An email recently landed in my inbox, and it was all about the “ask.” As I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t the first email I’ve ever received about it, and it surely won’t be the last. The “ask” is such a nuanced thing, and it lives in a gray area, which is often the case when there’s no “one size fits all” approach for doing something the right way. Richinda wrote:

Good morning Pamela,

I hope you are well and Happy new Year.
Thank you for your continued emails and support to me. I really appreciate and try to read every one.

I read somewhere last year (and I cannot for the life of me find the article) that you should never send ANYTHING out, without an ask or at least a response card. I am writing my thank you letter for our annual tax receipts (we are in Canada) and I wondered if it would be appropriate to add in a response card? I don’t think an ask in the receipts is a good idea. You?

I’m not sure what article Richinda is referencing here, but overall, I’m in agreement.

But, here’s the thing, Richinda: for many years, I’ve advocated strongly against the practice of including a reply envelope in a thank you letter, and I’ve backed this stance up by referencing Lisa Sargent’s sage advice. Lisa is a fundraising copywriter and donor communications specialist, and she’s been my go-to resource on all things stewardship for years.

The heart of the matter is this: our overriding goal as smart fundraisers is to create lifetime donor relationships.

Lisa makes the sound argument that making an ask within a thank you letter has the ability to damage donor loyalty, and it makes a lot of sense when you think about it. A thank you letter should be just that. Nothing less, nothing more. Reach out to your donors from a place of gratitude, and they’ll respond.

Again, there is no magic formula for the “ask;” no “one size fits all approach. You’re going to implement different processes for your new donors than for your major gift donors, or your long-time donors who’ve been making small gifts. In my Basics & More courses, I recommend creating a unique process that’s tailored to building a long-term relationships with your new donors. After all, it’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, so you’ll want to strike while the iron is hot and reach out to them right away.

Here’s what a sample plan might look like:

1. A thank you call. A study by the UK firm Pell & Bales found that thank you calls reduced donor attrition by a third. In his new book, Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life, Roger Craver notes, “Overall, donors who have been phoned for one reason or another (it doesn’t seem to matter) show retention rates 15 percent higher than those who haven’t been contacted.”

My colleague, Tammy Zonker, says, “The most recent Penelope Burk survey (sneak peak) indicates 91% of respondents said thank you calls are their #1 preferred method of gift recognition.”

2. A snail-mailed thank you letter going out within 48 hours (regardless of how the gift was made). You say an email is good enough for an online gift? Think again. As Stephen Covey says (which I’ve preached for years): remember to keep the end in mind. As fundraisers, we’re looking to build lifetime relationships, and that means taking the extra time to make it personal. Everything is done by email these days, so don’t get lost in the shuffle. The written word generates more impact not despite fast track communications, but because of them. Besides, I don’t think your legacy society members came in the door via email thank yous, did they? Your organization’s thank you letter is the important first step in creating loyal donors who’ll stay with you for the long haul.

Does yours have all 10 essentials? It should. Check them out!And don’t forget to download our thank you letter template and add it to your arsenal of tools. This oh-so swipe-able template will help you inject your letters with donor love.

3. Following up within those first six weeks with an ask. Marketers call it the “honeymoon phase.” Six weeks is an ideal window of time, but what about the execution of your ask? Get creative and test things out to see what sticks, what resonates most. My suggestion? Try a followup welcome kit, like this marvelous one from Mercy Corps, which includes a BRE and a soft ask.

Try a phone call, too. Some donors may prefer it. Yes, different types of donors demand different approaches, but it goes even further than that, because every individual donor is different. Each person has their preferences, likes and dislikes, and stuff that makes them tick. Your job is to figure out what those preferences are. And every organization is unique in their communication processes, but every organization needs to have the systems in place to communicate with optimal efficiency. Summed up in a few words…

Your job is to know your donor.

It’s not hard to see why the “ask” falls into a gray area. It lives within the realm of donor communication, which in itself is very nuanced. But knowing your donor goes a long way, pointing you in the direction of long-term sustainability. This knowing is at the very crux of every Basics & More course.

So…back to Richinda’s question. She notes that she’s sending out your thank you letters for annual tax receipts. Her long-time donors might appreciate having an extra envelope for giving purposes. How many fundraisers have seen gifts come in using a coded envelope from five, even 10 years ago?

Test it. Track the results.

Take it one step further. Send a third of those donors a reply envelope along with the tax receipt letter, and track the results.

Fundraising is both an art and a science, and all good scientists (and artists) regularly test.

Remember, building lifetime donor relationships isn’t just your job and your goal. It should be your nonprofit’s way of life.

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Fundraising Friday | January 20, 2017

January 20, 2017

A year-end appeal can raise over 200% of its goal — see how in this week’s What’s in my Mailbox.  Just how irritating are you to funders? I can attest to seeing many of these first-hand. Use this checklist, courtesy of Vu over at Nonprofit With Balls, to make sure you’re not giving your funders […]

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What’s In My Mailbox | A year-end appeal can raise over 200% of its goal — see how!

January 18, 2017

In this installment of What’s In My Inbox, I’m focusing the spotlight on a truly stellar direct mail packet from The Hope Project, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization engaged in promoting awareness of sex trafficking, as well as helping its victims to heal. Currently, they’re in the process of opening a rehabilitative home for girls aged […]

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How to write a swimming pool. Essential Resources for Nonprofit Copywriters

January 11, 2017

”John and I literally used to sit down and say, ‘Now, let’s write a swimming pool.” ― Paul McCartney What if you knew that when your organization’s hot water heater died, you could sit down at your computer and write one? Your organization needs to serve 275 more kids in 2017? Not a problem. You […]

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Drawing donor parallels: Wake up, Annenberg, because purchasing your tickets was no picnic

January 10, 2017

A spinning wheel of doom churning on for an eternity and a half. A bizarrely ambiguous error message that did little to ease my worrying mind. Two blunt tweets that should have been answered in the name of good customer service, yet remain ignored as of now. It’s the kind of cryptic misfortune that belongs […]

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Fundraising Friday | January 6, 2017

January 6, 2017

It’s 2017 – and we’re entering into some uncharted territory. How will smart fundraisers survive – and thrive? Top 10 Things Smart Fundraisers Will be Doing in 2017. See how one smart nonprofit turned an infographic into a shareable email in this week’s What’s in my Inbox. Seth Godin writes: “Attitude is the most important […]

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Top 10 Things Smart Fundraisers Will be Doing in 2017 (and your bonus calendar download!)

January 4, 2017

I can’t believe 2017 is already here! Are you ready for it? Is your fundraising ready for it? Back in 2016, I wrote that smart fundraisers should zero in on their individual giving program with a laser-like intensity. And despite the current fundraising and political climate, it’s still sound advice. So make plans for: Developing your […]

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What’s in my Inbox | This is why 2016 wasn’t all bad: UltraViolet gets me ready with motivation and inspiration

January 3, 2017

In this installment of What’s In My Inbox, I’m spotlighting a piece that so speaks to me, it’s as if UltraViolet waited until I was asleep, climbed into my head, and dug around to see what was inside. This organization’s identity and mission are economic with words, making it all the more impactful: “a powerful […]

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What’s in my Mailbox | A holiday card that works as a year-end appeal? BAGLY shows you how.

December 28, 2016

In this week’s installment of What’s In My Mailbox, I’m excited to feature something that managed to grab my attention and hold it, despite the typical influx of communications this holiday season. I had mail coming at me from every direction, but did I back down from the challenge of sorting through it? Nope. Because […]

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Have you gotten “used to the squirrels” in your organization?

December 27, 2016

It was one of the scariest things I’d ever seen. My daughter (then just three years old) and I had traveled from Philadelphia to Michigan for the Christmas holidays. We were staying at my grandmother’s farmhouse and Gram had just finished baking a batch of her famous homemade crusty white bread. Aside: one of my […]

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More $$ this week! Do you have these three “musts” in place?

December 26, 2016

’Tis the season! My inbox is filling up with auto responder away messages, and by the looks of it many of you are closing your office doors during the festive week between Christmas and New Years. But here’s the thing… 12% OF ALL GIVING HAPPENS IN THE LAST THREE DAYS OF THE YEAR. Have you […]

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Are events a losing proposition for your nonprofit organization?

December 22, 2016

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all. – Peter Drucker Say the word “fundraising” to anyone unfamiliar with the field and what’s the first thing to come to mind? You guessed it – events. Everyone seems to buy into that old Andy Hardy mantra of “let’s […]

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What’s in my Inbox | Lots and lots of year-end emails. What can you learn?

December 20, 2016

Nearly a third of all annual giving happens in December, and 12% happens in the last three days of December. How are you maximizing your year-end online campaign? If your plan has been to send out an email and cross your fingers, think again. Studies have shown a 40% increase in results when using multiple […]

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Fundraising Friday | December 16, 2016

December 16, 2016

You’ll love how (and why) this delightful Polish Grandpa learns English for Christmas. This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling. Agents of Good and Ontario Nature is back in this week’s What’s In My Inbox AND What’s in my Mailbox, providing a beautifully integrated campaign featuring lots of takeaways. Do. Not. Miss. Will Your Next Development […]

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What’s in My Mailbox | Just what I was looking for: a year-end holiday card done right

December 14, 2016

In yesterday’s installment of What’s In My Inbox, we shared with you Ontario Nature’s recent email communication that set the stage for a holiday card that was in-transit. The email created an expectation, giving me something to look forward to, and also communicated gratitude, which was initially reinforced in the email. The fact of the […]

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What’s in my Inbox | Relationships between email and direct mail? Ontario Nature shows you how.

December 13, 2016

For this week’s installment of What’s In My Inbox, I’m spotlighting Ontario Nature and their short yet savvy (and of course donor-centric) holiday-themed email communication. Ontario Nature is a nonprofit organization based in Toronto. ON maintains its own system of over twenty nature reserves, creates new reserves and parks, and provides public education about nature. […]

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Power of Nonprofit Storytelling | Forget about going viral — it’s all about storytelling!

December 12, 2016

The mechanics of internet virality are still a mystery, despite the countless instances of internet posts, memes, and stories “going viral” within the internet’s stratosphere. Why do some advertising campaigns and memes “just stick,” while others fall by the wayside? How did the Ice Bucket Challenge gain so much traction in 2015, motivating content creators […]

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Fundraising Friday | December 9, 2016

December 9, 2016

In our year-end fundraising classes, we speak to *warming* up your donors prior to your year-end ask. But what does that look like? This week’s What’s in My Inbox features a super example from Mercy Corps. The Big Problem in Charity That Giving Tuesday Cannot Fix. New from Slate. Does your budget align with your […]

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What’s in my Inbox | How are you “warming up” your donors for your year-end ask?

December 6, 2016

In this week’s Motivate Monday – and in our year-end fundraising training materials (from the Your Best EVER Year-End Symposium to the tried-and-true Supercharge) – we speak often to the idea of “warming up” your donors prior to that crucial year-end ask. You want to ease into this territory gently, so that when your ask […]

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Fundraising Friday | December 3, 2016

December 2, 2016

San Francisco-based nonprofit Watsi has a funding model that is brilliant in its simplicity and transparency. And that extends to their annual report. This week’s Power of Nonprofit Storytelling. It’s over with and I hope that yours was great. Sample emails from this year’s Giving Tuesday. Should you or shouldn’t you use an envelope teaser? This […]

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