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When Fundraising Goes Right, Really Right

By Nell Edgington

Earlier this week I wrote about a national nonprofit that continues to send me fundraising appeals, even though I have been lapsed for 11 years. A reader of the post on the Social Velocity Facebook page raised a great question: “I would love to know how this nonprofit could have turned you into a donor…step by step?” So this post outlines what my nonprofit stalker could have done differently to keep and upgrade me as a donor. However, since my initial contact with the nonprofit was in 1998, before the advent of all of the great technology now available, I’m going to take some liberties with my approach and assume that the time is 2011 instead of 1998.

Here is what a nonprofit should do to capture the power of an individual donor:

  • Thank The Donor Quickly and Sincerely. When I gave my first $50 donation in 1998 the nonprofit sent me a nice thank you note within the week. That was a great first step. They could have done even better by sending the thank you note within 24 hours and including a quick handwritten note on the letter, but no one is perfect.

  • Get to Know Them. The organization thanked me in the way that I gave, which is great, but they could have gone so much further. They could ask me how I want to be communicated with, how else I can contribute (beyond money), how involved I want to be, what I am interested in and more. There is so much to learn from your donors.

  • Get Them Further Connected to the Organization. They could send me to their website and blog for regular updates on their activities. They could invite me to an upcoming friend-raiser event to help me see their work in action. They could invite me to volunteer for the organization. They could send me to their Facebook and Twitter pages and ask me to follow them. This nonprofit’s mistake was to view me only as a source of money, not as a potential partner in their work.

  • Renew Them. The one thing my nonprofit stalker did correctly was to work to renew me (although they were overzealous about it). I am shocked by how many nonprofits let their donors lapse every year simply because the nonprofit doesn’t have a system to track and send renewals. However, don’t take the drive to renew as far as this nonprofit did. Give renewal a few tries and if the donor doesn’t bite, let them go. Please.

  • Analyze and Upgrade Them. After I gave two years in a row, this nonprofit should have done a quick analysis to determine if I had the capacity to increase my giving level.  I did have the capacity to upgrade, but of course I never did because no one invested me in the organization or asked me to give more. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is holding a fascinating webinar today on just this topic called Data-Driven Donor Management.

  • Ask Them to Do More. Once donors have become invested in the organization and feel connected to it, ask them to do more. Yes, occasionally ask them to give more, but also ask them to spread the word, become an advocate for your organization, get their friends involved, ask their friends to give and volunteer and advocate for you, and so on. And solicit and listen to their ideas for how they can help you expand your network. Think of each of your donors as an entree to a wider network. Each donor has the potential to exponentially expand your work. Tap into that opportunity.

So that’s a start. A nonprofit must thank, get to know, invest, analyze, renew and upgrade, and further tap into people who raise their hand to say they believe in the organization enough to write a check. Individual donors are an enormous opportunity for nonprofit organizations. And not because of a single check they write, but because of the long-term investment, passion, network and commitment they can bring to your cause. Don’t let that slip away.

Photo Credit: Simo

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

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