Practical Advice for Modern Fundraisers

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."

Thoughtless Mail Versus Thoughtful Solicitations 

Over the last year, we received 18 solicitations from a single charity this included in mid-September a big 9x12 envelope filled with holiday material. We got name tags, gift cards, thank you cards and holiday cards. A week after the envelope arrived a letter came reminding us to donate to say thank you for the envelope of stuff we didn't ask for in the first place.

I should point out that the gift that started this whole avalanche of mail was a tribute gift. Now any direct mail or individual giving manager will tell you that a tribute gift is a hard gift to renew. The person gave for a particular reason to a charity that is probably not one of their charities of choice.

Over the next few weeks leading to the end of the calendar year, we received a reminder about once a week. Some of these were cards, faux handwritten notes, and even odd sized mailers. All rather expensive to produce but I wasn't sure, so I asked a friend who does premiums how much a package like this would cost. She guessed that initial stuffed 9x12 envelope cost at least $1.25 per piece plus postage depending on how many they mailed.

When the year changed, I naturally assumed that we wouldn't be getting any more mailings. Boy, was I wrong! During the following year, we received 5 or 6 more ask letters.

Now, it is September again and can you guess what we got in the mail - this year's 9x12 envelope from the same charity filled with stuff. It has now been almost two years since we made the gift that started this whole avalanche of mail. We have not had contact with the charity and are not likely to make another tribute gift or any gift to them. But we are still on their acquisition list. How does this happen?

My guess as to why they still consider us likely prospects is that either the organization isn't cleaning and updating their list on a regular basis. I hope they are at least removing the people who do make gifts it wouldn't be very thoughtful for an actual donor to receive this type of package. Or that they use a service to do their direct mail solicitations and that vendor is more interest in producing billable products than in the non-profits reputation and bottom line.

I typically, mail once maybe twice to tribute donors and then drop them for my list unless of course, they respond. But what I am really curious about is how many people on this charity's acquisition list are like us? How much money did they waste on households that were never going to make another gift?

Now, they must be having some success or I would assume they would keep doing the mailings. Maybe the number of households like ours is negligible? But maybe they are not? Many direct mail professionals believe that non-profit ought to mail as frequently as they possibly can.

My experience says you should mail thoughtfully. By this I mean you should clearly understand who your prospects are and then mail the appropriate type and number of pieces. I also you have to know when to as they say "cut bait." Some people simply aren't going to make second gifts - especially donors that came to you through tribute gifts. How thoughtful is it to them to keep soliciting them and how thoughtful is it to your non-profit's bottom line.

Working Thoughtfully with Mid-Level Donors 

I am obsessed with thoughtful mid-level donor cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship. But then again we all should be. These are our best donors they give a substantial amount, and they do it regularly. They may not give as much as your major donors, but you can count on them year over year. But who exactly are they? Statistically, you can figure out who these thoughtful donors are based on a few basic data points.

First, and most obviously, their giving level. This level is specific to your organization. At one organization the range could be from $100.00 to $200.00 at another organization, it might be 250.00 to 499.99. It could be 1,000 to 4999.99 at another organization.

So the first thing you need to do is figure out what is your mid-level donor range. Segmentation is the key. I suggest that you look at your donors in two ways and then chose the donors that fit both ways. I recommend running two reports to figure out your mid-level donors. For an average organization, you can create a "consecutive years given" report that pulls people that give between $250.00 and $999.99. I recommend three years as the number of consecutive years. Then create a "total year's given" report. I this report look at people who gave in at least 3 of the last five years for the same gift range.

You should be able to figure out from these reports the cluster that contains the majority of your mid-level gifts.

Now to cultivate and solicit theses thoughtful mid-level donors. Cultivating and soliciting these mid-level donors is, actually, pretty easy. These people already like your organization and donate to you. What I would do is up my game on how I communicate with them. They should get a different letter from you lower level donors. It should be more personal. Now I don't particularly, mean merging more in formation about the donor into the letter. What you should do is talk more in-depth and thoughtfully about how their support is affecting your programming. Give them some specifics about how their commitment is changing lives.

Let them know they are important to you. Prepare a stewardship plan just for these supporters. This means going a few steps beyond just sending them a single thank you letter. What about giving them a call or writing them a quick note. Also, sending them material about your organization that DOES NOT ASK FOR MONEY. Not even a soft ask. These are important for the donors at the top of your mid-level range. That is how you move them to major donors.

Also, don't forget these supporters are great planned giving prospects as well.

They key are knowing who your mid-level donors are and treating them thoughtfully like they matter - because they do.

Catch up on your reading!

August is the ideal time to catch up on your reading. Here are some examples from our shared articles section.


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