When should a non-profit send out a donation reminder? How should donor reminders be structured?

Yesterday I had a conversation with a highly successful fundraiser in Houston, TX, Tiffany Riggs, who I hired and worked with for several years. Although it has been almost ten years since we have worked together, we keep in contact.  During our conversation, we talked about several fundraising trends and best practices. We ended our conversation discussing the best way to send a donation reminder. We shared stories about non-profits we have worked with who did not understand the importance and value of donation reminders or proper donor recognition. Here are a few examples:

 Example 1: To save time and energy, a non-profit both of us were familiar with used the accounting department to send out donation reminders to donors who were making monthly payments. The accounting department sent donation reminders in the same format and structure as standard invoices. Can you imagine making monthly gifts on a yearly pledge and getting an invoice every month reminding you to make your payment and the penalty if your donation is late? I do not know about you, but that would not motivate me to renew my pledge.

Example 2: Like many non-profits, this organization was making a push to transition donors from annual donations to monthly gifts. Because of the tremendous increase in online contributions, they automated recognizing donors for their support. Every time a donor made a gift, they would automatically receive a template thank you letter in the mail. Here is the catch:  monthly donors received the same letter for every donation they made. How would you feel if you were a monthly donor and received the same generic letter every month in the mail?  Jane Doe, a monthly donor, told them exactly what she thought. She asked to cancel her monthly gift and remove her contact information from all the non-profit’s communications lists.

Example 3: Like most non-profits, this organization receives a substantial portion of its funding in the last quarter of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Their fundraisers were busy with end-of-the-year appeals, call-downs, Giving Tuesday, and sending donation reminders to donors who have not yet renewed their support. At the end of the year, the non-profit sent out a donation reminder to all their donors. The form served as an official correspondence for tax purposes. While the form contained all of the right technical terminologies, it failed to thank donors for their support and remind them why they were giving to the cause.

Here are four things to consider when evaluating your donor reminders:

  1. Donor reminders are not about asking for money.
  2. In my experience, there are three primary reasons donors’ do not renew their support. They forget the last time they gave to your cause, feel you no longer value or appreciate their support, or forgot how their support makes a difference.
  3. If the donor hears from you only when you are asking for money, you need to revaluate your donation reminder approach.
  4. Every donation reminder is an opportunity to thank donors for their support.

For more information on ways to improve your donation reminders, check out my previous blog: why some non-profit traditions must stop.

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