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upgrading donors

A Case Study in Getting Nonprofit Fundraising Right

STsolarcisternI’ve written before about when nonprofit fundraising goes really wrong. An organization that I donated to a few times refused to leave me alone after 11 years of ignored solicitations. Today I want to flip it and talk about a nonprofit that has done a great job at fundraising. (In some ways they mirror my earlier post about when fundraising goes really right.)

Foundation Communities is a nonprofit in Austin, Texas that provides affordable housing and support services to low income families and individuals. About 4 years ago a friend invited me to a lunch at a Foundation Communities housing complex. It was NOT the traditional nonprofit gala luncheon.

Instead, when we walked into the common area of the housing complex there were box lunches waiting for us. The executive director and a couple of board members gave us a 5-minute description of what Foundation Communities is and does and why they are passionate about it. Then we watched a 10-minute video of the program in action and interviews with their some of their clients.

Finally our group was split into smaller groups led by a board member to tour the complex. On the tour, the board member explained how Foundation Communities uses an innovative financing model to acquire ineffective housing, renovate it and make it livable and affordable, while providing much needed after-school care, financial services and other help to the residents there.

At the end of the presentations and the tour we were asked to fill out a brief card with our name, contact info, and if/how we’d like to get involved with Foundation Communities (volunteer, take another tour, meet with a staff member). We were also asked if we could recommend a friend who might like to come to a future lunch. Foundation Communities holds these informal lunches every month. With that, the hour was up and we were on our way.

After that interesting and compelling introduction to the organization I started giving an annual gift. They were always very prompt with both an email thank you (since I made my donation online) and a paper thank you explaining how my gift would be used and all of the great work Foundation Communities is doing. Every once in awhile I would get an email about another specific campaign for which they needed my help. For example, right before school started one year they asked me to contribute the cost of a back pack and supplies for one of the children in their program. I found the email timely and compelling, so I complied.

When I gave my annual contribution again this year at Christmastime, I received a very nice voice mail from their Development Director thanking me for the gift and inviting me to call her back if I wanted to learn more about the program or had questions. I also received my usual email and paper thank yous, but this time with a special handwritten note from the executive director on the paper thank you.

I continue to give year after year to Foundation Communities because I am impressed by the organization, the results they are achieving, and the organization’s leadership. But I also continue to give because I appreciate how they treat me as a donor. They are informative, gracious, timely, transparent, but not annoying or needy.

Obviously Foundation Communities is way ahead of the curve, but I think they could take it further and gain even more support in the process:

  • Instead of assuming that I want their paper newsletter every month (which I do not), they could ask me via email, phone or letter how and when to best communicate their results with me (email, phone call, social media, etc).
  • Because I have a giving history with the organization, they could attempt (via email, phone, social media) to get to know me and my interests in order to 1) understand how to find more donors like me and 2) to explore whether they can increase my giving level.
  • Since I have given to them over time, and I am active with social media they might explore whether I would be willing to tap into my networks to find others interested in supporting their organization.

Foundation Communities is doing a lot of things right. Other nonprofits could learn from their example about how to consistently and effectively build a donor base. But I’d also love to see Foundation Communities build on their great work to secure even more support.

Photo Credit: Foundation Communities

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When Fundraising Goes Right, Really Right

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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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.
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  • 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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