This is part eight of our blog series A Fundraiser’s Guide to the Annual Fund. Our team will be exploring how to turn your database into an integral tool for raising the general operation funds necessary for your success.
You’ve done your work and the donations have rolled in from your end of the year push. While you should pause and congratulate yourself and your committee on their hard work, the real test is making sure that everything is accurate and your donors are properly thanked. We’ll cover some strategies to ensure that you’re not overwhelmed with all the work that comes with a successful annual fund wrap up.
Thank your donors and thank them often
We’ve already touched on some things you can do to start the stewardship process from the moment they donate to your annual fund, but part of the initial work should be crafting well thought out thank you acknowledgements. Writing the copy, editing it to focus on mission and stewardship, and keeping it clean and concise. You should revisit and update your thank you letters each year.
Your organization should create a workflow for stewardship. While a best practice is to thank your donors with an automated email thank you receipt, you might consider having a physical letter as a follow up within a few days. Make sure it’s a good letter that makes the donor really feel well thanked for their relationship to your organization and not just for the money itself.
If your organization can’t do physical mailings then try to build in a strategy that thanks the donor again in another way. Some ideas are having a thank-a-thon in which callers communicate their appreciation of the donor’s commitment to your annual fund; or ensuring that a staff or board member calls or meets with donors of a certain giving level and above.
IRS friendly stewardship made easy
The moment a gift comes in, you should enter it into your database. With online donations, nearly the entire process can be automated so not only is the donor thanked, but your organization can cut down on manual entry, mail merges, stamps, etc. If the donation comes in by check or other tax-deductible format then enter this into your database system as quickly as possible.
While technically speaking it is the donor’s responsibility to obtain an acknowledgement for gifts of $250 or more, this is not good stewardship. Instead, make time in your annual fund schedule at the beginning of the year to create ways for donors to obtain this information in an easy to access way. There are a few ways to make this easier for your donors, such as:
- Give donors access to a secure giving portal where they can view their personal donation history
- Prepare itemized receipts that are included with a special thank you letter
- Reiterate giving levels in your annual report, keeping in mind anonymous giving requests
Prepare for staff turnover
The biggest momentum killer in the nonprofit industry is staff turnover. The last thing your organization needs is the staffer who has been overseeing your annual fund leave at this critical moment without any explanation concerning how your database works for your annual fund. If possible, spend time with the person “in the know” about the database to craft a smooth transition plan and to review any best practices and internal procedures that have been implemented.
First, do not write a gift procedures guide as a “how to enter a donation” guide. Many vendors such as Z2 Systems, Inc. already have guides on how to use the system. Your internal database procedures guide is to tell people how someone should use it the way that works for your organization.
Second, establish a training program for any new employees who will be utilizing your database. Create a timeline for their understanding of your database, provide time to answer any outstanding questions, and be open to their ideas on how to improve your process. Also consider examining free and (hopefully!) reasonably priced training options from your vendor to bring new and old staff members up to speed on your database system.
Next time we’ll focus on reporting on your success, making sure your decision makers are fully informed of the progress of your annual fund throughout the year.
Got a question, comment, criticism, or concern? We’re here to listen, we’re here to help, and we’re here to learn. Leave something below or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to continuing the conversation!