Sincere and Effective Thank You Notes, Make Your Donors, Staff Members, Colleagues and Volunteers Smile

I recently read this article and loved it. The article offers great advice for thanking colleagues and staff members.

Below, I’ve borrowed and converted that advice (and added some additional thoughts) for writing the perfect thank you note to donors, board members and volunteers.

1. Make it personal. The thank you note is one more opportunity for starting or deepening a relationship. Research conducted by Penelope Burke and replicated by Blackbaud tells us that the most effective way to thank donors is by picking up the phone and calling. More effective than the handwritten note, which is next in line for personalization.

Whether you call, write or email, make sure your message includes most of the elements below.

2. Be specific. You know this is true. It feels nice when someone says thanks for a good job. It feels even better when they say, “Thanks, Sally, for navigating that tough conversation during the development committee meeting. You did it with integrity and still kept us on track.”

Thanking a donor should also be specific. “Thank you, Tom, for your generous gift of $15,000 to help your children achieve their full potential. The children you support will gain the skills they need to start kindergarten prepared and excited to learn.”

3. Offer praise. That’s what I tried to do with the example above. Make the donor and/or volunteer the hero. “You insights turned the meeting around.” “Your service inspires everyone around you to be a little bit better.” “Your idea jump started the brainstorming process. The ideas that flowed will make us stronger and more focused in 2018.”

4. Authenticity and sincerity count. Make sure you’re being truthful and are genuinely grateful. Have a smile on your face while you speak or write. You are sure to convey it.
5. Say something about the future. “Our plans for the new fiscal year are shaping up. We’d love to discuss them with you, get your insights. Over the next, few months we’re holding several “idea salons” (vision discussions, strategic plan reviews, program demonstrations). Please look for your invitation. We welcome your creativity (business savvy, straight talk).” Say what’s true.

If you’d like a resource for vision discussions and/or salons contact us:  mail@theosbornegroup.com

6. Wish them well. “Until we next meet, I wish you all the best.” “Good luck with this year’s fishing trip.” “Please give Harry and your children my best.”

7. Consider including a small gift. “One of the children you support made this bookmark. I know how much you love to read. I hope you enjoy this token of our appreciation.” “We received this lovely note from one of our parents. I thought you would enjoy reading about the difference you are making from a parent’s point of view.”

8. Use the words “you” and “your” as often as possible. Research tells us that we love hearing our names and the words “you” and “your.” Sprinkle liberally.

4 Steps You Can Take NOW to Strengthen Major Donor Engagement

Major Donor Engagement

Strategic engagement leads to increased investment. We all know this. Yet, we often offer a too small selection of ways to engage our major donors and potential donors.

  1. Help us fundraise
  2. Attend an event (fundraising, alumni, cultivation, stewardship luncheon)
  3. Take a tour
  4. Join our board (or a committee)
  5. Meet with me

That’s often it.

We shoehorn our donors into one of these five boxes. Some fit nicely, but for others, none of the above lights a fire. Even worse, they fail to move the potential donor closer to an inspired, joyful and generous, “Yes.”

Our goal, however, is to tap into all of our donors’ personal capital – human, intellectual, network, and financial. We want them to be “All In.” Women demand it. Men respond to it. Millennials love it. Gen Xers and Boomers, like most men, give more even though they say they don’t have time or don’t need it. People of color like being part of a larger group who are also involved.

It doesn’t matter who you are. Asking for more than money and contacts makes one feel valued. When we tailor that engagement to interests and skill sets, we have a winning formula.

Step One: Assess your current major donor engagement options.

Involvement and engagement are not the same. A major donor engagement opportunity is interactive, two-way, flexible, taps into emotions, intellect, and skills and requires ACTION. A tour, for example, can be either involvement or wonderful engagement. You can walk people through, talk at them, answer questions. OR, you can open by asking the major donors a question taking involvement up a level to engagement.

“You are going to see a lot of our work first hand over the next hour. At the end of the tour, we’d like to discuss your responses and recommendations. What did you find most compelling? What were your impressions of our effectiveness? What are some of your takeaways?

In addition, it is sustainable by your office. It isn’t busy work but rather MEANINGFUL AND PRODUCTIVE. For example, if every time that certain committee meets you are scratching your head about what to do with them, this is not a good major donor engagement activity. They know it isn’t important and you know it.

Finally, a good suite of major donor engagement options has variety. Some need to be highly personal like hosting a small “consultation” gathering in one’s home with the CEO and other major donors. Others should be longer term like heading a task force or serving on a committee.

Bring your team together. Define engagement so everyone understands the difference between involvement and engagement. Provide easels, flip charts and markers. Stand around each flip chart in groups of five or six. Then, ask which of our current major donor engagement opportunities meet the criteria. Write them all down on the first page of the flip chart. Which almost meet them and could if we just tweaked them (like the tour example above)? That’s page two. For page three, ask which don’t even come close and we should stop doing them. Have the teams report; discuss why they put some opportunities on one page or the other. Come to agreement.

Step Two: Brainstorm New Major Donor Engagement Opportunities

Using the same brainstorming technique, think about what you would like to add. Start by telling your team to remove constraints from their minds. Don’t start with, “we tried that and it didn’t work,” or “we can’t afford that.” Instead, dream big. Report out and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of some of the new ideas. Make sure they meet the criteria.

Karen Blog SmartArt - August 2016

Step Three: Create your new suite of major donor engagement opportunities

Here is one way to organization the brainstorming results:

High Impact

  • Can be tailored to the needs and desires of the major donor
  • Highly interactive and steeped in mission
  • Taps into intellect and skills
  • Meaningful and productive
  • Sustainable

Harder to Maintain or Get Started: Requires budget approval, or more help from outside your office, coordination and time

High Impact

  • Can be tailored to the needs and desires of the major donor
  • Highly interactive and steeped in mission
  • Taps into intellect and skills
  • Meaningful and productive
  • Sustainable

Easy to Implement:  Already doing it well or only needs minor tweaking, easy to add

Lower Impact

  • Isn’t mission infused and hard to do so
  • Mostly presentation, no room for conversation
  • Not really needed by staff, more on the “busy work” side

Harder to Maintain or Get Started: Requires budget approval, or more help from outside your office, coordination and time

Lower Impact

  • Isn’t mission infused and hard to do so
  • Mostly presentation, no room for conversation
  • Not really needed by staff, more on the “busy work” side

Easy to Implement: Already doing it well or only needs minor tweaking, easy to add

Step Four: Take Action

  1. Act on High Impact and Easy to Implement
  2. Plan for High Impact Harder to Implement
  3. Improve the Lower Impact Easy to Implement or drop
  4. Drop Lower Impact Harder to Implement

Ten Things Great Relationship Builders Do

Our goal is inspired, joyful, generous investments by our donors. We want them to be “all in.” Ambassadors, volunteers, providers of expertise and wisdom, networkers and connectors and of course stretch financial givers and fundraisers on our behalf.

To get there, we build relationships that are strong, life-long, productive for the organization and meaningful for the donors.

Here are ten things great relationship builders do:

1. Strengthen and use your emotional intelligence –
Emotional intelligence consists of our ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior. It is critical for effective fundraising relationship building. In fact, it is critical for managing others and having strong and happy home and work relationships. What’s your EIQ? What steps are you taking to nurture and strengthen this essential competency?

2. Foster strategic conversations about mission, vision, and values
Our ability to ask strategic questions about attitudes, values, and feelings is more important than new information chitchat. We need to understand philanthropic motivations, passions, and interests. Who makes the decisions and how. How best to engage and communicate with our donors. Just as important, is to engage them in conversations about our mission, vision and values. We want them to TELL US about the impact we are having in the community, why our vision is the right one for the people and causes we serve, why we matter. Click here for our latest list of strategic questions.

3. Be thoughtful, intentional and strategic
People often ask me if our work is manipulative. Are we tricking people, pretending to care about them just to get their money? Yikes. No. Intentionality is respectful of both the organization that pays you and of the donors’ time. We are not in the friend-raising business. None of us should be. Not alumni relations or engagement specialists, or event planners. We are not developing friends; we are nurturing productive, meaningful and satisfying relationships. What are you trying to accomplish with this contact? How will you achieve it? That’s the job. It is a wonderful, noble profession. And an honor and privilege as a volunteer.

4. Be donor-centric by paying attention to both the little as well as the big things -Yes, every conversation and experience should be strategic and intentional with clear and measurable goals but we also need to remember the little things. Birthdays, anniversaries, favorite flowers, names of pets, children and grandchildren. Get that information into the database along with the big things. Capacity, inclination, giving readiness, engagement and stewardship preferences and so forth. And think like a donor. See your organization though donors’ eyes. Not through your silos, turf and needs.

5. Engage donors and potential donors and volunteers in meaningful and productive work
We know engagement leads to increased giving of time, treasure and talent. All the research supports this. I hate the expression, “We want our donors to feel engaged. No. We want them to be engaged. Engagement is two-way, it taps into personal capital (human, intellectual, network and financial), it has a think, feel and do component, it’s experiential, and mission infused. No one wants to be wanted only for his or her contacts and money. Do you have a suite of engagement opportunities that meet these criteria? Drop us a line if you want a list of potential engagement opportunities for your type of organization. mail@theosbornegroup.com

6. Steward all of the donors’ personal capital in tailored ways that demonstrate IMPACT
People give their time, energy, expertise and money because they want to make a difference. Stewardship includes thank you and recognition. But more importantly, it focuses on demonstrating IMPACT. Three, six, nine months after an investment and BEFORE the next solicitation or volunteer request, demonstrate the difference I made. Thank you is not enough. You lose points when you don’t say thank you. It is expected. What inspires greater investment is when you engage me, share with me, the difference I’ve made. You promised I would save or change a life. Now show me!

7. Inspire
Don’t offer donors a shopping list of giving and naming opportunities. Share the societal problems you are solving, the lives and conditions you are saving and changing. Lead with mission and vision. Who cares about your campaign goals, or your desire to be best in your market? Everyone, from the security guard to the admin to the mission staff to board of directors – everyone, has to be able to tell the story in a compelling and authentic manner. Work in this one! It is so important.

8. Think big 
“She won’t join our board. We’re small potatoes. Plus we’re a working board. Let’s just ask her to lend her name.” “Please join our board. I promise. You won’t have to do much.” “He doesn’t have the time to give. He’s too busy.” “We can’t compete with the big organizations. No sense in asking.” Turn around. Look at all the people standing behind you who are counting on you to achieve the mission, vision and work of the organization. They deserve the best board, the biggest inspiring ideas, and the most enthusiasm. Don’t let them down.

9. Believe and give
Work for, volunteer for organizations you care about deeply. Know the story. Meet the people you are helping. Have personal stories. Understand the cause. Care deeply, passionately. Be a generous investor. Generosity is not about wealth, it is about stretching, giving with a full heart, doing the very best you can.

10. Enjoy
Your energy and enthusiasm is catching!

August Major Gift Countdown

 

imagesLabor Day will be here before you know it. You have about 15 days to complete your August Major Gift Countdown to success.

  • Let your metrics lead the way. What worked well from January to now? Or from last June or August until now? Learn from your successes. What didn’t work? Why
    • Donor and volunteer retention for new donors, donors giving for two to four years, donors giving for five or more years
    • Upgrade rates
    • Yes rates (how many closed gifts compared to how many requested; what percentage of the requested amount actually given; how close to capacity)
  • Dust, re-tool, or create off your name-by-name table of gifts. Whom will you, a member of your team, your cadre of volunteers, solicit for a leadership or major gift between September and Thanksgiving? For how much? For what impact, outcome, purpose or project? What results are you anticipating?
  • Line up The Rights. Do you know, with confidence all of the Rights for each of the donors listed in your name-by-name table of gifts?
    • Right amount
    • Right purpose
    • Right solicitation team
    • Right donor participants
    • Right time
    • Right place
    • Right materials
  • Think through your strategic engagement. In order to INSPIRE a gift of that size, what strategic steps do you need to take BEFORE the solicitation conversation?
    • A strategic conversation to confirm on of the rights?
    • Contact with CEO, a mission staff member or volunteer?
    • An interactive tour
    • Stewardship of the last gift?
  • Whom on the list could you inspire to do more by connecting them to the impact of their last gift?
    • What stewardship have they received?
    • How long ago?
    • What can you do now that might inspire a joyous, generous yes?
  • Look at your strategic fundraising plan. Re-tool this year’s tactical plan. Are all your goals SMART?
    • Specific
    • Measurable
    • Attainable
    • Results-focused
    • Timed
  • Make sure your planned events are worth doing and you’ve positioned them for success.  Clear goals for new donors, donor retention, gift upgrades, think, feel and do messaging from credible message bearers and most important, your follow-up plan.
  • Are your volunteers ready? Do they have fresh and compelling stories to tell? Have you inspired them? Have you solicited and stewarded them?
  • Have you thanked and prepared your internal partners – your team, mission staff and c-suite staff who helped you, who you want to help you going forward? Do they have fresh and compelling stories to tell? Have you inspired them?
  • Have you taken care of you? Did you take time off? Can you get off the grid for Labor Day weekend? Did you, can you find time to power down? You’ll need all of your energy, enthusiasm, smarts, and savvy to ensure a major gift success this fall.

You can read more here.

Maya Angelou’s Lessons for Life & Nonprofits

Two weeks ago I got the news… I was sitting on my couch watching the morning news and there it was at the bottom of the screen, “Famed poet and author Maya Angelou died this morning in North Carolina. She was 86.”

Maya Angelou

I felt my heart stop and my thoughts rush through memories.  I could see Maya Angelou reciting poetry on our PBS station in the late 1970’s; her voice so powerful and enchanting. She seemed so regal and wise. I could remember coming of age in high school and believing “Phenomenal Woman that’s me!”  I could see the pride in my grandmother’s eyes when Dr. Angelou recited “On The Pulse Of Morning” at President Clinton’s innauguration and how that poem remained on my grandmother’s refrigerator until her death. I recalled how excited I was when I called Dr. Angelou’s home on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association just three years ago and although I didn’t speak to her directly ; I was overwhelmed with excitement by just the mere thought of reaching Maya Angelou.

As I continue to reflect on how Dr. Angelou has impacted my life, I’d like to share a few life lessons from her that can be used in our personal and professional lives as we  serve the nonprofit world.

 “When You Know Better You Do Better”

maya-angelou

http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/The-Powerful-Lesson-Maya-Angelou-Taught-Oprah-Video

This is a lesson I continue to learn both personally and professionally.  I think the knowing is much easier than the doing. I know to exercise more but the doing it consistently is another story. I see how this lesson can apply to our work with donors. When we learn to focus on building donor relationships rather than rushing to a solicitation we find that our donors are more engaged and inspired to make generous and joyful gifts.

“I’ve Learned That People Will Forget What You Said, People Will Forget What You Did, But People Will Never Forget How You Made Them Feel.”

best-Maya-Angelou-Quotes-sayings-wise-people

As a parent and wife, I practice this every day although there are moments that my ego will allow me to forget.  When we fully embrace this as a way of being, not only does it enhance and deepen our personal relationships but it also takes our professional relationships to another level as well.

 “I Am A Woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman That’s Me!”

phenomenal woman

http://www.oprah.com/own-super-soul-sunday/Listen-Dr-Maya-Angelou-Recites-Her-Poem-Phenomenal-Woman-Video

Like many women, I have found myself on occasions being the only woman in the room. There were times in these situations that I did not own my power and sat in these meetings without saying a word. Thanks to Dr. Angelou not only did I learn to embrace my power as a woman and take my seat at the table , I learned to encourage other women to do the same including my phenomenal 5 year old daughter.  Phenomenal  women also serve  as  leaders, philanthropists ,and volunteers for the causes we serve.

“When People Show You Who They Are- Believe Them”

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTiziwBhd54

This lesson calls for an “AMEN!”  How many times have we tried to change people or see only what we want to see? How about with donors? We want them to give this specific amount to this project because it’s the end of the fiscal year and we are praying that we make our goals. Yet, the donor’s actions are screaming” I am not interested in this project but I am interested in having an impact in another way.”  We can avoid this situation by asking the right questions and listening to our donors rather than seeing only what we want to see or hearing only what we want to hear.

 “My Mission In Life Is Not Merely To Survive, But To Thrive; And To Do So With Some Passion, Some Compassion, Some Humor, And Some Style.”

angelou_vert-bc26b934aaca10709208bdfc75d94df518351e83-s6-c30

This is truly how I want to live my life. It reflects my core values both personally and professionally. It takes the concept of “work/life” balance and makes it more tangible and practical. I’ll share more in a future blog.

Finally, I leave you with another Maya Angelou lesson- one that I do every single day, “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”  Every day we have the opportunity to be a blessing in someone’s life both at home and in the workplace.  It’s just a matter of taking the opportunity to do so.

Thank you Dr. Angelou for your wisdom and love for humanity! You will be missed but your legacy lives on throughout the world and through those who serve the nonprofit world.

What’s On The Table?

Chicago-Community-Trust-On-The-Table-2014Monday I had dinner with 10,000 people. Well, not exactly..  But, I did participate with 10,000 other Chicago area citizens in a community-wide “town hall” called On The Table created by the Chicago Community Trust in celebration of their 99th anniversary.

The goal, according to Chicago Community Trust, CEO, Terry Mazany was to have more than 10,000 people “from all walks of life and socioeconomic circumstances” engage in conversation about the issues facing their communities and ideas to make their communities stronger.

“We hope the conversations “generate new ideas, inspire bold solutions and cultivate relationships and collaborations to improve communities region-wide,” said Mazany.

The trust is using social media to capture these ideas and will report back to the community through their website and an idea exchange in October. The trust is also planning to use ideas gathered from On The Table to inform future grantmaking decisions.

I love this idea and loved personally participating in an On The Table event sponsored by PADS of Lake County.  Our group leader, Joel Williams, Executive Director of PADS was funny and engaging. He provided a tasty barbecue to facilitate our outdoor conversation.  Afterwards, many of the participants agreed to continue these conversations on a monthly basis and hold one another accountable for the action steps they committed to during our visioning.

Here’s what we discussed:

  1. What does our community do well?
  2. What’s best about our community?
  3. What can we do better?
  4. What’s our community going to look like 5, 10, and 15 years from now?
  5. What’s the one thing you will do this week to make the above vision happen?

Non-profits can take this On The Table concept to facilitate meaningful conversations with community members, key stakeholders, donors, etc.  Not only does this provide a wonderful engagement opportunity for these groups but it will also provide your organization with new ideas and stronger relationships between your organization and these constituents. Here’s 10 tips to get started :

1)      Check out the On The Table website at onthetable2014.com

2)      Select a date to host these events (perhaps your founders day, a significant date in your organization’s history, or a special date related to the cause you serve. World Alzheimer’s Day is an example)

3)      Identify table hosts who would be willing to provide the location and food. You can also have them host a pot luck or brown bag lunch.  Note the number of table hosts would depend on the overall size you want your event to be. Keep in mind you want small intimate gatherings of no more than 15 people.

4)      Create a website for the event and opportunities for people to engage through social media before, during and after the event

5)      Tailor the above discussion questions to your organization

6)      Engage your local media before, during and after the event

7)      Get your board members involved

8)      Invite some of the people you serve to these events

9)      Develop a plan to collect and share the ideas generated at these events

10)   Report back to the attendees on the ideas you plan to implement and the progress you’ve made

So, what’s “On The Table”  for your organization? We’d love to know!

 

Connecting with Donors Starts with Connecting with Employees

connectionsConnecting with donors on a personal level builds lasting and productive relationships. In much the same way, connecting with employees results in higher staff productivity and retention.

We want our donors and volunteers to feel valued and appreciated.  Joe Connelly of WSJ said, “Retention is the new acquisition and customer service is the new marketing.” Retention of talent is as important as retention of donors.

Attrition hits the bottom line hard.

But how can we hold onto donors by providing thoughtful retention strategies and outstanding customer service if we first don’t “wow” our staffs?

We can’t expect staff or volunteers to deliver what they have not personally experienced.

Thank you is fundamental.  Genuine, prompt, and specific.  “Thank you for staying late Friday.  I know you had plans with your family.  I appreciate your sacrifice.”

Reporting on impact is critical. “I wanted to circle back.  The project you helped us with three months ago, when you stayed late and pitched in has had an enormous impact on our work.  You made a difference.  Thank you again.”  Personal, timely, authentic and concrete.

Survey your team

How valued and appreciated do they feel?  Do the same with your volunteers and board members.  To what degree do they believe their work is making a difference?

Inspiration is also an important component of donor work.  We are seeking inspired, joyful and generous investments of time, talent, expertise, connections and treasure.  Inspiration is equally important internally. If you are interested in surveying your team, asking the right questions that will uncover valuable data and truths, contact us at mail@theosbornegroup.com

Having a Sense of Purpose Motivates

Employees report that having a sense of purpose is the top motivator for work satisfaction according to author and leader Aaron Hurst.

“Researchers have found that the best ways to ensure that employees feel a sense of purpose boils down to three simple things: They need to have opportunities to grow; to build relationships with employees and others involved in the work; and to create something greater than themselves.”

Too often, we don’t start by inspiring our teams before we ask them to inspire potential donors.  CEOs need a big inspiring vision of the future.  Not an internal vision – “We will be the organization of choice in our market, grow our endowment to x and increase our client base by y.” We are talking about a meaningful, outward vision that will result in fixing a societal ill or creating a major societal shift.  Big ideas bring about big gifts.  They also garner internal dedication.  Connect every staff and volunteer task no matter how mundane to the mission, vision and work. Share the vision at every opportunity.

Make sure that every employee and every board member on an annual basis has a hands-on experience with the people, animals, planet you serve.  For some this is easy and others a challenge especially if your work is primarily overseas.  But hard doesn’t equate to impossible.  Be creative.  Remember, connecting with donors and employees is key to outstanding results.

Meaningful and productive engagement is critical for donors.

Research reports that when engaged, annual fund and major gift donors give 24% to 38% more.  Engagement also works for staff and board members.  Ask for advice and ideas.  Share decision-making through appropriate delegation and empowerment.

Are your staff and board meetings show and tell or are folks engaged in meaningful discussions that matter?  Are you listening?  Seeking and providing feedback?

Connecting with donors starts with connecting with staff and board members.  The payoff will be huge.

by Karen Osborne

Can You Teach Generosity? Yes.

For so much of the country these past few weeks have offered plenty of time – way too kids-give-back_square_300x300much time! – to be inventing things to do with school-aged kids, who seem to be in a perpetual cycle of snow days…  We’ve cleaned closets.  We’ve gone through artwork, long stashed under the bed.  We’d played endless charades.  We’ve read.  And read.  And read.  We’re coming to the end of our rope!  Then The New York Times offered this great piece on engaging kids in a conversation about giving.  Can you teach generosity?  This article gave some great suggestions on how to answer, “yes!”  It spurred an interesting conversation for us and a great afternoon of research and weighing of options.

Kids at home or not, we’ve all got a stake in getting this right.

  • We wrote earlier this year about how much our organizations benefit when we engage the whole family in service.
  • So many organizations are looking for those “next generation” board members who embrace serving others and the community.
  • Universities are increasingly recognizing the difference they can make, in their own futures and in the citizens they produce, when they teach philanthropy throughout the curriculum.

I like to imagine a future where this generation knows how to give as well as they know how to manage a checking account and their Twitter feed!