Article by Robyn Zimmann
I know, you’re thinking “Jeez Louise, I’m barely through with 2021’s giving season, can I please take a break?” No. No, you cannot take a break. Or, let’s just say your break depends on how you answer this little handful of questions I have for you.
What’s going on with your organizations thank-you letters right now?
The donations have been pouring in (hopefully!) and your donors are expecting what many of them may refer to as “the tax letter”, but if that’s your name for it, well, that’s sad. If your thank-you to your donors is a perfunctory email response to an online donation or your administrative assistant is cranking out a stack of letters every day that are left on your desk for you to quickly sign before you head home, then maybe it’s time to take a look at this bit of communication that is actually very many things. Yes, it’s a thank you, but do you really mean it, and are there any donors who should probably get more follow-up in the way of a phone call, or a personally written note? Is there anyone whose dollars you’re taking for granted year after year, and who deserves more contact from you? Are you doing anything special to make first-time donors feel welcome, and an instant partner in your work? And hey, that “tax letter” is also a marketing opportunity! “Mrs. Donor, we look forward to seeing you at our next concert on February 26th!”
Does individual donor cultivation really matter anyway?
Doesn’t the big money come from the near-constant grant writing, and the big-time corporate sponsorships that we’re going after? Not so much, according to the Lilly School of Philanthropy at IUPUI. In 2020, individuals, bequests, foundations, and corporations gave an estimated $471.44 billion to U.S. charities. But the breakdown is revealing. Foundations gave generously, and more than ever, to the tune of $88.5 billion. Bequests brought forth $44.2 billion, while corporations parted with $16.9 billion. That leaves individuals. People. Rich people sure, but also people like you and me, not rich. PEOPLE donated an estimated $324 billion to the charities of their choice. Some of those people are YOUR donors. Caring about YOUR mission, YOUR work, YOUR contribution and commitment to society and culture in YOUR town.
If your organization has season subscribers, are you making an effort to turn your subscribers into donors and your donors into subscribers?
Sure, there are many people who are both, but I know sometimes subscribers think “my subscription IS my donation”. Many donors think “I’m glad our city has the symphony orchestra, but I’m not interested in attending.” A great topic for your next board meeting: how do we reach that subset of folks who think “donor” and “subscriber” are mutually exclusive?
Do you send a December holiday card to your donors and subscribers?
If so, is it thoughtfully approached, or is it a last-minute “oh shoot, I gotta get those cards out this week”? Here’s a thought: why wait until Christmas, a problematic holiday at best for acknowledging your constituents, some or many of whom may not be celebrating what you think they’re celebrating, or celebrating anything at all. And “seasons greetings” doesn’t cut it for anyone, c’mon. There is a holiday near the end of the year that is almost universally celebrated in the U.S., and that’s Thanksgiving. What better time to reach out to your constituents than a holiday that acknowledges that for which we are grateful? If you plan ahead, you can have multiple board members, staff, musicians, dancers, artists, whoever does what you do, sign as many cards as they want to so each person who gets a card knows that every part of the organization is thankful for the people who support it. Your card will stand out, because it’s hitting mailboxes before the crush of Christmas holiday cards. Your card will stand out because it says YOU ARE IMPORTANT TO US. THANK YOU.
If you're already doing one or more of these things, wow, take a break. And if you're not, take a break anyway and then jump back into the new year refreshed and ready to go. After all, it's been a long two years, right?!
– Robyn Zimmann