Keep the Change: April 2016
Back by popular demand…
Of the more than 60 issues I’ve written of this newsletter, the one that’s most frequently mentioned to me in conversation is, “Everything I Know About Fundraising I Learned From My Dog,” from May 2013.
Being a proud dog momma, it’s also my favorite.
So, this month, I’ve got a second installment for you. It’s a bit longer than my usual newsletters but hopefully the adorable photos of my girl Penny will keep you going.
These pups really do have a lot to teach us about fundraising!
Hope you enjoy,
Tina & Penny
P.S. For those of you in the Boston area, Dr. S. Atyia Martin from Mayor Walsh’s office is presenting “Race, Resiliency, Equity” on May 13th from 11-1pm. It’s free but RSVPs are required. Space is limited. More details here (pdf).
Everything (Else) I Need To Know About Fundraising I Learned From My Dog
Deep commitment is required.
- Having a dog is a serious responsibility. You have to be committed to giving them the training, love, attention, and exercise they need to be happy and healthy. Sometimes this means I have to do things I don’t want to do. And sometimes it means not doing things I do want to do. But, I made a commitment when I adopted Penny and I won’t let her down.
- You also made a commitment when you asked your supporters to donate and I hope you won’t let them down. Your donors need love and attention to be happy and feel like part of your mission. Sometimes this means doing things in a way that’s not as efficient or cost effective as possible. But your commitment has to be focused on the experience of your donors — even if it takes a little longer to hand address those envelopes or costs a little more to send them first class.
First impressions matter.
- Early on, Penny had an unfortunate run-in with the two Belgian Shepherds who live across the street. It was not at all their fault; they are very sweet dogs. Regardless, Penny has never forgiven them. She has a special howl reserved for when Angus and Cormac are passing by the house!
- Deserved or not, first impressions stick. You only have one chance to get it right. And, with 80% of first-time donors not giving a second gift, we aren’t getting it right much of the time. How do you respond after someone makes their first gift? Is your “thank you” letter prompt, personal, genuine, and welcoming? Do you send a welcome packet? (If you missed my issue on Donor Welcome Packets, check it out here.)
Good training makes a world of difference.
- Except for the occasional squirrel, Penny is a fairly obedient dog. This is mostly due to the training she got as a puppy. I got lucky with her temperament but the best of temperaments won’t make up for poor training. In most cases, dogs are as good as the training we give them.
- Likewise, staff, board members, and volunteers are only as good as the training and education they receive. No one is born knowing how to be a fundraiser. Quite the contrary! Invest in learning the core body of knowledge related to resource development and share that knowledge at all levels of your organization. Don’t ever stop learning!
Communications preferences must be learned and respected.
- Penny doesn’t like to be pet on the top of her head. Dogs have a blind spot above their heads and Penny is very shy. So when you come in with your hand from above, it startles her. Knowing this, I coach others how to approach her to get the best response.
- You need to learn how your donors want to be communicated with. Do they like postal mail? Email? Phone calls? What time? How often? Offer supporters the chance to choose when and how they want to hear from you and what they want to hear about. This will move you from being an intrusion to being an invited guest.
Plan ahead and anticipate what’s coming.
- Penny is particularly suspicious of solo men out in the world without a partner, a child, or a dog. If we’re talking and I see a man on his own, we cross the street. I’m always trying to think a few steps ahead to avert any potential problems that could arise when we’re out.
- The best way to anticipate what’s coming as a development professional is by having a written development plan. Creating a plan will help you sets goals that promote growth and create ownership among your entire fundraising team. And, it will enable you to maximize your resources, track your progress, identify problems as they arise, and avoid crisis fundraising. All good things, right?
Repeating core messages over and over is only boring to you.
- Any time Penny does what I want her to do, I say, “Good girl.” It’s virtually a reflex for me at this point. But, it doesn’t matter how many times she’s heard it, Penny wags her tail in delight.
- If you have a message that works with your donors, stick with it. It may be boring to you but you live it every day. It’s not boring to your donors. They appreciate the heartwarming reminder of the difference they can and do make in the world. They may even wag their tails in delight!
Having bonds with many people is critical.
- Because I got Penny on my own, I made a point of making sure she spent time with people without me. I wanted her to know she’d be okay if I wasn’t around and that I’d come back. Because of this bonding time, Penny has a few surrogate mommas that I can depend on to pinch hit for me and it’s a seamless handoff.
- Your donors should have relationships with multiple people at your organization. Sure, one person may have brought them into the fold. But you must make the effort to build additional connections. Having bonds with more than one staff or board member is important for maintaining relationships with supporters if and when the person who referred them moves on.
Personalized communications get a better response.
- If I want the best chance that Penny will listen to me and do as I ask, I use her name. Occasionally, she’ll respond if I just whistle and say, “Let’s go.” But the likelihood is much higher if I say, “Penny, let’s go.”
- Not surprisingly, your donors are most likely to respond to communications that are personalized to them. Use their name; none of this “Dear Friend” business! But also use other things you know about them like the date of their first gift or their preference for only being mailed to once a year.
Everyone loves a treat.
- Like her momma, Penny loves a tasty treat. What we consider tasty does differ some though. She likes her bully sticks while I’d prefer ice cream or just about any baked good.
- What kind of treats are you giving your donors? Unprompted “thank you” calls? Notes to say you’re thinking about them? A news article on something you know they care about? The options are almost limitless. Though I wouldn’t advise a bully stick!
Loyalty deepens over time.
- Dogs are pack animals – loyal by nature. But the depth of that loyalty changes over time. The longer I have Penny, the more connected she is to me. And vice versa.
- In a similar vein, the longer a donor stays with you, the more likely they are to stick with you for the long haul. This is why your chances of getting a third gift are significantly greater than getting a second gift. Put in the work on the front end to make sure your supporters feel like a valued part of your mission. Focus on the three hallmarks of donor loyalty — satisfaction, commitment, and trust. Do this well and you’ll have donors for life.
When it doubt, go outside.
- Sometimes, Penny will seem to need something and I won’t be able to figure out what it is. After failing to crack the code, I’ll often just take her outside for a few minutes. A quick sprint behind the house usually resets her and when we come back inside, she’ll settle in.
- If you’re stuck on a project or have a long day of meetings, take time to go outside. Moving around and getting some fresh air will get your creative juices flowing and keep you mentally alert. Hour after hour in front of your computer or in a conference room isn’t a recipe for doing your best work.
You get what you give.
- I don’t believe there are any bad dogs. Almost any behavioral problems you’ll find in a dog are the result of human error, whether intentional or not. You can only expect dogs to be as good as the time and attention they get from their humans.
- Similarly, you can only expect donors to be as loyal, satisfied, and committed as the time and attention they get from your organization. And based on the average donor retention rates in the nonprofit sector, they aren’t getting nearly enough! It doesn’t matter how deserving your mission may be; no one owes you a donation. You have to earn it. Every time.