The Donor Recognition Test
My wife and I recently received a 5 x 7 envelope from a prominent Philadelphia-area nonprofit. Inside was a certificate of recognition printed on substantial, light green paper. Written on the certificate was an appreciation of thanks to my wife and me for supporting the agency for ten consecutive years.
This is not something I plan to have framed and put on my wall, but it was a welcome gesture from an organization whose mission I support. For a moment, it felt good to hold the paper in my hands, as if I had physical proof that somebody, somewhere, appreciated our gifts. At EHL Consulting Group, we talk all the time about the importance of donor recognition and how it is one of the most important parts, not just of any major campaign, but of a nonprofit’s daily operations.
My wife and I aren’t mega-donors to the organization: the $100 or so we give on an annual basis certainly is not keeping the agency in business. But the point is that someone at the organization – or perhaps it was a computer – was paying attention. Recognizing a milestone like a decade of giving is exactly what a well-run nonprofit is supposed to do: Kudos.
You know there is a but coming, right?
This nonprofit has only done half of its job: They’ve passed the donor recognition test, but flunked the ask test. What do I mean? Couldn’t a consistent low-level donor potentially become a larger donor? Of course, but it is a lot more likely to happen if the donor is asked to give at a higher level. In this case, no one from the organization has ever called, no one has sent a personal letter or even an email asking me to consider meeting or making a site visit. The more I think about it, the initial appreciation I felt at receiving the certificate now has me feeling overlooked.
Could a donor think, “My best isn’t good enough to warrant any other type of contact?” Surely, an organization as large as the one in question has access to reasonably sophisticated campaign management software. They should have the ability to cull from available public data and get a sense of my philanthropic activity and gift capacity. But in order for that to happen, somebody has to recognize a potential opportunity and set the wheels in motion for the agency to act on that opportunity. After all, the end goal is not completely assuaging donor’s egos, but raising the needed dollars to fulfill vitally important public missions. In a competitive philanthropic environment, donors’ feelings matter and it is the rare donor who will write a bigger check without first being asked along with a bit of outreach and romance.
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