Thoughts

Got ABS, bro?

Abs are great and all, but have you ever tried being a great steward of the trust your donors put in you by contributing to your organization?

See for me, that’s abs: Always Be Stewarding. It’s somewhat of a lifestyle for me, the way exercise might be for others. I write about it a lot, though I’m not sure it can be overstated.

Over 15 years in and around nonprofits, one sees myriad ways of demonstrating appreciation. Some organizations barely scratch the surface (thank you letters/emails) while others are utter rockstars with full stewardship programs (donor newsletter, event invitations).

Forever I worked in arts and culture, before transitioning to other types of nonprofiteering. Different sectors appreciate their donors differently, though I’ve consistently found a foolproof practice of sharing what you might consider “mission moments.” In this way, rather than telling donors what they get for their giving, show them how their generosity makes a difference.

I tried this at the end of last fiscal year a simple one-page letter with five short paragraphs, each spotlighting a different area of our work. I titled it simply, “impacts and benefits.” Nowhere in the letter did it ask for anything, rather, it was straight appreciation. This wasn’t novel, and in fact, it was a lightbulb idea after talking with a friend who’s a donor to the organization. And something funny happened.

A few weeks later, we started getting checks in the mail. And most of them were additional gifts beyond what the donors had already gave — not renewals of previous gifts, but increases. Again, we reinvented no wheels, but we put some gas in the car. This was sort of wonderful, and rather affirming to know people felt strongly about our efforts.

So how are y’all getting your abs?

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Rants

Thanks But No Thanks

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”

I knew that quote long before I knew the name of its author, Elie Wiesel. Wiesel seemed like a pretty stand-up guy — activist, Nobel Laureate, Holocaust survivor — one of those people who make you feel really unaccomplished on your best day.

I think Wiesel’s quote can relate to work. In terms of nonprofit work, it might read: “The opposite of good work is not bad work, it’s indifferent work.” What really anchored this for me was an experience I had last year as a donor.

I made a modest gift to a friend’s organization, not just to show encouragement, but because I believed in the work. The online donation form was easy and clear, but after clicking DONATE… nothing. No e-mail confirmation, no word from my friend. Radio silence. I actually had to check my bank statement to make sure the payment went through. In my mind, this was bad. But more than that, as the days, weeks and months went by — and I heard absolutely nothing from the friend or organization — I thought more about how it was simply indifferent.

This was a missed opportunity. My gift wasn’t going to make or break the organization, but the indifference was wholly off putting. About eight months later, I eventually did hear from someone at the organization, but this person wanted to visit and “talk about considering deeper support” of the organization. LoL, no thanks.

HowAboutNo

I’ve said before how the nonprofit sector is the field of feel. And while we should be involved — volunteer, attend a program, donate — for logical reasons, quite often we are driven by passion for a cause. With that kind of engagement there’s a lot at stake, and indifference creates an unnecessary hurdle. If we treat our inner-circles poorly, what’s to be said for those further from the center? Read more on that, here.

I’m not saying it’s easy. Heck, it’s really, really difficult to be thoughtful, and a lot of organizations would benefit from stepping up their stewardship game. But friends… we all have a lot of competition out there, especially as it relates to funding. It’s become somewhat of a constant drone in these blog posts, but y’all… hear me now:

BeBest

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Thoughts

Donors and Pets

I was recently talking with a nonprofit board about the importance of continuously and consistently engaging with donors. “Because it’s a good thing to do” wasn’t cutting it, so I attempted a metaphor.

There are steps in the donor cycle — identification, cultivation, solicitation AND stewardship. It’s not solely about asking for money. Not that asking isn’t important, though it’s not where you generally spend most of your time. And it most certainly shouldn’t be the only time your donors hear from you. You go to an ATM when you need cash, not your supporters.

But where were we? The metaphor, right.

For anyone with pets, one thing you do with some frequency is take them to the vet. Sometimes for illness, others for a routine checkup. Either way, most people probably travel to the vet in a car, and for some, it’s the only time little FooFoo goes in the car. So when little FooFoo sees the car, little FooFoo knows what’s up.

Dog

Other people take their pets for car rides all the time. To the store, to the park, to pet play dates, etc. In those instances, when little FooFoo sees the car, it may just not be a wholly traumatic experience. In this metaphor, here are the players:

  • Little FooFoo: Your donor
  • The Car Ride: Your engagement with the donor
  • The Vet: The once-a-year solicitation

This seemed to resonate with the group. And it’s not meant to be silly, it’s reality-based. Long gone are the days when one touchpoint a year is adequate with your supporters. In a time when information is available in a flash — and over one million nonprofits are vying for the same dollars — your people need to hear from you. You need to take them in the car with you all the time (or at least often), and not just to the vet.

You’re doing a new program in-line with some of your donors’ interests? Shoot them a note! You just voted on a great new board member who will help really boost some aspect of your work? Let your donors know! You reached some sort of epic programmatic or financial milestone? Tout it!

There is such a thing as over-communicating, though we’re in the field of feel, and our donors are engaged for reasons of personal significance. More often than not, I’ve found if people don’t want to hear from you, they’ll tell you — either directly or by unsubscribing to your mailing lists. We have such opportunities to be stewards of our organizations’ missions, and in doing so, can be really great stewards of our donors.

So let’s do ourselves a favor; let’s take little FooFoo all over the damn place. The more familiar with the car ride, the less stressful, and you may just clean up less pee along the way — and isn’t that the goal?

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Rants

Dear [donor]

I believe people like to feel special. That can be inherent, or it can also be an outcome, like when someone buys you flowers, or compliments a job well done.

GREATjob

Special feelings are, in my view, sort of a superpower in nonprofits — we have the ability to be transformative with our work. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, we are fortunate enough to receive donations as a result of that work. When that happens, we should always share our appreciation with those donors.

There are innumerable ways to steward philanthropy, but one pretty typical, immediate standard is a thank you note. I hear a lot of debate on whether those should be paper, email, postcard, etc., but whatever you choose, please for crying out loud be accurate. Know if the recipient is a man or woman, if their spouse is alive or deceased, or if they’re Michele with one “L.” Above all, have a system in place that allows you to be vigilant about what goes out the door.

One organization I support recently sent me a gift acknowledgment letter which opened with:

Dear [donor]

Not my name, but literally “Dear [donor],” which I’m guessing was the likely result of a lazy mail merge. If that weren’t egregious enough, it was as form a letter as you could find. No mention of my specific gift amount, no messaging about how it supports the mission, no EIN (tax number) for me to keep on hand for tax purposes and — to bring it all home — the letter was a photocopy. #SMH, or so the kids would say.

For me personally it was disappointing, and for the organization it was a total missed opportunity. Granted, I don’t give them a lot of money, though “fixing” these letters would be a really simple task. They already wasted the sheet of paper, why not spend a few minutes more on some simple tweaks? I can’t imagine if I were a major and this showed up in my mailbox, I’d be like:

RipPaper

So let’s do better by our most trusted supporters y’all, okay? There are too many organizations out there they could support, but they chose ours, so let’s act like we care, all right?

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