problem is compounded because Jane may also be overlooked as a potential major gift donor; her name will not come up in the query of “donors who gave $1,000 or more this fiscal year.” This results in a missed opportunity for stewardship and cultivation, and also results in missed donation opportunities for your organization.
The bottom line: Always be extremely careful with your data! It is the backbone of your department, what your department produces, and how your department interacts with its donors. Donor relations are, in my opinion, the most important part of fundraising but can’t be effective unless you protect the integrity of your data.
And when you make a mistake, ’fess up to it! Apologize to Jane Doe in whatever way is appropriate for the situation. This is where stewardship and the relationship you’ve built with her thus far are key and if handled correctly, could end up being an opportunity to move that relationship forward.
Have you ever had any “data-gone-bad” situations? How did you resolve or rectify the damage?
Meg Hoffman is a fundraiser based in Boston with a human services organization. She has more than five years of experience working with nonprofits, including an international microfinance organization and a family homeless shelter. Last year, she received her master’s degree in Nonprofit Management and plans to become a CFRE when eligible.
A guest blog post by Ephraim Gopin.
But is “free” really free?
Take social media: Yes, the outlets themselves are free. BUT, if we adhere to the time = money principal, then social media is unbelievably expensive! Your staff must spend a lot of time on multiple platforms engaging people with the hope they eventually become volunteers, donors or, at the very least, share your posts with others.
And we ALL know what happens when you pass off the task of managing your social media to a volunteer: if you’re lucky they have an hour per week to share, post or like and then no one is around to engage and respond quickly. Eventually, people stop paying attention to your posts. But hey, at least you didn’t waste precious budgetary resources!
Or websites/graphic design, a pet peeve of mine: Websites and brochures are not cheap, especially if you want it done professionally and within a time limit. Here’s an example of how this “free” approach can backfire:
In order to save money, the CEO where I once worked decided we should search for students learning to become graphic designers and have them design our brochures and annual report. Right now, some of you are shaking your heads side to side because you know what happened next: we found plenty of eager students thrilled to add to their portfolios. What we did NOT get was a single, usable design.
And in the end, we wasted time (there’s that money thing again!) hoping against hope that the project would bring positive results. Guess what? The product wasn’t ready for a fundraising trip, so we hired a professional company, paid for and received beautiful brochures.
This is NOT a blanket indictment of volunteers. They are the best cheerleaders your organization has. Volunteers can build beautiful websites and design stunning reports, raise money and operate programs. But it’s the RELIANCE on getting things for free that hurts many nonprofits.
Free means no deadlines because you can’t demand from a volunteer that they complete a project on time. You can ask nicely, cajole, plead or beg but they have lives to live as well. The same thing can happen when you pay but at least in these cases you can terminate a contract and try to recoup any losses.
As a fundraiser, I have always believed you spend a buck to make a few bucks. That includes overhead, distribution of materials and more. We may think donors will have pity on our nonprofit if they see a brochure that is not professionally designed; the donor knows the organization has no money, giving them more incentive to donate.
My experience has shown the complete opposite! Donors want to see that your organization has invested in their experience, for example, a well structured website which is easily navigated and can boost donations! Donors are only too happy to show their friends to whom they are donating if they feel the love.
Many of us in the nonprofit sector are always busy putting out fires and have no time for strategic, long-term thinking and planning. As staff is downsized and budgets slashed, the temptation to cut corners when possible is very real.
But stop and ask yourself, what is the real cost of “free?”
Since #fundchat launched just a month ago, the response has been fantastic. With each chat, our community of nonprofit fundraising and marcom professionals grows; people are making are valuable connections.
I want to thank everyone who has joined in this community. Each hour-long chat has resulted in a flood of tips, ideas, encouragement and a little fun thrown in for good measure.
But sometimes, 140 characters just doesn’t do your thought, idea, or insight justice.
So, starting today, #fundchat is welcoming guest bloggers to submit a post for the #fundchat blog. Over time, this blog can become a central hub for the #fundchat community and a repository of expertise and advice from which others can benefit. Guest bloggers will retain the rights to their work under our Creative Commons license.