Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Donor Relations for Internal Audiences

Here's a great guest post from a member of my linked In group- What a wonderful practice to emulate!

By Rebecca L.J. Geragosian

Two vital aspects of any stewardship program worth its salt are a clear acknowledgment process and a meaningful donor recognition program. Typically, this applies to acknowledging gifts and recognizing those same donors in some fashion (whether in a publication or on a donor wall or plaque). But, some acknowledgment and recognition happens outside of that box at Phillips Academy.

This is an old school with many rich traditions. It is also a school with several mottos, one of which is non sibi or “not for self alone”. It is in this spirit, that we ask our scholarship recipients to write letters to the contacts of our endowed scholarship funds. Another spring tradition, spearheaded by our Parent Fund team in coordination with Stewardship, is to ask parents of graduating seniors to reflect on their son or daughter’s time at Phillips Academy and to acknowledge the faculty and staff who made meaningful contributions to their students’ experience. In fact, sometimes parents begin sending in their letters of appreciation before we can get the request out. The letters are compiled by the Stewardship and Parent Fund teams and presented to the faculty at the end of the school year. They are organized by the honored faculty member’s last name so that they can find letters about themselves easily. The book has been located in a central place for faculty to peruse, but this year it will be available as a PDF so that it is easier to find and look at. Individual letters are then given to the faculty. Many families will send us hand-written cards, and even photo albums which can be forwarded to the appropriate faculty member. But one thing is for sure – they are all heartfelt and truly touching messages. An excerpt is below:

We were not asked to write, but we could not help but write. These past four years have been the most wonderful and life enhancing gift for our youngest son.  His father and I seldom go more than a couple of days before sharing how grateful we are that our son was granted the extraordinary privilege of attending Andover.  As his four-year Andover career comes to a close, we are very nostalgic and impressed by his entire journey.  Andover does not disappoint.  Its reputation is almost intimidating. However, we found the academic rigor matched by equal compassion and generosity of spirit, and, in our case, generosity of resources. We never met you and yet we owe you so much.”

The two projects I mentioned above are similar on the surface. They both recognize people who have been an important force in the lives of Phillips Academy’s students. And, in both cases we are asking the end users, the families, to write the acknowledgment. But, the faculty appreciation book is unique in that (prospective) donors are actually our partners, in acknowledging faculty members, and that the group being recognized (our faculty) aren’t necessarily donors. Nevertheless, they have made “contributions” to the Academy in their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears (the last part applies especially our coaches). Being a boarding school, our teachers spend countless hours outside the classroom teaching, mentoring, coaching, counseling and “parenting.” More than once, our gift officers have come back from meeting with alumni who say they didn’t appreciate then what they do now, which is how extraordinary it is that someone will donate substantial amounts of their own time, and money, for someone they hardly know, so that they can benefit from an Andover education. However, it is clear that fact is not lost on the parents of many of our students. Some parents will send a gift with their letter, made in honor of their student’s favorite teachers or in appreciation for the fabulous education their student has received in their time here.

At an ADRP meeting I attended, someone said that their goal was to make donors happy they gave, and to get them excited about giving again. Sometimes though, we have to do things a little out of order to get the same result. Case in point – this project serves as a reminder to parents, and hopefully students, to “give back” to the school that has given their child so much. The goals of this project are two-fold: to acknowledge and recognize the faculty who make this school as great as it is, and to turn grateful parents and students into grateful donors.

Rebecca L.J. Geragosian

Assistant Director of Stewardship

Phillips Academy

Thanks Rebecca! Cheers,

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Donor Relations on the Front Line

When I first arrived on the fundraising landscape there was a large divide between the "front office" and the "back office". Even though the divide still exists in some organizations both physically and philosophically, I am happy to say that donor relations is a key component of changing that paradigm. Donor relations is no longer a reactive, stagnant position in many organizations. One of the things that has changed that is that donor relations professionals are leaving their offices for more than events more and more often. 

Many DR professionals now carry a portfolio of donors and are out on visits regularly. This benefits not just the development operation, but the donor as well. 

What does this look like at your organization? I would love to hear about it in the comments below. Here is what I have seen and what I encourage my clients to do: Get out from behind the desk and thank somebody! Pair up with a front line fundraiser and start taking donors out to say thank you. Then get out there on your own. Start first with local visits, thanking those who are closest but who may not get seen by a gift officer regularly. Then the next time you go to an ADRP conference in Seattle (hint hint) or an academic impressions conference in Phoenix (again, HINT) go and visit donors there. 

Now some of you are saying, won't my fundraisers be upset by me visiting "their" donors? Nope. Not if you talk to them first, start by pairing with them and have your leadership's backing. Everyone I have ever implemented this with was thankful to have another person to visit folks who might not get seen often. Who are those folks? Planned giving donors, donors in a multi-year pledge, mid level donors and others who may live more remotely. What can you do to help bridge the gap? Build trust and demonstrate that you're trying to help the overall organization and the donor who needs the attention. There are way more donors than there are fundraisers, the numbers are on your side!

Remember these things: Take notes and fill out a wonderful contact report on the visit, this will help everyone. Follow up with a thank you note to the donor and an email to their primary prospect manager to let them know about the visit. Ask for more, you can do it and it will help you get a better pulse on your donors and their needs. It's very difficult to build a donor relations programs if you're not exposed to donors regularly. 

So, tell me more! What does your portfolio look like? What are the challenges with this you might face? How can we help each other? I look forward to your comments.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Best Practices: Acknowledgments

Another fabulous guest post by friend, mentor and colleague, Debbie Meyers!

Whether you’re creating, enhancing or reviewing youracknowledgment protocol, the process is often overwhelming. All the questions that buzz around our heads!

Who should sign the letters? At what level? Hand sign or machine sign? Does it need to be a letter? Do we acknowledge pledges? Do we treat corporate gifts differently from individuals– because, really, does the Australian Chicken Council (real life example) find a letter from our president meaningful?

Our standard go-to solution is to benchmark our peers. Often we have no choice – our well-meaning but sometimes less-than-imaginative decision-makers require us to see what our “aspirational and inspirational” (don’t ya just love a good buzz phrase?!) peers are doing.

Benchmarking, as I’ve noted before, has its limitations. And for acknowledgments in particular, I would say benchmarking is irrelevant. What is relevant are a number of factors that can help guide you toward a reasonable system.

Climb up to the top of the mountain and look out over your institutionGet a firm grasp of the big picture that is uniquely your institution. What do you see? Ask yourself:

What does you institution consider a major gift?
If your president is signing letters for $2,000 gifts to the annual fund and your major gift level starts at $100,000, something’s off. It’s not that $2,000 gifts aren’t important. They are. I would LOVE for someone to give me $2,000!! And they should be acknowledged.

But having your organization’s leader sign letters for gifts at too low of a level can create a negative perception aboutyour organization and sense of entitlement among lower-level donors. If everyone is special, no one is special.Moreover, a form letter from the president with a digital signature is practically meaningless and borders on junk mail. So how do you know where to draw the line? Check your data –

How many gifts at which levels does your institution receive over a year?
You can’t blindly set up levels for acknowledgments without knowing how many letters you’re talking about. You need context. If your president has only enough time to hand write 10 cards a week, then see at what level those topten are. Then ask:

What kind of leader and staff resources do you have?
Does your chancellor enjoy handwriting notes? Is yourpresident willing to devote the time it takes to write the number of thank-you’s you want? Will your CEO sit on letters until they’re hopelessly out of date? Do you have adequate staff to carefully research each gift and donor to craft a letter that will get framed and hung on a wall? Or do you have one person whose duties include 50 things, among them presidential correspondence?

 Are other departments also doing acknowledgments?
Find out if other departments, colleges, schools or units within your organization are sending letters, to whom and under what conditions. That information will help you avoid holes in the overall process.

Armed with big picture information, let’s look at a more detailed plan by plugging in these factors:
gift amount – identify the natural groupings, breaks and cutoffs.
gift type – choose what you’ll acknowledge: cash, pledges, pledge payments, on-line gifts.
gift allocation – find out which are already being acknowledged or those needing to be covered centrally.
donor affiliation  label the groups receiving special or different treatment, like VIPs, trustees, major donors, first-time donors and corporations/foundations.
medium  determine your delivery method: email, phone call, hand-signed form letter, electronic signature form letter, individualized hand-signed letter, handwritten note

Then add in two key guiding principles:
The best acknowledgments come from the person/entity benefiting most directly from the gift.
Acknowledgments are an institutional response to a gift. To be effective, they must be timely, accurate and sincere.

Acknowledgments are an art and a science. The science of timeliness and accuracy are mechanical functions that you will iron out with your IT and data management colleagues. The art of sincerity comes through not only in the language, which should be refreshed frequently, but through the person signing the letter. A thank-you from a person who has little to no connection to the gift will not be as sincere as one from someone who directly benefits from it.

Considering your criteria factors and guiding principles, you’re ready to create a grid or hierarchy for your acknowledgments.

Start at the top.
Given the volume of letters, your resources and leader’s availability, determine who will get a leadership acknowledgment. For instance, a board member who gives $5,000 will probably qualify because of affiliation, even though you set the dollar level at $100,000. Document any criteria that make sense for your institution and your top leader. Then, for everything else…

Divide and conquer.
A staff of two cannot effectively manage sending out 10,000 letters a year. So weigh and balance a reasonable workload, playing off quality vs. quantity, which often translates into timeliness vs. personalization. Which is better – a timely and accurate form letter, or an eloquent personalized letter that arrives a month after the gift is made? Figure out where you want to draw your line in the sand.

Then find the holes for allocation. Who would acknowledge $10,000 unrestricted gifts (no dean, not high enough for the president)? Can you eliminate on-line gifts under a certain threshold by simply replying with an electronic acknowledgment? (Yes, you can and should.)

Many institutions have the VP for development sign second-tier gifts. Depending on your staff resources and how strongly our VP feels about it, you may want to re-think that strategy. At a university, for example, if thebusiness school dean acknowledges gifts of $1,000 and higher, and your president acknowledges $50,000 and up, you can be reasonably confident that the $10,000 business school donor will get a letter from the business dean and really could care less (in many cases) about a form letter from a VP for advancement, whose job it is to raise moneyand has no direct stake in the welfare of the business school. (See Guiding Principal #1.)

The process and rules are not going to be the same for every institution. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, no one is you-er than you.Using the information and theory you gain through this process, you should be able to create a meaningful, effective acknowledgment system that would make even Penelope Burk proud!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Stop The Madness!

Over the past six months, I have been keeping a box of the direct mail solicitations that come to me here in Charlotte. After 6 months of diligence, I have some startling results to report to you. I began with a shoebox and ended up with a postal service tub of mail. My hope is that you share this article with everyone you know in the hopes that behaviors will change.

It seems that direct mail is alive at some organizations, although the ROI on direct mail continues to fall. Remember it is 7 times more expensive to obtain a new donor than it is to keep the one you already have- adjust 10% of your acquisition budget into donor relations to boost retention and you won’t regret the decision!

In those 6 months, I received 81 direct mail solicitations. 19 of those appeals were from organizations that I had never supported before, meaning they bought my name from a list clearinghouse or another organization. This frustrates me beyond repair, especially since it is in such direct violation of the Donor Bill of Rights.

I received 53 solicitations in the dreaded and boring #10 envelope, 18 solicitations were in non-standard sized envelopes. 45 of my solicitations came in window envelopes. 4 had errors in spelling of my name or address. 6 of the appeals claimed to have “emergency or urgent” appeals enclosed. 

I was sent 26 solicitations with free gifts enclosed, from notepads to Christ medals to calendars to 15 pages of address labels in all shapes and sizes. SIGH. 

26 were sent with live stamps and 55 used non-profit postage bulk mail. 

Let’s look at the contents:

23 letters addressed me as “friend” or didn’t use my name even though it was on the outer envelope- do they just not care?
27 used my formal name of Ms. Wester
18 of them used my first name of Lynne
And 11 used the weird combo of first and last name- which read, Dear Lynne Wester,

The letters varied in length-
17 one page letters
47 two page letters
15 four or more page letters with the longest being 8 pages. WOW.
67 of their appeals asked for a specific amount, 16 did not.

On the reply devices, only 6 offered me a monthly giving option.
Let’s look at the most egregious of problems beyond the address labels and other obvious things:



This organization had the most random amounts- what will $3.65 really do? It’s not a monthly gift, just a one time contribution. This makes me worried for them as an organization. They were also one of the ones that purchased my name and address.
I made a gift to St. Jude, by FAR the worst offender in address labels and in order to thank me, they RE SOLICITED ME- Check out the appalling note here- and also on the thank you note, they referred to me as “friend” I won’t be giving to them again.


Then finally I received two “certificates” of generosity. Both BEFORE I made my gifts. Uhm, yeah, not  so much. These don’t inspire me to make a gift nor feel obligated to the organization. Here they are:

So what have we learned from all of this? It’s that the status quo is in full effect at organizations. 81 pieces of mail later and I wasn’t truly inspired by any of them. How are we going to cause change to happen in our organizations when we accept this as the norm? I ask you to help me stop the madness! Send in your pieces, let me know what you’re seeing and who is doing a great job, they deserve to be rewarded. We CAN do better and we MUST do better!

I look forward to a healthy debate.