Q&A from my In-Box

Q&A from my In-Box

Q: Currently I’m working with an organization that has developed a constituent list largely based on randomly adding persons from various lists. It has become cumbersome and time consuming to manage since many of the persons on the list have no notes of association and haven’t participated in any way. There are 13,000 people on the list with about 750 who have made donations since the list’s inception. Where do you begin to draw the line or make the list manageable and efficient?

-Michele R.


A: The 13,000 person list you describe is often called a “house file.” At minimum, it should include everyone who has ever given money. Most organizations also include volunteers, event (including field trip) participants, and so on. One organization I’m working with has added names and addresses of the “neighbors” who live immediately adjacent to each of its preserves. Another has gone through annual reports of like-minded local organizations and looked up as many addresses as they can find. Regardless, this is your “house file.” I certainly recommend having one.

If you got really aggressive with direct mail donor recruitment, and you were testing various lists for purchase or trade, you would probably be happy with about a 0.7% response. In other words, if you mailed to 1,000 people, you would expect 7 or more to respond. Fewer than seven, and you probably wouldn’t buy that list again. More than seven, and you probably would. Use the same logic with your house file. Seven or more responses per 1,000 mailed warrants continuing to mail. Six or fewer is a signal to stop.

One more point: Each person on the house file should have an origin date – the date on which they were first entered into the database. Your house file will have people who have given before but not recently, and people who have never given. I would track these two segments differently. If the “never given” segment of your house file returns less than 0.7 percent, then throw out the oldest records, and keep throwing them out until you get back to 0.7% response. I would be a bit more forgiving with your “given before” list, but again when the overall performance drops below 0.7%, throw out the records of donors you haven’t heard from the longest.


Q: I have a note here to read your blog about the donor pipeline, and I can’t find it. Can you help, or at least elaborate?

-Mindy P.


A: When I start to describe a major gift development program to clients who do not have an active program already, I often use a pipeline analogy as follows. Imagine there are four “chambers” in a pipeline, labeled D, C, B, and A. You should be able to place every major gift prospect in the pipeline in one of the chambers.

  1. Those we are just beginning to get to know –

Action: Introduce them to other organizational leaders, invite them to organizational events and particularly those that introduce or feature several different projects or programs, and/or ask them what intrigues them most about the organization.

  1. Those who are warming to the org and the mission, but who haven’t signaled a specific interest in a specific project or program yet –

Action: Take them descriptions of various projects or programs and see which ones light up their enthusiasm and/or listen for their initiative about various issues. What do THEY want to do?

  1. Those who have a known interest in a specific project or program, but may not be connected enough emotionally to make a significant gift request likely –

Action: Invite them to visit the project site, host an event (could be a lunch) for others in support of the project, or otherwise stand in support of the project or program. “If we pull this off can we come to you for support?”

  1. Those who are ready to be asked for a specific gift toward a specific project or program –

Action: Go ask!

Note that 1) not everyone entering the pipeline goes all the way through, 2) some people go through very quickly but taking 2-3 years is not uncommon, and 3) some people go through part way and then back out.

Each of these donors deserves his or her own individual interaction plan. Imagine the relationship from the donor’s perspective. What will they see from the organization? Will it come from a single “voice” (better)? Or will each communication be from someone different (not as good)? Identify a series of cultivation steps (or “moves”) to use as a template, beginning with introducing a prospect to staff and board contacts if needed, and progressing systematically toward formally asking for a major gift for a program, project, or purpose in which they are most interested. Assign each prospect to one of the pipeline chambers that best describes your current level of knowledge and understanding about where they are related to the organization. Identify a next move, or several next moves, specific staff and board level responsibility, and deadlines.


Q: Any advice or resources to steer a board from fundraising events to redirecting them to larger gift donation cultivation?

-Michele R.


A: If developing personal relationships with donors is not part of your current board’s culture, you won’t be able to move them by yourself as a staff person. You’ll need to work with a board champion. So YOU work with two or three people and THEY work with everyone else. I always start by asking board members to call donors to say thank you. If they really want to work on events, there’s not much you can do to stop them, but you can bring a donor relationship discipline to the events. For example:

  • Every board member is responsible at the event for meeting two or three donors (that are assigned).
  • Every board member is responsible for drafting a report to you detailing their experience at the event: Who they met, who they were introduced to, what they learned, and what they recommend for next cultivation steps. (If they do not write such a report, they are hounded mercilessly by one of the two or three board members you are working with – NOT by you.)
  • Every board member is responsible for writing, copying, and posting brief thank you notes to the people they met, explicitly inviting the donors to call them on their mobile numbers with any questions.





Photo by Jeffrey Betts courtesy of Stocksnap.io.

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Planning an Email Blast for year-end? I found this article interesting and you might as well:

450 Email Subject Lines from End-of-Year Fundraising

According to Blogger Steve McLaughlin, the Best Subject Line Award goes to Oxfam America Ambassador Aziz Ansari for his “Bad fruitcake news, Steve” message.

Now there’s some ideas you can use!


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Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for September. What are YOU thinking about?


Handwritten Letters

There are serious advantages to writing letters by hand. Here’s one:

  • Degree of personalization: Because each letter takes 15-20 minutes to write longhand, and you’re thinking about the recipient the whole time, you are far more likely to make subtle adjustments to language and sentence structure than you would be if you were typing the letter, or simply changing the salutation and calling it good. You are far more likely to be writing TO THE DONOR. And it’s like smiling into the telephone – the person on the other end can tell.


Getting the Most from Fundraising Events

Every event ends up with five different kinds of people.

  • Those who came, enjoyed themselves, and seemed genuinely interested in one of the programs or projects.
  • Those who came and just enjoyed themselves.
  • Those who said they would come and didn’t.
  • Those who responded to the invitation but couldn’t come.
  • And those who ignored the invitation altogether.

You should plan specific follow-up activities for each group.


Good News

From now until Christmas, everything you do with members and donors should be coordinated. And everything they see should appear coordinated as well. Start with some Good News. Have you been saving something back, waiting for the right moment to release it? Now is the time. The message for your donors – right before they are asked to give again – is “your financial contribution is making a difference.” Give them something to be proud of.


Filing/Data Entry – Soft Credits

When a donor makes a gift, they obviously get the direct credit for what they actually gave. But the Board member who wrote the nice note in the left-hand margin deserves some credit as well – the note-writer gets a “soft” credit. Most fundraising software includes a way to assign soft credits to specific individuals, and keeping track of such information can open several cultivation doors for you. Soft credits are thereby a way of tracking relationships.


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