You know that when a donor gives a gift, your first job is to say thank you, as quickly as possible.  Amazingly, colleagues in our industry, (and that includes Richard and myself), have written, conferenced and webinared this subject to death…and it still hasn’t sunk in.
But today, just for kicks, let’s say we’ve all got this down.  A donor gives and we’re all over the thank you thing.  Good, you’ve got it.
Now, written about almost as much as “thanking the donor” is what follows, that being, reporting back and telling the donors how their gift made a difference.  I know for a fact our industry has been talking about this for over 15 years.  Just Google it and you have enough content to never stop reading for a month.
Yet, when Richard and I talk about the donor lifecycle with prospective clients, it’s amazing how this still seems like a new concept for some folks.  Often, when I’m presenting this, I see a couple of folks across the table look at each other in that knowing way, indicating, “See?  I’ve been saying this forever and no one is listening.”
The bottom line is that whenever Richard and I talk about it, everyone agrees how important it is… but rarely is it ever done right.  Why?  I think it’s for of a couple of reasons:

  1. Human nature—We are a people that, once we get the “sell” or the “win”, i.e., gift, we tend to think about getting the next one from someone else.  We like the new stuff.
  2. It’s hard—Reporting back to donors takes a lot of work, money and time from multiple staff.  So, because most non-profits don’t have a culture of philanthropy, they don’t “spend” enough on the resources needed to adequately report back and tell donors how they helped change the world.

This is so short-sighted.  If you read any surveys on why donors stop giving, the top reason is always related to the organization’s not telling the donor how his or her gift made a difference. I don’t know how else to get this point implanted in your brain and make this an absolute priority.
Richard and I have story after story of how donors stop giving to an organization because they never heard back from them after they were thanked.  It was crickets. Nothing.  Nada.  This is after giving some very large gifts.
And we have the data to back it up.  When Richard and I delve into a prospective client’s major gift data we continually see value attrition rates in the 50-60% rate. Often  millions of dollars are lost from donors who, at one time in their relationship with your organization, were telling you they loved you so much they were willing to part with thousands of dollars.  But then something DIDN’T happen and they left.
What didn’t happen?  Well, what’s #1 in those surveys I was talking about?
You have got to make reporting back a priority for your organization or you will always struggle with donor retention and you will never grow like your executive director is demanding.
Okay, so here are some ideas on how you can effectively report back to donors on how they are making a difference.

  1. Invest in it—As you have done with thanking donors, now you need to do the same in reporting back to donors.  This means educating your staff, getting program folks on board and spending the resources to make it happen.  It’s a whole change of mindset, both for development and program.
  2. Evaluate everything your organization does–Every program or project you have must be evaluated for effectiveness and impact.  If that is part of your culture, you will have valuable resources and stories to report to donors that are funding them.
  3. Get out of the once a year mentality—I know a lot of non-profits that, when they do report back to donors, are only doing it once a year.  The MGO grudgingly puts together that famous “yearly report”, slaps a cover letter on it, and he’s done with it.  First, you can’t assume your donors are going to read it.  So, you may have done “your job” but it’s not really reaching your donor.  Consider sending monthly or quarterly updates that may be one page long.  Send them different ways besides mail.  E-mail or text them a link to a PURL.
  4. Use social media—You have so many tools available to report back to donors.  Facebook, Twitter, PURL’s, etc.  Reporting back doesn’t have to mean a long, boring report.  Use photos, stories…even video to tell donors they are making a difference.
  5. Surprise your donor—This is easy because most donors have been conditioned not to expect much from non-profits.  But, you can get creative to have your program staff take video, audio and photos of their programs that show action, emotion and change and send them to your donor through social media or e-mail…or heck, even a personal, handwritten note.  This will blow your donor away and make a huge impression.

Okay, there you go…a few ideas for you to help show your donors how they are making an impact on the world.
I’m not going to lie.  It’s not easy.  You have to put in a lot of thought, time, and resources and get your staff on board to be really effective at this.  But in my mind, you have no choice – not if you want to grow and not if you want to make your donors happy.
This is important stuff.  You can do it.