Top Ten Trick List for Fundraising Treats

by Danielle Irving

I love Fall. I love everything about it. The changing leaves, cooler temperatures, hay rides. I love hot apple cider, harvest displays and pumpkin EVERYTHING! And then, of course, I love the holy grail of Fall: Halloween! I mean, what’s not to love about dressing up in costume, going door to door and getting free candy! And sometimes it’s even chocolate. Free. Chocolate. Really, does it get any better than that?

And I love that we say “Trick or Treat!” But, really, in all my years of Halloweens, I’ve only gotten treats. Never any tricks. So, in honor of that, I thought I’d write about my top tricks in fundraising. Tricks as in tips. Which yield the greatest treats. Get it? Okay, here we go.

So here’s my Top Ten Trick list for Fundraising Treats:

  1. One day each week, review a list of the gifts that came in that week. From the $5 gifts to the $5Million (if it was a very good week!). That keeps our finger on the pulse of our organization and keeps the names of the people who invest in our mission in the forefront of our mind.
  2. Start each day by calling at least five people who made a gift that week. Just to say thank you. In this world of email, text, Snapchat, etc. it really is nice to receive an old-fashioned phone call just to say I know you can choose to give to many worthy causes and I appreciate that you chose to support us.
  3. As often as possible, send hand written thank you notes. Again, a somewhat old-fashioned and often lost art in today’s society. The hand written notes let our benefactors know that they were important enough for us to take time out of our busy schedule to drop them a line.
  4. Remember important dates. If in the course of a conversation with a donor if they mentioned their birthday, anniversary or some other important date, I would jot it down in my notes and make myself a calendar reminder to check in with them on that day to acknowledge the special day.
  5. Keep visit reports! When doing coursework for my Master’s in Philanthropy, one professor said “If you don’t write it down, it never happened.” I took that advice to heart. Every lunch visit, coffee, meeting in a donor’s home or office, was recorded in a visit report. And when I went back to my office, it was uploaded into the database. That way there was a data trail of every meeting I ever had. So when it was time to move on, my successor had documentation of every conversation I had ever had with a benefactor. That information is priceless.
  6. Make notes on phone conversations with donors and keep them in your database. Even the most mundane details. I seriously kept notes like “Son Ethan has soccer match on Saturday” or “Cat Fluffy is having health issues.” That way, the next time I spoke to them, I could quickly pull up their file and ask about Ethan or Fluffy. Another way to keep the personal connection.
  7. Listen more than you talk. Much more. I attended a development workshop once while working at Duke and the facilitator had us all wear pins that said “It’s not about me.” I loved that! Because, really, it’s not. At all. Development is about the mission we work for and finding people who feel passionately about that mission and want to advance it. Our job is to make those matches and facilitate that process. And that’s all.
  8. Get together (often) with your benefactors without asking for anything. Meet over coffee, grab drinks at happy hour, share a meal and just see what’s new in their lives. I think the worst thing we can do as fundraisers (other than not thanking people for their gifts) is to only contact people when we’re asking for money. Develop these relationships in a way that they will actually want to answer their cells when they see we are calling.
  9. Spend time with the people most impacted by your non-profit. When I worked at Tammy Lynn Center for Developmental Disabilities, I loved sneaking away from my desk and visiting with our direct care staff and the children and adults we cared for. Each time I did, I developed a greater appreciation for our staff and the amazing work they did. And it made me both humbled and proud to represent such a great place.
  10. Share stories of the impact your non-profit is making in the world. I believe this is the greatest gift we can give our donors. Telling them about the woman who used to be homeless who is now working in the community and giving back to the shelter where she used to live. Sharing stories about the kids who were at-risk for dropping out of school that are now college-bound. Giving specific, measurable, concrete examples of what their support is doing in the lives of others. It will encourage and motivate them and do the same for us!

So there you have it: My Top Ten List of the tricks I’ve picked up in my years of fundraising.  Hopefully you’ll find some treats there. Enjoy the rest of this wonderful fall season and I hope you’ll get lots of chocolate tomorrow. Happy Halloween!

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