Simple Development Systems Every Fundraiser Can Use: Beyond the Hour

March 7, 2018

Our March 1st Bloomerang webinar, What Are Simple Development Systems And How Can They Help You?, included an overview of a handful of the systems an organization needs to have in place in order to grow an effective individual giving program. Due to time constraints, we were unable to get to all of the questions asked during this session. Remember, systems are a miracle.

Q: How do you get phone numbers or emails when the donor doesn’t list them and they aren’t listed in

A: We recommend incorporating a donor thank you call, particularly during the welcome phase of onboarding a new donor. While you won’t have a phone number for every donor, we recommend that every form, both direct mail and online, include the phone number field. In your online forms, I recommend including phone as a not required option.

Q: Do you have a link to a great Impact Report you could share?

A: Sure. Some impact reports, like this one from Brittany’s Hope, are short digital reports. And this one, from The College of Dentistry at The University of Saskatchewan, is closer to an annual report and raised $10,000 without an ask!

Q: Do you think that sending these pieces via direct mail is imperative, or is it ok to send them via email? We always send the initial thank you acknowledgement through direct mail, but after that, communication is exclusively over the email except for a yearly appeal.

A: Your fundraising will be stronger and more sustainable when you embrace a multi-channel approach, one that includes both direct mail and digital communications. Our members and students who have seen the greatest results are those who have increased their appeals, going from one appeal to two, three, even five appeals a year. If you were my student or client, I’d advise beginning with incorporating two print newsletters and adding a spring direct mail appeal.

Q: How do we move our ED and board from “let’s plan the next event” to “let’s make a few phone calls to donors” as a way to raise money?

A: It takes time and persistence. The first time I did a thank-a-thon with a board, I printed out a copy of The Sound a Thank You Makes,  the article that first inspired me to make regular thank you calls back in 2004, and passed them out to each board member. Rather than calls, for that first exercise our members penned hand-written thank you notes. Additionally, your donor retention rate should be front and center at every board meeting. If you’ve got (and you should) have business people on your board, they’ll understand the value of donor retention.

Q: My ED wants me out in the field visiting nursing homes, etc. to find legacy donors…. and I want to focus on our current, lapsed, monthly,  one time (tribute) donors. I am one person – which do I start with?

A: Just like the adage that fundraising is not about asking rich people for money, legacy giving is not about asking old people for bequest gifts (oh, the horrors!). Does your organization have a legacy program? Make your case by educating your ED on the donor lifecycle and the value of donor retention. Legacy gifts come from donors with a long history of giving to your organization. Without knowing more about your organization, I would focus my attention on your current and lapsed donors.

Q: Is there a particular system that should be made a priority over some of the others? We have a small department and bandwidth is an issue with all the other responsibilities we have in other fundraising areas (grants, corporate & law firm campaigns etc.).

A: Your stewardship systems always come first. And that includes not only individual donors, but how you are stewarding grant making foundations, your corporate sponsors and more.

Q: I was charged twice by my alma matter when I made a donation.  When I called to complain they didn’t return the call for 3 months and then they argued with me.  They’ve never received another gift from me.

A: Unfortunately, stories like this are all too common in our sector. There is nothing quite like becoming a donor, only to realize just how horrifically many well-meaning nonprofit organizations treat their donors!

Q: How do you thank monthly donors?

A: You don’t need to send out a thank you letter to your new monthly donors every month. Instead, recognize the impact that they’re making with their monthly gift, and do it in a very special way. Devise a unique welcome package for your monthly donors. Put it on your schedule to call them two to three times a year and thank them. How else can you express your appreciation? Treat them like the friends they are.

Need additional advice on thanking monthlies? I’ve called on donor retention expert and copywriter Lisa Sargent for her words of wisdom on stewarding monthly donors, and here is what she said: Some “best practices,” I’d recommend based on direct experience and personal research:

1.) Don’t stop communicating (read as: asking). When donors commit to monthly giving, they somehow enter a kind of donor communications wasteland (at one organization I know of, they actually were taken off ALL mailing lists, for fear that if a stray Ask crept in, mutiny would follow… when in fact, the opposite is true: relevant, regular well-crafted asks have been shown to increase engagement).

To steward sustainers, you can and should keep sending appeals (easy to modify and acknowledge their regular giving status) — at one organization, they would simply have me remove the hard Asks, add a very soft Ask with no amounts, and add several thank-yous for donors’ steady support. It worked well.

Another way to look at Asks: let’s say I’m a monthly giver, and your organization has an emergency. As one of your most committed supporters, I’d welcome a chance to help out, but if you don’t give me that chance, you won’t get the gift.


You should also offer the chance to upgrade monthly giving amount…and don’tforget bequest appeals!

2.) Send them special versions of your regular communications. One of my clients encloses a one-sheet note from the president especially for monthlies and majors along with the quarterly newsletter. Of course, it’s labeled as such: President’s Report for Major Donors and Name-of-Giving Club of CharityName. The letter shares “inside” info — including stuff like how the builder walked off the job of a capital campaign project leading to a delay, etc. — and it also says thank you. A lot.3.) Periodically offer them special opportunities: events, guided tours, president’s breakfasts, mentoring opportunities etc. And make it very clear that this is an exclusive event. I’ve done this with more than one client.

4.) Send special thank yous. One of my past clients had published a number of great coffee table books. They would send surplus editions as thank yous to loyal/ recurring/major donors during the holidays.

5.) Remember to have in place routine communications like renewals, cancellations, tax summaries, etc. Good donor stewardship means following up with a sustainer if their credit card expires, or they suspend payment. Maybe, for example, they’d simply prefer to take 1 or 2 months off each year instead of canceling altogether — but if you have no follow-up in place, you’ll never know.

Q: Your story about Memorial Gifts made me think. We typically do not cultivate these donors because the cause is not theirs, but it is the passion of the person they are honoring. We do send them a thank you letter and we let the family member know as well, but that is it. How would you recommend stewarding these donors?

A: In your thank you letter, are you letting the donor know what their gift is accomplishing (see examples in this excellent In-memoriam donation thank-you letter samples from Lisa Sargent and Sofii)? What next? While it’s often true that in-memoriam gifts are essentially one-off donations, that isn’t always the case. As a donor, my first gift to charity was an  “In lieu of flowers” gift — and it blossomed into 20 years of support! Never dump your “in lieu of flowers” donors into your general database. Proceed with extreme tact and sensitivity. For example, you might follow up with your next donor newsletter and include a personalized sticky note referencing their particular gift, and then follow up with an appeal — one that is especially tailored to them. Test what works for you. See this past post for more advice on how to plan a course of action.


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