This is the seventh of eight chapters on building donor loyalty. The Table of Contents below will take you to additional chapters.

Table of Contents

Chapter 7

Tools for Donor Cultivation

Tactics and tools are not always easily separated. In fact, many of the approaches we described as tactics a few minutes ago could be viewed as tools—newsletters, annual reports, greeting cards, press releases, etc. Just as the tools we are about to discuss could be recast as tactics.

For me, something is more readily seen as a tactic when it is so familiar that we have no need to explain what it is. Newsletters, annual reports, greeting cards, and press releases certainly fall into this category. With tactics, we only need to show why they should be used.

Tools on the other hand, are less likely to be so ingrained in our work process. Tools, for me, are things that need to be explained. Their use needs to be learned. The value inherent in their use may not be as easily seen. Particularly when it means adopting new technology or making an investment in their acquisition and implementation.

Over the past decade, two high-tech tools have become increasingly available and effective for managing and cultivating donor relationships. The first of these—computerized donor databases—has been gaining usage for a couple of decades. It started with our desire to find a better way to address envelopes than our aging Addressograph machines or Xeroxing address lists onto labels. The second—email media—didn’t exist five years ago and has only in the past two years become available to smaller organizations.

A donor profile database can be contained on index cards, in a filing cabinet, or on a computer. One place it should never reside is in the head of an organization’s development director, or in anyone else’s head for that matter. People need to have access to donor profiles, and access doesn’t mean having to ask someone who may or may not be available.

Unless your organization is tiny, I would not recommend relying on index cards or even a file cabinet as a donor database. In this day, nearly every organization should avail itself of the efficiencies of a computerized database. I see three main reasons to computerize a donor database.

  1. The data will have greater accessibility.
  2. Collecting data will be easier.
  3. Organizing, manipulating, and using the data effectively will be enhanced tremendously.

If a computerized donor database is to be worth its salt, it needs to meet a few basic requirements. First, it must be scaled to the organization. That means don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly. Nor should you expect a flyswatter to turn a charging elephant. It can’t be allowed to break the organization’s budget or require more staff or expertise to support it than the organization can provide. Its benefits must outweigh its costs.

The data capture process must be simple and able to be done throughout the organization. Everyone in the development office must be able to quickly and easily record collected donor data.

Accessibility must be easy and instant. A person answering a phone call from a donor must be able to retrieve that donor’s profile in seconds, and the way the profile is displayed must make it easy to be scanned as the conversation takes place.

Data must be able to be sorted in nearly any way conceivable and organized so that it can be used to help achieve fund-raising goals.

The database must be secure. Obviously, it should not be able to be compromised by someone from outside the organization, but access from within the organization needs to be tracked and data that is private needs to stay that way. Remember the wishes of anonymous donors.

The system must be able to be expanded. You may need to add more fields. The company or organization providing the system needs to provide support. That means it must have the resources to help its users, and that it must have the likelihood of staying in business.

Picking a Donor Management System

Donor management systems are also referred to as constituent management software and fund-raising software. A donor management software system is essential for an organization that wants to develop a strong, comprehensive donor cultivation program managing a large number of donors and prospects.

Depending on the package, it can do everything from managing a campaign to profiling donors. You’ll do well to research carefully the many donor management software vendors offering products today. The programs vary widely in cost. They range from free, to tens of thousands of dollars. And the old saw that “You get what you pay for,” is not always accurate here.

This is a case of buyer beware for two reasons. One, software developers have a tendency to promise more than they deliver and two, basic approaches and concepts can be very different from one system to another. Make sure a system will deliver what you need before you buy. Don’t easily accept a promise of, “that’s going to be in the next release due out later in the year.” Before you buy, explore a number of possibilities and seek the advice of people using the various packages. Vendors should be willing to give you a list of users to contact.

A final word about your donor database: Be careful exactly what comments you put in it. Every note you make had better be one that you would not mind having the person about whom you make it read. And what if the organization’s records were subpoenaed in a court case? Remember, an organization needs to operate in the open to inspire donor confidence. Well, that includes your donor profiles.

When a donor asks to see what is in his/her profile, you have to be ready to show it. That means you don’t want any comments expressing displeasure over the size of a gift or that make judgments about the donor. When building a donor profile, remember what Sergeant Joe Friday always said in the old TV series, Dragnet: “The facts ma’am. Just the facts.”

Email Media

If you aren’t using email to keep in touch with your donors, you not only should be, you will be. It’s only a matter of time. That’s because email costs so much less than other communication media and does so much more. The distribution costs of an email message range from zero to perhaps a dime apiece. It depends on how many bells and whistles you want. But those bells and whistles can make email media tremendously attractive.

The advantages of email media have changed our expectations of the communication process forever.

  1. Expense: Email costs far less.
  2. Speed: Email is near instantaneous.
  3. Trackability: Email that has been formatted in HTML can be tracked. You can tell who reads it and when. HTML means hypertext markup language. HTML email often looks very similar to Web pages.
  4. Interactivity: Links to a Web site can be included in email and the recipient encouraged to click those links. You can then record who actually clicks those links.
  5. Dialog: Because everything a recipient does with an email message can be tracked, every time a recipient does something he or she is sending you a message, and email is easy to reply to. Just hit the reply button and type a message.
  6. Data Collection: All actions—reading, replying, clicking a link – a recipient takes in response to an email message create data that can be collected and downloaded to that individual’s donor profile. Keep track of what articles a donor reads in an email newsletter and you will learn much about that donor’s interests.

Email media is the communication wave of the future that has arrived now. Non-profit organizations are just beginning to explore its many potential uses. It’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks – I know! But if you are anything like me, you’re already relying on email for much of your communication In the past five years, email has gone from something only new-technology adopters use to a pervasive part of our professional and personal lives. And we have only seen the tip of the iceberg. There is a great deal more to email than letter writing and electronic junk mail. It truly is a new communication medium, and one that non-profits cannot afford to ignore.

There is a beginning to your donor cultivation. There is a continuum to your donor cultivation. But there can never be end to your donor cultivation.

These are my views on the subject of donor cultivation. What are yours?

Building Donor Loyalty
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