It doesn’t have to be that way. Adrian Sargeant’s eye-opening research (coupled with good old common sense) shows that even the tiniest bit of effort to keep an existing donor has exponential benefits, especially compared to the financial drain of trying to acquire the donor in the first place. It just straight-up saves time and money being, well, good at being good to people who are good to you.
We also know that small donors are the vital life blood of every organization, and many modest donors upgrade to become major – or vitally important regular – donors with a little loving care. Major donors usually don’t start out that way – it’s rare that I’ve seen someone’s very first gift be five or six figures, so it makes sense to do the best you can to treat small donors like the awesome supporters they are.
For any organization with a database and mail-merge capabilities, a little bit of personalization like this that made The Whiny Donor react with delight is as easy as no-bake pie. You’ve already got all of the information in your database. And you can see how special it makes a donor feel when you show her you’re paying attention.
But there’s much more you can do to make donors feel special enough to stay – with not much more effort – if you use a little prospect research to boost your mojo.
Try a little data mining
There’s an organization I support every May. It’s a long story why, but every single May for the past 10+ years I’ve made a donation. Calling or writing me in December for a year-end gift is a waste of their time and money. Fortunately, it took them exactly one miss-stepped December to figure that out, and now they ask me every April. Did I mention I’ve continued to donate for more than 10 years?
Do you know when your most loyal donors give? Are you asking them for support then?
Do a little research. Pull a list of your most-loyal donors from your database, and sort by their donation dates. See any patterns? Is it because of when you ask or when they want to give?
Now add a little prospect research savvy here. For example: some folks in finance get bonuses in April and May – who in that modest-donors group might be in finance? Do you ask them for donations when they may be most likely to give?
What about the brand-new donors that gave this past year or last month…or last week?
Does your fundraising office have a policy to send hand-written notes to people who gave their first gift at a specific level (say, $100 or $500 or $1,000) and above? Or who showed up for something?
What about giving them a call?
Ten or so years back I bought a ticket to the symphony in Pittsburgh one Friday night. I was in town just for a short time and happened to see an advertisement for a special concert with violinist extraordinaire Anne-Sophie Mutter and her husband (at the time) Andre Previn. My phone number was part of the ticket-purchasing process.
The following Monday morning (seriously – *Monday* morning), my phone rang and a friendly voice from the development office said she was simply calling to see how I liked the concert and to say that they hoped they’d see us again. That was it. No hard sell. Just a quick, warm welcome. Ten years later I’m still impressed by the PSO’s stewardship. All that took was a quick list-pull and a staffer’s time for a few 5 minute calls.
What else can you do with quick data-mining?
I keep thinking about Angie’s article last week. I’ve been thinking of that organization she donated the brick to and I keep trying to give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the org is severely understaffed. Or inexperienced. Or underfunded.
Or maybe they just hadn’t thought through the whole process and it was way more successful than they’d thought. I keep thinking of what they could have done differently to steward their donors better in a way that wouldn’t need a lot of staff with experience or a big budget to do it.
Even understaffed, inexperienced, and underfunded – just a little bit of research can go a long way. (After responding to their donors in a timely way) they could have pulled a list of everyone who donated to the walkway or patio and sent a picture of the completed construction to everyone who gave.
All it would have taken is a simple download from the database plus the time it takes to write one heartfelt thank you letter. They could have gotten it printed on the back of a photo postcard or greeting card and sent it off, as simply as those holiday greeting cards everybody sends with pictures of their kids. But this one would say “Look what you built! Thank you so much!”
Those are some prospect research easy-lifting examples. How could more in-depth research help your stewardship efforts?
Prospect research can be invaluable for finding meaningful ways to thank donors for their gift. Rather than (or in addition to) just a plaque, why not ask your friendly neighborhood prospect researcher to see if there’s anything in the donor’s background or current interests that suggests a more personalized token of appreciation? A logo-embossed artist’s palette for an amateur artist, for example? Collection of favorite staff recipes and logo’d apron for a baking enthusiast?
And then there’s even deeper research
“I wanted to let you know what your parents accomplished”
A few years ago I was asked by a stewardship officer to help her find the grown children of a small group of donors to a special project. That project over time had produced remarkable outcomes and, even though the original donors had passed away, the organization wanted to reach out to the next generation to let them know of the project’s ongoing success and thank them for what their parents had done.
As it turned out, the stewardship officer found that a number of people in the next generation expressed an interest in coming to campus to see for themselves and talk to the faculty. It hadn’t been in her original plan, but an afternoon of activities was quickly put together with a closing dinner event with the faculty and dean. You’re probably not going to be surprised when I tell you that a few previous non-donors became donors that day.
It’s never too late for good stewardship
Based on that success, the same stewardship officer asked me to research the grown children of donors who had endowed scholarships at the school. Those scholarships were still supporting students, and the stewardship officer wanted the next generation to receive information and, where appropriate, send letters of thanks and updates from students and past awardees.
It was fun, complicated research involving a lot of detective and genealogical work. We didn’t find everyone, and we didn’t send reports to everyone we found, but there were a happy handful of cases (especially involving second- and third-generation alumni families) where the contact was warmly received and valuable new connections were made.
Stewardship research is actually discovery research, and cultivation research, and…
As you can see, prospect research isn’t just about discovering brand new donors or learning more about existing supporters. Research in all of its forms can help your stewardship work be more creative, personalized and productive, too.