By James D’Ambrosio

JamesProfile1TwitterPlanning my next column, an idea crystallized while on personal business. After receiving outstanding customer service and personal attention from a staff member at a financial institution I recently joined, I was so pleased that a few days later I brought him a tray of bakery-quality cookies and a handwritten thank-you card. He said no customer had ever done that for him, which made me feel valued. In short, being treated in a genuine, personal way compelled me to reciprocate. In the nonprofit arena, personally connecting with donors can build stronger ties, potentially increasing donations.


The following are several ways to reach donors and draw them closer to your cause or mission:

 HAND-WRITTEN NOTES: Depending on agency size and budget, set a gift amount — $100, $250, $500 or $1,000 — that, when received, is acknowledged with a hand-written thank-you note from the executive director or director of development. Many would appreciate this personal touch, especially since technology has rendered hand-written communication by mail nearly extinct. (Tip: you can purchase inexpensive cards (blank inside) with a simple ‘Thank-You’ on the front. It’s the message inside that counts.)

PERSONAL PHONE CALLS: An article from Sumac Nonprofit Software, an organization providing software solutions to nonprofits, touts the benefits of thanking donors with personal calls. They cite Penelope Burk’s research in Donor Centered Fundraising: How to Hold Onto Your Donors and Raise Much More Money, indicating that donors receiving a thank-you call from a board member contributed 39 percent more at the next solicitation. After 14 months, individuals called were contributing 42 percent more. A strong case for picking up the phone.

INVITE DONORS TO THE OFFICE: Consider holding an all-day open house for donors to get a behind-the-scenes look at the people and operations making things happen. Interacting with staff and touring facilities provides a fuller understanding of your agency, creating stronger ties. Earlier in my career, working at a small nonprofit, we held an open house (for all stakeholders) with great success. A modest investment of time and resources can put a face on your agency.


Obviously, letters and phone calls take time — something you may not have — depending on agency resources. To make it easier, Sumac suggests volunteers can be trained to do some of the work by providing them written templates. (Telephone scripts can be provided for phone calls.) With a bit of guidance, the right volunteers can be effective.  Alternatively, Sumac suggests selecting a small sampling of donors to call each week.



A) Have you tried any of these approaches to engaging donors?

B) If so, were they successful?


By James V. D’Ambrosio

Recently I attended a grant-writing workshop at the Support Center For Nonprofit Management in NYC. While most of the day-long seminar focused on the nuts and bolts of preparing winning grant proposals, at one point the conversation turned to the challenging environment many nonprofits now find themselves in: struggling with reduced government support and increased competition for foundation and corporate grants.

Given this reality — unlikely to change anytime soon — I began thinking about focusing on the basics: maintaining positive relations with your donor base — those regular $5, $10 and $20 gifts comprising nearly 80 percent of individual giving, on average. Since it is far more difficult — and expensive — to acquire new donors than keep existing ones, it is imperative that nonprofits cement these relationships and not take them for granted. With gasoline soaring toward record highs — last night I saw a station raise the price 20 cents a gallon — and stubbornly high unemployment, people will continue to look for ways to cut discretionary spending. And charitable donations definitely fall into that category.

So this is a good time to update and remind long-time small donors about the good work your agency does and the positive difference it’s making in people’s lives. You should reiterate how much you value their support, framed as an important investment serving your constituencies.  This should not be a fund-raising pitch; rather, strictly an informational piece. It’s good public relations to intersperse solicitations with informative pieces that do not ask for money. Many donors — myself included — appreciate this. It reduces the likelihood of people  feeling ‘overpitched,’ i.e., only being contacted when asked for financial support.

Additionally, consider the long-term perspective: keeping  donors engaged and excited about the work you do increases the likelihood they will feel good about contributing to your cause. If you can keep donors engaged during difficult times, think what you can do when the economy improves! 

QUESTION TO READERS: How else might you keep donors engaged during these challenging economic times?

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