Thursday, January 21, 2010

I've Some Bad News...A $100,000 Check Came In Response To Our Annual Appeal Letter

Imagine the scene.  The postal worker drops off some envelopes that are held together with a rubber band.  Most are responses from the recent year-end appeal letter.  The first has a check for $500.  Nice.  That pays for the postage and printing.  The second is for $25.  Okay, that's nice.  A good start for a new donor.  The third is for...wait a minute, $100,000!  That can't be.  There is a handwritten note on the response card: "Your suggested gift categories are not big enough.  Ask people for more."

Gulp.  What would you do next?  I asked the Board of the tiny nonprofit in Georgetown County, South Carolina that got this check about what they were going to do next.  What would you suggest they do?.

Let's start with the obvious...send a Thank You note.  Not just a formal gift acknowledgement, but a thank you note from each member of the Board on their own personal stationary.  The donor wished to remain anonymous so the thank you notes should be addressed to:  "Generous Donor,"  "Dear Friend," and "Good Neighbor" rather than with the donor's name.  The Executive Director makes sure that the notes get to the proper hand delivering them as they deliver their own personal and face-to-face thank you.

It turns out that the generous donor was known to the Executive Director and that they had given before.  However, the harsh reality is that this particular donor was not appropriately cultivated, was not on the radar, was not fully informed of the organization's needs.  This is a warning sign to both the Board and the Executive Director.  They need to get the word out and they need to create a plan to cultivate prospective donors.

To add insult to injury, the direct mail campaign that yielded the $100,000 check had a response rate of over 15% (that in an environment where 2% is considered "good").

While I might be accused of making a sow's ear out of a silk purse, I can think of no clearer signal that the Board needs to get out there and tell the organization's story.  The outsized success of the mailed appeal, while wonderfully good news, also signals trouble.  Something's not quite right when there is too much of a good thing.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

nice "bad news"...great short blog note!