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Help! A Long-Time Donor Snubbed Us

My organization has a donor who has been with us for more than 7 years, always at the $1000-$1400 level (annual gift). This year they gave $40.

I’m considering contacting them to find out why (obviously I would ask this in a nice way). I’m wondering if there’s something we did wrong or could do better. But if there was a change in their financial situation, I don’t want to be rude. Is this good stewardship or bad?

As you know, giving is voluntary. However, I can certainly empathize with the feeling of receiving a gift from a long-time donor and being convinced there MUST be some mistake. If you haven’t already, I recommend thanking the donor as enthusiastically as you always have, and if time permits, make a thank you call. Alternatively, you could send the donor a short 5 question survey. This will give the donor an opportunity to share any grievances regarding their experience with your organization in a more private channel.

It’s silver lining time. While it’s an everchanging metric, the average donor lifespan fluctuates between 2 and 5 years – the fact that this donor was consistently giving for 7 years is a BIG win!  Focus on engaging with your current leadership donors and cultivating relationships early in the cycle. In doing so, you will strengthen their relationship with your organization and limit the number of surprise decreases moving forward.

Have a question to ask? Get in touch at [email protected].

What can you do to get paper-invited guests to RSVP sooner than a week before and weeks behind the deadline?

Procrastination may be as American as apple pie – at last check, 10% of charitable donations are made in the last three days of the year and 15% of taxpayers file the week of April 15. We sure do love to put things off! So, I recommend turning your focus to outcomes you can control.

Until a magic solution is found, try the following:

1. Incentivize early responses. For example,

  • “Our Gala Chairs (or an anonymous donor) has offered to contribute $500 if we receive 50 RSVPs before (insert date).”
  • “RSVP before (insert date) to be entered in a drawing to win a Spa Day for 2!”
  • “Reply by email or text to receive special updates on this year’s event!”

2. Give yourself plenty of time. Yes, that means making up an RSVP deadline that’s a week or two before you actually need them. That way you’ll have more time for late responses.

3. Use sweet, sweet technology to make the RSVP process a breeze for all invited guests.

Just because someone is invited with a paper invitation doesn’t mean they need to reply by mail, too. Include an email address or website URL where you’ll collect RSVPs or a telephone number to collect them via text. Don’t hesitate to recruit a team of volunteers to place calls to individuals you haven’t heard from as soon as the posted reply-by date has passed.

We’re a nonprofit of one person (me). How can I make sure I have a good thank you letter sent for ALL donors when it’s just me and maybe a few volunteers who work sporadically?

The fact that you recognize how much this matters convinces me you’ll have a stellar system in place before 2020. If you don’t already have a donor management system, it’s worth the investment – you’ll save time and energy for this essential activity (and SO MUCH more). In the interim, I recommend focusing on a “3S Strategy” like below.

Speedy – Ideally send your acknowledgments within 48 hours of gift receipt. Try to establish a system to send on a weekly basis. Many nonprofit clients I work with like to start the week from a place of gratitude and send Monday.

Specific – Include a fun fact about what this gift will help your organization accomplish.  If you’ve met the donor (even once), take the time to add a handwritten note. Even one sentence – “Thanks so much for your support!” goes a long way to remind the donor how much their contribution matters.

Special – Include a photo to illustrate gratitude from the audience your nonprofit serves OR a photo of the donor from a recent event.  Mix it up – try a smaller or larger envelope (anything except a standard #10).

P.S. While a strong thank you letter is an essential part of every contribution, remember that it’s just the first step in the stewardship process! Look for new opportunities to connect your donors with the work their gifts support every month to build a thriving stewardship program.

Ask a Fundraising Coach is Network for Good’s weekly advice column, where Personal Fundraising Coach Andrea Holthouser tackles your toughest challenges in the world of fundraising, nonprofit management, donor relations, and more.

Submit your questions to [email protected].

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