pleasantlysurprised 2015-July
Caring for, nurturing and developing relationships with your donors is what major gift fundraising is all about. If you do that well, the money will follow.
Richard and I believe that providing your donors with amazing service will set you apart from all the other charities that are clamoring for your donors. Make no mistake: as much as you may not want to think about it, you are competing for the attention of your donors with dozens of other organizations.
So how can you stand out with your donors? Surprise them in ways that they will never forget, and endear them to your organization in the process. I’m not talking about manipulating or tricking a donor; I’m talking about “going the extra mile” with your donor in a way that honors them for who they uniquely are and points them to the need.
That’s the thing. Most nonprofit organizations don’t go the extra mile for their donors. They don’t see the value in it because they don’t see their donors as part of their mission.
You can. Today, I’m going to give you seven practical tips on how to surprise your donor, endear them to your mission and keep your organization at the top of their minds.

  1. Learn what your donor’s hobbies are. Don’t laugh. If you really took the time to understand who your donors are, figuring out what they do to relax can be a huge advantage for you. Imagine this. You find out that one of your donors is a fly fisherman. You happen to know an exclusive outfitter who knows the best spots in Montana to fish. So you call your donor and give him the contact information – and the donor is beside himself. The donor goes to Montana, has the time of his life and has you and your organization to thank. It’s indelibly locked in his brain.
  2. Understand the industry your donor is in. People love to talk about what they do. If you are a good MGO and you’re curious, you will find out what your donor’s work is all about. Say you are at a reception and instead of small talk, you are able to talk intelligently about real things your donor is involved in at his or her work. “Hey, I was reading about some of the challenges the oil industry is facing at this moment. I was wondering how it’s affecting your business?” Donors are not expecting that.
  3. Write personal handwritten notes. Yep, I know this is not some new idea. In fact, it’s as old as when paper was invented, but no one does it any more. That’s the point. I will guarantee you that when a donor goes to her mailbox and scans through her mail, she will open that handwritten note 100% of the time. Why? Because no one expects it any more. You can stand out from all the other organizations. My guess is you’ll get a thank-you for writing a thank-you note.
  4. Email a video from someone that is benefiting from your donor’s gift. I’ve seen grown men of great wealth weeping uncontrollably after they saw a video of a project they helped complete with their gifts, because it was so powerful. All it took was a small child to hold up a sign with a donor’s name on it and the child saying, “thank you.” That’s it. Be creative with this. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Use your iPhone and make a video. It’s that simple, yet it’s so powerful. Your competition is NOT doing this. You can.
  5. Give a personal tour of your program and projects. We just don’t do this kind of stuff enough. As Richard is always writing, take the donor to the scene. Get them to see, hear and smell the pain, hurt and discomfort of the need. I’ve never seen a donor come back unaffected by such an experience. Most likely that donor will be forever changed. Think of ways to surprise your donor when you take them “to the scene.” Perhaps in the middle of visiting a homeless shelter a choir breaks out in song, or when visiting the hospital the chief surgeon makes a surprise visit to thank the donor. There is so much you can do.
  6. Email a video of a celebrity, a personal friend, or the CEO of your organization. Here’s why: the donor will not expect this. Imagine if your donor received an email from you that has a short one-minute video from a well-known celebrity thanking them personally for the gift they gave to that organization. Do you think that donor would ever forget it? No way. Or what if you got one of the donor’s best friends to do a video telling her how much her friendship means and how great it is that she supports your organization. Hello? The donor will be flabbergasted.
  7. Hand-deliver a personal message of thanks. If you think a personal handwritten note will make an impression, so will personally delivering a thank-you for a recent gift. Of course you have to be respectful of your donor’s time, but to drop off their thank-you letter personally will leave an impression. That’s the point.

These seven tips are meant to get your creative juices started and to give you a kick start in cultivating and stewarding your donors. It’s personal. Newsletters and organizational pieces that show impact are important, but it’s that personal attention that will set you apart. Now go get creative, and surprise your donors.
This post was originally published on June 13, 2014.