Ask any donor what type of recognition they most like to receive for their gift and then listen closely to their answer—they want to know that their gift made a difference. They want to know that their gift was used wisely for the purpose intended—to forward a research project, to advocate for abused women, to provide hospice care to one patient. They want to know that, at the end of the day, their financial contribution to your organization made life better for someone or made the planet a better place. They want the facts.
Do not underestimate the power of facts and statistics on donors. Share with them as much detail as you can. One young man I know sent me an accounting of exactly where every dollar I had sent him was used to fund programs in Vietnam. Granted, the program was small and he was in charge of spending all the money so he had ready access to the facts. Nonetheless, it impressed me to see how much of the money went to which orphanages, how much to the Agent Orange program and how much to the schools.
Although he is only a teenager, he knew the essential secret about raising funds from individuals: that we are emotional donors looking for facts to justify our emotional decisions to give. He didn’t underestimate the facts for one minute.
Yet he took it one step further. In addition to the factual accounting of how the money was spent, he sent a personal letter describing his trip to Vietnam to visit each of the programs and present them with their funds. He enclosed a signed photo of three little girls in the orphanage.
That was all the recognition I needed. I will be a donor for life to this young man’s organization. In a simple, low budget way, he had done a superb job of recognizing me by connecting me to the factual and emotional impact my gift had made.
He could have sent me all kinds of baubles and plaques. While they might have looked nice when hung on my wall, I would have wondered why he spent money on all the trinkets rather than on the programs he was so dedicated to supporting.
How could this simple approach work for you? It starts at the initial one-hour get-acquainted event called a Point of Entry. In this case, the young man’s Point of Entry Event had been a little meeting at his home. I went because his mother is a friend and I have an interest in Vietnam. The programs and needs he talked about at the Point of Entry were the very same programs my small contribution went to fund. There was consistency in his message. I connected instantly to the stories he was telling about the children and families affected. The facts and statistics were compelling, as was his personal commitment to making a difference in Vietnam. It was impressive. He never asked for money. He asked me to think about what I had heard and said he’d like to call me for advice and feedback a few days later.
When he called, I told him that I really didn’t have time to get more involved but that I would like to know when he might be hosting other informational evenings like the one I attended, as I would like to encourage a few friends to attend. I told him that when he was ready to raise money for the effort, I would be happy to support him with a modest gift.
Sure enough he called back about three weeks later. He gave me the date of the next Point of Entry Event. By this time I had mentioned the project to the two friends I had in mind and they had given me permission to have the young man call them directly to invite them. I did that in the phone call. Also, in the same call, he told me he would be leaving shortly for his trip to Vietnam. He said that with the help of his mother and his church, the cost of his trip had been underwritten, so that all of the funds he raised could go directly to the programs. There was virtually no overhead. Before he even asked, I told him the amount I wanted to contribute and he told me where to send the check. He said he would be back in touch after he got back. About three months later I received the recognition package with the letter, the accounting statement, and the signed photo from the children in the orphanage. The report was actually four or five pages, typed single-space, chocked full of detail on each of the programs he visited.
My entire experience with this young man and his project was consistent and truthful. He had delivered on everything he promised. I felt great about the experience.
Whether yours is a complex research program, a public policy group, or a domestic violence shelter, there is an equally compelling way to recognize your donors with your version of the facts about what their money allowed you to do and the first-hand stories about the lives it changed. This deeper recognition will be what they ultimately are yearning for, and what will have them remain loyal to your organization for a lifetime.
Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon and author of The Benevon Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Rightand Missionizing Your Special Events. Benevon is a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofit teams to build sustainable funding from individual donors.