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"You know you want me."

I’ve spent the better part of my (albeit short) career in nonprofit marketing and development. Now that I’m not working full-time in that industry, I have a whole new perspective on what it means to be a “donor.”

In the past week, I received no less than six solicitations for donations from various organizations. Six in a week! (I usually receive between one and three each month.)

With so many organizations vying for my attention, it takes some minimal effort to get me to donate. And to get me to shell out the “big” bucks, it takes some pretty savvy donor cultivation. So it is amazing to me to see so many of them doing it wrong. In this post, I want to explore the right way to ask me for money.

#1- Do not assume I am secondary to my husband.

Remember what happens when you assume? In my household, I pay the bills and keep the records. I decide which organizations are worthy enough to get our support via direct mail or online. It’s not because my husband isn’t generous. He’s extremely generous. (Generous to a fault, I have often thought.) But he is much more casual with it.  He likes to shell out cash at fundraiser golf tournaments or trivia nights, while I on the other hand, prefer a record of our donations for tax purposes.

Whenever I send a donation in, I fill out the donor card with MY name. I do this for three reasons:

  1. Up until recently, we filed separate tax returns, not combined. By using information that is different from what I provided, you are making it a bigger hassle for me when it comes to be tax time because I wanted that donation as a write-off on my taxes, not his.
  2. I manage the finances, so I’m the one who needs to get the tax receipt when it comes in. Nothing important ever comes addressed to both of us together, except Christmas and anniversary cards. If something is addressed to both of us, it is typically junk mail and we toss it straight into the recycling bin.
  3. The organizations to which I donate are those to which I have a personal connection, not my husband. The organizations don’t have to know me personally. They just have to read the info I provide. I’m providing it for a reason.

That’s why it really, really gets under my skin when an organization sends the thank you letter or email to my husband. Or, worse yet, to Mrs. Adam Haarmann. It just tells me three things:

  1. They assume my husband is the decision-maker.
  2. They did not take the time to read the information on the card I filled out.
  3. Donor cultivation is not important to them. / They do not want to make donating an easy process for me.

If you include an information form on the remittance envelope, use the information I provide. I, as a donor went to some trouble to fill it out.  I used to correct the organizations and ask them to change their database to reflect the way I wanted to be addressed. In fact, I corrected Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) on two separate occasions. They continued to send messages to my email (which has my full name in it) addressed to “Adam.”

Now, organizations get one strike and out. No more money from me. You just don’t get it, and I don’t have time to explain it to you.

#2- Know your audience.

Form letters are totally cool. I have no delusion that you are taking the time to write me a unique letter. But if you’re sending me a form letter, I know you’re using a database to track your donors.  Whether you’re using Sage, Raiser’s Edge or a simple Excel spreadsheet, you can manage to track more than just an address. So, use that nifty database to track certain notations about individuals. Categorize them as current or former board members, employees, volunteers…or whatever types of relationships are important to you.

WRONG: Today I received a solicitation for the Annual Catholic Appeal from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, to which I have donated before, when I worked for the Archdiocese as the recruitment and marketing maven at Rosati-Kain. Not only was the letter addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. ADAM Haarmann” (mistake number one) but it also completely ignored the fact that I’d WORKED FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE. Nowhere within the letter did the Archdiocese acknowledge the fact that I had been their employee, mistake number two. They should know this information. They have records. I haven’t moved or changed my address.

Current and former employees can be your biggest supporters, but when your letter sounds like you don’t even remember who they are, it makes them feel totally put off, like their time there wasn’t worth the extra five seconds it takes to note that in your database. Having one form letter that is specifically meant for past employees would go a long way toward cultivating that continued relationship.

And finally, mistake number three: in a failed attempt to make the letter sound more personal, the outside of the envelope noted a school the ACA supports. While it is regionally close to my address, I have absolutely zero affinity for it, nor do I ever wish for any of my money to go to it. That message alone was enough to give me second thoughts about a donation.

RIGHT: Today I got an email from a former professor of mine at Webster University. He was brief and to the point. The essence of the email was that as a student, I had benefited specifically from funding from the School of Communications. He basically asked that I consider “paying it forward” by donating to the SOC fund now as an alumni. This approach was BRILLIANT for its simple, targeted approach. Here’s why:

  1. I was a PR major in the School of Communications. They knew that.
  2. The solicitation came from a former professor in my major, not the Dean herself. (I can only assume similar requests went out to other alumni from former professors of theirs.)  Having the request come from that personal connection helps “cut through the noise” of generic solicitations. I’m more apt to open an email from a former professor who never asks me for money than from an organization that always asks me for money.

#3- Cultivate relationships.

If you have donors who are connected to the organization in any way, whether it be vendors, consultants, volunteers, etc., acknowledge these connections in your cultivation efforts.

WRONG: An organization with which I have a particularly close history sent me a thank you letter for a donation I made last week. It was a form letter, but it was personally signed by the executive director. I know the director personally. So imagine my surprise and dismay when I received the letter, not only addressed to Mr. and Mrs. ADAM Haarmann, but also with no reference to the fact that I had this personal connection to the organization as well as the individual who signed it. It felt very cold and impersonal.

Over the past few months, I’ve “@” mentioned them, retweeted their posts and personally replied to their announcements on Twitter and their blog. Never have any of these plugs been acknowledged. I’ve even tried to connect them, via Twitter, with an influential local individual who wanted to help. Nada. Social media is the easiest way to cultivate current donors and find new ones. When you completely ignore my continued attempts to promote your organization, you are missing an easy, cheap opportunity. It costs you no postage or printing costs, only a small amount of time.

RIGHT: My former employer (and my alma mater) Rosati-Kain is doing cultivation right.

Number one, they know who I am – on paper and in person. I don’t expect every organization to know who I am in person, but at least get it right on paper. Rosati-Kain is the only organization I have not had to correct on my salutation. They address me as Mrs. ANNIE Haarmann. What a novel idea! Calling me my name!

Number two, the president of the school signs every letter, but when she sees a name she recognizes, she adds a personal handwritten note. The note is short, just one sentence. It can’t take more than five extra seconds to add next to her signature on the form letter. But that little note tells me the organization is paying attention. It makes me, the donor, feel appreciated. My donations aren’t huge, less than a thousand bucks over the course of the past five years. But, someday I plan to be making a lot more money, and you can bet R-K will be the recipient of a much bigger donation.

So listen up, nonprofits. Start cultivating those donor relationships now before it is too late. This gravy train’s about to leave the station. Are you on board?

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