With many of my clients having recently mounted year-end giving campaigns with great results, they’re now actively working to effectively thank and steward their generous donors. While the ways to express gratitude are as varied as the causes donors care about, I’ve always encouraged non-profit governance, executive and development leaders to seize every opportunity to build stronger and deeper relationships with those who support them. How can those vital relationships be bolstered, while building an organization’s fundraising capability at the same time?
I recommend that board members, development directors and CEOs divide the list of those who recently gave to their organization and make personal calls to 1) offer authentic gratitude, 2) gain valuable insight, and 3) differentiate themselves in an increasingly sophisticated donor-centered market place. There are two powerful questions that, when coupled with a sincere expression of thanks, can go a really long way in deepening relationships and increasing comfort and confidence in fundraising at the same time. What are those questions? Once the recent donor list has been divided and assigned to an organization’s leaders, impactful outbound calls should unfold as follows:
Genuinely express gratitude for the donor’s generosity and provide a very quick indication of the kind of impact you as an organization will be able to have thanks to that donor’s gift, regardless of size.
Next, ask the donor about their motivations. “With so many great organizations and so many opportunities to support causes that matter, what motivated you to make the gift you did to our organization at this time?” Listen carefully, take notes and seize the opportunity to echo back to the donor what you heard.
Then, invite the donor to provide insight or advice on how your organization can grow and improve for the future. Asking this question comes with some risk, potentially creating an expectation that you’ll respond or react to any and all advice given. However, in my experience, donors who do share recommendations understand that you’re gathering input from many sources and that their voice will be one among many. Simply asking, “As we look to grow for the future, what advice or recommendations do you have for me to help us to be even better tomorrow than we are today,” differentiates you as a leader and your organization in profound ways. It also invites your supporters behind the curtain in ways that will cause them to engage with you differently in the future; this straightforward gesture, asking for advice rather than money, causes them to feel like they’re now part of your team.
As donors respond to these powerful and deliberately engaging questions, remember to take notes and pay attention to preferences, interests and clues that can help you steward their generosity in the months and years ahead. Additionally, pay close attention to the impact this exercise has on those who may be uncomfortable with philanthropy and donor engagement. Reluctant board leaders, in particular, can be transformed simply by hearing first hand from donors about their motivations and intentions. They get to hear the joy donors take in supporting organizations they care about, and this can radically shift their experience and comfort with donor relations. Also, don’t forget to work with the team to document that these calls were made and to get those notes and observations into your CRM platform. That way, lessons learned in the short-term can have more lasting impact.