Books of Note

Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers

Looking back at last year's AFP International Conference while looking forward to this year's conference next month in New Orleans.


Live Blogging for AFP International Conference in San Francisco 

Here we go. The crowd at the Moscone Center is primed and ready to go.





Are you thoughtful in your acknowledgment process? 

Every year at this time I like to remind people that this is the perfect time to review your acknowledgment process. Do you do enough? Is it possible to do too much?

First and foremost every donor should get a letter that acknowledges their gift. At a minimum, it must include the amount of the gift and a statement telling if any "goods or services" were exchanged for the gift. That isn't my rule it's the IRS's rule.

We produce seven different letters; New Gift, $.1 - $99, $100 - $249, $250 - $499, $500 - $999, $1,000 and up, Special Letters.

Every new donor gets a welcome letter that also serves as their thank you letter. Ideally, this would be two different letters, but for the sake of expediency, we combine those letters. This system works out ok because mid-level and major donors get additional contacts via phone, email or a handwritten letter.

A different letter is sent depending on the gift's level. Each letter is different and each one emphasis the donor's role in helping the organization fulfill its mission. Also the higher level donors get live signed letters. The lower levels get digital signatures on their letters. We also try and put personal notes on as many of the letters as time allows.

Donor's giving $1,000 or more get a totally different letter that is signed with the board chair's name. This one is the most personal. Finally, we have special letters these are written when a gift is exceptional, unexpected or different in some way.

We produce over 10,000 letters a year the largest number during the year-end season. We could not do this if our CRM / donor database didn't allow us to automate the process. But even if you don't have full automation you can still do a great deal with a spreadsheet and a word processor.

What else do we do? Well as I mentioned before we send personal notes and make phone calls to donors. Besides their thank you letters, donors who give at $250 to $999 get a personal phone call, and donors at the $1,000 level and above get a handwritten note and possibly a special letter.

Every individual giving program is different, but one thing that should be the same for everyone is thanking your donors.

What does 2018 hold for individual giving? 

How will the new tax code affect charitable giving in 2018? I wish I could tell you, but no one knows. The charitable deduction is still part of the tax code but with the individual and married couples deductions being doubled who knows what will happen. I like to use data to figure things. I crunch data, I look at historical patterns, and I create graphs. None of this is a help in this particular case.

There are so many variables I just don’t know. Mainly how many of my donors itemize their taxes now that won’t need to in 2018. We are counting on people merely being charitable, wanting to use what resources they have to make the world a better place and not expecting anything tangible in return.

2018 begins a new chapter for all non-profits who depend on donations for middle-income individuals. It would seem to me that we might slip through 2018 since most people won't know exactly how the new tax law will affect them until the end of the year, which is problematic since year-end is when we count on the majority of our donations coming in.

If you have any ideas or techniques, you are using to estimate changes in your individual giving goals; please share them here. I, for one, am going to double down on being donor-centric and telling thoughtful and compelling stories. I believe that though we will see some shrinkage in gifts in 2018 that overall people will continue to support the causes in which they believe.

I just wish I could crunch some data to back up that belief.

Our Success Depends On Our Ability To Communicate, But Are We Any Good At It? 

Here is a TEDtalk video by Celeste Headlee the author of the new and very good book We need to talk : how to have conversations that matter. The talk is described as follows: When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don't converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. "Go out, talk to people, listen to people," she says. "And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed."

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