Tag Archives: Strengthening Donor Relationships

Making stewardship, gratitude, or solicitation calls this fall? Read this first.

If you are like many nonprofits, you are thinking about making phone calls this fall. I know I have been asked to make calls this month as a volunteer. It is a great way to connect with your members, donors, and volunteers. 

Your nonprofit may decide to call:

making nonprofit calls
  • Your entire membership to thank them for being involved (stewardship calls)
  • Previous donor calls (donation encouragement calls)
  • Previous donor calls (solicitation calls)
  • Recent donations (gratitude calls)
  • Volunteers (gratitude calls)

But, as one client reminded me, asking board members to make the calls is easy. Ensuring that someone is systematically following up on the information, questions, and comments gathered from the calls is the hard part.

In other words, how you handle the information you gain during the next few months will impact donations and retention for years to come.

The easiest way to anger a donor is ask a question, get an answer, do nothing with it, and never provide feedback to the donor.

Consider these 3 different scenarios that require 3 different responses:

  • One person asks what happened to their book donation from last year (not about how their DAF distribution for $5,000 was spent – only the book valued around $54)
  • Another asks why their favorite program isn’t running now that people are back in the buildings
  • A third person asks whether they can start volunteering in the next couple of months but not for the gala

Obviously, we can’t know what the answers are or who should answer them.

Phone Calls will be made to ___(group)___ by ___(group/individual names) ___ during ___(start date)___ to __(end date)___

  1. Assignments
    • Who is assigning the calls (and providing the call information and sample script)?
    • Who is tracking that the calls are made?
    • When should reminders be sent?
  2. Tracking the questions
    • Who will track that a comment was made or a question was asked?
    • Is there a contact report that should be filled out?
    • How will you track that a contact report was filled out? i.e. is there a central document like a Google Doc, is it entered into the CRM, or is every report sent to one person to track?
    • Will development staff be told each time a response is necessary with any comments that might be helpful? How will they be notified? Or do they need to check the tracking document? How often?
    • Who will let the appropriate person at the organization know there is a question or comment that needs to be addressed?
  3. Who can be assigned to respond? Who decides who should respond? Responders could include:
    • Fundraising Staff
    • Executive Director
    • Programming Coordinator
    • Volunteer Coordinator
    • Admin
  4. Who will check that the person was contacted a second time? Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. It is stewardship. It is logical. It is also the only way you will retain a donor. Someone needs to know that they oversee this.
  5. Who will collect and track contact reports? Each interaction with a donor provides valuable information. Don’t assume the volunteer – or even staff member – will be there to remind you of the facts in a week, a year or 3 years. Turnover is high. And memories are short.
  6. Analyzing the results
    • Did the people called have a higher donation level or retention rate after receiving a call?
    • How much time did volunteers actually spend on the calling process?
    • Did everyone make their calls?

Create a formal process from start to finish. Keep it simple. But make it an essential part of calling. 5 minutes to make the call. 5 minutes to write the call report. Or one minute and one minute if you just leave a message.

This seems to be a lot of work for a few phone calls, doesn’t it? The good news is once you create your system you may only need to revise it from time to time. So start assigning those calls.

We can’t guarantee the calls will make a difference. But, we are so confident in this follow-up process that we encourage you to use it anyway. Try it. You will raise more money and retain more donors. You’ll see.

Want to read more about End-of-year strategies? Here are a few from our archive:

Five End-of-year Segmentation Strategies

Which is Easier? Getting a Teenager into College or Getting New Donors in December?

Want to Learn a New Fundraising Trick?

Say Goodbye to a Board Member Without Saying Goodbye

Say Goodbye to a Board MemberA close friend, Alex, told me an all-too-common, disheartening story about a nonprofit board she left a few years ago.

She was a founding member of a small nonprofit’s board of directors. She was an active volunteer, and one of their major donors, for two terms before deciding it was time to step down.  She mentioned her intentions to the president of the board, and he asked her if she would stay on. She agreed to one more term, helping to plan dinners for 3 fellow board members who stepped off during that time.

When her term was up, with her last meeting on the horizon, there was no talk of a dinner. In fact, there was not even an acknowledgement at the meeting for her service to the organization.  She awkwardly walked out wondering if the door was going to hit her on the way out.

This was no way to say goodbye to a board member.

December rolled around, and she began to wonder whether she should continue to donate. She helped found, build and strengthen this nonprofit. She had been invested in the mission, vision and values. But she felt ignored and underappreciated.

If you were in her shoes, what would you do?

Now flip that thinking, and consider, what you can do to prevent this situation with your board members.

  • Treat all current and past board members as loyal, valuable donors. Whether they have been giving $500 a year or $5,000, they are supporters that should be prime candidates for lifelong relationship.
  • Keep in touch. If they have been engaged as volunteers, encourage them to continue giving their time, perhaps, in smaller ways. Use stewardship “moves” to engage them around the calendar – not just write a little note on the bottom of the annual appeal when it is time to ask for a donation to pretend you are personalizing the ask. In other words, say farewell to a board member without saying goodbye to the person.
  • Honor their time and energy during the off-boarding process. Is a dinner necessary? If you have done it for previous board members than it seems like the right thing to do. If you are changing the way you do things, explain that and honor them in a different way. It can be as simple as toasting them at a small event, giving them a special gift at a board meeting and publicly thanking them in a newsletter article. People don’t expect the same treatment year in and year out, but they do expect the same respect.

What happened to Alex and her donations? The first year that she stopped giving to the organization she felt guilty. But, then, she reminded herself that she is not a priority to them. If she was, she would still be giving.  Now, she is just one more statistic contributing to that organization’s low donor retention rates. And she is happily involved in two other nonprofit organizations.

Want to read more about Board Members Relationships with your nonprofit?

The Key to Successful Fundraising is Stop Thinking About Your Nonprofit

Key to Successful FundraisingI have talked about this topic a bit when opining on annual appeal letters and solicitor training but after a recent conversation, I thought it should be said again. And said in a straightforward, no nonsense way.

The key to successful fundraising is stop thinking about your nonprofit. And start thinking about donor.


Finding out what motivates the donor to give.

Some people like their names on buildings. Others like the warm fuzzy feeling they get when they watch a video that includes the children who attend the community center thanking them for their support. Still others like to dress up and help create an extravagant gala. Very different motivations but all valid and all should be considered when soliciting a gift.

Discovering why the donor likes your organization. 

Is it because they feel that their child is having a good experience at your school? Or, because they think you are the best advocates in the area for animal welfare. Maybe they think their association with you is good for their image.  The key is knowing, what do they think?

Asking for the right gift

Someone who likes galas might not want to give to your annual fund. But, they may be willing to join the gala committee, increase their personal gift, and encourage their friends to join them. Another donor who gives to your annual fund may like to give to the December appeal, or they may be ready to learn how they can fund a new program.  Knowing your donors giving history/patterns, their interests, and how much they give to other organizations can help you craft the right ask.

Knowing the right time to ask

Your fiscal year end will not affect a major donor’s donation timing as much as their year-end bonus or their annual fundraising check writing session in December.  Your calendar is not as important as the donors.  No matter how much you wish it were different.

Thinking about who should make the ask

Your most successful fundraiser is not the best fundraiser for every donor. Consider who the donor knows, or might like to get to know. Create pairs of solicitors so that there is twice as much listening going on.  It is about the donor, and deepening their connection to your nonprofit.


If you want to retain donors and move then from entry level to mid-level, or mid-level to major gifts, stewardship is the key.  A planned approach that incorporates calls, emails, updates, invitations, thank yous, coffees, etc. takes time. But it is the path to a stronger relationship with the donor. Which, in turn, will help with donor retention and raising more money.

Refining your fundraising processes takes time. But if you start to considering fundraising from the donor’s perspective, you will understand it is a marathon, not a sprint. One bit of caution, if you wait another six months or year with excuses as to why you can’t start changing your fundraising yet, you are putting off your growth.  And probably losing quite a few donors along the way. Start considering the donors’ POV ASAP.   

Assessing Your Nonprofit’s Donors and Prospects: Annual Fund Segmentation Strategies

Annual fund segmentationSolicitation strategies start with assessing the current situation. Do you treat all your prospects and donors the same? Should you?

Now, more than ever, you should have a development plan for all prospects and a stewardship plan for all donors.

But, you should not plan on having the executive director “meet” with every donor. How can a nonprofit engage each prospect and donor when there are thousands? Annual fund segmentation.

Start annual fund segmentation by considering how they give.

  • Are they a Prospect or Donor
  • If a donor, are they
    • Current
    • Once-a-year Donor
    • Monthly Donor
    • Major donor
    • mid-level donor
    • mid-level donor you are trying to upgrade
    • 10-year donor
    • 25+ year donor
    • first time donor
    • LYBUNT
    • PYBUNT
    • Someone who gave to a
      • specific event
      • end-of-year mail or email campaign
      • other mail or email campaigns
      • sponsorship
      • special campaign donor
      • restricted gift donor
      • peer-to-peer campaign on behalf of a friend
      • also a volunteer
    • If a prospect or a donor, are they also a
      • Recent graduate or services beneficiary
      • 10-year alumnus\a
      • 25-year alumnus\a

Additional key points to keep in mind include:

  1. It costs 4.5 times as much for the nonprofit to find a new donor than retain one
  2. Donors don’t usually give a major gift in the first year they give to a nonprofit. Cultivation and stewardship over years (3-5 years minimum) is what will get you to the point you can ask for a major gift. *This assumes they have the capacity and had been stewarded properly during the time since they made their first gift.
  3. When you start accounting for lifetime giving, someone who gave $50/year for 20 years gave $1,000 to your nonprofit. How would you treat someone who gave $1,000?
  4. Break it down specifically for your organization. Should:
  • major donors get more personalized interaction than other donors?
  • monthly donors get a different appeal than once-a-year donors?
  • PYBUNTS or LYBUNTS get the same letter as new prospects?
  • members get the same email as non-members?
  • alumni get same event invitation as prospects?
  • parents get the same Facebook post as the students?
  • ____ get the same ____ as _____ (fill this in for your nonprofit)

Each organization will have its own set of segmentations.

And contrary to popular belief, segmentation was not created to give you more work.  Instead, it gives you more directed work. And a path to raising more money (which is the point, isn’t it?)

It may seem easier to send the same fundraising letter to the 1000+ people on your mailing list and move on.  But what are you moving on to? If you rely on your annual fund to support your organization, this must be a priority for your development team. Even if it is a team of one.

Who, What, How, Why and When to Follow Up After Each Appointment

follow up after each appointmentLast week, I wrote asked, and answered, What Makes a Successful Fundraising Campaign?  In the list of essential tasks for volunteers and staff, I included, “follow up after each appointment.” I didn’t want this to get lost because follow up from volunteers will, literally, make or break a campaign. We can teach someone how to solicit and explain the steps and importance of following up. But, it seems no amount of training, tracking, or even business-level stalking (not to be confused with real stalking) will help a solicitor follow up unless they make it a priority.

What does it mean to “follow up after each appointment?”

  • Understand that following up is an essential part of a solicitation, not the after-thought. If you have a meeting or event and wait a month before connecting with the prospects, you will lose the momentum, and, often, part of the gift. They may have asked for time to think but that does not mean unlimited time.
  • Calendar a follow up in the same way you would calendar solicitations. Even the most well-meaning volunteers get busy with the rest of their lives.
  • Let me repeat that. Put follow up in your calendar before you leave the solicitation. Know how, when, and the goal of your follow up, and on what specific date it will occur. Ideally, that date will be no more than a week away.
  • Consider how you will follow up. Is it:
    • a phone call to complete the solicitation?
    • finding someone else to call to answer additional questions (and ensuring they follow up)?
    • a personal thank you note to the donor?
    • a note to a staff person that sets off a chain of organizational acknowledgements?
    • an additional meeting with a board or staff member? If so, how and when will you schedule that?
    • a snail mail package you can send that will answer questions (and if so, how and when will you follow up the package)?
    • more than one of the above?
  • If you are not sure how to follow up, ask before you leave the meeting. The solicitation is about the donor, the follow up should be too.
  • If they are not ready to make a decision, consider what they need. Do they want more information, to speak with a spouse, or simply time to think about it? Acknowledge what they are asking for and offer to follow up with them the following week – don’t leave it open ended.
  • Respecting the system. Fundraising is about a long term relationship between a prospect/donor and a nonprofit. Your job may be this one ask, but you hope this will be one of many gifts. If you consider that you are one to keep this relationship intact, you will understand why following up is so important.

This is all to say that following up is not optional.  Every person who is invited to join the development committee should be expected to understand that and do what they say they will do. Without that commitment, it’s probably not worth starting a new fundraising campaign.

What Motivates Donors to Give by David A. Mersky

I got an email from a client earlier today.  He wrote:

I saw an article in the Washington Post yesterday. It discusses that, with the new tax law, many people will lose the deductibility of charitable contributions because they will become subject to the standard deduction. For individuals 70.5 and older who are subject to “required minimum distributions” from their retirement accounts, the article describes that charitable deductions can still be taken by directing the brokerage firm to contribute directly to a charitable entity.

I wonder whether we could send a letter to our donors who are 70+ telling them about this strategy, perhaps linking to an article, or providing specific language they can direct to their accountants or investment advisors.

Let me know what you think.

Do tax refunds motivate a donor to give?Well, I think that it is an interesting strategy.  And, you might want to consider sending such a letter, or if you are of an age to take required minimum distributions from ERISA-qualified funds—i.e., retirement accounts like 401 (k), profit-sharing, defined contribution pension plans, IRA Rollovers, and the like—then you might want to think about this for yourself.

But what about all the rest of the population who do not have such a benefit.  How do they “claw back” the value of a charitable gift deduction if they no longer can itemize their deductions?

The media—and most especially the press which reports about the nonprofit world—has been filled with hand-wringing articles about how contributions will go way down because of the unintended consequence of the increase in the standard deduction.

This contrarian is not going to pile on and issue another doom and gloom set of warnings in light of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017.  Instead let me share the data with you that describes the key factors driving donations.  We know that some people give to support the fundraising efforts of a family member, friend, or neighbor.  Others like to create a philanthropic image for themselves or their company.  Still others feel guilty saying no to someone expressing a need.  These reasons for giving often are understated and certainly under-reported in the research.

The 2016 US Trust Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy looked at factors driving charitable giving among wealthy households.  This biennial study found that donors primary stated motivations for giving were much as they had always been.  They were as follows:

  • Believing in the mission of organizations (54%)
  • Believing that their gift can make a difference (44%)
  • Experiencing personal satisfaction, enjoyment, or fulfillment (39%)
  • Supporting the same causes annually (36%)
  • Giving back to the community (27%)
  • Adhering to religious beliefs (23%)

By the way, 18% of wealthy donors in the same study say they gave because of tax benefits which is a drop form 34% in the 2014 study.

Our firm’s prescription for our clients, particularly those who fear the impact of the new tax law, is to communicate effectively and genuinely with donors, express appreciation and let donors know what heroes they are.

In the weeks and months ahead, we are going to focus our efforts on helping clients consider what motivates donors to give and how to:

  • Acquire new, first time donors who believe in the cause
  • Tell their new donors that they really make a difference
  • Convey joy in the gift to the giver

If you want to be part of our new initiative, send me an email to set up a call.  In a 30 minute no obligation call, we can begin you down a path of growth in your donor community, upgraded gifts from your existing donors, enhanced retention of donors, and increased lifetime value of each one of your contributors.  Write directly to me by clicking here and we will help you focus your efforts on what motivates donors to give.

It’s Time for You to Evaluate Donor Retention For the Past Year

Hiding to not evaluate donor retentionIt’s early March, which means your end-of-year appeal numbers should be in your system. Now, it’s time to evaluate donor retention rates. In addition to focusing on how much you your end-of-year appeal raised for annual funds, it’s time to dig a bit deeper. Do you know the:

  1. Number of PYBUNTs
  2. Number of donors who increased their gifts from the previous year.
  3. Number of donors who decreased their gift from the previous year
  4. How you are going to treat each of the above three categories

Remember, acknowledging your problem is the first step towards healing.

In this case, qualitative data will help you find your areas of weakness or, put in a better light, the areas where you can improve your annual fund.

Then, it’s time to look and see what caused the changes. Possibilities include:

  • Number or quality of asks
  • email follow ups
  • personalization
  • stewardship
  • timing (got out late)
  • change in confidence in the organization
  • it feels rote to donors
  • no annual appeal calendar
  • you forgot that their giving is optional
  • no relationship building occurred
  • You waited until march to consider last year’s numbers (course correction can happen if you look at your numbers monthly)
  • Focus is on the reasons the organization needs your funding vs the reasons the donor will want to donate
  • Fewer than 7 acknowledgements
  • _____________ Fill in the blank

Now, it’s time to start healing. Start a list of 3 ways you can make impactful change this year. Then, list who will be in charge of implementing each improvement, how it will be paid for (if it incurs additional cost), and where this will be in your ever-growing list of priorities.

If it’s time to get professional help for your donor retention or any aspect of your annual fundraising and development program, email me by clicking here.

How Do You Treat Former Board Members?

Treat former board members with loveI have a pet peeve about this.  I do not understand why nonprofits do not treat former board members (FBM) as more than run-of-the-mill donors.  It seems to me that someone who has given their time and energy to your organization for 3, 6, or even 10 years is someone who should be cultivated more, not less, as time progresses. Instead, they are put into the large pool of donors and asked to give in the same annual appeal, with the same, “Thanks for continuing to support us!” that any repeat donor would receive.

I have heard executive directors give many excuses. They usually boil down to two ideas: FBMs don’t need to be treated like major donors because they already understand how important their donation is to our organization or, they are moving onto another board so it’s not surprising their financial support will follow.

Neither are necessarily true. Analyze your own FBM current gifts vs. how much they donated when they were serving on the board and you will see what I mean. The numbers are usually so different, they will not even be in the same time zones.  Unless you don’t ask board members to give financial donations in addition to their time but that is a whole other article.

Let’s flip this around and focus on reasons why fundraisers should be excited to speak to FBMs:

  1. FBMs are willing to talk to you. Easy stewardship opportunities should be grabbed, not ignored.
  2. Donor retention is essential for financial strength. If you have read this (or any other) fundraising blog you will know that it is easier, and much less costly, to keep a donor than find a new one. FBMs have given at a meaningful level for years, why wouldn’t you try to retain the relationship?
  3. FBMs are often left feeling neglected. If someone leaves feeling good about their personal impact on the organization, but then feel ignored, their meaningful gifts, and good will, will be shifted towards other good causes.
  4. They still care about your nonprofit. The FBMs may be former because of term limits, personal time constraints, or it’s just time. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to still have a voice and continue to advocate on your behalf.  Ask for advice, like you would any other major donor, and you will continue to get donations.
  5. FBMs have been in your shoes. They know that you are calling important donors to talk about the organization and solicit gifts. They know that if you are not calling them, you are not considering them a priority. And they will act accordingly.

One caveat.  If you have left your FBMs alone for years, they should not be treated as if they stepped off of your board last year.  You can work to reconnect them (as you would any lapsed donor who you care about) but be careful about what you ask for right away. We all want to believe that are volunteer time is as valuable as our money. Instead of immediately asking for a major gift, treat former board members as valued members of the community who have not been updated in a while. Give them the opportunity to reflect on how things have changed and evolved since their departure. Remind these FBMs of why they got involved with you in the first place.  And hopefully, a meaningful gift will follow.

How Nonprofits Create a Connection with Donors

Cupcakes can help nonprofits create a connection with donors

Recently, Michael Katz, of Blue Penguin fame, posted an article on why birthdays are such easy connectors between people across countries, religion, age, politics, race, etc. With only a few exceptions, saying it’s your birthday (or someone else’s) will elicit a similar response, “Happy Birthday!” What an easy way to create a connection between two people.

You can read how he explains the ways that this connection can be used if you are a small/solo business owner, but I thought you might be more interested in how the concept relates to fundraising. Birthdays can, with the right thought process, help nonprofits create a connection with donors. Let me explain this by starting with a story.

If you were to run into an old colleague on the street and casually mention it’s your special day, their response may seem semi-automatic. But, it is actually a way in which it shows that they are:

  1. Paying attention to what you are saying
  2. They like to help friends, family and even casual acquaintances have a special birthday because we all like hearing from people when it’s our turn.

That semi-automatic response can also establish a common ground that allows the two of you to move on to other topics that can deepen the connection.  Will you go out to dinner or spend the day with family?  Is it a big number with a party? It may even veer into a conversation about aging gracefully or previous celebrations. Even if you don’t know the person well, the lines of communication are open.

Should you wish every one of your donors a happy birthday? 

Some organizations do send cards to all donors, or may even send small presents to major donors. But some seem genuine and others just don’t. What is the difference?  How they make the connection between the birthday, the donor, and the organization–see the theme here?

Two card options to send:

  1. a card that suggests a person celebrate with an enclosed recipe for cupcakes and a mention that on Tuesdays the teen program is learning to bake as a path to discuss how food relates to well-being. Or,
  2. a card that looks so generic it could easily be from my dentist or dry cleaner.

The recipe will remind the recipient of the good work your nonprofit is trying to achieve (while providing the potential for some tasty treats) and the generic card will be in the recycling bin within minutes.

Don’t be generic

When your birthday comes around, you will be one of 19 million people celebrating that day, but that doesn’t mean it has to be generic. Run into former colleagues, make cupcakes, and don’t forget to engage with your favorite nonprofit. In the same way nonprofits create a connection with donors through a special day, the more connections you make between the things you value and the special day, the more memorable the day will be.

if you would like a really good chocolate cupcake recipe, email me and I will reply with my favorite.  If you have a really good vanilla recipe, I would also love to hear from you!

If you would like to read more about stewardship consider:

Make Your Nonprofit Stand Out Through Stewardship

Value the Nonprofit Donor More than the Donation

How do you improve your solicitation, acknowledgement, and stewardship systems?

The Key to Any Successful Fundraising Campaign

Kerry Olitzky

by Dr. Kerry M. Olitzky

There is no obligatory giving

Following World War II, as families moved out of urban centers and into the suburbs, they continued to support non-profit institutions, especially synagogues, out of a sense of obligation. Over the last decade, obligation diminished as a primary motivation for support. Today, people who support these institutions do so mostly because they can ascertain a personal benefit—for themselves and their families—from such support. This notion is called a value proposition.

Before starting any fundraising campaign, leaders should be able to clearly articulate their nonprofit’s value proposition to potential contributors.

In other words, what do prospective donors gain from an association with your institution?

A value proposition differs from a mission statement.

While often well-crafted and poetic, the latter attempts to concretize the ideals of the institution, often including goals and objectives. On the other hand, a value proposition is donor-centered and focused on the prospect. A value proposition is particularly important as donors ascertain the cost-benefit of their gift to the organization.

The idea “we’ll be there when you need us” will no longer  create support. And “community,” which is often offered as a benefit, can be found in a variety of other locations, often only a short distance from your organization. Thus, the value proposition should be unique and clearly distinguish your institution from any other. It should also identify and meet the needs of its target population – your current and prospective donors.

During a fundraising campaign (annual, capital or endowment), planners have to move the conversation with potential donors from obligation to benefit which is encapsulated in the value proposition. All support materials should reflect this change, as well.

Interested in learning how MJA can help you develop a values proposition and lead you to a successful campaign? Email Kerry Olitzky