Most non-profits are not focused on serving their donors. It’s a shame, because if they did provide their donors with excellent service, the actual investment compared to the eventual return would be overwhelming.

But it takes a lot of upfront investment before your organization can provide an amazing experience to donors. You need certain structures in place.

It requires investing in major gifts, planned gift programs, mid-level programs, administrative support for major gift officers, and internal training for development team members. It means educating the rest of the organization about the role of development, building a culture of philanthropy that sees donors as part of the mission, and emphasizing relationships over money.

All of that takes an investment of time and money that most non-profits don’t provide, because they don’t see the immediate payoff – or they don’t care.

And yet, in the for-profit world, this behavior would never fly. Companies that provide consumer products and services have made it their primary mission to serve and care for their customers. The result is often lifelong loyalty to the brand.

Here’s an example from an experience I had one summer. Every year, I go with my wife and stepdaughter to the Jersey Shore for a week. We had this beach cart made from Tommy Bahama that we use to carry all our stuff out to the beach each day. One day, one of the wheels on the cart broke in half. Duct tape wasn’t going to fix it.

Now, I must have bought this thing about five years ago, so I thought, “Okay, I’ll just buy another one to replace it.” My wife said, “I heard Tommy Bahama has amazing customer service. You should call them and see what they say.”

I’m thinking, what are they going to do? This thing is five years old, and this plastic tire had been through a lot of abuse.

But I call them, honestly embarrassed to even bring it up because – I mean, it’s a five-year-old beach cart. I have no receipt. No proof I even paid for this thing.

They answer on the first ring – a cheerful woman asked how she could help me. I told her what happened, what kind of cart it was, and she said this: “No problem, Mr. Schreifels. Since you’re still out at the beach, I’m going to send two replacement wheels out via next-day shipping to you at the beach house. Better to replace both wheels at the same time, so you don’t have one new one and one old one.”

And they sent the new wheels at no cost!

I was dumbfounded! Sure enough, the wheels came early in the morning. I snapped them on, and we were ready to go. For all my future beach-related needs, you can bet I’ll buy it from Tommy Bahama after that experience.

So my point is this: if you can be the Tommy Bahama of non-profits, you’ll be wildly successful.

As I said at the beginning, most non-profits fail at providing this kind of service to their donors. You’ll win your donor’s heart if you can show them you really care about them.

Here are 10 simple ways to impress your donors with exceptional service. Do this, and you’ll endear yourself and your organization to your donor for years to come.

  1. Thank them in multiple ways – handwritten thank you notes are powerful.
  2. Report back at least four times a year on how your donor’s gifts are making a difference.
  3. Show the donor you know them by surprising them in different ways throughout the year. Think of personal gestures to show that you know who they are and what they care about.
  4. Solicit the donor with programs and projects that show you know what their passions and interests are.
  5. Connect them to other donors.
  6. Connect them to other non-profits that they’d be interested in supporting.
  7. Admit when you make a mistake.
  8. Stick with a donor when they’re going through a financial hardship.
  9. Even when a donor has given this year, present them with another opportunity you know they’d be excited about.
  10. Use multi-media, video, and music to share what’s happening in your organization and how the donor makes it all possible.

In short, do what the donor doesn’t expect. If you can commit to that type of service and care for your donors, they’ll always be with you. Be the Tommy Bahama of non-profits.


This post originally appeared on the Passionate Giving Blog on December 2, 2019.