With tax season upon us, our thoughts (and probably a board meeting fundraising topic or two) turn to deductible charitable donations.
Do donors take advantage of tax benefits? Yes, some do.
Do donors give for tax reasons? No, most don’t.
This distinction is important and should shape how you ask and how you thank donors.
Start with how you ask:
Don’t lead with “we are a 501C3 organization…” Only accountants care about your tax status. When you talk about your organization, lead with how you change the world.
“We save lives…”
“We create jobs…”
“We make the world a more beautiful place…”
“Insert your organization’s mission here…” (If your mission statement mentions your tax status, put that at the top of your priority list to revise.)
From your website to social media posts to fundraising letters, look for anyplace you use “tax deductible” and substitute “world changing” for a more impactful appeal. Most people give money because they are asked, not because of how it impacts their taxes.
Continue when you say thanks*:
The IRS has specific requirements donation acknowledgments. However, there are no rules saying you have to use only that language – that’s the minimum required. Go beyond that with a sincere expression of how much the donation means and how it will change lives. Don’t be boring, this acknowledgement is the first building block to your next ask. Your nonprofit is doing important work – you’re making our community a better place to live! Show the donor that their gift matters in doing just that.
Tell a story.
Share a photo.
Share the joy you felt when the gift was received.
Taxes are an inevitable part of our lives and certainly a consideration in our work. However, they must be kept in perspective when we communicate with our donors and remember that we are inviting people to help us change the world, not help them with their taxes.
*This blog post should not be considered legal advice, so please speak to an attorney/CPA to make sure that your communications meet the legal requirements set forth by the IRS.
Successful social enterprise requires capital investment. I am honored to work with the organizations participating in The Patterson Foundation’s Margin Mission Ignitioninitiative. My role is to support their capital investment fundraising efforts. Social enterprise business planning is hard work and not coincidentally, raising the capital can be hard work, too. Once the business plan is complete, the hard work of implementation begins. At this critical moment organizations can be tempted to move on full speed ahead without thinking about their donor investors. Warning: this is a terrible idea.
Just like other types of fundraising, capital investment fundraising requires careful stewardship of donors. How should you steward them? I’m glad you asked! There are 3 major steps: Appreciate, Engage, and Listen.
Appreciate First, make sure they know they are appreciated. This starts with an accurate, well-crafted thank you letter. Be sure to spell the donor’s name right and use their preferred title. If it’s a business, ensure that the letter is addressed to the right person so it doesn’t get lost.
But don’t stop with the letter from the organization. Look for other ways to say thank you. For instance, if a board member helped secure the gift, ask that board member to write a personal note or send an e-mail directly to the donor. You can’t really thank someone too much.
Providing updates on your capital fundraising efforts is another way to appreciate donors. When you show progress toward your capital investment fundraising, you are reassuring the donor that their investment is being joined by others. For instance, the Margin Mission Ignitionorganizations had a stated goal and were fundraising to secure matching funds by a deadline. By providing timely updates, early investors got to share in the celebration.
Engage Second, keep them engaged. By the time you raise the gift, you’ve probably had multiple conversations with the donor about your earned income venture. Don’t go silent at that point. Update them on your business planning and implementation. They want to know that you are still making progress and likely can help in one way or another.
You can also engage donors by asking them to share their expertise. For instance, if they have a marketing background ask them to review the drafts of your new website. If they are an accountant ask for their help in creating your new accounting system. Donors like to be valued for more than just the checks they write us. Keep in mind though, only ask for their expertise if you’re willing to listen to their ideas.
When appropriate, invite donors to participate as customers. You could offer a coupon and make it comfortable for them to invite family and friends to join them. If your new enterprise includes a “soft opening,” invite donors to be a part of that. Ask for their honest critique of their experience.
Listen Third, listen. With each of these interactions suggested above, listen to how your investors respond and act accordingly. Some questions to consider:
Are they investment donors and might want to do that again? Then keep them in mind if you need additional capital investment or if you embark on another business plan.
Are they committed to your mission and would be likely to support other parts of your organization? Look for the next big thing that will intrigue them.
Do they like numbers? Keep them updated on the business plan and the adjustments you are making throughout implementation.
Are they more interested in the impact on your mission? Send them stories about how the proceeds change and save lives at your organization.
Here’s a bonus tip: as you appreciate, engage and listen – a picture is worth a thousand words. Keep the photos coming. Every communication doesn’t have to be a major design work of art. Spontaneous e-mails with photos attached can be very meaningful. When your donor investors visit you, be sure to snap and share photos. When the proceeds of your enterprise impact your mission, share photos. As an example, the photo above is from Margin Mission Ignition 2016 organization Florida Maritime Museum’s Folk School.
According to research by fundraising expert Penelope Burk, donors (and investors) are most interested in knowing that you put their money to work as they intended and don’t mind if you made some mistakes along the way as long as you can show that used those mistakes as learning opportunities. That is reassurance that their money is well spent. Taking the time to steward your social enterprise investors will be time well spent.
Give Day Tampa Bay is May 5, 2015 – just one week away. Are you ready? Are you ready for what comes next? Give Day Tampa Bay is a 24-hours online giving challenge led by the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation. The midnight-to-midnight went showcases our local nonprofits and makes giving easy for first-time donors or long-time supporters.
To get the most benefit from your efforts, make sure you are thinking about how to retain donors after May 5. Across the nonprofit sector, donor retention is very low. Don’t believe me? You can see for yourself at the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. How do you beat those statistics? Donor engagement!
Just like with any fundraising program, you have to plan for the follow-up with your donors on Give Day Tampa Bay. Make sure your plan covers these 4 things:
Say thank you – start with a timely, accurate thank you. Should it be electronic or written? Yes or what about both? However you do it, make sure you convey that you are happy to receive the gift and you will put it to good use accomplishing your mission. Be sure to find everyday language to describe how your mission will change a life and make the world better. For Give Day Tampa Bay, the donor makes the gift to the Community Foundation but that should not change the sincerity and timeliness of your acknowledgement. Make sure the donor knows that your organization is grateful for their gift.
Engage – engage them in what you are doing. Invite them for a tour, tell them good stories about the beneficiaries of your work. Ask them to join you as a volunteer. Make them the superhero. Meet them whenever possible and listen to them. Ask questions like: How did you come to support us? What is special to you about the work we are doing? What other information would you like to receive and how would you like to receive it?
Drip feed your mission – don’t pour it out fast like a fire hose. Organizations do many things and we are compelled to tell the donor everything we do in every correspondence. Stop that! Remember when you first starting learning about your organization? You didn’t understand it all at once so don’t expect your donor to do that. Tell them one story at a time that demonstrates your work.
Tell a story – Stories are the best way to convey information. I had a professor in graduate school who told lots of stories and guaranteed his students we would remember the stories but not the theories in the textbooks. Now it’s 20 years later and I can tell you he was right. That’s what I remember. Your donors will remember the stories and that’s what will move them to make another gift.
I’m often asked, “How soon can we ask for the next gift?” There is no magic timeframe. More important than the number of days, weeks or months, answer this question: how have you thanked and engaged the donor? Once you have done that well, you’ll be ready to ask for the next gift.
We’re excited to have this guest post from friend and colleague Ashley Pero.
It’s funny how your earliest jobs can influence your views. I spent my teenage and early 20s working in retail – and firmly believe that people should have to take part in that rite of passage. It is most likely because of that experience that I have such high expectations when it comes to customer service. My paycheck depended on how well I treated my customers and their experience in the various stores that I worked – money is always a good motivator to learn the best practices.
I was pleasantly surprised recently as I personally experienced a local company’s service failure process. Our AC had gone out – and June in Florida with no AC a happy person does not make! We called our normal AC company but they were unavailable until the next day, so we called another company who saturates the market with “we’re here when you need us” ads. They could be out between 9p and 11p, which meant no sleeping in the heat. Then at 8:50p we received a call to tell us they couldn’t come out until the next afternoon with no explanation as to why. Furious I took to Twitter, Facebook and sent them an email explaining my frustration and disappointment in their customer service and company. By the time I woke up the next morning I had genuine responses with apologies and an offer to correct on all media fronts. While I was still uncomfortable as our house reached over 80 degrees, I felt heard. I responded with my appreciation of a response and an explanation and could honestly tell them they I would consider their company in the future. And that is the story most people have heard – the story of their recovery not their mistake.
Does your organization have a service failure process in place? If something goes wrong can you quickly act to offer the customer, client or donor an apology, explanation and solution? It could be the difference between losing that person and all of their friends, family and colleagues hearing about the bad experience or turning the situation around so their friends, family and colleagues hear about how you went above and beyond to make it right.
*Really it was the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance’s dedicated members
I was there to teach but as is always the case, I learned, too. It was my privilege to provide a custom training program to those attending the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance (NAPSA) meeting in Tampa. They are a dedicated group of staff and volunteers from primate sanctuaries throughout the US and Canada. Their mission is “to advance the welfare of captive primates through exceptional sanctuary care, collaboration and outreach.” The organization is only 2 years old but active and growing. They met in Tampa for two days and discussed a variety of issues related to the care of their residents – chimpanzees, monkeys, apes – and the running of their nonprofit organizations.
As different as every organization may seem, we all face the same challenges and rewards. One of those in the group was quick to point out to me that raising money for their cause is harder than most other nonprofits. I can’t confirm or contradict that assertion. We all have challenges. Who am I to say if theirs is greater? What I can say with confidence: while it’s tough for all of us to raise money, the most critical ingredient for success is a passionate belief in the mission of the organization. What I learned from this group: they have that most critical ingredient.
According to Giving USA, animal nonprofits raise the smallest portion of funds in the US each year. Based on that data, the members of NAPSA do have unique challenges. But all donors have similar needs. By engaging qualified prospects, they will be able to raise funds and meet the needs of their residents. Each prospective donor seeks to be engaged in our missions.
Here are three keys to donor engagement:
Show me – the work of these groups is very visual and provides opportunities for photos, blog posts, and social media interactions with prospects far and near.
Tell me – we should examine our communications to make sure we are telling a compelling story about making the world a better place. Are we sharing our successes with donors, prospects and the world at large? Sometimes we are so close to the good work we are doing, we forget that those outside our organizations don’t get to see the progress being made.
Let me – volunteer opportunities abound in our nonprofit organizations. When a person has a chance to participate in our work of changing the world, they experience the great feelings. This may be the most powerful way to convert a prospect into a donor: let them have a close-up, hands-on encounter.
At the end of our session, I was convinced that the committed and passionate people from the primate sanctuaries have great fundraising success ahead – and I’m pretty sure they believed it, too.