Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Donor communication mistakes and faux "paws"

Between the Jewish Holidays and the travel schedule I maintain, you can probably imagine I'm out of the office a bit. I also tend to send countless emails, as it is my preferred method of communication. I see a lot, I experience a lot, and I have to tell you folks, from what I see some of us have a long way to go in our communications with donors and others. Some of these tips and tricks will seem simple and second nature, but the examples shown are recent and real. At the core of what we do is the donors and I hope this is a kind refresher of that point for many of you.

1. Your email out of office message is key. I get bouncebacks from all over the world and at times I am astonished at the lack of common courtesy many out of office replies contain. At the minimum, here is a guideline, pass it on, especially to your new hires.
   Have a friendly greeting, tell how long you're going to be out, tell if you're checking email at all, if not, provide with the contact email and phone of someone who is, tell when to expect a reply, and finally, thank them for the email and their patience.  See examples of great and uhm less than great below:

" I will be out of the office on September XX and will respond as soon as I am able."


"Thank you for your email. I will be out of the office through Tuesday, October XXth, returning on Wednesday, October XXth.  If you need immediate assistance, please contact Jane Smithe at janesmith@org.orgor 867-5309.  Thank you."

2. When you come back, turn it off! Set the auto timer on Outlook, put it on your calendar, do something to notify yourself and make sure it's off.

3. Please do the same for your voicemail if you're not going to check it while you're out. Some people are phone folks and want to hear your voice.

4. Speaking of phone and voicemail etiquette, when you answer your phone, make sure the person is warmly greeting and knows where they're calling. "Good morning thanks for calling Yeshiva University, this is Lynne, how can I help you?" Is a good start, unless your name isn't Lynne and you don't work at YU, if so, adapt please. I have a coworker that answers the phone, "Jane Speaking" and it drives me bonkers, all about Jane eh? Make your greeting about the donor. Smile when you leave your voicemail too, it helps your tone.

5. When you're sending an email, please leave your kitties playing with yarn stationery off (hence the title of the blog, faux paws) :) no one wants to see that or any other stationery that impedes response like solid colors and it is sometimes incompatible with other email programs.

6.  In addition, you're not my (earth) mother, so no guidelines about going green and not printing emails, even with the cute little tree logo and green ink,  it's an email, I get it. It's condescending and redundant.

7.  That last legal paragraph at the end of your emails is rude, condescending, and off putting, especially to donors. Eliminate it. We don't work at the CIA, we're saving puppies and educating people and saving lives, there are no nuclear codes in your email, and it's a lot like the FBI warning at the beginning of movies, unnecessary. In addition, when we exchange 3 or 4 emails I get 3 or 4 paragraphs to scroll through, ugh! Those paragraphs make us feel corporate and foreboding, not the warm welcoming non profits made of human beings that we are.

8. My final word about email signatures. Limit the graphics, keep your message simple and readable and know your audience. Finally, check your links often, about once a month, in case they move a page on you, you wont be told by a donor. Here are some examples:

9. Make sure you know what your email alias is, it matters, check out the email forwarded to me by a reader and tell me if that's the right message:

10. Finally, at the core of who we are as fundraising professionals is advocates for donors and friends. Make sure your organization recognizes this. The little things are so important. Here's a lesson a large university just learned and is pulled from their giving page:

No cash please is so condescending and belittling. Send your cash to my org., we'll take it! And I promise to thank you for it too...

What are some of the simple communication lessons you have learned?

I look forward to your contributions.




  1. Also worth getting your email address in there, sometimes when mail's forwarded that 'From:' address gets lost.

    There's a little Do's/Don'ts list here that could be useful for a future post:

  2. Hi, Lynne,
    Thanks so much for referencing things I have overlooked. I have phoned my own phone before to see what the "phone trail" is like when it is forwarded and then, counted how many ring throughs it takes/transfers to get a live person. It was mind boggling, especially at high vacation/luncheon times. Worth having a workstudy student in the office when 100% of the staff are in a meeting or out.