A Fundraising Story About What NOT To Do

By Ajay Rajan

A Fundraising Story About What NOT To Do

My cousin belongs to a small community center. Over the past couple of years, I have spent a lot of time at my cousin’s home-away-from-home. And it’s easy to see why he loves it so much. I have felt welcomed there since my first visit. The executive director is genuine in his love of the work, and people there are exceedingly friendly. It is by all accounts a happy place.

So about a year ago, when I happened to see that the Center was fundraising for a new project, I decided to give. I am not on their mailing list so I didn’t receive a solicitation. My cousin never asked me to give. I decided it would be my good deed for the day: $100 to my cousin’s community center in honor of my cousin’s family.

I have to tell you that I was giddy when I pressed the SUBMIT button on my computer. As a fundraiser, I know that receiving an unsolicited donation, no matter the amount, from someone NOT on your mailing list… that’s manna from heaven, baby. I didn’t even make them work for it. A brand new donor on their books with exactly ZERO effort.

I hit that SUBMIT button and I immediately received an automated reply that my donation had been successfully transferred. Again, I have to admit that I was excited to receive their thank-you letter. The executive director surely would be ecstatic that I gave. My cousin, too, had to know that my donation was in his name. I even wrote down the date in my budget so I would remember to give again next year.

But that was the last I heard from the community center. After two weeks, three weeks, a month, when it became clear I wasn’t going to hear from them at all, I was surprised to find that I was hurt. Which was especially strange for me, because I didn’t think that I gave for the recognition.

Somehow, by not receiving a thank you letter, I felt almost…cheated out of money.

No one wants to give their money to a black hole. And I am convinced that it would have taken even the most standard of thank you letters to satisfy my expectations.

But I often think about what an all-star fundraiser would have done in if s/he received my donation. I’ll lay it out for you:

An all-star fundraiser (who we shall call Pat) would have called to thank me for my gift. Pat would have told me that s/he knew how close I was with my cousin and that the sense of family around the center was exactly the environment they attempted to foster.

Pat would make sure that the ED sent me a letter in the mail. It would have said that he enjoys whenever I swing by the Center and that my cousin is such a valuable member of the Center.

Pat and the ED would have told me exactly what my money was going to do (renovate the pool, for instance) and provide me the timeline so I would know when to expect updates.

To sum it up: Pat would have flattered me.

Of course we can’t make personal phone calls and write handwritten letters to every $100 donor. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to do significantly better by our donors. We can’t throw our hands up in the air, exasperated at the challenge of treating our donors like real people, and call it a day.

We have to strive to flatter them. To tell them we love them. To tell them. that without them, we wouldn’t be where we are.

The thank you letter is a perfect place to start. Even if it’s a form thank you, a hand-written personal line — one sentence! — from literally ANYONE in the organization will do wonders for any donorbase.

I challenge any organization to take their bottom level of donors — the $1-$50 donors — and handwrite a one sentence thank you to their letters. I bet those those gifts will come back doubled next year. It doesn’t take much.

Flatter your donors. Write them love letters. It’s an integral piece of every donor-centered organization. And it will change the way you feel toward the people who support your organization.