It’s the time of year when Americans count their blessings and gather together to give thanks. And in the world of nonprofit fundraising, let’s focus on just how incredibly powerful that small gesture of saying “thank you” is.
Perhaps the ultimate cultivation device, a simple “thank you” conveys appreciation for the donor’s thoughtfulness and financial contribution, but also encourages loyalty, further donations, and other ongoing involvement with your organization.
Besides being the right thing to do, systematically thanking donors also improves donor retention and future giving. Just remember that direct mail is not your only option. One study suggests that a thank you call to a new donor can significantly increase that donor’s subsequent giving – a good investment in professional telemarketing, or a productive use of volunteers’ time.
You can also train telemarketers who are calling on a specific appeal, to pivot from a refusal to a sincere thank you, making mention of the donor’s previous contributions. You can turn the point of refusal into a positive conversation just by thanking the donor and recognizing his or her past support. That positive contact is what’s important.
Similarly, you can make any non-donation auto-responders you use online more meaningful. Whether thanking the supporter for joining your email list, submitting an idea/opinion, or taking another action, a heartfelt thank you in these cases is yet another opportunity to provide a positive touch point with your organization.
Some reminders on how to thank your donors:
Anyone who’s worked for a nonprofit knows how valuable Board members are – they play a key role in any organization’s mission fulfillment. And anyone who’s served on a nonprofit Board knows that there are unique dynamics between the Board and the organization’s staff. Staff members are always trying to balance giving the Board members enough information so that they can make educated decisions, but not wanting to bog them down with the nitty-gritty of day-to-day fundraising.
Direct marketing is complicated, and challenges can arise when we try to simplify it, or use our own opinions to drive strategy. The following are some helpful direct response fundraising pointers for Board members to keep in mind when making decisions:
1. Our donors are not unique to our organization. They likely give to a number of nonprofits and trying to be overly controlling of what fundraising communications they receive (and how much) can cause more harm than good.
2. It is very difficult to recruit young donors and change your organization’s demographics. Unfortunately, direct marketing donors tend to be a self-selecting group. They are often older, and not very diverse. But research shows that those younger populations will eventually evolve into donors!
3. We know it’s cheap and easy and quick and everyone’s online – but here’s the deal: online fundraising is not taking over direct mail any time soon. It is still a small part of overall giving, and while online is growing, we cannot give up on direct mail. A solid mix of fundraising channels (mail/phone/online) is most effective to achieve a long-term, steady revenue stream.
4. We can’t make changes or decisions affecting the marketing program based on what we like. There is a science behind direct marketing and it is based on years of data. This data has been tested and quantified and is never based on one data point, or a handful of them. So we need to apply the science and give it time to work.
5. It is important to understand the consequences of our fundraising goal decisions, before we make them. For example, if we want to increase membership by 200%, this will likely come at the expense of the type of member acquired and our net revenue. If we want high net revenue, it will likely come at the expense of our member counts. Each goal should be fully understood before the directive is made.
6. Direct mail is a solid and predictable investment, yet it is not limitless. We cannot pour massive sums into a program and continue to see increased return year over year. It doesn’t expand infinitely, because universes are limited. There is a balance for each organization and careful planning and analysis is needed to determine what the “right” amount is.
As I wrote last September, if your year-end fundraising planning isn’t on the front burner yet, move it there now! Don’t forget that donors are paying attention and looking for last-minute giving opportunities at the end of the year.
Please check out last year’s ideas to implement best practices for your year-end campaign, and then read on for a few more ideas for this year. Some of these are probably strategies you’re already using, but here’s what’s working for us:
Test timing. Have you been using the same schedule for the past few years without evaluating what timing works best? Revisit your schedule to see if earlier/later mail and send dates might improve results.
December 31. Are you maximizing the last day of the year? This is — by far — the most productive date, so be sure to send an online appeal on December 31, and at a time that gives it the best chance to be seen. And consider sending twice – many organizations have had success with this approach, with the goal of staying at the top of the donor’s in-box.
Giving Tuesday. Give it a try: create a test campaign strategy around this date – December 3 this year — to kick off your year-end online giving.
Monthly sustainers can be a nonprofit’s lifeblood – providing steady, reliable income, a strong return on the initial investment, and members who stay with the organization year after year. It’s tempting to acquire sustainers and let the money roll in month after month. But sustainer programs need attention and cultivation to make sure the gifts keep coming, and are periodically upgraded if possible.
Here’s a quick reminder of ten ways to properly steward a sustainer program.
It was a beautiful evening on the Chesapeake Bay out of Annapolis when Avalon joined the Chesapeake Bay Foundation for a sunset skipjack trip. It was great to experience firsthand the wonders of the Bay and reminded us all how important it is to save this national treasure.
In these days of tight budgets and belt tightening, all nonprofits are looking for ways to squeeze every last dollar out of their house files. We’ve found that one of the most effective best practices is to dig deeply into your data to uncover trends and early warning signs that things might be off track.
Avalon VP of Analytics Rick Malchow created an ingenious tool, called Avalon VitalStatsTM (Key Performance Indicator Dashboard), to uncover donor-level trends. A valuable management tool, the Dashboard provides at-a-glance summaries of your program’s current performance metrics compared to prior years, enabling convenient program status monitoring and communications. The summaries include donor counts, giving statistics (overall and by donor type), donor retention rates, and program financial performance.
As you’re budgeting, the inclination is always to try to decrease your per-piece direct mail costs. But how? At Avalon, we’ve created an internal committee tasked with shaving direct mail package costs through tried-and-true methods and strategies.
If your year-end planning isn’t on the front burner yet, move it there now! Remember, donors are paying attention and looking for last-minute giving opportunities at the end of the year.
At some point, all nonprofits are affected by a major external event — a devastating natural disaster; a Supreme Court decision; a presidential candidate making an outrageous statement on their issues — and must turn on a dime to raise donors’ awareness and/or appeal to them for support.