VIP Treatment: 6 little things to leave an impression

May 16, 2011       Heather Burton      

Donors engage with your organization for a reason. They believe in what you do and probably have been touched personally by an experience related to your mission. At the same time, your donors are being woo-ed by other compelling causes.

As you go into your campaign season, look for ways to make the “donor experience” rewarding and meaningful. This doesn’t mean large investments in time or money, but exceeding the expectations for your donors. What is the one thing you could do differently that makes a statement? Here are six ideas to build into your existing fundraising programs that will leave an impression with your donors:

1. Say thank you – to everyone.

There is an ongoing debate about organizations equating a donor gift size to receiving acknowledgments, mailings, and other organizational communications. Is $100 the right cut off? How about $25? What about the $5 donor? Should they get treated the same way as a $250 donor?

You need to say thank you to EVERYONE, especially during an annual campaign. As development professionals, you know that many first time gifts are relatively small. And often, donors do not increase their gift until they believe you are “worthy” of additional investment. Your long time givers, even if of smaller dollar amounts, may be some of your best planned giving prospects. Don’t destroy a supportive relationship because you are unwilling to spend the extra time and perhaps a bit of extra postage for the long-term gain. Please, say thank you.

2. Send a thank you card instead of a letter.

Standard letters in number 10 envelopes are easy to automate and send in a timely fashion. Email acknowledgments are even easier. But what if you were able to show donors that their gift is making an immediate impact? One way to do this is to create a “custom” thank you card. It doesn’t need to be expensive or time consuming.

For example, choose a photo from a program that is benefiting from your annual campaign. Create a standard template of the front and back of the card, but leave the inside blank. Then, run your personalized acknowledgments on the inside of the card. For an added touch, hand-write the mailing addresses. By making this a little different, you are reinforcing that 1) the gift is going towards the donor’s intended purpose and 2) showing how their gift is already making a difference.

Some will argue that an email can accomplish the same result. Depending on your constituency, this may be true. However, think back to the last time you received a hand-written thank you card. Did it make you pause and think twice? Keep this in mind when planning the way you thank your donors.

3. Have board members send personal thank you cards – even to people they do not know.

Engaging board members in fundraising activities can sometimes be challenging. However, you can create a win-win situation that leaves board members and donors feeling great. Have your board members send personal, hand-written thank you cards to donors. It doesn’t matter if the board member knows the person or not — it makes a difference. If segmentation is a concern for your organization, this may be an opportunity to add the extra touch to your high-dollar donors.

4. Create visual “good works” messages

A picture is truly worth a thousand words. It’s even more valuable when it can tug at the heart-strings of your donors. Take the opportunity at the end of the year to send a single communication highlighting a program achievement, a life that was saved, a rescued animal, or a student who beat the odds.

Don’t use a lot of text, but emphasize the importance of the donor’s support such as “Because of you, Timmy has….Thank you.” Send this to anyone who has ever given to your organization, even those donors who are severely lapsed. It might be the right time and the right touch to re-engage them with your organization.

5. Pick up the phone

It’s amazing with all the technology these days what a simple phone call can do, especially when the intent is to just say thank you. If you have never had one before, consider doing a thank-a-thon this year with board members and staff. It is fun, energizing, and the type of phone calls people don’t mind making.

6. Create ‘warm-fuzzies” — showing donors how they’ve helped in every communication

We report the results obtained from grants to our funders, but we often do not implement the same strategy with our individual donors. No matter the size of the gift or the reason for giving, people want to feel valued and that the donation is making a difference. Plan “pats on the back” as an integral part of your overall donor communication strategy to continually reinforce the importance of donors’ gifts and the tangible results you are achieving because of them.

Remember, it’s the little things that often make a big difference! Best of luck on your end of year campaigns!

Heather M. Burton is senior manager, product marketing, at Sage Software Nonprofit Solutions in Austin, Texas. Her email is: heather.burton@sage.com