Get on the “Ask, Thank, Report, Repeat Cycle” with Agents of Good

How do you split your time between the various fundraising activities in your annual fund?

Do you spend more time asking, thanking or reporting?

My friends at Agents of Good, Jen Love and John Lepp, spend a lot of time talking about this in their quest to promote #donorlove throughout the sector.

I had the honor of hosting them as the keynoters for the AFP Central PA conference a few years back (that’s us on their fabulous tour of Hershey’s Chocolate World). While in town, they penned this great, short blog post which really narrows in on where we should be spending our time (HINT: you’re probably not spending enough time on that last part). Check it out now.

Lynne Wester’s Stewardship Report Swap

Do you need to write a donor update or annual report?  Do you want to do something different but are feeling uninspired?

Well, today I share my go to source … Lynne Wester, the Donor Relations Guru.

Lynne conducts the annual Stewardship Report Swap.  This year she and her team received over 1,800 pages of stewardship report samples. These samples include endowment reports, customized top donor reports, annual reports, videos, websites, and more.  Lynne beautifully combines and categorizes them and then puts them out to the fundraising community for free.  Check them out (and her … she’s sassy fun and amazing … she was the first to coin the term “thask”).

Steven Screen’s 3 Things to Become Great At

Are you familiar with Steven Screen’s work? If not, you should be. He’s a fundraising direct mail ninja and partner at The Better Fundraising Co. Steven is always publishing insightful blog articles that cut right to the chase and explain what needs to be done for fundraising success.

Here’s a great recent example: “The Three Things to Become Great At.” Check it out and show him some love.

5 Steps to Smarter Fundraising

5 Steps to Smarter Fundraising

Are you confused about where to start with fundraising? Are you overwhelmed with all of the options out there? Are you ready to focus and see better results?

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to use every possible fundraising technique. In fact, you will do better if you don’t. But where should you focus your effort?

Download this FREE GUIDE by @fundraiserchad: “Five Steps to Smarter Fundraising” for the answer.

Why Your Executive Director Needs a Donor Caseload

Why Your Executive Director Needs a Donor Caseload


Every executive director needs a caseload. A caseload of donors, that they manage. A caseload of donors that they work to ensure are having a vibrant and great donor experience with your organization.

I don’t care if the only staff member is the executive director. That’s even more so a case where they need a caseload. I don’t care if they have 20 direct reports and development is not their primary responsibility because they have a whole team of development people. They still need a donor caseload as the top staff member. There’s that certain key top group of donors that expect to have access to the top staff member and their relationship will only deepen with the organization if they get that.

So, if you are a crazy time strapped executive director or not used to doing this, what’s the minimum? I say twelve. Twelve prospects gives you one donor visit a month. If you meet with them each once a year, you’ll be fine. Look at your list once a month or so, reach out on holidays, birthdays, etc. “I was thinking of you today and wanted to let you know what is happening with …” These simple donor touch points will deepen those key relationships. Just think what would happen if the twelve most key relationships at your organization received that focus every year.

If there’s a little more time can we take it to 20, 25 or 30 donor relationships? Imagine the impact that would have. Yes, you as a development staffer are still going to have to prod and push and to make sure those contacts happen. “How’s you caseload going? Have you done your contacts for this month?” But, the impact that it will have with your donors will be well worth it.

So, if you’re an executive director, ask “Could I do this?” If you’re the development director, put this out to your ED and see what they have to say. If you’re a board member, what about evaluating the executive director based on how well they serve their caseload? Did they meet with everybody? Did they routinely reach out to them. That is a great metric for ED success, and for development success at your organization.

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Wow Your Donors with Personalized Video

Video is incredibly powerful.  It can be an amazing tool for fundraising — especially for donor stewardship.

Everybody has a video camera these days … it’s built right into our smartphones.  You don’t need fancy equipment.  You already have it.  Just turn it on and say “thank you.”

Please watch the video above if you’d like to see a sample of what this looks like.

You can do this.  All you need is a smartphone, a message to share and email — that’s it!

Imagine sending personalized video emails to your donors simply saying “thank you” and showing your program in action.  Remember to use phrases like “you made the possible” and “we couldn’t do this without you” to make the donor the hero of your video.  Have you ever received one of these?  I bet your donors haven’t either.

6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love

6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love

Jen Love and John Lepp of Agents of Good share 6 Sweet Ways to Show Donor Love …

#1 Remember that Your Donors Want to Feel Good

The part of the brain that lights up when you give to charity is the same part of the brain that lights up when you have sex and when you eat chocolate — it’s the pleasure center of your brain.  Giving feels good.  So always remember when you’re talking to your donors that they want to feel good and they want to help and fix something.  So, think of sex and chocolate and write your donors!

#2 Apply the 80/20 Rule to Your Mail File

If you take 20% of your file, they’re most likely giving 80% of your revenue.  With this group, mail them something special like a bigger envelope with lots of handwriting all over it.  If you follow the 80/20 rule and you produce this mail pack in house, it will do a lot better than mailing the whole file exactly the same thing.

#3 Use Fundraising Delighters

“Fundraising delighters” are things that you don’t expect to receive from the charities that you love but change your perspective on the experience.  This can be things like photographs, postcards and quick video updates.

#4 Create Paper Clip Moments

The power of the paper clip is that computers and machines cannot paper clip.  So, when a donor sees a paper clip they feel like there was a human involved with the creation of the mail piece.  It’s a very small touch, but it’s very meaningful.

#5 Always Maintain an Abundance Mindset

This one is more for you as a fundraiser, and it’s to always maintain an abundance mindset.  There is so much information out there and so much we can look at.  So, always keep your mind open to learning new things and surround yourself with people who will challenge you and keep you open to new things.

#6 Thank & Report Back With Double the Effort

When you ask your donors to give and then do so, you must thank them with double the amount of effort that you put into asking them.  And you have to report back on what you did with their giving.  Only then can you ask them again and repeat this cycle.  Make sure you ask them, make sure you thank them and make sure you report back to them on what you did with those funds.

Don’t Sweat Your Stewardship Events, Think Simple & Unique

Don’t Sweat Your Stewardship Events, Think Simple & Unique

Today’s focus is on donor receptions.  You need to say thank you to your donors.  And one of the best ways to do that is to invite them to something, like for a tour or to an event.

But a lot of fundraisers get too complicated with this.  My advice is to go simple.  Something like bagels in the morning in your conference room with the executive director is perfect.  It’s that simple invitation to come out your facility hear an update and be appreciated that donors are after — they don’t need a fancy reception with a big dinner.  A lot of them would rather have you spend those dollars on the mission that them.  So think simple and mission-based.

What’s my favorite way my favorite way to do a donor reception?  My favorite way is to invite your donors to your parking lot on a summer Friday afternoon for a hot dog or a burger or some barbecue. You put your executive director in an apron and a chef’s hat, have them flip burgers and just talk to the donors and say thank you as they come through the line.   It’s cheap and easy.  You throw your grill in your truck and you pick up some burgers and rolls over lunch.  It’s easy but it’s greatly appreciated and it’s different.  Everything is better in fundraising if it’s different.  If you can stand out from the crowd, it’s so much better.  So take that into consideration fundraisers, how can you be different and simple with your donor receptions?

@fundraiserchad’s Ultimate Guide to Stewardship & Donor Retention

@fundraiserchad’s Ultimate Guide to Stewardship & Donor Retention

How to Build a Simple Stewardship System that Boosts Donor Retention

What is Stewardship?

So what do we mean when we say “stewardship” in the context of fundraising?  Stewardship is defined as “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care” (Merriam-Webster). It’s the second part of this definition that we as fundraisers should focus on:  “careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.”

The bottom line: we need to take care of a supporter’s donation by 1) doing what we said we were going to do with it, AND 2) telling them that we did 3) WHILE expressing gratitude.

A new term has emerged on the fundraising landscape in recent years to express this.  That term is #donorlove (note the hash tag, look it up on any social media platform when you need some inspiration).  According to fundraising guru Jen Love, #donorlove is putting “the donors at the heart of everything you do, at the heart of every interaction you have with them. Expressing what your donors make possible by giving to you, and making them heroes for the amazing things they achieve for your cause.”[1]

We must show our donors that they matter.  We must show them that we can’t change the world without them.  We can’t take them for granted.  We can’t view them as transactions or dollar signs.  We must constantly work to build deeper relationships with them.  We must convince everyone in our organization, regardless of their job title, to do the same.  We must build a culture of philanthropy at our organization.  Stewardship must be everyone’s first priority.

But why?

Why Donor Stewardship Must Come First

Donor stewardship must come first because it is the key to donor retention.  What is donor retention?  Donor retention simply means keeping your donors from year to year.  It is typically given as a rate or percentage.  Your donor retention rate is the percentage of donors you keep from year to year.

And now the bad news … the average donor retention for US charities was only 45% in 2017.[2]  That means that if the average US nonprofit had 100 donors at the end of 2016, they only had 45 of those same donors at the end of 2017!  Donors are leaving faster than the average charity can bring them on board.  You can do better.  You must do better.

Why are donor retention rates so poor?  It’s hard to pinpoint an exact answer, but here’s my theory … While most established charities know the importance of stewardship, it’s hard to find the time to do it well.  And guess what?  No one ever gets in trouble for not doing stewardship.  “You never found the time to write those thank you notes? No big deal.”  Or … “Impact letters are three months behind schedule?  That’s okay.”  For most bosses, as long as asks are going out and goals are being met, it doesn’t seem to matter.  But what you’re really doing is sabotaging your future fundraising efforts.  A lack of stewardship will prevent your donors from reaching their full lifetime value for your organization.  It will also put you on a constant search for more donors, as your current ones move on to other causes.

So what’s the solution?  You need to build a simple stewardship system that puts #donorlove on autopilot and shows your donors that they are more than dollar signs to your organization.  Stewardship activities need to be routine weekly standard business practices, not something that you do when you “have the time.”  Later on in this guide we’ll outline a simple system that will do just that for your organization.

But first, let’s make sure we’re stewarding the right donors.

WHICH DONORS SHOULD WE FOCUS ON?

Contrary to what some nonprofit executives and boards believe, not all donors are actually retainable.  Specifically, transactional donors are often extremely difficult to retain from year to year.  Transactional donors are your event attendees, raffle ticket purchasers, auction item buyers and peer to peer campaign donors.  The common thread with them is that they donated to purchase something or to support someone else, not necessarily because they care deeply about your organization’s mission.  While we should certainly attempt to retain transactional donors and educate them about our mission, they don’t warrant the same amount of effort as our relational mission-based donors.  These are the folks that care deeply about our mission and  would welcome a closer relationship with us.

You may also want to set a minimum donation amount (perhaps $50 or $100 and above) for donors to go into your enhanced stewardship system.  Below that they would still receive a standard gift acknowledgment letter and organizational correspondence – just not the personalized stewardship efforts that we’ll soon discuss.  This is a bit controversial as there is always the classic story of the $20 annual donor that leaves a $1 million bequest because they were treated well by the nonprofit organization.  The key here is to figure out your stewardship capacity.  What percentage of your relational donors can you steward and steward well?  Especially in small shops, it’s probably not everyone.

THE RULE OF 7

There’s one last research-based factor we need to consider before building our simple stewardship system. Research has shown that donors need to be contacted at least seven times between asks, or they feel over-solicited.[3]  This means that you need to reach out at least seven times between your solicitations with something that is not asking for money, or else donors are going to say, “You only ever contact me when you want money.”

So, we need to develop a schedule of creative donor touch points. What’s a touch point? A touch point is a positive non-ask communication with a donor. Seven may seem like a lot, but the beauty of this is that everything counts. Your immediate thank you counts. Your gift acknowledgment counts. An invitation to a free event counts. Your donor newsletter counts (if they read it).  The key here is to develop a system of touches, and schedule them so that you ensure that at least seven happen.

So now that we know what we need to do to make donors feel appreciated and not over-solicited, let’s build a simple stewardship system designed to ensure that systematic, regular stewardship and #donorlove takes place in our nonprofit organization.

A SIMPLE STEWARDSHIP SYSTEM

So, where do we begin? Our goal is to create a donor stewardship system that is triggered as soon as a donation is received and works to make sure a donor feels properly thanked and appreciated the whole way up until the time of their next donation. It should have mostly standard touch points but leave some flexibility so we can be creative and not come across as inhuman.  But the key will be making sure we reach that magic number of at least seven touch points before our next solicitation.

The other side of this is how are we going to do all of this if we work in a small shop?  What if your fundraising operation consists of just one person?  Or maybe it’s a volunteer that completes these tasks for your organization.  We need to organize our system in a way that there are scheduled daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that anyone can complete. This will allow us to put the system on autopilot so we can ensure that donor stewardship is always happening.  We’ll also know that we’re doing everything we can to boost our donor retention rate while we focus on finding new support for our organization.

So, let’s get started. Let’s say we receive a $100 donation from a new donor. What do we do next?

Amp Up Your Donation Thank You Page


You need to think about the experience that your donors have when they see your donation thank you page. These are often pretty standard: “Thank you so much for your support, we’ll mail you a gift acknowledgement in a couple days, we couldn’t do this without you …” That’s the bare minimum. Don’t just do the bare minimum.

For the next level up, some fundraisers will share a story on there. They show impact. They show how this donation will make a difference by change someone’s life. That’s a step in the right direction. Some folks will include a video in there saying thank you. Sometimes they even have the beneficiary saying thank you in that video.

But here’s something you can really do to stand out. Instead of a thank you video from a beneficiary, what about a handwritten thank you note from that beneficiary, scanned in and plopped right onto that donation thank you page? Wouldn’t that be neat? As soon as you make your donation you instantly get a thank you from one of the people that will benefit from your support.

So amp up that donation thank you page. Make it impactful. Make it unique. Whether it’s a video, a thank you note or something else, include a word from the beneficiaries. They’re not paid to say thank you, you are. So anytime you can let them speak for you, it’s so much better.