Conventional Fundraising Advice Works! (A defense of the Thank You Note)

In conversations and interactions with funders, donors, and nonprofit stakeholders, I often find myself surprised by the negative feedback I hear about nonprofit fundraising practices (or lack thereof). I've heard funders complain about completely mismatched or misguided requests for funding; not receiving proper acknowledgement, or any at all; grantees that disregard their obligations to provide reporting; and organizations that fail to communicate when projects are not proceeding as intended. 

Donors, funders, supporters--those wonderful benevolent creatures and organizations who ensure that we can all continue to do our good work as a direct result of their generosity--all too often we miss opportunities to thank them in meaningful ways that further our relationship. We also fail to communicate in ways that make sense for individual funders' styles and preferences, we attempt to obfuscate or hide when things are not going as well as intended, or we get too busy and forget to uphold best practices in relationship management that....get this....ACTUALLY WORK! 

It's not rocket science, folks...send some dang thank you notes! My tips, hard-learned lessons, and best practices after more than a decade-long career in fundraising, presented in no particular order:

  1. Ask, Listen, Act. In all of your interactions with funders, do these things. 
  2. Have conversations with your stakeholders about the ways in which they prefer to be contacted, to be thanked, or to be acknowledged. Ask them what they prefer. 
  3. Listen to your funders, and adjust your practices based on their feedback. Like any good communicator, ask open-ended questions and then shush your own mouth while you hear what the other party has to say! 
  4. SEND A DANG THANK YOU NOTE! Ideally: handwritten, sent via postal mail, within 24 hours of contact. It's not hard! Do it! 
  5. Offer funders a range of options for recognition, allow them to choose the acknowledgements that make sense for them. Some love having their logos plastered all over your website or program materials, some don't! Don't stick to a rigid recognition package at specific and certain donation levels--that can be off-putting for some folks. 
  6. Pay attention to your language. Inviting a donor for a site visit or tour can make them feel like they're about to be hit up for another contribution. A friend recently told me that in her organization, they specifically state that they're inviting donors for a "no-agenda, behind-the-scenes tour." This is BRILLIANT phrasing. 
  7. MAKE SOME DANG PHONE CALLS! Personal touches with supporters can go a long way towards building a mutually respectful relationship. 
  8. Be honest, transparent, trustworthy and forthright in your communication with your supporters. Desperation, deception, and insincerity are perceptible. 

I'll be writing more about some of these specific practices in the future, but in the meantime...I can't say it practices have achieved that status for a reason-they work!