Let's begin with two points we can all agree on:
- Saying thanks to the people who support our organization is one of, if not THE most important part of fundraising.
- Establishing a “culture of philanthropy” within an organization will propel fundraising and increase impact.
Here’s another thing many non-profits agree on:
“My board just isn’t engaged in our fundraising efforts.”
If you’re willing to accept these two axioms of fundraising, and you face similar challenges with engaging your board, then here’s a tool that you can start this afternoon. It’s super low-cost and takes very little time. One organization who does this calls it “Operation Gratitude”.
It goes like this…
Step 1: Run the list
Create a list of your top 100 donors by annual gift size. Include their name, address, email and phone number. You don’t need to show how much they have given.
Step 2: Make copies
Make enough copies for each board member to have one. Include board members’ names in the list if they are, in fact, part of the top 100 donors.
Step 3: Make time
OK, maybe this should really be step 1 – but make sure you’re working with the executive director or CEO to carve out some time at the next board meeting (or even every board meeting?) to do this. Maybe it’s right up front when everyone arrives. Maybe it’s right after a break. I wouldn’t recommend waiting till the end of the meeting when everyone’s ready to rush off though. I know time is precious at board meetings, but if you agree with the first two axioms, then what’s more critical than thanking donors WHILE simultaneously building a stronger culture of philanthropy?
Step 4: Thank away
Ask each board member to review your neatly created list for people they know. Have thank you cards available with stamps already applied. Instruct them to write a very simple hand-crafted note that expresses their gratitude. You may want to include some sample language for them as well. If they don’t know anyone, then have them randomly select a few to say thanks to.
Step 5: Mail the notes
That’s it. Simple right?
All right, some of you are saying “Well, how do we make sure that everyone on the list gets thanked?” or “What if the same donor gets four thank you notes and someone else gets none?” or “What about the donors who gave most recently – beyond just the top 100?”
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of great. You’re starting to exercise muscles with your board and staff that haven’t been used in this way. Start small and simple. Develop the habit of making “thank you” the most important thing you do, and establishing the board’s role in being a key part of that. After a while they will start to get it. Then you can refine lists and procedures, timing, execution and even tracking. Of course, this assumes that every donor is getting thanked by the organization in some way already.
This works. I’ve seen it first-hand. I’ve seen it double annual giving in a few years.* When you’re focused on developing a culture of gratitude, it will become second nature. Once that happens, the board’s willingness to participate in the “ask” portion of fundraising becomes much easier as well.
So keep it simple. Take a step. Enjoy the results.
*Past performance is not indicative of future results.