In this webinar, Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Terry Axelrod, Founder & CEO of Benevon discuss the donor appreciation/recognition process and how to integrate it into your year-round donor cultivation program.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right Terry, is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Terry: You bet, yeah.

Steven: All right good morning everyone if you are on the East Coast, and good afternoon if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, Customizing Donor Appreciation and Recognition. My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin officially. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation so if you have to leave early or perhaps want to review the content later on, have no fear, we’re going to get you the recording as well as some of the slides. Not too many slides today as opposed to our normal format but we’re going to get all that stuff in your hands later on this afternoon. So have no fear, you’ll be able to relive all the content if you need to.

Most importantly we’re going to do a little bit of a different format today and do pretty much all question and answer. I’ve already collected a lot of really awesome questions. I don’t know that we’ll even have time to get through all the ones I already have, but I do not want you to feel like you can’t contribute in that chat box today.

Please feel free to continue sending your questions and comments. We want this to be really interactive and have some fun today so don’t be shy about that at all. If you see that I pulled out one of your questions, let us know that you’re listening live. Send us a chat and we may even ask you to elaborate on what’s going on with your organization, so don’t be shy about that at all. You can do all of those things on Twitter also. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Twitter feed as well.

One last bit of housekeeping, these webinars usually are only as good as your own internet connection. So if you’re dialing in, it’s the webinar via your computer speakers. We usually find that it’s a little bit better quality by phone. So if you have a phone that you don’t mind dialing into for better audio quality, try that before you give up on us completely since it doesn’t rely on internet speeds or computer and browser types and all that good stuff that slows webinars down. There is a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that you got when you registered so you can use that phone number just for yourself.

If this is your first webinar with us, we do these webinars just about every Thursday here at Bloomerang. One of my favorite things we do for sure, one of the things that we’re most known for. This is our last webinar of the year. I can’t hardly believe it. We’ve done over 40 sessions this year. Pretty much keeping to that weekly schedule, but if you are new to Bloomerang in general, if this is your first webinar, really glad you’re here for a first timer for sure but what we are really known for at Bloomerang is our donor management software. So check that out if you’re interested in that or maybe you’re looking to switch vendors next year or sometime sooner. You can even download a quick video demo and see all of the software in action. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. So check it out after the presentation, you can do that now, wait until 2:00 eastern because you’re really in for a treat because one of my favorites is here, Terry Axelrod from Benevon. Hey Terry, how’s it going?

Terry: Just great. Really glad to be with you all. Thanks Steven.

Steven: Yeah, I could not have picked a better guest to close out our webinar series. Terry’s been on here a few times throughout the year. Always a really popular presenter. I just want to brag on her real quick before I turn it over for some introduction remarks from her. If you guys don’t know Terry, she is the founder and CEO over at Benevon.

She’s going to tell you a little bit about Benevon before we jump into the Q&A, but she has been working with non-profits for over 30 years before creating Benevon. She founded three non-profit organizations herself in healthcare and affordable housing industries. So she not only has a lot of great advice that you’re going to hear from her today, but she’s been in your shoes as well.

She created Benevon back in 1996 after serving as a development consultant for a private intercity school where she raised over $7 million in only two and a half years during her stint at that school. She even got some great recognition from the Chronicle Philanthropy for that work. But since she’s been at Benevon she has raised billions of dollars, billions with a “B”. She has written seven books and created several DVDs.

She is speaking at conferences all the time. It’s always a treat when can actually fit this into her schedule because she is on the road a lot and still finds time to volunteer. She’s even an adjunct lecturer over at the University of Michigan School of Social Work. So definitely has a heart for non-profits. Terry, I’m going to hand it over to you for a couple of remarks before we get into the Q&A. So take it away my friend.

Terry: Wonderful, wonderful. Thank you, Steven, and hi, everyone, really happy holidays. I don’t know about you all, but this is my last week in the office for the year. When Steven contacted me earlier in the year and we picked this date I said, “Do you think anybody’s even going to come?” It’s getting so crazy and in the development world it’s particularly crazy this time of year. It turns out, as of last night, there were about 900 people signed up for this webinar and I said, “Oh my gosh, I guess Steven was right,” especially with this topic and this time of year.

So I’m very grateful, as I know Steven is, for your participation today and rather than putting together a whole bunch of fancy slides and doing a PowerPoint presentation, a webinar format, I said, “Why don’t we make it a little more interactive,” because people, first of all, may not want to sit through all that on a day like today and secondly, they may have specific questions particular to their organizations in this time of year about donor appreciation and donor recognition. So this is going to be, as Steven said, a little bit different format.

I want to say also that I agreed to do this because I feel like we have, what seems to me, a pretty common-sense approach about how to appreciate and recognize donors here at Benevon but I continue to hear out in the world, you know, how many times can we send a direct mail thank you? What kind of gifts should we buying our donors as a way to thank them? What are the best ways to appreciate donors these days? Those are the kind of questions that tell me that the connection has not fully been made between donor recognition and appreciation and what I call donor cultivation.

One of the bottom line takeaways of my brief remarks here before we get into the questions is that donor recognition, donor appreciation, shall we say, at this time of year should not be a surprise. You should know the donors well enough by this point in the year that you know how to recognize and appreciate them because you’ve been cultivating them all year long. You’ve been getting to know them just as you would, you know, buying a Christmas gift for a friend, or a holiday gift to give to someone you know their preferences, you know their special thing. You know just which kind of cookies of fruit cake or a bottle of wine they would really like or that they wouldn’t like any. Maybe they’d like you to make a gift in honor of or they’d like nothing at all or they want you to buy them some Starbucks coupons from whatever.

You know those people in your life because you’ve effectively been cultivating them all year. You’ve been having that relationship, you’ve built that relationship with them. So even if you’re thinking, “Well, I should hang up the phone now because I don’t have a relationship with my donors and if that’s what she’s going to be talking about for an hour, I’ve got better things to do,” I would encourage you to think about your goals for next year so that if we were to do this webinar again at the end of next year you would go, “Wow, I did slice off a segment of my donors but I focused on all year, 28 teams, on getting to know better so that by the end of the year the recognition piece would be very organic, would be very, very natural.”

I have a friend here in Seattle that happened to workout with every morning just by coincidence, and he is also in the development field. At the crack of dawn this morning, working out with him and I was telling him that we have this webinar today. He’s a chief development person at a major hospital and he said, “I was talking with one of my big donors the other day,” big, big donors, and he said, “He gets so many thank yous this time of year, so many appreciation letters that he now has a new technique.”

He held up his index finger and he licked it and he said, “I run my finger across the page for every letter, down by the signature to see if it’s actually a legitimate real signature with real ink or if it was an automatic signature that was printed out on a computer. And he said, “If it’s an automatic signature with a computer, I throw it out and I won’t make a gift to them next year. If it’s at least a real signature, I will consider them.” I thought that was kind of touching.

This man also said to me, because he’s a very wise development person. I said, “Well, you got any advice, anything I should tell these folks today on the webinar?” he said, “Well, we have a lot of donors at all levels,” and he’s a major gift person and he said, “The main thing that I have found works is that when I write my personal note thanking them at the end of the year. I make sure to always add in, here is my cell phone number. Feel free to call me 24/7 any time of the day, week, month, year, I will be here to take your call.” That is what we mean by personal recognition personal cultivation.

So I’m setting those kinds of comments up front here to have everyone kind of true themselves up to what I would consider to be a very natural organic standard and then I’ve got some more remarks here to make about other things that I’ve written over the years and talked about and been asked about on calls like this.

So to keep going for a few minutes, my bottom line point is recognition and cultivation go hand-in-hand. Most donors will tell you, if you talk to donors and you say, what do you want in the way of recognition? Most donors will tell you, “I don’t look for any recognition. The best recognition is that you’re using my money wisely to take care of people, to deliver your services.”

But having said that I would ask you all to take a moment and think about yourself. Think of the times you’ve been a donor. Either you’ve been a donor, a board member, a volunteer, even a staff member. Think of the times that you’ve been recognized in any of these roles and what did they do to recognize you? What did they do to make you know how appreciated you were? Did it even work, or did it backfire? How did it feel to you? Did it feel artificial? Did it feel like it was just a rubber stamp kind of a letter or thank you? Even those robo calls that we all get now.

Then conversely, think of the very best example of a time when you felt really appreciated and recognized as a donor. What made it feel right? I’m going to give you a couple of examples that I’ve experienced in a minute. So was it seeing your name in the right list? I mean, for some people, just putting their name on that right list, whether it’s in the annual report or on a wall, carved in a cornerstone of a building, engraved in the donor wall. Was it a handwritten note or was it with a drawing from a little child who had just learned how to read. Was it a personal thank you call from the elated executive director?

The answer I have found is different for each person and your personal response may vary from one organization to the next. One organization you might be give to, you would say, “When they did this, it was just great.” Another one if they were to try that you’d go that would feel really artificial. You see, really at its base I would say that recognition and appreciation to be effective needs to be authentic. It needs to be the real deal. So you’ve got to think it through with each person. What does that feel like?

So when I just asked you that, what made you made you feel good about it? You may feel like some of your responses were a little bit petty. This is kind of the time when the little things matter. I once went to a conference of development officers where the guest speakers were two major donors, a husband and a wife and each one was a significant donor in their own right. They were very generous to share their time with the group and talk about what inspired them to give.

I remember during the Q&A period afterwards, the very first question came from a very eager development director who said, “What do you most look for in the way of recognition?” And without even looking at each other, in unison, the husband and wife both said, “I don’t look for any recognition.” And in fact, they didn’t really look for any recognition. They were giving because they had genuine loyalty and passion about these organizations and their mission.

But when we looked more deeply, after they stopped talking, the development officers talked a little bit and it was very clear to me and to the other smart development folks in the room that those development staff knew those donors well enough to be able to customize their recognition strategies for each donor so that it didn’t look like some artificial, flashy recognition at all. It was done in the perfectly, tasteful, natural way that appealed to each of these two donors and their unique preferences. And they were different, the husband and wife were very different in what they were interested in.

So for example, the woman gave a lot of money to various scholarships programs. Of course, the schools and universities were smart enough to connect her directly with the students. They had letters, occasional in person meetings at the donor suggestion. So this donor was getting the most meaningful kind of recognition she could receive directly from the beneficiaries of her gifts. Her husband wanted lunch with the CEO and he wanted lunch with the board chair. They did that twice a year and it was a big highlight for him. They updated him on financial matters and on their next big projects. That was recognition. That was appreciation, very customized.

So when you take the time to do the exercise and some depth at our workshops, like we’ll say to people, what is it that makes you feel more special. People say, it’s got to be personal. I’ve got to feel like they noticed me or perhaps that a particular person noticed me, like the CEO or the head of the board. I need to feel like whatever I did really made a difference for the organization. Some people don’t care who recognizes them. They want to know specifically what their money allowed you to do.

In other words, even though most donors will never bring up the topic of recognition, you’ve got to assume that they want it. You’ve just got to figure out. You’ve got to know them well enough to figure out what it is. Again, I use the analogy of the holiday gift that you’re giving to someone. That you know exactly the thing that’s going to light them up even though it may be a bit peculiar, it’s their unique preference.

So let’s talk a little bit about the difference that a gift can make. So I’m kind of shifting the topic for a few minutes here. If you assume that every donor, at a minimum, wants to know that their gift was used wisely for the purpose it was intended, whether it’s a research project or to advocate for abused women or to provide hospice care to one patient, they’ve got to know that in the end their financial contribution really made life better for somebody better. Some people, and I would say, most people want some facts, F-A-C-T-S. So do not underestimate the power of facts and statistics in your recognition and appreciation. Share with them as much as you can.

So here’s another example. I love this example. This is a personal story of mine. So I had a young man, at that time he was a freshman in college, a young man I knew who sent me an accounting of every dollar that I had sent him that was used to fund programs that he was doing in Vietnam. The program was small. He was in charge of spending all the money himself, so he had ready access to the facts, but it really impressed me to see how much of the money went to which orphanages, which one to the Agent Orange program and which one to the school.

So here’s the story. This guy was only a teenager at the time, really late teens but he knew, in my mind, the essential secret about how to raise money from individuals and how to recognize and appreciate them. In other words, he knew this is the number one thing that drives Benevon, is that as individuals we are emotional donors who are looking for facts to justify our emotional decisions to give. So he gave me the facts. He didn’t underestimate the facts, but he wove it into the emotion.

In addition to giving me the factual accounting of how the money was spent, he sent me a personal letter describing his trip to Vietnam to visit each of the programs and present them with the funds that had been raised and he even enclosed a signed photograph of three little girls in the orphanage. That was all the recognition that I needed, and I have continued to give to this young man’s organization. So in his very simple, low budget way, he had really done a superb job of recognizing me by connecting me to the facts and the emotional impact of my gift.

So a lot of you in your questions that Steven and I looked at for today have asked somewhat generic questions. You know, how do we recognize all donors at this dollar level or donors in this category? They don’t know that they’re one of 300 or 3 donors at that category and they don’t know what else you’re doing to recognize people. I don’t know that they really care. I think you’ve got to find out what is the thing for them. So this young man from the Vietnam story, he could have sent me all kinds of baubles and plaques which might have really looked good hang on my wall, but I would have been wondering, why did he spend all that money on all that stuff rather than on the programs he says he’s so dedicated to.

So how could this simple approach work for you? I tell you this story because many of you have large organizations, many of you have smaller ones. But I say, it started way back at the point when he got me engaged with his organization. He had a little, what we call, a Benevon point of entry event in his home. I went just because his mother who’s a friend of mine invited me in. She knew I had an interest in Vietnam. He talked right there about the programs and the needs of very same programs, the needs of the orphanage, the Agent Orange, everything that ended up doing with money and the recognition. So there was a consistency in his message and I really related to those stories that he was telling about the children and the families.

In fact, he never asked me for any money there at the point of entry event, but he asked me to think about what I heard and said he wanted to call me for his advice a little bit later. When he did call me back, I told him I didn’t want to get more involved, but I wanted to know would he be hosting any more sessions like that because I was inspired, and I had a couple of friends who I thought ought to attend. Then I told him whenever he’s ready to raise money I would be happy to give him a little bit of money. I told him the specific amount.

Sure enough, he called me back, gave me the dates for the next point of entry and by that time, I had already talked to these other friends of mine, I gave him permission to call them and that was all done over the phone. At the same time, he said he was on his way to Vietnam. He said that he was going with his mother’s help and the church help. That the cost of the trip, the hard costs, were underwritten so that all the money raised would go directly to the programs so there was virtually going to be no overhead.

So before he even asked, I’d already said here’s how much I want to give, and I will keep giving to you and sure enough, here comes the recognition part. Three months later, I got the recognition package in the mail that had the letter, the accounting statement and a signed photo from the kids at the orphanage. So the report was actually four or five pages typed single space, chock full of detail on each of the programs he had visited. It was like a long letter, kind of a long report to your donors but I really read it. I really was impressed that he had done it. My whole experience of this young man and his project was very consistent, was very truthful. He had delivered on everything he had promised, and I really felt great about the experience. There was that authenticity in the whole thing.

So whether your organization is complex, whether some of you on this phone have, from what I looked at the list, have very complex . . . you’re doing a research program of public policy, domestic violence, shelter. Whatever your mission type is, there is an equally compelling way to recognize your donors with your version of the facts, with your version of how the money got spent, with your version of the first-hand story.

That is the deeper recognition. That is the deeper appreciation that is ultimately going to be building those lifelong donors for you and your job, and we’re going to talk about it now as we move into answering your questions, is to figure that out. What is it that is the hot button? What is the perfect way to recognize each of your donors?

I’m going to shift into slides now. Tomorrow I believe Steven is going to be posting a blog post that is this. This is the blog post right here, and I’m just going to give you a little preview of it and then we will, I promise, open up for questions. So Top Five Ways to Appreciate your Donors. To kind of synthesize everything I’ve said so far. Number one, thank them promptly after receiving their gift. Make your “Thank you” personal. So that’s going to be . . . if any questions that you ask me today that we respond to, I’m going to be coming from these places.

Make your “Thank you” personal. Don’t just give a generic thank you. Make sure that they know that lets the donor know that you appreciate their unique gift and you appreciate them. Show them what their gift allowed you to accomplish. Give specific examples of how many, how much. Tell at least one story about one of the beneficiaries. Invite them to a mission related event as distinct from a fund-raising entertainment event. Invite them to an event or meeting related to their particular area of interest in your program. Like meeting with the music director, guest speaker on the latest discoveries and teaching piano or the student music performance. So it’s not just, “Gee, come to this generic thing where everyone is invited.”

Let them know that you know that music is their thing, or that teaching piano is their thing. Make sure that it’s really customized. That’s what’s going to bring you the ROI in the next years with them. Ask for their advice and listen to it with an intention to see how you could follow through on what they’re suggesting. Don’t be defensive or default to, “Well gee, that’s not my job to make something that big happen around here.” In other words, really listen as if you were that donor, as if you were that person really caring about your mission saying, “Here’s how I can help.”

And I have this. I’m sure many of you have. People come to you with kind of crazy ideas. Have you ever thought of this? Have you ever thought of that? I mean, I was amazed when I was launching this whole process at the school here in Seattle where I started this. I had no idea people had so many opinions about education and how math ought to be taught, how reading or art ought to be taught and how many things they thought they could sell to a school. It was just unbelievable. I mean, I had to say no to lots of people, but I really tried to put myself in their shoes and think, “Well, if he’s saying this, maybe he’s got some reasons to say this.” So I wasn’t defensive, I was open, but I really did listen.

This is the last slide here. Find at least two opportunities each year to communicate personally with each donor. So you’re going to have to stratify. Some of you on the call, from the questions that I saw submitted, you said, “We’ve got this many donors, how do we prioritize?” or “We’ve got a really small staff, I can’t do all this myself.” For the higher-level donors, you’ve got to do face-to-face meetings or personal phone calls and during those meetings and even at the end of the year here, during these meetings you’ve got to resist the temptation to do all the talking.

You’ve got to really ask questions and listen. People will like you a lot more when they know you’re really listening to them even if they know you aren’t going to be able to follow through. Think about the times when you talk with people and they just sit and listen and really you can tell they’re really listening to you, you have a deeper appreciation for that person. That’s what we’re trying to get at here.

Okay, so having said all that, I guess I’ll go back now to the main Benevon slide here because I may need to use it to talk about the model a little bit as we go through which I’m not planning to talk too much about the Benevon model. I really want to respond to your questions, but I may refer to this. I will say, at the very end I’ll come back and tell you some of the resources available through Benevon, our books and tapes and all are available on our website. We have really a lot of good free resources also at the website. So I may reference that a little bit just because I can’t help myself because it’s how I think about the world. Okay, Steven I’m turning it over to you. Let’s talk [inaudible 00:26:54].

Steven: All right.

Terry: Thanks for your patience.

Steven: Let me skip over. Just for you, I was listening along, I put a first name on the questions and also kind of the org type so please forgive me if I overgeneralize the work you do. That was not my intention. I just wanted to kind of give me and Terry a baseline for the type of work we were talking about. So Terry, you kind of touched on this already but like you said, a lot of people asked about segmenting by dollar amount.

I think your point was really valid that the donor doesn’t know what sort of dollar amount section of the pyramid they fall into. So how do you feel about . . . because I have pretty strong opinions on this, but I want to know what you think. How do you feel about sort of segmenting your efforts and your strategies by the amount that they gave? What would you say to that sort of concept in general?

Terry: I think it’s a reality that you can’t get to everyone with the same level of attention. I also think that the donors who are at the top level, some of them don’t want a lot of attention and they may not . . . just because they are giving you big gifts doesn’t mean that they need that much more than others. Again, it’s really personal. Really, really personal, but I would say, getting to know each donor.

We say at Benevon, if a donor’s giving you $1000 a year or more, that’s our definition of a major gift for a smaller or a mid-sized non-profit, we say any donor that’s giving you $1000 a year and pledges to do it for five years, which is part of our model, the multi-year pledge, that you should have at least two personal cultivation contacts with them per year plus invite them to, what we call a free feel good cultivation event which is not free tickets to the gala or golf. It’s actually the come and see the kids perform the music. It’s a program event.

So if you’re doing that for all the bigger donors . . . I mean, that’s happening throughout the year and the smaller donors I wouldn’t automatically go, “Well, you only gave us $750 so we’re not going to do that for you.” Again, if you have the time to get to know those donors that are under $1000, some of them really have the potential to give more. So individual donor recognition is really critical, Greg. Thank you for the question that you’ve got here.

One of the things I’m going to suggest especially because I saw some of the questions earlier and some of them were from folks with small staff and they said, “How the heck are we supposed to do this? We’re running a small operation.” So build a team of donor appreciation folks, whether it’s from your board or your volunteers. We at Benevon don’t require board members to do anything so that’s sort of a starting place. We don’t require them to ask for money, we don’t require them to invite their friends even to points of entry. It’d be great if they would, but nothing required at all.

The third thing that we don’t require but is really effective is for board members to thank people. So to me, if I’m on a board and somebody gives me a list of 10 donors and says, “Would you call them on your lunch hour, you as a board member, thank them for their generous gift,” I’m going to do that. If you all on the phone here or on the webinar, think about times you’ve gotten a call. Have you ever had a board member call you to thank you for a gift? You will remember it. If you have, it sticks in your mind.

I remember going to an event where I had that happen. I went to an event and I wrote a check. A couple of days later, on my voicemail, at lunch there was just a simple voicemail message left from this man. My check was not for very much money, so I was quite surprised when he said, my name is so and so. I’m on the board of this organization. I just wanted to thank you so much. That gift will make a big difference for our programs.

What did it say to me? It said, they noticed that I made a gift. A board member took time to call me, so my gift must have made . . . even at my level of a gift, that made a difference. Lastly, it said, they’ve got a little system. You know, they’ve got a process. Their board members really are engaged. I was impressed, and I kept giving there.

So my long answer to Greg’s question which is, get a team put together. Whether it’s your board members or a few key volunteers, sometimes if you’ve got a school you can have some of the students make the calls to thank, but yes, you need to be recognizing and thanking individual donors as much as possible, Greg.

Steven: One thing I heard you say, Terry about sort of inviting people in for events and tours and seeing the mission and all those good things. Would you say it would be a fair assessment to maybe prioritize the new donors because you’ve been talking for the last half hour about really getting to know people? So do you think it’s maybe more significant to prioritize first time donors versus a high dollar amount donor? If you have the choice what do you . . .

Terry: No. I think it’s not necessarily. Maybe I should say no. I would say not necessarily. You really got to weigh that. If they’re new and it’s a small amount versus . . . again, you’ve got all next year. This is the holiday time. If you’re doing it at the end of the year, you want to really appreciate the donors that have been with you long term and maybe some of the newer ones that have come in.

I talk a lot about, if you’re seeing people over the holidays, this week in particular, I don’t know about you all, but it’s been every single night this week was some kind of a social event related to the holidays. You don’t really have the time to do all that with donors but if you’re just even standing at the punch ball . . . you don’t want to take the time to talk business, you want to talk about their family and what are they doing for the holidays.

Yes, it’s, “Thank you so much for your support of the organization and gee, let’s get together after the first of the year,” or, “May I give you a call after the first of the year to talk a little bit more about the music program or invite you in,” or, “Gee, I’d love to have you meet Bonnie.” Like that. Just alluding to it. My point being, you can do a lot of the recognition of the new donors right after the first of the year also, Steven.

Steven: Right, there’s no rush in the next two weeks or so. Makes sense. Cool. Let’s move on. This is from Carolina, she works at Senior Center, maybe concerned about overthinking. Is that possible, Terry? Can these voicemails and those requests for personal invitations and all the things you’re recommending, is there a danger that maybe they would burn the donor out or annoy them? Can you do too much of these things that you’ve been describing?

Terry: Yes, I think you can. I think that’s a very interesting question, Carolina. I think that you can. Again, it can look kind of sappy and a little bit cloying, I think, to overdo it. “Okay, we get the point,” for some donors and some may say, “I need more.” I would say, find a happy ground. What we usually tell people is, start with kind of a minimum baseline and then gauge the response of the donor after that. Once you get to know them you may say, “Well, that wasn’t nearly enough,” or, “Gee, that was way too much.” Again, this one-size-fits-all recognition is not going to work. It’s just not going to build that relationship, so you’ve got to get to know them.

So best way to show appreciation without burning out the relationship in my mind would be . . . again, I don’t know how well you know these people Carolina, but I would say, a handwritten note might be very nice. The fastest and easiest way is some kind of a phone call. At our school we used to have the kids go out and take little . . . they didn’t even bake cookies. They just drew a handwritten drawing for our bigger donors. I always remember this. We had a day when we took five or six of the kids in a little van and they had these . . . what do you call that? That white paper that rolls like newspaper. Big rolls [inaudible 00:35:29].

Whatever that’s called. They would walk in. We would take them downtown to some of these donors’ offices. They’d go up in the elevators. They were all wearing their little pledge uniforms. They would interrupt . . . these people had no idea they were coming, the donors, and they would just literally go into the donor’s office with their little pledge uniforms on and they would unscroll this big thank you with their hands prints all over it [inaudible 00:35:52] and leave it for the donor and then of course it made it on the wall or sometimes they do a little picture, but it was often the big one.

That kind of recognition is the best. That’s the best because that’s memorable and it’s cheap. It shows you didn’t waste all their money on fancy stuff, and it really is the kids. So if you can do that at your senior center. If there’s some way Carolina, I would do that. Just keep it really personal.

Steven: I wanted to steal something that I’ve heard you reference a couple of times now involving the recipients of your programming in the “Thank you,” either as the author of the “Thank you,” like they’re the ones writing it. It’s written from their perspective. It’s a piece of art work for them. Is that something that you would, sort of, universally recommend?

Terry: Well, if it’s legal. You know, if it’s appropriate, if it’s ethical, depending on the type of group it is, yes. I think it’s wonderful. We saw, and I’ve worked with a lot of schools that have done scholarship programs and there’s no question that when the donor is connected to the student who’s a recipient, way more happens. It going to go on and you’ve built something really deep. My Vietnam story, my story about the woman donor who said she gives to scholarships and she gets letters from the students, yes. I think if it’s possible, that is the very best way. Thank you for that [inaudible 00:37:17] Steven.

Steven: I love it. Okay, cool. So this is what we all want, right? We obviously want the donor to feel appreciated and thanked but we want them to be inspired to take action at a later time. So it seems like all the things you suggested, weaving in the mission outcomes is going to do that. Any other advice for Silgai here about, how do we get them to do something else without asking.

I don’t think that we’re recommending that you’re asking in the “Thank you.” I don’t think that you’re recommending that Terry or maybe you are, let me know. I don’t want to put words in your mouth but is there a way to . . . prime the pump is kind of a term I hear a lot in the thank you for the next ask. Should you maybe allude to the fact that you’re going to be asking for something in the future or should it just be a plain, just the thank you and when it’s time to appeal we’ll appeal for them later.

Terry: I wouldn’t allude to, we’re going to ask you for more, but I would allude to talking further. “I look forward to staying in touch with you over the next year as we implement the program that you just gave us money for.” I would just leave the door wide open. At Benevon we have a definition of a personal cultivation contact and one of the criteria for it is that there must be a reciprocity. There must be a way for the donor to respond right in the contact.

So if I were meeting with someone in person, if I were meeting with you in person to say thank you Steven, I would definitely ask a next action taken out of that. Like I’ll call you on January 4th. I wouldn’t ever ask for money, but I would just make my next contact intention known. But when it’s a letter, it’s a little trickier or an email because you don’t really know where to go.

Usually the best way to do that is end with a question. You know, what are some of the best ways to acknowledge so they’re inspired to give more? Just say, would it be all right if I check in with you at the beginning of the year? Or, I’d love to give you an update on this program in March. But you want to plant the seed for another contact, not necessarily another ask.

Quickly one more thing, if they’re interested in a particular program . . . again, using the student example or the music program, it would be, I’d love to make sure that I introduce you to the music teacher early in the year next year, I’ll be in touch. Just let them know it’s not over. It’s just getting started.

Steven: I like that. A couple of people have chimed in in the chat, and it’s definitely on topic. Do you recommend including a reply envelope in all of these things even if you’re not making the ask? A lot of people are saying they’ve heard or maybe they’ve done that. That they just include that reply envelope in everything they send, no matter what. Even if it’s a thank you but they don’t necessarily make an ask, they just include it. Do you have opinion on that practice? Do you think that’s a good idea in some cases but not in others? What do you think?

Terry: Interesting. My opinion would be to never do it. My opinion would be to never do it. I’m sure I’m very old fashioned and probably everybody says seven times and do it on the internet, but my opinion is I would never send that. I would not combine a thank you with an ask ever.

Steven: I thought you’d say that. I totally agree. I guess I’m old fashioned too. Cool. Let’s keep rolling along. We’ll try to get to as many as we can. We have so many good ones. So dovetailing on the question about including service recipients and program recipients.

What about those people that you need to remain anonymous. Either there’s HIPPA things, health type things or just confidentiality type things. We work with a lot of organizations like domestic violence or kids, people under 18. How do you kind of walk that tight rope, Terry? Is there a way to still communicate sort of program outcomes without maybe divulging actual identities and actual case studies? What do you think?

Terry: Yeah, good question. My thought would be, I think it can almost again get a little manipulative if you use too many of the, “Let me tell you the story from the mother, here’s a letter from the mother of the sick child,” or, “I was an addict, let me tell you my testimonial thank you.” I don’t mean you shouldn’t use them because we’re big on stories at Benevon but certainly if the confidentiality thing is an issue at all . . . another thing that I think could be very effective, very effective is having a personal letter from the executive director or CEO.

I think people don’t do enough or this. Even if it’s kind of a holiday letter kind of a thing. A little bit of a tad generic with a personal something at the bottom, personal note. If it were something like, “I’m speaking for all of our clients, all of our abused mothers or children or whatever. You know our number one priority is to protect their confidentiality but just in summary we’ve served this many women and children this year. We’ve gotten this many out of poverty or these many found jobs.”

And then a real heartfelt thank you from the CEO about, “I’ve been doing this work for this many years, it’s my calling and I can’t tell you what it means to me to have people like you in the community who are willing to support us and help these families who have to remain anonymous.” Something like that.

Even if you did that as an email holiday thank you and then you’d have to somehow write a personal note on each one. I don’t know, maybe it’s better to do it by hand but something personalized, but that’s how I would do it. The CEO has a lot of power. If it just looks too slick, if doesn’t pass the lick my finger and rub it over the signature and does the ink run test, it’s not going to fly. I like that test. Okay.

Steven: Makes sense. Here is one from Julia. Julia is at a food bank. So they do some pretty interesting segmentation in terms of dollar amount. So they have kind of assigned pyramid and what they do in each. So two-part question here. Year-end donor specifically but I thought we could also focus on this idea of mid-level donors. It seems like mid-level donors is kind of the buzz word that people are really talking about and writing about and speaking about, it seems like more than they have this year.

Going back to this whole dollar amount segmentation thing. Any advice for those mid-level people. They’re not quite the major donors but they’re also not in that sort of bottom of the pyramid where we wouldn’t necessarily go overboard with our appreciation for them. Any tips on the middle of the pyramid, Terry?

Terry: I’ve read this several times and they’re so many numbers in it, I wasn’t able to quite sort it out. The last part where she says, what do mid-level donors, in our case $400 to $2500, want to know and how do they want to engage? Because she says up above, we try to meet with $1000-plus donors. So it sounds like mid-level and larger donors are kind of in the same category. I would say, as I said earlier, $1000 and above need two personal contacts per year. It doesn’t mean you have to have two private meetings with them. We even consider a phone call to be . . . I think the telephone is so underutilized.

People are so afraid to answer it now because they get all the robo calls but if you have the phone number of a person and that you have a relationship with them, they’ll take your call. I think you can do a lot in a dialog with someone on the telephone. So your mid-level donors Julia, I don’t know how many you have at that level, but most food banks have a lot at that level, I would say you probably would want to do a couple of events for them.

One of the best strategies we have, we call it CEO golden hours. This is where you cluster donors together and have them come in and have small groups, 10 or 15 people, you may have to invite 50 to get 10 or 15 and have them do a small brown bag lunch. We do this at a lot of the food banks or kinds of in the kitchen if you . . . I don’t know how your food bank’s set up but a way for them to talk with your CEO and have kind of point of entry experience, seeing what’s going on there and hearing some of the stories. That is often the very best recognition.

Volunteering is also a form of recognition for people. The deeper the engagement . . . again, it’s kind of the front side and the back side of the hand. The recognition and appreciation and the cultivation on the other side. So if you bring me in and say, you’re part of the food bank volunteers that are always here on Fridays that pack the back packs that we take out to kids or the packs the bags that go to the seniors for the weekend kind of thing then have a CEO golden hour, an appreciation event just for the group of volunteers.

You could do the same thing with donors at a certain level. Be sure that there is a principle donor that is in that category that kind of is set up to be the host of it for that event but I really think a personal sub group for that mid-level donors is really good because then there’s . . . let me back up and say, if you do that, you must follow up because you must follow up personally with each person who comes to that little brown bag lunch one hour thing.

And you must set up your CEO to actually let down their hair a little bit and share some of the challenges and really use it as an open feedback kind of a session to say, “What do you see? What more could we be doing in the community?” Like that. And then you must follow up with each person that attends afterwards to hear what they thought about it and to see who else in the committee they might like to engage.

Again, this whole process, it’s a process and it’s yearlong. At a food bank, Julia, I don’t have to tell you and I hope you are on the call and thank you if you are because it’s so crazy this time of year at food banks. You’ve got 11 other months of the year that you can be getting to know these donors and cultivating them in ways that include having them volunteer or putting on these golden hours. I don’t know that I’ve really answered the question but maybe we’ll get at it with some of these other questions, Steven.

Steven: Yeah, I love it. Let me get to the next one here if it will cooperate. Oh, I had Julia’s question in there twice because Julia’s special. Here we go. So Lysanne here, small shop, provisional shop, one and a half employees [inaudible 00:49:10] or the half of them. What advice would you have for these one and two people shops that they’re doing everything, right? They’re running programs, fundraising, volunteerism. Where should they start? What do you think is the most important to tackle, Terry?

Terry: I would say, stratify your donors. Make your list. I don’t know how many donors you’ve got but stratify them and start at the top with the biggest dollar amount and if it’s a small organization and you have a small number of donors, by that I mean like under 100 donors, I would make sure that you contact every one of them ideally. Let’s say you have 100 donors that have given you, I don’t know, over $500 in a year. That’s probably more than you have, but I don’t know. Get a team of people who can call them and thank them. That’d be my main advice.

And not just any team of any people but the top people, board members. At a minimum, divide and conquer. Divide the list up amongst your board members and ask them to call and thank people. You don’t have to give them the dollar amounts.

And if you want to get to know the people better as I’m suggesting that you do, you might want to have something else that the board members could invite them to afterwards or just say, “Lysanne asked me to call,” or whomever at the organization, “We are very grateful for your support and we’re going to be in touch with you after the start of the year to invite you to a special meeting with our executive director to learn more about what we’re doing or a special appreciation kind of an event that we’re having during the year.”

So my advice is don’t try to do them all yourself. If you’ve got one and a half employees, you obviously wouldn’t be existing as a non-profit if you didn’t have tremendous support from volunteers and board members from the community so use them for this process.

Steven: All right. Here’s a question from Ellen who works at a Childhood Hunger organization. Not a lot of donors and they’re doing a good job of recognizing them personally because it is such a small group, but they want to grow. So moving beyond sort of the recognition piece, is there a way to sort of dovetail this awesome job that they’re doing at recognizing this small group of donors into growing that group. Is there a way to have the small group of donors perhaps help grow the donor base maybe through referrals or having them spread the word for them? How can they kind of make that leap from doing a good job with who they have to growing the size of that group?

Terry: Ellen, I wish I knew your last name because this is my favorite question so far which have been all been great questions, but this is the question. She’s asking exactly the question which is, what’s the point of all this? We’re spending all this time recognizing . . . think about it.

Everyone on this call think about the place that you give money to that you don’t even care if they botch up your name. You don’t really care if they spell your name wrong in the thank you or if they don’t even thank you at all. You are very forgiving of them, why is that? Why is that? It’s because you love the mission. You’re not giving because you’re friend asked you to, you’re not giving because it’s the right thing to do, you’re giving because your heart calls to you and says this is my thing.

So if Ellen, people are giving to your childhood hunger organization for that reason, that means that they are genuinely inspired by your work and they will be the perfect ambassadors to help share this with others. So what we say in Benevon is have your donors that you’re . . . we say multi your donors. Your multi donors are the very best people to be your ambassadors to host those next points of entry, those small private, get acquainted events where you tell the story deeply and you really connect people.

It doesn’t mean that those friends of theirs will become donors. It just means that they passion of the initial donor will transmit to these friends and they will come to learn about it because they care about their friend and they trust that this must be something good. Whether or not they ever get involved long term, they will in turn know other people.

So the very best thing to do is . . . this is why so many groups spend all their time getting to know the super wealthy people thinking that that’s going to lead to more donors which is might, but it doesn’t have to be the only way. I tell a story about . . . we work with a big museum in Washington, D.C. and the goal was to get to this one key donor.

Their goal was to get to this one big donor over and over. All we heard about was this one donor. I remember the way the story finally happened was on their way to getting to the big donor, his secretary kept answering the phone and kept saying, you know, “Why are you calling?” They start talking about this museum. Sure enough, it was the secretary that had been an heiress to a huge fortune from some man.

Steven: Oh wow.

Terry: She had a huge, deep appreciation for art and she became the donor way more than the “big guy” would have been. So you really don’t know. You really got to follow up every single one and trust the . . . we say follow the stream of the passion. Don’t follow the dollars.

Steven: Makes sense. I love it. Good job, Ellen. I love this question. This was my favorite, Terry, so I’m going to pull this one out there of mine.

Terry: It might be mine too. I haven’t read them all so go ahead. So far Ellen. Go ahead.

Steven: This was kind of funny and depressing. Is it so unheard or is it so lacking that people don’t make thank you phone calls, that when people do get them it’s so surprising that it’s off putting. This means like kind of a sad state of affairs for the non-profit sector, but you’ve said it a couple of times. Not a lot of people are doing this. What would you say to Amber who in my mind is doing the right things but sometimes these donors are kind of freaked out by getting a personal thank you.

Terry: Well, when she said seemed to be confused I didn’t know if it was . . . because I’ve had this happen where the donor recognizes the name of the organization, but they don’t remember even making the gift or they don’t know how much their gift was for. It’s kind of like, “Why are you calling me again?” Normally what I’ve heard is what you said which is, and certainly a suspicion that they’re going to be asked for money. They’re being called to be thanked, people don’t trust that.

I’ve even had people call me and they start right off by saying, “We’re not calling to ask you for money at all, we’re really calling just to say thank you.” I had a call recently from a board member, a donation I made, and he called. It was really the nicest message. I mean, he just said, “I’m really just calling you to thank you for this gift. You’ve already made your gift, we’re not asking for anything more.”

So I think that level of appreciation and when combined with the person who made the gift, have it be the right person . . . excuse me. When combined with the person who is thanking them, be sure that the caller is the proper rank of significance in the organization to match the donor. If the donor says you’re sending me the top person, even a voicemail message will be really appreciated.

Steven: I love it. Keep doing it Amber.

Terry: Yeah, I’m looking at the clock all of a sudden, Steven. Let me go [inaudible 00:57:19] to these other slides. Do you mind if I [inaudible 00:57:22]?

Steven: Please, go for it.

Terry: Can I control them here now? Let’s just see. If I just keep going.

Steven: They’re actually before the questions.

Terry: They’re before, okay. Hang on I’m going back.

Steven: My bad.

Terry: All right, no problem. I’m going back. Here we go. I just quickly want to just tell you some of the resources for Benevon because some of you will ask and I’ll go super-fast. We’ve got our books, they’re right here. They’re only sold on the Benevon website and I’ll give you many more details. The one on the left is brand new, the one on the right, “Missionizing Your Special Events,” very popular. How to insert the mission in every event. Middle is a DVD, 55 minute which is also free on our website, so you don’t even have to buy it.

There I’m talking about the free videos, there’s a whole bunch of them. We love Bloomerang. We have a private version of Benevon, we call it Bloomerang for Benevon. So those of you who are already using Bloomerang and want to get the Benevon package it’s a tiny bit more per month, but it really gives you all of our processes. Don’t write in. I know Steven and his people would be happy to tell you more about it. We’ve got live sessions where we get out on the road. Folks check them out. Conference calls and other webinars that we do like this and our workshops. If you want to know about those, those are on the website also.

I know they’re going to get some kind of a pop up survey after today Steven. I will turn it over to you to let you explain. But again, really thank you all for having me. Happy holidays and I hope this has been helpful. I really want this to be useful to you and maybe next year Steven, if we do it again at the end of the year people will be able to say what they put in place out of this call today.

Steven: Yeah, I love it. The hour always fly by with you, Terry. I feel like I could have talked about this stuff for 10 more hours because I’m a huge geek about this stuff.

Terry: I’m sorry I didn’t get to more questions. I talked too much at the beginning.

Steven: No, you didn’t. Speaking of that, there were a lot of questions we didn’t get to and there’s new questions in the chat so, Terry, would you be willing to take questions by email.

Terry: I am not going to promise just because I am heading out of town. Really you can try me and if they’re easy one I will try but I honestly, Steven, normally I say yes to you, but I just don’t know that I can promise today that I’ll be able to get to them with the holiday. Send them my way and I’ll do my best. Yeah, okay?

Steven: Yeah. I’ll get Carry [inaudible 00:59:43] all the questions that were submitted as well. So thanks to all of you for joining us. I know it’s a busy time of the year so taking an hour out of your day means a lot to me. And thanks to all of you who are good sports about sending in the questions. It was fun to talk about some real issues with you all.

I’m going to get the recording in your hands this afternoon. We’ll also send out Terry’s top five reasons by way of a blog post tomorrow so check out the Bloomerang blog tomorrow because she’s going to have a recap of all the things she talked about, including her top five ways to thank people. So be on the lookout for that on our blog tomorrow. There’s lots of other free resources on our website, including our webinar series which is now over for 2017. I can hardly believe it but if you want to navigate to our webinar page, I have already booked at least 20 webinars for 2018.

Terry will be back I’m sure, but there’s some really cool sessions that I’m excited about. A lot of first time presenters for us, people we know for sure but that haven’t been on our webinar series. Really cool topic, so check that out. You’ll see something that you can even register today for that’s happening in 2018. So hopefully we will see you again some other Thursday in 2018 but we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me this afternoon with the recording and be sure to check our blog tomorrow.

Terry: Steven, thank you so much. You are amazing. What you’ve done all year for these non-profits. I mean you do this . . . don’t you do it every week.

Steven: Every week. Yeah, we did 42 sessions.

Terry: Every week, that’s amazing what you do. This is phenomenal, what a resource. You guys are so fortunate to have him. I mean this is huge what you do Steven. I know what it took for us to just put this on. The fact that you do this every week. I really thank you Steven for what you do and thank Bloomerang and happy holidays to everyone.

Steven: Oh thanks.

Terry: Okay, bye-bye.

Steven: This doesn’t feel like work. All right, we’ll talk to you all again soon so have a good Thursday and a safe weekend and hopefully we’ll talk to you again in 2018.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.