Jen Love and John Lepp – the Agents of Good – recently joined us for a webinar in which they shared lessons in how to love your donors, using specific and successful examples of inspiring storytelling and brilliant design.

In case you missed it, you can watch it here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, my clock just struck 10:30. Okay if I kick us off?

John: Let’s go.

Jen: Absolutely.

Steven: All right, well, good morning, everyone. I guess good morning to everyone, because this is a special morning edition of our Bloomerang webinar series, “The 7 Lessons of #DonorLove.” And my name is Steven Shattuck, and I am the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang, and I will be moderating today’s discussion.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we get started. I want you all to know that we are recording this presentation, and we’ll be sending out that recording, as well as the slides, later on today, if you didn’t already get the slides. So no worries if you have to leave early, or perhaps you want to be able to review the content later on. Have no fear. Just look for an email from me with all those goodies in it a couple hours after we conclude here.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, and we always love to get to as many questions as you can give to us. So don’t be shy. If you have a question or comment, send them our way, and we’ll try to get to as many as we can before the 11:30 a.m. hour.

And if you are a Twitter person, if you’re into that kind of thing, you can send us tweets, as well. You can use the hashtag #Bloomerang, or send us messages directly @BloomerangTech. And I’ll also be displaying our guest presenters’ handles here in just a second.

And if you are listening today via your computer speakers, and if you have any trouble with the audio, try dialing in by phone. We find that the audio quality is usually a little bit better if you can, if you dial in by phone. If you can do that and don’t mind doing that, it’s usually a little bit better of an experience. And you can find the phone number there in the email from ReadyTalk.

And if this is your first webinar with us, I want to say a special welcome to you. We do do these educational webinars just about every Thursday, bring on a great guest like John and Jen today. But in addition to that, Bloomerang offers donor management software. So if you’re new to Bloomerang as well, you can check out our website and maybe dive a little bit into our software. You can watch a video demo if you want. But we’d love for you to learn more about Bloomerang if you are interested.

But for now, I am so, so excited to introduce two of my favorite humans in general, not just in the fundraising world, but just really awesome people. We’ve got Jen Love and John Lepp here. How’s it going, friends?

John: Awesome. Thank you.

Jen: You’re one of our favorite humans, too, Steven.

Steven: Aw, thanks. You’re too kind. I want to brag on you two before I hand it over to you officially. This is really special. They fit this webinar into a very sort of busy schedule. If you don’t know Jen and John, they are partners over at Agents of Good, and Agents of Good is a fundraising and communications collaboration, and they are solely devoted to the concept of donor love, which is what they’re going to talk about today. They work with many charities and agencies around the country, around the world, actually, to help them tell better stories and to inspire their clients’ organizations to give.

And I want to say something else about these two that I didn’t just pull off their website. They are the real deal. You guys are going to love this presentation. I know it for a fact. I’ve seen them both speak at conferences. The work they do at Agents of Good is some of the most creative, and I know effective work that I’ve ever seen. Direct mail, fundraising campaigns, they even create mascots for nonprofits, and the mascots go on and raise a ton of money for their clients. They are both geniuses, they’re awesome people, and I want you to hear from them, so I’m going to pipe down and let them take it away. So, Jen and John, regale us.

John: Amazing. Okay, let me just share my screen here.

Jen: That was awesome. Thank you. So could you guys, do you see that now?

John: Steven, you’re good?

Steven: Yeah, it looks like it’s loading. Yeah, we can see it.

Jen: Awesome. So we’re going to add one more hashtag to the party, and that’s the hashtag #donorlove. John and I and a whole bunch of people use it as a kind of a clearing house for great ideas, suggestions, thoughts and feelings on donor love. So feel free to follow along with that, too.

John: And we’ve added our contact information to the bottom of the slide, so if you want to email us or tweet to us, whatever you want, we’re open for questions anytime, even after the presentation.

Jen: So we’re going to start by saying hello to all you special agents. And today you guys are on an Agents of Good mission, right, with us, and your mission is donor love. And on today’s mission, John and I always start our sessions encouraging you to imagine that your favorite donor is sitting here with you, whether that’s somebody who, from your charity, or whether it’s your aunt or your grandma, someone who you know is a kindhearted person who gives generously.

Imagine that they’re with you, and explore how you want to make them feel. How you want to inspire them, how you want to make them feel important, and connect them with the impact that they’re giving.

So a little tiny bit about Agents of Good. Agents of Good is, at its heart, an idea, and the idea is that we’re a collective of donor champions, donor lovers, agitators, instigators, and we rally behind this badge of donor love, challenging and inspiring each other and our clients to find and share the best emotional stories and make sure that our donors are celebrated as heroes every single day.

So here’s what we’re going to talk about. We’ve got seven lessons in donor love, and we’re going to share the philosophy and the approach and the why of what we do, and then we’re also going to share some specific examples of each donor love lesson in action.

So, jumping right in, so Lesson #1, your donors are heroes. We say this all the time. Your charity is the vehicle for your donor to do something they care deeply and passionately about. Your donors care about your cause, and they want to take action for what they believe in. Donors want to help. They want to fix something. They want to make an impact and feel good about that. And it’s such a simple but critical shift that charities need to make from what we do to what you make possible.

So this is our visual representation definition of donor love, and really, it shows putting the donors at the heart of everything you do, at the heart of every interaction you have with them. Express what your donors make possible by giving to you, and make them heroes for the amazing things they achieve for your cause.

So who knows who this is? Another one of our favorite humans, Tom Ahern, the king. And Tom always says, “I want to read about me, the donor, not you, the organization.” And again, that’s this simple but critical shift from what we do to what you make possible.

And something that we do literally all the time at the Agents of Good is Tom’s world-famous, please duplicate it, everybody, the red pen test. When you have a piece of donor communications, whether it’s a direct mail pack or a newsletter or an email or your new website content or a telephone script, anytime the word “you” appears in any form — yours, your, you — circle it in red. “You” is the most powerful word in fundraising. It keeps your donors involved. And you want to see red circles everywhere. Tom says you want your page to look like it has the measles. Literally count them, and if you’re writing with your donor at the heart, there’s going to be “yous” everywhere.

John: Awesome. So I’ve got a couple samples to show you here. This is a direct mail pack we did this last spring, and this is literally making the donor the hero. This is for the Food Bank of Waterloo Region. And this is the letter. I’ll take a look at it, closer details. “Dear Jen, ‘Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,’ it’s a Food Bank Summer Hero, and it’s you! The Food Bank, your Food Bank, urgently needs to raise $4000 this summer to feed hungry men, women, and children in your neighborhood.” And on it goes. You can see I’ve circled all the “yous.”

But basically, the letter makes the donor instantly the hero. They can be the hero by solving this problem.

This is the reply form. Same thing. Look at the language I’ve used here. “You’ll rescue fresh food.” “You’ll feed hungry kids.” “You’ll help neighbors.” “You can be our hero.”

This is another sample that’s not in the slide deck that we just added this morning, just because we like it. It’s an ad that we did for Ontario Nature, which is a cause, a charity here in Ontario, of course. And again, the ad very simply says, “Who is this nature hero? Is it you?” By helping solve this problem, you’re the hero. And again, such a very simple expression of how you constantly can make the donor the hero.

Jen: Amazing. Okay, Lesson #2: share amazing and inspiring stories. John and I are like heartbreaker buzzkills when we remind our clients that donors don’t spend their time thinking about you. Donors don’t spend their time thinking about charities. Every time they hear from you, you want them to be re-engaged, re-energized, and fall in love all over again.

And Jeff Brooks said something at the storytelling conference this year about this, around how donors are not walking around thinking about you, but they are walking around telling themselves their own story, their own story of their lives, the story of their day, the story of what’s happening with them. And if you can make your organization a part of their story, that’s an incredible thing for you and for them.

So I enter every conversation, every time I have an interview with a charity finding a story, I always ask myself, what’s the love story here? How can I make the donor part of the story?

So I’m going to tell you this amazing story about this family. So this is Jennifer and Adrian and their children, and they’re a new Habitat for Humanity partner family. I’m sure everybody knows who Habitat is. They build safe, decent, affordable homes for families. So when I interview families for Habitat, which is something I absolutely love to do, I always ask them how everybody in the family is feeling about their new home and what they’re most excited about.

So Jennifer and I talked about your husband Adrian, who is an immigrant from Cuba and has only ever dreamed of home ownership, and her eldest daughter Juliana, one of the ones holding a cat, how she was going to have her own space in the basement because she was gearing up for her first year at university on a scholarship, and the middle daughter, Olivia, who had been sharing a room with her sister for so many years, she was just happy picking out her paint colors.

And I knew they had a son, Christian, who’s there in Adrian’s arms, who was about four. And I asked, “What’s Christian most excited about in the home?” And Jennifer said, “Oh, he doesn’t know.” And I said, “Why not?” And she said, “Oh, Jen, that’s a really long story.” And I said, “Well, I love long stories. Let’s hear it.”

And so she told me that, for as long as she can remember, Christian has been completely obsessed with model homes and open houses. Ever since he could talk, he would see signs and say, “Oh, look, mommy! Oh boy, can we go in?” And whenever they’d go into a model home or an open house, he would charge up the stairs, find the kids’ bedrooms, and tell stories about the kids who lived there. He’d say, “Oh boy, this boy loves airplanes. He wants to be a pilot and fly up in the sky. And look at these stuffed animals. It’s like a zoo.”

And then her face fell when she told me that Christian has never had his own room, that he sleeps in a cot in the corner of their bedroom, and that sometimes when his sisters are gone, he takes a few of his toys into their room and pretends it’s his. And I remember Jennifer saying to me that it was adorable and heartbreaking at the same time. They’d been out shopping, and he’d shown her a bedspread that he wanted for someday when he has his own big boy bed in his very own room.

So the night they found out about their Habitat home, she and her husband stayed up late, crying and laughing and making plans, and they agreed that this was an amazing opportunity to do something really special for Christian. So she said to me, “So, Jen, we’ve got it all planned. When we get our keys, we’ll send Christian to my mom’s for the weekend, and we’ll only set up his room. He doesn’t know this, but my mom already bought him his big boy bed, and I waited and waited until that bedspread he wanted came down in price, and I picked it up. And we’re going to bring all of his stuffies and all of his toys and all of his books, and when we pick him up from my mom’s, we’ll drive past. We’ve been by a few times, and he thinks it’s just another build in the neighborhood. I know he’ll see the work is done, and I know he’ll ask, ‘Mommy, look! Oh boy, can we go in?’ And this time, he’ll be thrilled when I check my watch and say, ‘Sure, buddy. We’ve got a little bit of time. Let’s go check it out.’ And he’ll charge up the stairs, and he’ll find the kids’ bedrooms, and we’ll be right on his heels, and we’ll say, ‘Christian, this is your very own bedroom, and we’re sleeping here tonight and every night forever.'”

So I’ve told the story so many times, but it’s moved me every single time, because it was just so beautiful. So after wracking sobs, how do you turn this great story into a great appeal? Well, first thing you do is you let the whole story breathe. So the entire two-page letter for this direct mail pack is in Jennifer’s words, and basically retold the story the way she told it to me. And then the second part is to make a donor part of the story. So also included in this pack, and also in the online collateral that we did for the campaign, was this opportunity for donors to send a message back to surprise Jennifer and Adrian the way that they’re surprising Christian by contributing to a welcome home scrapbook, which will be waiting for them when they move in.

So as you can see, we’ve got the little scrapbook piece right on the coupon and, you know, by doing it this way, it lifts the response both to the appeal, and also you get these amazing and beautiful things back from donors. “So happy you’re getting your first house. We’re glad we could be part of making your dream come true.” “God bless and keep you all healthy and happy and enjoy your new home. As the oldest of 12 during the ’30s depression, I’ll never forget the joy of our first bath in a real bathtub.”

So these are beautiful personal expressions from donors who, again, this is, they’re becoming a part of this story and supporting Habitat for Humanity as part of their story for that day, and they’re walking around feeling good and telling themselves that they did something awesome.

Okay, so we’re going to move right into Lesson #3, which is connecting to values and emotions. The most important lesson I ever learned in fundraising I learned from my dad, David Love, the godfather of good, as we call him. And he told me, “Money follows value.” And social justice, human rights, healthy planet, the fight for equality, literacy, these are not transactions in our lives. These are the things that define us that we are intensely emotionally connected to.

An exercise that John and I like to do with our clients is asking them to imagine 24 hours before you were founded. Twenty-four hours before every organization listening in on this call was founded, a group of restless and innovative people stood together and wanted to create change, and demanded action for something. And every single donor you have today holds a piece of that same value. And it’s through shared values that your organization creates belonging and can have amazing and enriching stories.

So this is a list of core personal values. It’s just a sample list. There’s millions of these. But the idea is asking yourself the values that your charity reflects and embodies. So we’re talking about Habitat for Humanity. Their core value would be hard work. John talked about Ontario Nature before, and we’re going to share an example from Ontario Nature coming up. There’d be preservation, conservation. Nature organizations, those would be their core values.

So what are your core values, and then what can you do to tell stories that connect to those values and demonstrate how giving to you puts those values into action?

John: Right. So what Jen said, here’s an example from Ontario Nature. And basically, the campaign was about saving a piece of land which was only accessible by boat. So this campaign was also very deeply connected to the value of preservation, a value the organization and the donor holds very near and dear to their heart.

So we took a look at the letter, and looking at Jen’s letter, you can see how every single paragraph in the letter touches on and utilizes a value and emotion, all of which will echo the donor’s. Have you ever looked at your own letters in this way? Do your appeal letters, sort of like any direct conversation you have with another human being, do they have an emotional range like you have in normal, real-life conversation? Take a look at your letters and see if they have, if they show many different values and many different emotions.

Jen: Okay, so we’re going to move on to question, to Lesson 4. Are there any questions that have come up so far, Steven? Anything in the chat box?

Steven: Not yet. I think you’ve got them riveted. Keep going.

Jen: Oh, thanks. Good deal.

So Lesson 4: falling and staying in love. And just like falling in love and staying in love, donor communications are about being spontaneous enough to create spark and magic, but also predictable enough to commit to. So John and I joke that this is the combination of when you take half the leftovers to work and you write a little sticky note that says, “I love you, honey,” that’s one way of expressing love, and then another way of expressing love is, like, “Hey, surprise, we’re going to Paris!” Both of those things are ways in which you express love.

And so you need a combination of smaller gestures and grand gestures in any relationship, including in donor relationships. So you want just the right amount of time between your interactions, and you want every interaction you have with your donors to be memorable and to elevate your conversation and your relationship.

Donor care is a courtship. It’s a romance. So we don’t do contact plans. We do love stories. So this is an example we call a love story grid, and it’s basically a communications plan. And in this case, it’s mapping out touchpoints between you and new donors. So it’s triggered by a first gift. But you can really do this for monthly donors, for legacy donors, in different chunks. Like, you can do a million of these, and we love to.

So what you do is down the side in green, you list your objective, so what is it, the feeling, and the metric. And because we’re the Agents of Good, we start with the feeling, because you really want to have an emotional range in your donor correspondence.

One is actually missing here that I just realized when our girl Holly, Holland made this similar presentation a couple days ago, is anger. We don’t have “that makes me angry, and I want to do something about it” as a feeling in this particular grid, partly because it was originally done for a nature organization, so it’s a little harder to create anger for nature. Not that it’s impossible. But that is missing from this one.

But if you look at the feeling, this organization makes me feel happy and friendly. They’re transparent and accountable. This is a dialogue. Wow. I see how my gift makes a difference. I’m proud to be part of this.

And then, so the objective at the top, you see there’s a range. Welcome, thank you, getting to know you, surprise and delight. And then there’s some that repeat, right? Like, every couple of months, there’s an ask, either an appeal or newsletter. There’s actions, petitions, things you can do.

So this love story maps out your whole donor journey, and it’s a really refreshing way of making sure that your fundraising plan isn’t a series of broadcasts when you’re yammering at people about you. You’re actually creating an opportunity for a conversation.

John: Excellent. So here’s some examples of some things that we can do as part of that love story. This is a card we created for one of our clients that they could send out immediately after getting that gift in. So it wasn’t going with the receipt necessarily. It was something that someone could sit down and just say, “Hey, we got your gift today. Thank you so much. You’re amazing.”

Another idea is, this is a Thanksgiving card we did for one of the clients. This is surprise and delight. You know, the donor wouldn’t have expected just to get a nice thank you card at Thanksgiving from this organization. But again, this is a very easy thing you can do that means so much to donors, because they never see things like this ever from anybody.

Another part of a love story is the sort of getting to know you things. How often . . . and again, Jen and I travel all over the place, and we always ask the question. How many of you let your donors actually talk to you? How often do they get an opportunity to tell you about their story, not your story?

Again, we do this all the time, and the feedback you get, as Jen’s already shared earlier, is sometimes it’s amazing. It’s unbelievable things donors will tell you about.

Jen: And it’s not only that it lifts your response and donors feel connected to the appeals, but you also get the chance to actually open a real conversation. “Hey, I loved reading your nature story. It sounds like you really had an amazing time when you were caught on that iceberg in Nunavut.” That’s never happened to me, but isn’t it so great?

John: Yeah.

Jen: Like, it opens up a real conversation.

John: Cool. Yeah, good. Another one, another thing we do a lot is including photographs in appeals. Adding a photograph to your mailing, showing that value in action, is very simple, and it’s very effective. In this case, the client took an image they had on their desk, actually, down to a local photography store and got duplicates made so they could drop it into the envelopes of some valued donors. She also added a post-it note to the top corner, as you can see. But she could have also written a little note on the back.

Again, this is something donors never get in their packs. These things are so easy to do, and they add so much, so I’m hoping that you guys will start to incorporate some of these ideas into your appeals.

Jen: Font.

John: Well, yeah, okay, sorry. Jen was just saying about the font. Caroline ED, what we did was, there’s a fellow in the states, his name is Chank, Chank Fonts, C-H-A-N-K Font, and Chank, what he does is he’ll take your ED’s handwriting and convert it into a font that you can use in-house or in your print and design. Having a font like that around saves your ED’s hands from developing carpal tunnel, especially if you’re doing a lot of this sort of thing. So you can hook up with Chank, tell him we sent you. Chank will get you sorted and give you a font that you can use. That’s a little extra pro tip for you.

Another donor love story device that we’ve developed, but we don’t tend to see very often, is an annual update on key accomplishments. Accomplishments that, thanks to you, the donor, we made possible. And this is something we do at least once a year in any of our appeals. The secondary side talks about key objectives for the next year coming. In other words, thanks to your donor. This year, we accomplished X, Y, and Z because of you, and this year, here’s our vision for the things that we’re working on, and we know with your support, we will achieve. It’s great.

So how do you demonstrate impact in a bigger picture sort of way? Yes, you can let your marketing department, of course, design a gorgeous-looking annual report with lots of boring abstract images and probably adheres to your soul-destroying graphic standards, or you can create a gratitude report. We love doing gratitude reports. This is the piece that pours, as Tom Ahern always says, pours donor love syrup all over your donors, and tells amazing stories of their hard work.

There’s other creative ways you can show your donor love and give them perspective of their giving in a way they’re not used to seeing. This is an infographic from the same cause, which is a women’s shelter in Toronto. And again, we want to show impact in a totally different kind of way, but also made it very interesting and fun to look at.

Jen: Okay. Amazing. Lesson 5: keep calm and ask for one thing. Your donors want to help, they want to fix something, and they want to feel good about it. So every, the core of every single good fundraising story, of every single good appeal, is what’s the problem, and how is the donor the solution?

So if you’re asking me for $56 to send a child to camp, why are you also asking if I will give monthly, consider a legacy, give me your phone number and email, we’ve got lots of volunteering opportunities, oh, did you know that we have events. There are lots and lots of places, like newsletters and e-newsletters and thank you letters and emails and phone calls, where you can talk about this stuff. Don’t put it all in your outbound, energetic, action-oriented appeal.

Every fundraising appeal should be easy to navigate and feel good to respond to. And the thing we always ask yourselves when we’re looking at a new appeal is, does this look like an invitation, or does this look like a transaction? Does it feel like an invitation, or does it feel like a transaction? Always on the invitation side, never on the transaction side.

So be this guy in his wonderful, tacky splendor, and he’s asking the big question, right? “Will you marry me?” He’s not saying, “Do you want to move in together? Here’s my spare key. Can you water my plants when I’m away on business?” He’s saying, “Will you marry me?”

John: So this . . . totally. So here’s a letter I totally made up, so I’m not going to read the whole thing, but the nutshell is, this letter asks for one thing, which in this case is $125 to help me buy a car. Again, you can read this later on if you want to sort of see how I did that.

But why is it I see so many reply forms that end up looking like this? This is a Canadian example, so yours might not look exactly like this. But take a look at yours and count out how many decisions does my donor have to make to fill out this reply form completely? In this case, I actually circled all the places the donor has to make a decision on what they’re checking and not checking, and this has 33 different decisions I have to make. Thirty-three. Yeah, that’s brutal. Please don’t do coupons like this.

Jen: No, no, no. Okay, amazing. Lesson #6.

John: Work through them.

Jen: We are flying.

John: We are rushing this. We are going too fast. I don’t know.

Jen:Okay, Lesson #6: who or what is the right voice for your story? We enter every appeal and every conversation thinking, and reminding ourselves, that it’s a privilege and a responsibility to speak on behalf of a community of like-minded citizens. It’s not your job or your business to educate or convince your donors. It is your job to echo what they feel passionately about and give them a chance to take action for what they believe.

So what exactly are you asking for, and now who is the right voice to ask that question? And John’s going to share an example, but just going to back to what Steven said in the introduction about mascots, this is something that we’ve done for a number of different organizations. I don’t know if any of you have seen the Ruby the Hummingbird package, or Phil the Food Drive paper bag, but we can talk a little more about that at the end, and if you have any questions, we’re happy to answer them.

But this is where, voice is a way, is a place in your fundraising program where you can have both fun, but also show different sides of your stories.

John: So like Jen said, it’s basically, once you’ve decided what you’re asking for, you decide what is the right voice to ask for it. So this is a pack we did called, affectionately called the truck pack, that came out of some brainstorming for an organization called Second Harvest. And they do, like, food rescues. And it was a spring appeal, and they mentioned that they needed a new truck.

So the light bulb went on, and this is what we developed. We did an outer envelope, and you may not be able to tell on your screen, but basically, the outer envelope was on, like, a craft stock, sort of like the paper bags you get at grocery stores. And we had this cute little iconic truck down there going “beep beep.” When was the last time you got a pack like this in your mailbox?

So we did a simple one-page letter, and it came from the truck. Now, I’ll read a little bit. It says, “Dear Jen, I have a dream. I have a dream that I start up every morning and rev my engine with joy knowing that today, I will be driving around Toronto delivering food to hungry men, women, and children in our city. Sure, I could be bought by some fancy company and maybe deliver diamonds or plasma TVs, but I believe I was built for something more. As soon as my spark plug fired, I knew I was destined for greatness. And you can help.”

You know you want to keep reading this letter. It’s fun, it’s creative, and makes a very simple case for support. We included a one-page buck slip, which was an announcement of a matching gift, which was amazing, and then this was the reply form. Again, we’ll take a quick look at the top. And it says, “Yes, truck! Here are your keys! I’ll help buy you for Second Harvest! Here is my gift of . . . ” So we created a little sticker with the key and the truck on it, and the donor could apply that to, right above the gift of their choice. The pink is just a gift array, so that would be customized for the donor to be on their giving levels, and that sort of thing.

You’ll notice also the last option on the coupon in the gift array is for $65,000. I’ll buy the other half of the truck. Yes, we were secretly hoping that someone would send in a check for $65,000, and yes, that sort of thing can actually happen, and it does happen. It didn’t happen in this case, but we want to make sure the donor was thinking about maybe giving a little more than they’re used to.

And it definitely worked. This appeal was great. They got their truck, and they even got more than that. The pack did so well, we decided to scrap the plan reminder and spent the money doing heartfelt thank you emails and letters instead. Obviously they all came from the truck. They raised twice as much money as the spring before, and the average gift was way up. Incredible.

So, Lesson 7. This is my section. Saying thanks with passion. So this is Dale, my mother-in-law, and she’s your donor. She’s exactly the person you should be thinking of when you’re sending your direct mail out. That’s also my daughter Julia beside her.

And I remember I had a conversation with her over dinner, and I said, “Dale, can you recall the last time you had an extraordinary experience with a charity?” And she stopped, fork hovering in midair, and she looked at me, and she said, “I can’t think of a one.”

This is how much mail she gets in an average month. She gets a lot of mail from you. And she said, “I can’t think of one.” Talk about a wasted opportunity. I think, you know, Jen and I have already given you a bunch of ideas of ways you can actually create extraordinary experiences for your donors in very, very simple ways. And I’m going to show you a couple ideas of some ones that I’ve been given.

But really, today with minimal effort and maximum thoughtfulness, I’m telling you, you can have a profound, immediate, and everlasting effect on your donors.

I know we’ve all seen this quote a bazillion times at every conference and ever speaker’s presentation. But the same goes for donors. And I want to show you this one charity that I love, how they make me feel.

So The Redwood, The Redwood is a very small, but also very mighty charity that helps women and children escape from domestic violence. When it comes to thanking donors and donor love, they punch way above their weight. I’ve been a donor and a consultant to The Redwood for years now, but I’ve never coached them on thanking donors. They just get this.

So this here is a small collection of thank you letters and love, donor love they sent to me through the years. And what I like about these is it’s not just the ED’s responsibility to thank, or the director of development, or gift processing. Every single person at this organization has a hand in gratitude. I’m going to see if this sample will play. One second.

Anne on Recording: Hello, John. This is Anne Billings, president of the board at The Redwood. Having just learned that you gave such a generous gift to our family campaign, and really, given all the work you did with . . . well, I think you are the agent of the good, aren’t you, on our wonderful annual report, and being such a loyal donor. I’m just thrilled. So I would wish you a happy, well weekend, and thank you for making it better for things at The Redwood. Thank you very much. Bye-bye.

John: I’m hoping you could hear that. But basically, I mean, the message was very off-script, it was very genuine. It came on the eve of a long weekend, and it came from a board member, as well. Even they are sending out donor love and gratitude. And sometimes donor love can be unscripted. And like this call, sometimes it can be totally awkward. Sometimes you can make it totally homemade, or fresh off your laser printer. Sometimes it can just be random around certain holidays. And sometimes, actually, hopefully most of the time, it can be a little bit cheesy. Donors love cheesy.

The idea is like loving in real life, this is what loving your donor is like, too. This piece totally, openly made me weep, and still does. All the little notes, all the little windows had notes behind them from different staff people saying thank you to me, telling me how important I was to them. It’s a beautiful piece. Now, you can’t scale this for 100,000 donors, but there are ways to build in these sorts of things for your most amazing donors.

I’ll just see if you can see this . . . there’s a video here. Hopefully you can hear it.

Claire on Recording: Hi, Tania. This is Claire McNolan

[SP] from Small Change Fund. I’m just sending you this video to say thank you!

Woman on Recording: Thank you!

Man on Recording: Thank you!

Claire on Recording: Thank you for your donation, Tania!

John: So, again, that’s another example. Hopefully you could see it and hear it, sort of. And yes, this is totally cheesy, but it’s fun, and it’s heartfelt, and it’s personal. It’s low, low-tech. They did this probably in about 30 seconds. But think of the impact it has on your donors.

So the point is, of course, to take the time to say thanks to Dale, to all of your donors, in a way that’s meaningful, heartfelt, and personal. You have to make them feel loved. Make Dale your everyday hero, because she’s definitely ours.

So we’ve been sort of circling this donor love thing, and a few of our colleagues have come up with a few additions which I really, really like, and here’s a couple else you can consider for your own work. You must remember that donor love is all of the small things you do for your donors all the time over time. It’s like death by 1000 cuts. It’s not the big cuts that get you. It’s the thousand small ones. It’s the same thing for donor love.

Number two, you always show them how they make a difference. It’s always about them and the difference that they make.

You have a plan for every one of them. Your donors are not all of the same. You cannot send all of them the same thing all of the time. They’re very different people.

And you must share your secrets with others. And that’s sort of, like, an inside donor love handshake. We go to conferences, we talk to our colleagues like you all over the place, and we want to tell you all the things we’re doing that work. We want to show you all the ways you can love your donor, because the more we share with you, the better your work gets, and the more your donors feel loved. So you have to do the same.

You do interesting things, anything that we’ve done in this presentation, please share it with the world. On Twitter, there’s a #donorlove hashtag, of course. We can follow the conversation, which many people are contributing to, not just us, with the things that they’re trying and they’re seeing. So share with the world. We need to do this stuff better.

I’m going to close with this quote from Tom. We sort of altered it a little bit. But donor love can be a simple, simple thing. Your donors want to feel good. Your donors want to feel loved. Your donors want to feel smart, and they want to feel needed. They want to feel important, and they want to belong. They want to be remembered, and they want to make things better. They always want to see their values in action, and most importantly, they want to win.

So thank you. I know Jen and I breezed through that pretty quickly, and hopefully we didn’t go too fast for you. But thank you so much for spending about 40 minutes of your time with us. Steven, obviously we’ve lots of time for questions, if there are any. But thanks everyone for your time. We do appreciate it.

Steven: Awesome. John, Jen, that was really great. Loved seeing the examples. I know a lot of people did, as well. We got some good Twitter chatter from the presentation, also. I just love that Habitat story. It gets me every time, that kid.

Jen: I know.

Steven: And I just want to give him a hug.

Jen: That kid is so cute.

Steven: I never get sick of hearing that story. Well, we’ve got a lot of questions. We’ve probably got about maybe 15, 12, 15 minutes to get through them all. So if you haven’t sent a question in, now is the time. Obviously these two are the foremost experts on donor love. But I’ll just kind of roll right through them.

I’ve got a question here from Liz. I believe this came in while you were sharing the examples of kind of crowdsourcing content. You know, sending those direct mail kind of reply forms where people could write in a story or how they were feeling.

Jen: Yeah.

Steven: Liz was wondering if you can do, can you do the same thing through email or, like, an online form, or does it have to be in the mail, you know, pen and paper? Is there room for both? Does one work better than the other?

Jen: Great question, Liz. And no, you can absolutely use online. You can absolutely use email forms, online forms. You can also use Facebook. You can also use Instagram. There’s no doubt about the fact that it’s not channel-specific.

The thing about it, though, is that when you’re, when you send it in a, with a response form, then you’re directly connecting the giving and the sharing of the story. So if you can do it in print, then it’s kind of, like, it gives them a reason to send back the note. So in the case of the YMCA, or any of them, really, like, sharing the Y story lifts the response to the gifts, as well. So if you do use it in an online form or email or Facebook, try to still connect it to the impact of giving, as well.

But yes, you can use it in any channel, for sure.

Steven: And actually, a different Liz asked if you cover the postage. Do you have a stamped return envelope in those cases, or is there kind of a best practice there?

Jen: Always.

John: Yes. You want to make it as easy as possible for your donor to give to you, and so that always includes putting in a reply envelope, obviously with postage paid. It’s so, so important. You don’t want your donor wandering off trying to find a stamp, because you just want to hear from them.

Jen: And the thing about a lot of those examples that John shared were newsletters. So many organizations send their newsletters without a cover letter and a response form. And when your newsletter is full of donor love and shares amazing stories about the awesome things you’ve done with your donors’ gifts, having a warm, breezy cover letter that thanks them for that gift and a response form that asks them, if they’re able to give, that’d be great. Also, what would you like to see in future issues? Have you got a story you’d like to share? What does this make you think and feel? It gives them a reason to send anything back, and increases the likelihood that they’ll also send money back.

Steven: Makes sense. I’m going to bounce into one of these slides, if you don’t mind. This question came up, I believe, while this slide was on the screen, from John. John’s wondering, how do you start to edit your sort of return form if it looks like this, if you have a ton of decisions that you’re asking the donor to make? Where do you kind of start on cutting down on something like this, if yours looks like this example?

John: Yeah. Certainly take . . . I mean, that’s a good question. Take a look at a couple of examples in the pack, or again, John could also just email me or whatever, and send him a sample or two.

You have to start with your letter, right? What is it you’re asking your donor to do? If you’re asking for $50 to send a kid to camp, when they get to a reply form, the only decision they should be making is, am I going to give them $50 or not? That’s the most important thing on that reply form. Yes, you need their credit card information, if that’s how they want to pay, or do they want to give a check, that’s fine.

But when you look at a coupon like this, like, look at all the different options. Do I want to give online or not? Do I want to give them my email address? Why are they asking me for that? Do I want my receipt by email? I don’t know. Like, there’s so many things we don’t have to kind of go through.

And it’s human nature, the harder you make it to make a decision, the more apt a human is not going to make the decision at all. They’ll just move on. So when you do your reply form, think about what’s the most important decision I want them to make. I’ve asked them for $50 in the letter, so therefore on my reply form, I have to, that’s the main, that’s what I want them to do, so that’s the option I want them to give. Yes, they may want to give more or less than that, but that’s the main option.

So, again, it becomes very simple when you think about what’s the least amount of questions I can ask my donor and stuff. And also, I want to point out, Steve, I know there’s a lot of people asking questions here that I can see in the box, and again, you may see this later on, but we won’t cover them all right now, but I’ll try to answer, or we’ll try to find a way to make sure we’ve answered all of your questions after the fact.

Steven: Absolutely.

Jen: One other comment on that.

Steven: Yeah.

Jen: One other comment, one other quick comment on that coupon is, you know, the top, just, the example was $56 to send a kid to camp. Yes, I’ll send a kid to camp today. The top of that coupon said, “Yes, I’ll help people imagine a life without . . . ” Like, it was a completely unclear, vague call to action. The call to action should be, “Yes, I want to help more kids like Susan.” Whoever it is the story was that you told in that kidney package, right? Lots of easy things you could do to make that coupon better. We could go on forever.

Steven: Makes sense. Here’s one from Danny. And you two, you’re pros. You send out a lot of direct mail campaigns. What’s a good response rate on something like a survey, or asking for those stories from the recipients? You know, what should people be shooting for? I think maybe trying these things for the first time and getting discouraged about a small response rate, without maybe knowing what a good response rate is. What kind of numbers do you think people should be shooting for, or should they be shooting for a number?

John: I mean, they can be shooting for a number. Like, we did one for Humber River Hospital Foundation, where we wanted the donors to send back a heart to be put up in the hospital as new patients were coming in through the doors. Again, that one almost did, for every two gifts, we got one handwritten response back. So it was a 50% on the actual handwritten piece. That’s extremely high, but it really showed us how plugged in donors were to our story and the person we had telling these stories.

I mean, a normal appeal, your main flagship appeal should be getting you 15, 20, 25% if you’re doing a really good job. That’s without, I’m not talking about a survey. Surveys are really weird beasts. There’s a science to surveys, and I’d have to look at it to be able to say, is this a good survey or a bad survey? Because I’ve seen lots and lots of bad ones, and the good ones are very hard to come by.

So again, if you’ve done a survey, I think I saw Danny’s note about doing a survey and getting a low response. I’d probably want to look at what else is around that survey in the appeal, how was it presented, what were the questions even like, I mean, were they important to me, or what was the donor, was it just being like, we were trying to steal more information, private information about myself, you know? So you’ve got to be really careful of that sort of thing.

Jen: And regardless of how many you get, every single one is an open-hearted donor with a beating heart and an interest in talking to you. So even if you get five, it’s five people who have something remarkable they want to share. And so being able to contact them, ideally personally, if not with a special, like, customized note back, acknowledging their story, thanking them for taking the time. They all want to have a conversation with you, and as a fundraiser, you always want that to be a door opener.

Steven: Very cool. Along those same lines, what about volume of sending pieces? You know, you shared that, the donor love sort of cadence early on. Are there best practices around the amount of content that you should be sending out? You know, once a month, or a couple times a month? Is it different for everyone? Should you test it? What do you guys see working with your clients on volume and sort of schedules?

John: Yeah.

Jen: Yes to all.

John: Yes to all. Yes. No two organizations are the same, right? I’m going to share on my blog probably next week or so, but there’s a video if you search for Sean Triner, T-R-I-N-E-R. Sean’s done a really, some incredible fundraising, and he did a really good simple video that says how often should I mail my donors. And he talks about the math of it. You know, like, how many donors do I have and how often should I mail?

I think I can safely say that most organizations probably mail too little.

Jen: Yeah.

John: In the States especially, I know guys like Jeff Brooks have tested this. I think they found the breaking point was 21 appeals. That’s, like, 21 asks. That doesn’t include any of the rest of the thank you, the donor love story stuff.

Jen: A year.

John:A year.

Steven: Wow.

John: So that’s incredibly high. I’m not saying that that’s what you should be doing. But some of you are probably only mailing once a year. A lot of small organizations we find are only doing once a year mailings. Maybe twice a year.

Steven: Yeah.

John: And I would probably say that might be a little too little. I know it’s expensive, but especially in the US, you have so much competition, once a year is hardly registering on the radar of your donor. I think you need to be showing them and contacting them in different ways a little more often than that.

Jen: You know, this thing about frequency and about the love story grid is write to people when you have something really important that you need and how they can do something about it. So just because your schedule says it’s time for a special three, if you don’t have anything interesting to say, please don’t send something awful because your schedule says it’s time.

If you send, or if you send thoughtful stories that ask donors for something specific because you have an important need, they’ll give every time you ask, or they’ll at least feel connected to that story. So it becomes a question of not only frequency, but also, are you asking for interesting things?

Steven: Makes sense. Here’s one from Jill that I really like, and you guys are the masters, and you really embrace kind of corniness and weirdness, and you’re not afraid to do so. Should you kind of take care with that in terms of maybe segmenting based on your recipients? Because it sounds like maybe Jill in her question is maybe concerned about being kind of corny with maybe, like, a major donor, or maybe a corporate sponsor. Is there any sort of segmenting that you might want to do there, or do you think that corniness works on everyone, regardless of their gift amount or who they are or what they are?

John: Well, yeah. I mean, to answer the question, I think that the majority of the donors we’re talking about are the donor that I showed, like my mother-in-law. She is, she’s your donor, and she loves that stuff. I absolutely guarantee, if you tell an interesting story using an interesting voice that’s using interesting language, emotive language, they’ve never seen anything like this ever before.

Yes, there’s a fine line between it coming across as a bit, you know, what’s the word I’m looking for? Like, unauthentic. But you can have organizations sending mailings from a talking table at a women’s shelter, and with great effect. It did very, very well.

And I know people always say, “Well, what about major donors? They’re different people. They don’t . . . “

Jen: “They’re investors. They like standing behind giant checks and shaking hands.”

John: They’re still human beings.

Jen: Lies!

John: And, yeah, we still can connect with them as human beings and tell emotive stories using emotive language. So it’s always this, what’s the story trying to tell, and again, once you know what the story you need to tell, then determine who the right voice is. So maybe it’s not a talking bus, or maybe it’s not something like that. I’m not saying it works [all the time 00:49:28], because we don’t do that all the time for all of our clients. It’s only when it’s . . . it’s just a really good tool to have in your toolbox.

Jen: And if you have somebody who’s a major donor, or connected to your board, or a donor that you’re not sure what to do with, because you think they might not appreciate the kind of level of cheese or corniness, get a board member to make a personal thank you. “Can you please calls this donor and just say thank you for helping us send more kids to camp this year? Here’s a great story about this kid sitting by the campfire and singing a song.” So it doesn’t have to come across as cheesy. It can just come across as genuine.

John: Yeah.

Jen: So it doesn’t have to be tacky to be emotional.

Steven: I love it. Along the same lines, how do you get buy-in to do all this stuff? So you’re listening to this webinar, love what John and Jen are saying, you’re fired up, you know, annual fund person, or maybe development coordinator, and you want to go to your boss or your board and say, “Hey, I want to try a corny appeal,” or, “I want to try maybe scaling down our BRE,” or whatever it is. How do you get buy-in from your boss?

And it seems like bosses don’t listen to their employees, but they might listen to John and Jen if they hired Agents of Good. But it seems like the third-party recommendation is always more, carries more weight than your actual employees. So how can employees kind of empower themselves to champion these strategies and implement them?

Jen: Excellent question. We hear it all the time. First things first, and it applies to all forms of fundraising. If your CEO likes it, it’s probably not going to do well for your donors. So the point is . . . right? Jeff Brooks says that all the time, and it’s true. If your CEO loves it, it’s probably too polished and professional to actually warm the heart of someone like Dale.

So the first thing to say is, “I know that this might be a little off the wall, but remember that it’s not for us.” This 35 or 40-year-old fundraiser in the annual program and the 60-year-old executive, they’re not the people who are getting this mailing. The people that are getting these appeals are generally older women, and it shouldn’t . . . So if someone’s saying, “Oh, is this going to work?” and, “I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s going to work.” Well, the first thing is, it’s not for you.

Steven: Right.

Jen: It’s not intended for you. You probably shouldn’t like it very much, because it’s not for you. So that’s the first thing we always say around that issue.

And then the second thing is, just try it.

Steven: Yeah.

Jen: Take a small portion of one appeal and just try it. Take your one appeal that doesn’t tend to do very well or that, you know, not your holiday appeal when you raise all the money that you need to keep the cat rescue shelter open. But try it another time and see what the reaction is, and see what the response is.

And I think, I also get onto a little bit of a soapbox around how if your executives don’t listen to their fundraisers, then that’s a bigger professional development issue that people need to really feel as though there’s resources that you can access, both in terms of your PD and in terms of other people out there who can help you. Make sure your voice is heard. Because you’re a fundraiser. You know what you’re doing. And if your boss says, “That’s dumb. I don’t want to do it.” You’ve got to have an actual conversation about that, right? Because that’s about your career and your ability to advocate for ideas that are important.

So it takes work. And believe me, when we presented the Phil the Food Drive paper bag, when we presented the talking truck, there was lots of hand-holding and conversation. We even bet a case of beer, and we don’t do that lightly, man. So we did, it took some convincing. I don’t want to gloss it over like it was just so easy. It did take some convincing. But it takes trust and mutual respect, and when you’re working with people who trust you and like you, then it gets easier to have, to take risks.

Steven: I love it. Maybe a final way to end on, and I know we didn’t get to all the questions, but we’re displaying John and Jen’s email addresses, or Twitter handles, at least. Maybe you could share your email addresses, if you don’t mind taking additional questions over email. Is that okay?

John: Sure. Yeah, it’s and It’s pretty simple.

Steven: Easy. Well, how can people get started? They’re listening to this, they love your ideas. Maybe what’s your kind of one tip for a first step, if they’ve never gone into the foray of donor love and weirdness?

Jen: Well, the first thing I would do is, I would take your thank you letters, all of them, the ones that are sitting in your computer that never get changed, and the ones that, there’s one for monthly gift, there’s one for single gift, there’s one for leadership gift. Take them all out, look at them all, and burn them in a giant ritualistic fire, and write them all over again.

Because chances are it’s been a long time since anybody looked at all of your standard thank you letters, and they’re all probably pretty stale. We always do a customized thank you letter for every appeal, so when you have the camp appeals, the thank you letter is about sending kids to camp, and when you have the kidney dialysis machine appeals, the thank you letter is about the kidney dialysis machine. So getting into the habit of practicing gratitude and creating a new thank you letter every time you do a new appeal means that you’ll have a whole army of thank you letters at the ready that you can plug and play anytime you need to.

Trust me when I say that it is an invigorating experience to look at all the thank you letters and really ask yourself, how many of them start with “oh behalf of”? Humans don’t talk to each other that way. I would never thank you on behalf of anybody else except for me. I would say, “Thank you so much for this incredible act of kindness. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to our organization. We rescued 15 cats today alone, and we couldn’t have done it without you.”

Thank you letters should sound like that, and they sound like, “Oh behalf of the board of directors, I’d like to thank you for helping imagine a future without . . . ” Blech. People don’t talk to each other that way. So my hot tip: go back to your offices and seek and destroy your thank you letters.

Steven: Right.

Jen: John, what’s your one tip?

John: Oh God. No, that’s a . . . ‘ll leave, that’s a good. I’ll leave that one. It’s the most important one.

Jen: Sure.

Steven: Well, I know you have some resources. I want to give you all the last word. And we had a couple people asking for the name of that handwriting tool, as well, if you wouldn’t mind repeating that.

John: Sure, it’s . . . in fact, we’ll just put it in the chat. It’s Chank Fonts.

Jen: Like Cher. He’s got one name, and it’s Chank.

John: Chank.

Jen: I think I see somebody here asking about how much it costs? I think it’s 100 bucks or something, a couple hundred bucks?

John: No, yeah, it’s less than . . . I don’t know what Chank . . . I think Chank’s deal was $150. So he’ll take the font, you get your ED to write the letters down on a piece of paper, mail them to Chank, and then he basically makes a font and then mails the font to you. So . . .

Jen: Oh, hey, John. Thanks.

John: Yeah, thanks, John, for writing that in there.

Steven: Thanks.

John: So tell him we sent you. Tell them that I sent you.

Jen: He’ll give you a discount.

John: Yeah. He’ll take care of you.

Steven: Give a coupon.

John: A couple other sources. Yeah. SOFII, definitely, if you’ve never heard of SOFII, it’s run by Ken Burnett and a whole crew of amazing people. SOFII is, like, an online showcase of fundraising innovation and inspiration. It’s, like, an online museum of amazing fundraising examples. Not just direct mail. It’s everything you could possibly think of. Great articles and resources. Definitely you need to check out SOFII if you can.

And Tom Ahern, I mean, if you’re not following Tom, I have no hope for the human cause. Because Tom really kind of, he’s, like, the guy who gives it to you straight, and from a marketing comps point of view, is all about donor love. He’s a fantastic guy, so check him out.

And again, someone like Ken Burnett, who’s been around for a long time, bless his heart. He’s one of the very original donor lovers out there who’s inspired so many of us in our work. He’s got insightful blogs. He’s got a wealth of knowledge. Definitely check out his site and follow along with him, as well.

Steven: Right on. This is awesome. John and Jen, thanks so much for spending your morning with us. I know you’re super busy, but I really enjoyed this, and it looks from the chat as if everyone listening also enjoyed it, as well. So thanks for being here.

John: Fantastic. Thank you very much.

Jen: Thank you.

John: Thanks.

Steven: Email these fine humans, send them a tweet. If we didn’t get to your question, I apologize for that, but they’re absolutely willing to answer things offline, so take advantage of that.

Take advantage of our rolling webinar schedule. We’re back one week from today, a special 3 p.m. Eastern time. We’re going to talk about how to involve your board members in fundraising. Maybe we can even bet them involved in some of the ideas that were shared today. Kathy Wright is going to join us. It’s going to be a really great presentation one week from today. If you can’t make that, register anyway. We’ll send you the recording.

And maybe check out our webinar page, as well. We’ve got lots of other sessions scheduled out into the summer, as well. You may find a topic there that tickles your fancy. So we’d love to see you again some Thursday down the line.

But we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. Please do fill out the survey after this presentation. You won’t hurt my feelings. I don’t think you’ll hurt the Agents’ feelings, as well. We’d love to hear your thoughts and hopefully see you again next week.

But if not, have a great rest of your Thursday, have a good weekend, and we will talk to you all soon.

donor love and loyaltyf

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.