Thankfulness by Kathy Mills, Senior Donor Identification Analyst

11/08/2017 12:41 PM | Vicki O'Brien

The Impact of Thanking Annual Fund Donors

When I was younger, my mother forced me to write thank you notes to anyone who had given me a gift for my birthday. It seemed like a chore at the time, but as an adult, I came to appreciate when I was thanked for sending a gift – and I certainly remembered those that never thanked me. Today, sometimes a simple “thank you” seems like a dying art.

As nonprofit organizations, it’s critical that we thank our donors promptly. That $25 annual fund donor could turn out to be a $25,000 donor in the future if he or she feels appreciated right from the start. But every organization sends a thank you letter. What if you took it one step further?

A couple of years ago, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center supercharged its annual giving program with the addition of two special gifts officers (SGO). One of the roles of the SGOs is to reach out to annual fund donors to thank them for their first-time gift or for finishing paying a pledge. They also call other donors that our prospect research/management team identifies as having potential for making larger or additional gifts but who aren’t yet major gift prospects.

Delighting the Donor

I love reading our SGOs’ contact reports. It is not unusual for a donor to be taken completely by surprise by our thank you calls. Unlike major donors, a thank you call is unusual for lower-level donors to receive, and they’re delighted to be recognized. This leads our SGOs to ask what motivated them to make a gift, and we’ve heard some wonderful stories from our medical school alumni who valued their time here as well as patients who were pleased with their care. When we hear, “You saved my life,” we know we found a potentially loyal donor. This opens the door for our SGOs to ask for continued giving, and I’m amazed at how many donors say, “Absolutely,” and proceed to give a credit card number over the phone or ask for a reply envelope in the mail.

In addition to phone calls, our SGOs visit patients in the hospital. We monitor a daily list of inpatients looking for unmanaged alumni, current or former board members, recent annual fund donors, and lapsed but previously consistent donors. The SGOs stop in to say hello, bring a medical center tote bag or other swag, a handwritten get well note, and a business card. They thank the donor for being a friend to the medical center, and of course there is no solicitation at the time. It’s simply a thank you visit. These visits have gone very well, and many times we’ve seen gifts come in after the patients have been discharged.

Uncovering Major Gift Prospects

When SGOs are engaging these donors, they listen for clues that someone could eventually be a major or planned gift prospect. After some cultivation and at an appropriate time, the SGO may hand off these prospects to a major gift officer for further cultivation. However, there have been times when a significant gift came in before re-assignment. For instance, one of our SGOs really bonded with one of our medical school alums, who revealed that he had included the medical school in his estate plans. Teaming up with a major gift officer for a visit with the donor, the SGO was able to document this gift. This alum had barely been contacted before the SGO reached out to thank him for his loyal giving.

By having the prospect research/management team work in conjunction with the annual funds team to identify prospects for SGOs to call or visit, the number of annual fund renewals has increased, and donors are left feeling good about supporting our organization. We’d like to think our efforts would have made Emily Post proud.

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