Are the appeal letters you send to supporters a helpful reminder or a huge turn-off?
Last week I wrote that the first thing I want when I make a donation is a simple, quick thank you. It’s the no-brainer, proven “donor retention strategy” every organization should follow.
Paying attention to what donors want in a wider sense is, though, a little more complicated.
One day I ended up sitting next to the charming ED of a large organization in my home town that I’ve supported in a small way for years. I said to him, “You know, I send you guys a check every year, and almost before it lands in your mailbox, I get an appeal for additional support. I’m at the point where I’d almost rather forget about making my gift if I get more than one reminder a year.”
His answer? “Those systems are automated. The only way I could make sure you only get one reminder would be to put your name and address in my tickler file and do it myself.”
I can’t remember my answer, but I do remember being astonished. I still get way too many reminders…and I still make a gift every year. I guess I value their services enough to put up with this familiar feeling that no one is paying attention.
Still, I’d love it if the organizations I support could operate their development departments efficiently and still pay attention to the requests that donors make about how they want to be treated in the future. Admittedly, those two goals are a little bit in conflict. The most “efficient” way to handle the daily incoming mail is to open it immediately, record the donors’ names and gifts in some database, and deposit the checks. The most respectful way is to examine the post-it notes and scribbles on the donor-response forms to see whether there’s any sort of message there, and then do as much as possible to honor any reasonable request.
In a busy organization, being able to honor requests depends on having systems in place that match what donors want, which takes us back to square one and then on to square two. Say “thank you;” pay attention. That’s the “donor retention strategy” that has the greatest promise of success.
Has your development department found a way to balance both of these priorities?