One by One – Board Thank You Calls

This is my second post about engaging the board through thank you calling (you can read the first one here). The tweet that related to it:

@FundraiserBeth: A1 Having Board members call “donor club level” and above donors to TY at time of gift. Also have done “Thank-a-thons.”

I realize I go on and on about thanks and gratitude, but it really does make all relationships run more smoothly. It is key to donor retention. That has stuck with me ever since I first heard Penelope Burk speak in Toronto in 1999 to our local AFP chapter during my first year in Canada.

If you haven’t purchased her book, Donor Centered Fundraising, please do. I strongly urge you; it covers thank you letters, calls and they type of thanks that donors find meaningful – all done as interviews, studies and tests. It is a foundational book for any fundraising library, and a must for anyone starting out in the profession.

TelephoneEarly in the book, Penelope details “The Controlled Test of Personal Thanks” where she worked with a nonprofit and had their board members call donors within 24 hours of receipt of the gift (224 out of a total of 2,240). The team then studied the fundraising revenue results more than a year on. (The solicitation letter and resolicitation methods were all these same in the test and control groups.) Penelope sums it up by noting that this method is, “So easy… and so effective.”

The results were significant: The test group gave, on average, 39% more than the control group. And after 14 months, the average gift level of the test group was 42% higher. (I don’t know about you, but the number of times over my career that in the annual giving area I’ve been asked to increase, year over year, 25% – 50% more in revenues with little or no budget increase makes those average gift lifts head turning.)

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All Together Now – Board Thank You Calls

During a recent Fund Chat, the topic was “Your Nonprofit Stinks at Donor Retention” and I tossed out something I had done, engaging the board through thank you calling.

@FundraiserBeth: A1 Having Board members call “donor club level” and above donors to TY at time of gift. Also have done “Thank-a-thons.”

We all know that thanks and gratitude is key to donor retention. Why not have your most important volunteers do some thanking? Having board members call to thank immediately after the gift has been received is the most common way I’ve used (see my post here), but I’ve also organized once a year group “Thank-a-Thons” with board members. That’s what I’ll cover today.

telephoneThe first time I was working at a Level 1 trauma hospital. We were a team of three. Since the fundraising office had lain fallow for some years, at the end of our first year we decided to ask foundation board members call some of the larger donors who had given over the last 18 months.

After polling a few key individuals on our board with the idea, we took it to the larger board and proposed two evenings of calls (a Tuesday and Wednesday in two weeks). Board members could come to one or both.

I also contacted a few of the key “front line” personnel and two nurses agreed to join us. They were supporters of us and we thought having them there not only would be helpful if there were any questions about care and for the enthusiasm they offered.

It was a great evening – we had six available phones, with one nurse and four board members each evening. We called using our office phones so the caller id showed the hospital.

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Working the Room – Getting the Right People

In my last post, I offered some practical tips on  ensuring that your nonprofit events maximize donor, volunteer and prospect relationships and help move them forward (and how to deal with challenges here).

CSF 10th Anniversary Bash

CSF 10th Anniversary Bash

But much of this can start even earlier – at the invitation stage.

What typically happens for an event is that we invite those who invited last year (or maybe even up to five years back!), generous donors, faithful supporters, board members – what we might call the “usual suspects”. This could be for a gala, golf tournament or other event with an invitation and where you are creating an invitation list.

When it is time to pull the list together

  • Take a look at the list of prospects and lapsed donors – Whether you have a major gift team or are in a one-person shop, you likely have a list of  lapsed donors to re-engage and prospects to try to engage. Who among these people might be interested in attending this event? Is there someone who could be invited by a board member, Ambassador or other key volunteer to join their table or foursome? Use a critical eye. Of course, you should have a strategy for each of these people, but perhaps you haven’t yet had time. For some, attending an event with peers may be preferable to accepting a meeting request from a fundraiser. Be strategic. Personalize. Think about choosing from these lists, but no more than 5 – 10% of your total invitation pool.
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Something for the Toolkit

As fundraisers, we are so fortunate to work with volunteers who are supporters and wish to assist our charity with fundraising. I’m not talking about event volunteers, although they may bring guests to an event, but donor-volunteers. At several charities where I have worked, we have referred to these good people as Ambassadors. Your organization may have a formal name or just know them as your champions: “people who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else.”

Ambassador Card front
Ambassador Card Center When I was a Donor Relations Manager at United Way of King County, one year our Campaign Chair asked for a handy guide, something that he could place in the breast pocket of his suits. He wanted something he could easily refer to before speaking or meeting with donors and prospects, listing the campaign goals and succinctly mentioning key points.

The Brand department put together this handy guide for the Ambassadors of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, for the Campaign Cabinet and for the Board. I recall it was a small run, about 100 or so, and printed on coated stock. And yes, they fit into a suit jacket, or a wallet, or a purse or a pocket.

They were so popular!

The fundraising team was so happy to have our Ambassadors and key volunteers have these in-hand. Right there was the “dashboard:” our financial goals for the year and our donor retention and new supporter goals as well. Right there was the answer the donor question, “Why United Way of King County?” The two key investment points for the community – the areas of focus that would strengthen the community if we started tackling them now – were ending homelessness and early learning, before kids started school.

Ambassador Card BackOftentimes, just knowing that the little helper was there was enough for the Ambassadors or other volunteers to feel confident in speaking about why their friends and peers should support the community through United Way.

And, since giving to the Alexis de Tocqueville Society starts at $10,000 annually, it was also helpful to have our local giving levels on the reverse.

I’ve always kept this one around and created others (why re-invent the wheel?) for our donor-volunteers and connectors.

Are you offering your champions – however the appear to fight on behalf of your cause – a variety tools that they can use to help you?

Using LinkedIn for Relationship Building with Donors

I gave a talk to the Kitsap Development Officers Group in Poulsbo, Washington, about how I used LinkedIn when working with major donors. (Thanks to Chris Davenport for the invitation!)

linkedin-logoThere is lots of chatter about how social media can “help” with fundraising.

Fundraising still works the “tried and true” way, by building authentic connections. For me, social media is just a tool… and fundraisers  need lots of tools at the ready.

Using tools to manage information – donor databases, wealth analysis, social media – can help move relationships along. Here’s how I have used LinkedIn with mid-level and major donors.

Your Profile – be prepared for your donors to see you in the best light, just as you would for a donor meeting

Your LinkedIn profile should be YOU – professional yet with heart and soul.

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