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Guest Post: Don’t Get Dumped by Your Donors

March 24, 2015
(We’re happy to turn over our blog to Christie King of cKing Benefit Auctions and the Benefit Auction Institute this week. It can take a lot of effort to attract a new supporter, but just a little more work can turn a one-time donation into a long-term relationship. Read on to find out more.)

Many donors only give once. This may be a shocking statement, but it’s true. One thing almost all nonprofit organizations have in common is the issue of how to keep donors engaged and giving year after year. Here are a few suggestions to help with donor retention.

After each event, print the list of donors who attended, then pick up the phone and call them. Do not go this alone. Divide the list among your board members and have them assist in making these calls… I already know what you’re thinking – “We’re going to get our board members to do this?” Yes! As leaders of your organization it is critical that they make these calls. And their part is easy, rewarding and fun. All they need to do is thank your donors for their support. If the donor does not answer the phone, they can simply leave a message of thanks. Ideally these phone calls should take place within 24 hours of your event, but no longer than 48 hours afterward.

This simple gesture conveys to your donors that they are appreciated and that they matter. This is critical because nonprofits are often competing for the same dollars, causing donors to become more strategic in their giving.

Keeping donors engaged and informed is also important in donor retention. I suggest you reach out to them via a special email every quarter sharing progress of various activities their money has supported. This tells your donors that you respect their investment enough to share its impact over time. And, of course, time builds trust—critical to building long-term donors.

Develop a Donor Retention Plan and follow it. Don’t leave this very important step to chance.

Thanks for the tips, Christie! To find out more about cKing Benefit Auctions, find it on the web at ckingbenefits.com. For the Institute, head to benefitauctioninstitute.com.


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Relationship Building is Year Round

October 22, 2014
At Mitch-Stuart, Inc., we excel in providing organizations with consignment charity auction travel packages. But while having the right mix of items (including trips that can bring the “wow factor”) at an auction is important, those packages are only worth as much as donors are willing to bid. And in order to get more bids, it helps to get more people in the door and have more friends and supporters ready to buy.

How does a non-profit do that? To paraphrase Alec Baldwin in “Glengarry Glen Ross”: Always be talking.

Disappearing for months at a time, only to pop up with an invitation to a party can make an organization look like it only wants to involve its supporters when there are bank accounts to fill. But whether it’s before the gala, during it or the aftermath, there’s always reason for a charity to reach out and chat with its biggest backers.

Approaching donors to try and sell gala tickets can feel intimidating, especially if it’s the only time you communicate with them throughout the year. In the months leading up to a big benefit event, reach out to your contributors and allies with news about your organization. Win an award? Send out an email, thanking everyone for their support which allowed you to achieve this honor. Through social media, engage your friends with both cause-related content and behind-the-scenes information on how their money is helping others. And when it is time to send out invitations to the gala event itself, reach out individually to the donors whom you really want to see on the event night.

Once the doors are (finally!) open, it might be tempting to sit back, relax and enjoy the show, but this is the time when you have your biggest supporters all in one room at the same time. Get out and meet them! Mingling with your biggest supporters is a way of making them feel welcome at your event, while getting to personalize your mission and fundraising messaging. If you’re shy or reserved, just remember: These are your friends. These are the people willing to buy tickets, to donate their time and their money, to support you and your cause. You’re among compatriots here.

After the decorations are put away, the silent auction items are distributed and the last of the leftover food has been packed up, the job is not over. It’s time to reach out to donors and thank them. But while your parents may have taught you that proper etiquette involves sending a note, the thank you phone call gives you a chance to not just relay your appreciation, but also interact with the donor. Find out how the event went from the point of view of an attendee. Learn what drew someone to your cause in the first place. Many times, such conversations can even lead to an extra donation or two – and it certainly allows a supporter to feel heard and cared for.


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Engaging More Auction Donors: 3 Keys to Your Most Successful Benefit Auction Ever

January 07, 2014
This week’s guest blogger and fundraising auctioneer extraordinaire, Kathy Kingston, updates us about ways to tap into key giving trends at charity auctions.

According to Kathy’s extensive benefit auction industry know-how, benefit auctions are booming across the United States. In fact, many of her clients broke all-time fundraising records this year.

Americans are incredibly philanthropic. 75% of Americans give to Charity, according to Sharon Danosky, fundraising consultant and president of Danosky & Associates. Over 16.3 billion dollars are raised annually at fundraising auctions in the United States according to the National Auctioneers Association.

Kathy encourages nonprofits, schools, and event planners to tap into some of the reasons why people give, often the secret to increasing donor participation at benefit auctions. This advice can help you best select travel packages and other live and silent auction items as well as better planning of all elements to ensure your most successful auction ever.

Kathy created this acronym, MSL to illustrate how she sees auction guests giving at fundraising auctions: meaningfully, locally, and strategically. Here is how it applies to the ways donors are giving.

Meaningfully. Today’s donors give to causes that are near and dear to their hearts, either via personal experience or when someone close to them asks them to become involved. How can you translate this “meaning” to your event? Kathy strongly suggests making sure the event’s mission is central in the conversation. “Not just as the beginning and end of the night, but threaded throughout, visually, conversationally and any other creative way you can think of.” Make sure that your auction guests understand the impact of their gift.

Locally. Think globally, act locally is more than just a lovely thought. It is the mantra of many of today’s charitable givers. It is up to fundraising auction and event organizers to demonstrate how donor dollars benefit local causes and strengthen communities. Whether the cause is kids, animals, neighborhood beautification or something else very directly applicable to your audience, Kathy says “Demonstrate the cause and effect for your attendees, make it live and palpable through special guests, video, live demonstrations etc.” Clearly show how an auction donor’s participation will impact your local community.

Strategically.
Given the changing demographics and buying preferences of auction audiences, Kathy sees a trend towards generous giving during the fund-a-need special appeal. Kathy sees the fund-a-need special appeals as a powerful strategic vehicle for giving at charity auctions. In fact Kathy’s experience over the last several years shows that revenue from fund-a-need is actually outpacing silent and live auction revenue. All donors want their dollars to work especially hard. In many cases guests prefer to give to the cause and not necessarily purchase an auction item.

Think about MLS as you begin planning your 2014 events!

What trends are you seeing for donor engagement at your auction? What are your ideas? Contact Kathy at Kathy@kingstonauction.com or visit her website at http://www.kingstonauction.com.


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Support Your Smaller Charities!

July 16, 2013
When it comes to charities, the “big names” usually get most of the attention, while the smaller charities have to hustle to get their fair share. Small charities are often amongst the neediest and also often performing some of the most important work on the smallest budgets. Contributing to their success helps a great number of people. Mitch-Stuart, Inc. happily supports smaller charities and the results have been amazing!

Mary Dekle is the Resource Developer at Legal Services of North Florida, Inc., a private non-profit corporation dedicated to providing free legal representation to low income people with civil legal problems. She has worked with Mitch-Stuart for several years. Dekle’s cause is an example of how smaller charities benefit from Mitch-Stuart travel packages. “We realized auctioning off enticing vacation packages was a great way to excite donors,” said Dekle. “Trips such as auction items have been so successful; we now have expanded to include a special auction of trips at other times of the year, not just our annual fundraiser.” According to Dekle, the vacation auction items have been so successful that they have often been “purchased by individuals who were not regular contributors and, after taking the trips, they've become regular donors!”

Mitch-Stuart offers fantastic vacation options as auction items which help support smaller charities. Here are other ways companies and individuals can help support small charities:
  • Via Sales. You can choose to have a percentage of profits from sales of a particular product or services, or sales on a particular day, go to that organization.
  • Via Volunteers. If your employees are looking to support a charity, the opportunity to volunteer will be greatly appreciated and much needed by a smaller organization.
  • Via donors to similar causes. Let customers and donors know about the charity with whom you are working and how their activities may align or support those of a more familiar “brand name cause.
  • Via social media. Promote these needy yet deserving entities on your website, social media and in other marketing materials to “turn up the volume”.
The impact of the trips Mitch-Stuart provided to Mary Dekle’s organization warranted great results. “The trips are an equalizer for small and midsize non-profits,” said Dekle. “It gives our auction, and our organization a higher profile -like something you'd expect from a huge non-profit.”

In what ways have you supported smaller or lesser-known charities?


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Why Recognition Works

May 07, 2013
One of the many reasons that people donate to their cause of choice is frankly, the joy of seeing their generosity rewarded, on a plaque for a modest donation, or a hospital wing or university chair if you are playing in the big leagues. Recognition of any kind stimulates loyalty, repeat performance and people just love to read or hear their own NAME!

There are some acknowledged practices that Mitch-Stuart, Inc. leaders in packaged auction travel recommend. Co-founders Stuart Paskow and Michelle Cohen say “Always thank a donor 3 times, even small recognition reinforces the power of the donation, stimulates loyalty to a brand and incents people.” However they caution, when thinking of ways to recognize your donors, be sure to consider their wishes, as some prefer to remain anonymous.

Here are some of the ways donor recognition works:
  • Provides positive public awareness  Companies will often participate in corporate philanthropy and as a result of their donations; the company name is touted publicly. This burnished image can also attract top talent as many employees look for companies with a good social responsibility track record.
  • Offers opportunity to stand out among their peers  Competition can be a good thing when it comes to donors making donations to your cause. If a potential donor sees a friend or co-worker being recognized on a plaque or press release, that potential donor could easily turn into an actual donor!
  • It lasts  Giving the donor a personalized keepsake or at another level, a name on a door, provides everlasting association with your cause and a positive reminder of your organization.
  • Stimulates loyalty to your organization  When donors are recognized by your organization, they are more likely to be loyal to you in the future. As a result of the recognition, they may donate more often or in larger amounts.
Whether the recognition is big or small, just make sure it happens! Make sure you say thank you in a meaningful way at least once, or else that person may think twice about donating to you in the future.


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The Quest for Younger Donors: Holy Grail or Tilting at Windmills?

April 30, 2013
By Tom Harrison

Is your CEO concerned that your donor base is aging? Is your board pressing you to target younger donors? Are your younger staff bemoaning the fact that your marketing materials aren’t relevant anymore?

They’re all wrong.

When I entered the direct response fundraising world in 1985, everyone was terrified that donor files were aging and that the younger folks, dubbed “baby boomers,” were not giving. What would we do?

Russ Reid, the founder of the firm that still bears his name, smiled and said, “Stop worrying; they’ll give when they turn 45.”

Sure enough, as they crossed the magic threshold, baby boomers have, indeed, become a most generous cohort and have fueled (and will continue to fuel) philanthropy for years.

Now that senior baby boomers are turning 65, some nonprofits are again frantic that their baby-boomer rich donor files are aging and that young people aren’t giving. Some are even investing big bucks in trying to get 20-40 year olds to give. And when it fails, they claim, in their most sincere revisionist tones, that the objective was really to engage and begin to build a relationship with these donors of the future. Puh-lease!

Your staff are likely far younger than your donors. My friend, Bernard Ross, often begins his brilliant sessions with nonprofit organizations by having people write five words on a piece of paper and keep it in front of them. The words? “I Am Not The Audience.” Your staff’s choice of media, design, messages, spokespeople, music and donating behavior is NOT the same as that of your donors.

We’ve all heard the argument that we need to target 20-40 year olds because we’ll have them on the file that much longer. Or because they’ll be more likely to give to us when they’re more ready and able to give.

I don’t buy it. In the first place, it’s cost-prohibitive from an ROI perspective to acquire 20-40 year olds as donors, and while the second argument is tempting, there is no proof I’ve ever seen that engaging the youngsters makes them more likely to recall and support that same organization when they do become donors.

Donor files are always aging. As they do, new generations take their place.

Simply put, we need to stop targeting people whom we wish would give, and target people who do give. Would McDonalds spend money targeting vegetarians because it is an under-represented audience in their stores? Want to know who really gives? Read James Wilson’s book, Who Really Cares. It’s an eye-opener.

Two questions to clarify the quest to find the elusive younger donors:
  1. What is the most important indicator of whether someone will give to a direct response appeal?
    Answer: whether they’ve given before. To any appeal. Or, better still, to you. People in their 20s and 30s likely haven’t.
     
  2. What is the second most important indicator of whether someone will give to a direct response appeal?
    Answer: Age. It’s a better predictor than household income, ethnicity, education levels or religion.
The accompanying chart from The Heart of the Donor Study confirms what we all should know from experience: Older donors give more, and are more generous and far more valuable to nonprofits than younger donors.

Donor age graph

What does this mean to you?

Rejoice in your older donors. Cultivate them well.

Invest in a strong planned giving program. Don’t leave it to chance. Take half of the next bequest you get and fund a couple years of planned giving work. It’ll be the best long-term ROI you’ll see.

Choose your media channels wisely. If your best donors are 55+ (they are), make sure you communicate with them via their preferred channels, not your staff’s preferred channels.

Don’t swing before the pitch. Don’t waste direct response fundraising budgets on 20-40 year olds until they enter the age group of donors. But do get them involved! They make a terrific volunteer base, they’re inexpensive to reach and engage through social media, and they can turbo-charge your advocacy programs.

OK, I take it back. Finally, remember when I said folks were wrong to try to get younger people to give? I was just getting your attention. It really depends on how you define “younger.” The Seniors and Boomers will continue to be provide the lion’s share of nonprofit donations in the decade to come. That’s where you should focus the lion’s share of your fundraising budget. But if the average age of your donor file is 65 or even 70+, you should be working to acquire “younger” donors: people in their late 40s and 50s.

by Tom Harrison, CEO of Russ Reid


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2013 Donor Do’s And Don’ts

December 18, 2012
Donors are the lifeblood of fundraising organizations. And in the multi-faceted, donor-demanding world we live in, it is easy to see how a donor base can become fatigued. As a New Year’s resolution, why don’t you ensure your organization initiates donor appreciation by following these simple “do’s and don’ts”.

DO learn the art of “narrowcasting.” Show your organization’s smarts by strategically targeting those most likely to give instead of setting your sights on quantity over quality.

DO listen to your donors. Take their critiques seriously, acknowledge their wisdom and attention to your cause and demonstrate change based on their recommendations.

DO thank donors, early and often! It is human nature to yearn for appreciation for a job well done. Engender continued participation and warm feelings with simple heartfelt thanks, expressed in a timely manner.

DO give equal time (as hectic schedules permit) to small donors. A big pool of small donors is as invaluable as its opposite! Additionally, by cultivating small donors, you will migrate some into the bigger donor ranks.

DON’T burn out your volunteers. Volunteers keep your non-profit ship afloat and being tasked too often to do the same rote tasks can sour even the most devoted. Listen to them as well and incorporate their suggestions. Keep the tasks rotating so volunteers can experience each aspect of your organization and find something they can truly hang their hat on.

DON’T constantly ask for money. If you try going to the well too often, it will run dry.  Contributors don't want to feel obligated ALL the time to find money.

DON’T make the mistake of not cultivating new donors — let people know your mission and always have an “elevator speech” prepared.

DON’T send form letters to big donors (sometimes with mass mailings a form letter is a must) but to your loyal enthusiasts, the personal touch is demanded!

Most importantly, keep striving for more dialogue with your donors. With the advent of social media, there are many platforms for two-way conversation but that is not carte blanche to forego the occasion for coffee or lunch!

Do you have any do’s and don’ts you’d like to share?
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