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Season 2, Episode 18

In December, as donors make their year-end charitable contributions, what can you do to make your most important donors happy? Fundraising experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt share their favorite year-end stewardship practices and answer a host of capital campaign questions.

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This episode was recorded as part of a live webinar held Monday, December 13, 2021. To participate in future webinars, register at ToolkitTalks.com.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So the topic we’ve been thinking about these days with our clients and for our clients and for ourselves is, at this time of year, everybody is getting inundated with requests for gifts, and stacks of mail asking for money, and giving Tuesday, and it’s hard to sort of separate yourself from the crowd. And it’s gotten us thinking about how to make donors happy. What can you do to stand out? And that, I think, is actually really a core and important question in fundraising altogether, particularly in capital campaign fundraising, where the bulk of what we do in capital campaign fundraising is based on our ability to stand out to a relatively few donors.

We’re not talking about wanting to stand out to thousands of donors in capital campaign fundraising. We’re talking about wanting to stand out to 20 or 30 donors who are really important to us, or maybe a few more than that, but we’re not talking about standing out with a mass appeal, or standing out by having your envelope be read, or standing out in one of those ways. What we’re really thinking about is, what can you do to, with, for about your donors that actually would make them happy? Because happiness stands out, right? You remember when you’re happy. Now, just to give you a little bit of context, one of the reasons that we’re focused on happiness is that over this past year, and the Capital Campaign Toolkit has had a wonderful year, and over the past year, we hired a new staff member, Sarah Plimpton, and we decided after much discussion that her title would be… Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Chief Happiness Officer. Her main role is to make sure that our clients are happy and well taken care of, and that is what she’s doing. And we just feel like it’s such an important role, both at the Capital Campaign Toolkit, but also for your nonprofits to make sure that you are happy. So if you’re one of our Toolkit clients, our members, and you haven’t had an outreach from Sarah yet, I can imagine that in the next coming weeks and months, you for sure will. And if you have any issues or questions or concerns about your campaign or otherwise, Sarah is on call for you. But really, let’s talk about in the chat… Well, I’d like to invite you to talk about what are you doing to really, really make your donors notice you. And as Andrea said, we’re talking about your top 20, 30 donors.

Listen. It’s important to recognize all your donors. We’re not saying that you won’t be thanking all your donors and acknowledging them, donors large and small. But when it comes to a capital campaign, you can’t do everything for everyone. So it is really important to acknowledge, work with, and make happy your biggest donors. So ideas in the chat box. What are you doing in December, if anything, to really stand out? And while you do that, let’s go to some questions. And I just want to invite you one more time. I mean, one of the things that makes this conversation every week that we have really special is your questions. I mean, that’s what we look forward to.

So if you have any campaign-related questions, any fundraising questions, please do go ahead and open up your Q and A box and put them in, because that’s what makes our time with you special, really being able to answer your questions. If you have the question, somebody else undoubtedly has the question.

What Makes a Strong Capital Campaign Chair?

Amy Eisenstein:
So Andrea, the first one I’m looking at here, and then we’ll return to this idea of making donors happy and stand out, is somebody anonymously is asking, “What qualities make a strong capital campaign chair?” And I think that that’s such an important question, because every nonprofit wrestles with this idea of, who should be the campaign chair? How do we pick them? What’s important about that? So you want to start us out on that?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. I’m going to pick sort of an unlikely one, but it’s one of my favorites. It’s not what other people pick out as the first quality. But I think that a strong campaign chair must be someone who does what they say they’re going to do in a timely way. And that sounds really simple, I know, but I’ll tell you, if you have a very wealthy campaign chair who promises the moon and kind of throws his or her weight around, and then doesn’t show up or doesn’t do what they say they’ll do, it is really difficult. So I’m going to put first on my list as someone who is fully responsible in their job as campaign chair. What would you add to that, Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, I think that that’s such an important concept for people to hear, because I think mostly what people are looking for when they think about a campaign chair is somebody wealthy, or somebody with fabulous connections, or somebody who’s willing to ask, which are all important qualities of a campaign chair. You may or may not find every single quality that you’re looking for in any campaign chair, but it’s so important that you start with that, Andrea, because if you need something from your campaign chair or they just won’t show up or don’t do what they’re asked, it is a major issue. They can have all the other qualities in the world, but if they’re not responsive, it’s a major issue.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. I sort of see them like boulders in the road, because you can’t just go around them. Right? They are your campaign chair, so you can’t just go ahead as though they weren’t campaign chair. They’re like a big boulder in the road that you can’t move if they don’t respond to emails. I mean, look at that. You need a decision from a campaign chair. “Should we do X or Y,” or, “We’re thinking about doing so and so,” or, “I want to schedule a meeting with so and so.” And then you don’t hear back from them for a week. That is the worst. And I think that people often think about money first. They often think about name recognition. They think about visibility. They think about all these other qualities, and they don’t put that first, front and center.

The other thing that I would say is that a campaign chair should be willing to stand up and be articulate on behalf of your campaign and your organization. Now, that sounds simple also, but not everybody is willing or able to do that. In principle, they would like to be a good chair, but then when you ask them to give a talk at your event, they kind of back out, back down. So it should be someone who’s articulate and able to present themselves in a public forum or a public setting pretty well. That’s another one. What else would you pick, Amy?

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, I mean, obviously it is lovely if they are able to make a leadership level gift, one of the top gifts to the campaign. Sometimes you can get someone like that. Not always, but ideally they’re able to ask. They’re comfortable with soliciting large gifts. And if they are not making one of the top three gifts to the campaign, they need to be comfortable and confident enough to help solicit those largest gifts to the campaign and make that case along with you. So to me, that’s one of the critical roles. Now, if you can’t find all the qualities and characteristics that you’re looking for in a campaign chair, many organizations are opting to have two co-chairs, and so you might get someone who is a wonderful solicitor and someone else who likes to make the public speeches.

One person is great one-on-one, and the other person is more articulate in front of a crowd. And if you can find two people to share the responsibility, that’s great, too. All right. So we got some good suggestions. Let’s return. We’re going to play ping-pong a little bit between the questions and our initial topic, but I do want to share some of the things that people are commenting on in the chat. Maverich is saying that they send artisanal chocolate from San Francisco, so that definitely stands out, right? If you get a box of chocolates, how many organizations, nonprofits send it to you?

Board members. Amy is saying, “We have board members who personally call, donors who give significant gifts.” And donors really do appreciate board member calls, because it doesn’t happen that often. We’ve been talking about having your board members call to say thank you to donors for over a decade now, and very few organizations do it. So if you can do that, it really, really stands out. Let’s see what other suggestions we have.

Making People — Including Donors — Happy

Andrea Kihlstedt:
While you read those, Amy, I’m going to talk just for a minute about what I think is the basis for making people happy, for making everybody and anybody happy. I’ve come to believe that you don’t have to send very fancy things, though sometimes it’s nice to do that. I’m not against sending chocolate, believe me. But I think that the key to making people happy is to notice them, is to notice who they are, to notice how they function, what they like, when they’ve done something really nice, and to call it out when they’ve done something successful, when they’ve done something difficult. There is something about knowing that someone has noticed what you have done that is, I think, at the core of making people happy. And that sometimes that leads to sending something wonderful, when you see somebody who’s really done something special, and then you send chocolate because you noticed that they did something special.

That’s a whole lot more effective than just sending chocolate to all your top 20 donors, because it’s the noticing that matters. And paying attention to people and noticing who they are and what they do is a learned habit, that the more you work on it, the more you start to see. And the more you start to see of what people do, and the more you comment on what you see that people have done well, the more you notice. So I want to encourage each of you to think about sending gifts and sending notes and doing all these wonderful things in the context of what it is you actually take the time to see in these people and how they function. And you don’t have to see them in person. You can see how they email. You can see what their pattern of giving is. There are many things you can notice about someone even if you don’t spend time with

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, just like we were talking about for the campaign chair, you can say, “I so appreciate your quick responsiveness, that whenever I email you, you get right back to me, and that’s not true of all of our volunteers or donors or board members.”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Exactly. Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
Pointing out even the small things, you really… “Every time I ask you for something, you say yes any time you can, and it means the world to me.” If you say something personal like that, that really stands out. That’s the kind of thing that stands out.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, and the more we notice about what people do, that’s good and effective, the more they’ll do it. So that’s cool, too.

Amy Eisenstein:
Absolutely. All right. Let’s go back over here to some great questions. Lorraine’s asking an ethical question. She says, “Is it appropriate for a nonprofit board to use organizational funds to attend and donate to another nonprofit organization?”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Gee, that’s complicated. I don’t know the answer to that.

Amy Eisenstein:
I don’t know the answer to that either, honestly.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Anybody have any ideas?

How to Determine Your Top 20 to 30 Donors

Amy Eisenstein:
So interesting. Yeah. I don’t know what the answer to that is. All right. Let us know. Let us know what you think. Carly’s asking, “How do you determine your top 20 to 30 donors? Is this based only on the amount given? Over what period? I’d love to hear what data we should be looking at to determine this.” I think there’s a lot of ways that you can look at, how do you define your top 20 to 30 donors? Of course you can look at what they’ve given. You might also look at what they might give, so what are their patterns and behaviors to your organization and to other organizations to indicate what future giving might be.

I would always look at loyalty, right? To me, someone who gave $10,000 once and someone who gives $500 a year for 20 years, I’m going to pay pretty close attention to the person who’s consistently, loyally giving, rather than the person who gave one time and then didn’t give again. So I think there’s a variety of factors that you want to be looking at. You want to look at, do they show up for things? Do they volunteer? Do you know who they are? Do they correspond with you? So I think there’s several ways to slice and dice to get it there. So you want to look at, what do they give? What’s their potential to give? How do they act?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Carly, I don’t think this is what you are thinking, but there may be other people on this call who do think this, so I want to nip it in the bud to say, when you’re looking for your top 20 or 30 donors, you are not looking for someone who is somehow out there, someplace, for a rich person who is out there. There are some people who are new to the fundraising business who think that the task is finding 20 people anywhere who are wealthy. And they think they’re going to become their donors. So I just want those of you who are new to this business, you need to look close to home, to the people who already support you, have a reason to want support you. And then from that group, you’re figuring out who your top 20 or 30 donors are. So thank you for asking that question, Carly. It’s a good question.

Amy Eisenstein:
So we are getting some chatter in here about giving to other nonprofits. Jacqueline’s saying, “Our nonprofit did the same last year.” Oh, I think maybe they were responding. So their nonprofit, I think, did give to another nonprofit. There are several people, actually, who have said that they’ve given to other nonprofits with nonprofit funds. Then the counter argument, you don’t want to be a pass-through for funds. It’s important to support other nonprofits, but as a donor, you don’t necessarily want to know that your funds have been contributed to other organizations. So I think it would probably depend on the circumstances, and what you’re set up to do, and how you solicited the funds to begin with, and what you said you intended to do with the funds. I think there’s actually a lot of variables here, which is why it’s not such a clear answer.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I can imagine, Amy, an organization… Well, I’m thinking particularly of a theater company that I support, and one of the things that they do is that they help young people in theater develop projects. Now, if that young person has a theater company that they’re affiliated with or that they develop their work through, it might well be appropriate for the company I support to actually make a contribution to that other theater company. So I think there are times when it fits the mission of the organization to support other organizations to help move a whole set of things forward.

Naming Opportunities vs. Remaining Anonymous

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Okay, let me go to Floyd’s question. So Floyd is asking about naming opportunities, and it’s a topic that’s high on our mind these days. So he says, “It seems to make some people very happy to get recognition, and some people wish to remain anonymous.” And that’s exactly right. They certainly do. We’ve spent a fair amount of time recently sort of questioning the standard practice of naming rooms and spaces in honor of or in exchange, in some way, for people who give large gifts to a campaign. And that has certainly been the standard practice in capital campaign fundraising for a long time.

When someone wants to be anonymous, they simply don’t have to agree to have their name on a room or on a clock. They can request to stay on anonymous. But if someone wants that kind of recognition, then there is a donor recognition plan, and they can select a space to name. These days, however, we are having more and more organizations calling into question whether we should be putting big signs and names up on buildings of the wealthiest people in town when the building is set up, when the organization is set up to serve the people who have relatively little resources.

And the question is, is that appropriate? Is that who the organization wants to be recognizing? And is that within the context of their mission? So it’s a newly interesting topic. Let me put it that way. Some of you on this call have heard this story before. I’ll be brief, but a client I’ve worked with recently, their board decided that for their capital campaign, they would not have naming opportunities, though they were getting large gifts from some of the largest donors in town.

And they came to me and said, “You know what? It just doesn’t fit with our mission to name the concert hall after the wealthiest people in town, and it just doesn’t support what we do, so we’re not going to do it.” And I said, “Well, all right, we’ll see what happens.” Well, three years later, the campaign has now raised a great deal of money, and they have not used naming opportunities, and not one donor has complained. So sometimes I think that we get trapped, we in the fundraising world get trapped in a practice that actually may be more of our doing, or in some circumstances it’s more of our doing than the donors’ doing. So it’s worth talking to your donors to see how they would feel if you didn’t have these big naming opportunities.

Amy Eisenstein:
It’s such a good case study, I think, to think about not having naming opportunities, some of these things that really trip us up in fundraising. What if we just got rid of them, right? I mean, make our lives so much simpler. And the question is, would any donors care? In this particular case, none did. And so what would you do if you had only one donor out of a hundred that cared at all? You could discuss it with that donor. You might negotiate, have a conversation, find other ways around it to recognize them. But I wonder if anybody else wants to try not having any naming opportunities for your campaign. We would love to see a case study.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now, let me be quick to say that this organization does a first rate job of making their donors feel terrific. So they’re not just going to ignore these people, right? This is not, should we recognize donors or should we not? This is, do we want to recognize donors by putting their names on the walls of the main spaces that are going to be used by the community we serve? That’s the question, not should they put into place other practices to make their donors feel appreciated. And of course they should and will do that.

Amy Eisenstein:
And in fact, they’re excellent at doing it.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. That’s right.

Amy Eisenstein:
And so it’s substituting big, huge public recognition for more personal, authentic, genuine recognition. And so it may take some donors some time to get used to, but I think that they would adjust nicely. So let us know if you…

Andrea Kihlstedt:
They’re actually debating what to do now, but one of the things that they’re considering doing is having a big display in their main lobby where every donor who had given at every level is listed either alphabetically or in the order in which the gifts come in, so that they can just keep them going. But they’re not listed by big gifts to small gifts. They’re listed in some other way that is more equitable, that appreciates the… Sometimes a gift of $500 is a far more meaningful gift than a gift of a million dollars, because the person who gives $500 can ill afford to do it, is debating between buying their kids some new shoes or clothing for the school year and making a contribution. So the question is, is the dollar amount really what we’re after, or is the meaningfulness of the gift what we want to appreciate? That’s something to think about.

Amy Eisenstein:
You’ve all worked with donors who want to remain anonymous, so they might feel ecstatic that they wouldn’t be called out or pointed to in a way that shares what level they gave. That might actually help relieve some of the anxiety of some of your donors. Nancy’s pointing out… She said she just saw an annual report with all the donors simply noted in alphabetical order. I love that for the capital campaign. I like the idea of having a donor thank you wall with no donor designation. That would be inspiring, so yeah. All right, so-

Additional Types of Donor Recognition

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Lynn is asking, “What other donor recognition do they do?” And this organization recognizes donors all the time. They invite them to things. They call them up to thank them for their gifts. They ask them for help with various things. They have students go in front of their house to play a little concert of something special. They do things that are very personal and small, what seems small, but is meaningful. And they’re just very good at keeping that top of mind, and that’s incredibly effective. I mean, they also send out standard thank you letters. They send out very creative thank you letters. They personalize thank you letters in meaningful ways. All little things, but I tell you, if you do it well, it adds up. It really does.

Amy Eisenstein:
So I just want to invite participants once again to submit their questions in the Q and A box. I have to say, what happens to us all the time is that in the last 15 minutes of the call, we get a ton of questions and we don’t get to them. So if you’re sitting there thinking, “Maybe I should submit a question, maybe I shouldn’t submit a question,” do it, and then we will have time to get to your question today. All right, Renata is asking, “What are your thoughts on creating a transition fund? Our board wants to launch a campaign to help offset the expenses associated with leadership transition, executive director transition. I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about the strategy.”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, that’s interesting. That’s complicated. You guys are asking complicated questions today.

Amy Eisenstein:
Well, listen. To me, every organization needs a succession plan, right? I mean, and you’re getting to, a transition fund perhaps is part of the succession plan, because in a succession plan, you would know what would happen and who would take charge immediately in the event that your executive director or CEO didn’t come to work tomorrow for whatever reason, right? It’s about knowing immediately who’s going to be in charge. It’s about having a job description prepared and a committee prepared to do a search for a replacement.

And that costs money. So as part of a succession plan, having a little fund set aside, whether you’re paying a head hunter or recruiting fees or to advertise, I mean, I think it’s fine. I’m not sure that it costs in the scheme of your organization, but having a sense of what you would pay to help with a transition and recruitment is a smart strategy, whether it’s imminent or not. I don’t know if it’s worthy of a campaign in and of itself, but maybe you want to be more specific. And anybody else who’s thinking about this, feel free to chat in.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. What is it that’s sort of disheartening about a transition fund? I’m trying to think about why that doesn’t strike me right. It’s funny. I mean, capacity building or funding the first step towards the future sounds better than a transition fund. Transition fund, that phrase… And you may not choose to use that phrase, but the idea of a fund makes it feel like the organization is kind of lost, is sort of not here and not there. And that’s a hard time to ask for money, unless you ask for money from some of your closest donors.

You may have two or three board members who realize that that’s going to cost money to manage this transition. And you may go to them and say, “We need so and so much money over and above what we budgeted to handle these. We are going to a very small number of people to raise that money. Would you be among them?” So that’s one way to do it. It’s not a campaign. I wouldn’t go broad with a campaign like that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t raise money for it.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. And Floyd’s suggesting that it’s just part of your annual operating budget that you… And I think that’s probably right. So I mean, the only thing I can think of is, maybe you have a founding executive director or an executive director who’s getting ready to retire in the next year or two, and you raise some gifts in their honor because they’ve been with you for 10 years or 20 years or whatever it is, and that goes to help with a smooth transition. You could call it a smooth transition, a planned type of transition. All right, let’s see. And Barbara’s suggesting a capacity building grant. So there are some. They’re not so easy to come by, necessarily, but if you know of any, Barbara, I’m sure people would be delighted to hear about these capacity building grants. I think they’re few and far between. I wish they were more readily available.

Our Views on Fundraising Events

Andrea Kihlstedt:
All right. Wendy in the chat box… And do try to keep your questions in the Q and A. But she’s asking about fundraising events. “What are our views about fundraising events, particularly ones where the organization has done the same thing year over year for 18 years? Makes my eyes glaze over just to read about it. Funds raised have declined for the past five years. How do you move the committee to new ideas to support a capital campaign?” So I think there are at least two parts of that question, right? The first is, what do we think about fundraising events? And the second is, how do you inspire your committee to think differently? Those are related, but different questions. So Amy, what do you think about events?

Amy Eisenstein:
Okay, let’s start with the idea, or not the idea, but the fact that events are the most expensive and most labor intensive type of fundraising that your organization can undertake. So if you go in with the premise that they’re the most expensive and most labor intensive, you really want to take a close look at the events that you’re doing and determine which ones make sense and which ones don’t. In Wendy’s example here, she says that, “The funds raised at these events have declined for the past five years in a row.” That is a screaming red flag message, saying, “Wait a minute. Surrender this event. It is not working anymore, that they’ve done for 18 years.” So on the one hand, you say for events, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? If you have a successful event and it’s raising lots of money, sure, you can continue to have it.

But once you see that it’s declined in its fundraising results for five years in a row, it is time to surrender. I had an organization email me the other day, and they said, “How do we determine how many events to have and how much effort to put into our fundraising events? This year because of COVID, we didn’t have any of our fundraising events, and our annual fund did better than ever.” Well, then why would you go back to events if you can be successful raising money in other ways? But clearly to me, if you look at your fundraising revenue, gross and net, really, what are you netting at the end of the day? And the effort and the volunteer time and the staff time and the energy that it takes to put them on, could you be focused your energies on some other type of fundraising to do even better? Go ahead.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Amy.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yes.

Making Your Top Donors Happy

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I want to shift. I want to pivot back to our original question, and I want to see if I can do it with a little bit of panache. The second part of that question was, how do you get a committee to change its mind to look at other things? And the question we began by talking about is, how do you make your top 30 or 40 donors happy? Now, I wonder if you might kind of pivot those things together, because one of the ways to get your committee thinking differently is to get your committee to figure out what’s going on in the minds of their top 30 or 40 donors. Your committee will pay attention to what your top 30 or 40 donors are thinking.

So it’s interesting to think about whether there’s not a way that you can go to your top donors and say, “Listen, we’re thinking about changing gears this next year. We’d like you to come in for a focus group and tell us what happens to you that makes you feel best about the giving you do and how you feel about events.” Now, that’s actually not a bad idea on the fly, right? Among other things, it gives you an opportunity to pull together some of your top donors and ask for their opinions, and to do it in a way that is likely to get the attention of your committee members, who they’re just doing the same old event because no one’s inspiring them or giving them the courage to do something else.

And it may be that some of your top donors would come up with ideas that they would then be willing to help with, that would be much more exciting and interesting for your committee. So that was a turn back to this question of happiness. What is your favorite thing, Amy, that an organization might do to make sure that they stand out in the minds of their donors? Let’s see if we can brainstorm some ideas.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think that’s a good idea. So I think going to your top 20 donors individually and saying, “Listen, we’re really working hard to make sure that we stand out in the minds of our donors. What would make us stand out? Or in your experience, have you ever had a charity surprise and delight you? Or what’s the way that you like to be thanked most? How should we think about acknowledging our donors?” So you don’t have to ask them, how do they personally want to be acknowledged, but just say, “In your mind, what stands out? What would make us really an exceptional thanker, steward, follow up, follower upper? What would make us be really creative?” So go to your donors, and that’s actually another engagement tool. They will be delighted to give you feedback and their thoughts on those things.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
A lot of people who have experience in fundraising, and many significant donors do, have a well justified belief that they actually know a little bit about fundraising. So if you ask them a question that actually is in their wheelhouse, a question that they actually are likely to know something about, it will both make them feel good, and you’re likely to get some good advice. And they would remember you. You would stand out, because it wouldn’t just be a mass appeal, a mass sending something en masse to people.

Amy Eisenstein:
And you can tell them, “Listen, we’re asking 10 of our favorite donors, our favorite volunteers, for their feedback, and we’re going to come back and jumble it all together. That way you don’t have to take any one specific idea.” If they say something that’s off the wall or outrageous, say, “Listen, I’m coming to you and 10 other people I really value your opinions, so that we can make a really amazing stewardship plan. What are your ideas? I want to make sure that they’re in the mix.” All right.

Nix the Hand-Written Thank-You Notes?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah, particularly, let’s say you make a list of 20 or 30 people right now. This is what? December 13th. You have from now until the end of the year to get to your top 20 donors. What are the kinds of things you might do? Well, let me just knock off some really simple ones. If you have an executive director or a board chair who is well loved in the community, you can say, “Would you please either send an email or give a call to these five people and just tell them how much you appreciate the fact that they have supported your organization all these years?” I mean, that simple, right? That simple. And everyone loves handwritten notes. Amy, you and I have been back and forth about this.

I am not a fan of handwritten notes. I may be the only fundraiser in the world who is not a fan of handwritten notes. But why not? So here’s why not. I’m a big fan of email or text, because it’s so easy for someone to respond. Handwritten notes, they just sit on your desk. You’re not about to take out a piece of paper and an envelope and then find a stamp. It’s dead. It gets to someone’s desk. They may like it. And what do they do with it? They toss it in the trash. If you email someone a really well-crafted little email about something that you’ve noticed about them, believe me, they’re likely to respond to you.

And once they’ve responded to you, they will have stood out to you and you will have stood out to them. So I encourage you all to think about communicating with your donors in ways that makes it easy for them to respond. And whether something is a handwritten note or not, what do I care if you have good handwriting? Honest to goodness, it just makes me feel bad about my own handwriting. And I could imagine somebody sitting there, thinking, “Oh, what am I going to write now?”

Amy Eisenstein:
You know what? It’s interesting that you say that, Andrea. Last week, I got the most specific personal email from somebody pointing out to me the last three or five times that we had gotten together, and where we were and when we met, and it wouldn’t have been any better if it was a handwritten note. The fact that it was an email, I could respond right away and say, “Oh my gosh, this email made my month.” It was the most specific, the most personal. There was no way he had copied and pasted that to any other person, because it was all about me. And I knew that he was thinking about me through that whole email.

It didn’t have to be long. It was short. It was specific, but it was concrete and tangible. He said, “I want you to know that I’m thinking of you today because of these five interactions we’ve had.” And I printed it out. It’s going up on my bulletin board. But I could also respond to him immediately. All right, a few more questions here. Olga. “I think that what we just talked about, you said you’re in the midst of the year-end campaign and some of your big and mid-level donors haven’t donated yet. Do we remind them?” So without reminding them, reach out and say, “Listen, we’re a little survey of how our donors like to be thanked best, and I’d really love to get your input.”

So you don’t have to ask them for their gift. You’ve already reminded them that they didn’t give yet this year. So what can you do to interact with them just to remind them that you’re there? And Andrea, someone in the comments is saying, “I think handwritten notes work better for older donors.: Andrea, you heard it here. Andrea is in that category, and she just said she likes emails and texts better, so don’t get stuck in the mindset that older people only want handwritten notes.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
My husband really is 80, and he’s happy for an email. He’s good at the computer. So don’t assume that us old folks are stuck in the mud and only like… Now, some people do. It is true. But some younger people do, too. But be careful before you categorize 80 as old these days.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. All right. Okay. All right, so listen. Okay, so Laura says that, “It depends. My mother would hate that form of acknowledgement.” You know what? So you have to know your donor. That’s right. And we’re talking about the top 20 donors. We’re not talking about hundreds and hundreds of donors. So reach out and ask them, “How do you like to communicate? How do you like to be communicated with?” And-

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Amy, see, this goes back to this whole question of looking and seeing and noticing. None of this works if you don’t notice, if you don’t notice that a particular donor is traditional and likes perfume, that you get perfumed letterhead stationary from her. Well, that tells you something. If a donor sends you a handwritten note with a gift, then chances are they’re going to want something similar. But you have to notice it. The key to all of this stuff is really getting good at noticing.

Amy Eisenstein:
And asking. And asking.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And asking. Asking, yes. Exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
You don’t have to be a mind reader. You don’t. You don’t have to be a mind reader. You can take the time to ask people. Say, “Listen. What’s the best way you’ve ever been thanked in person or by a charity? How do you think we should thank our donors that would be super meaningful?” And whatever they say, that’s how they want to be thanked. You don’t have to ask them, “How do you specifically want to be thanked?” All right. Let’s see. Okay. Lynn’s saying, “We try and rethink events, especially since our board members no longer live in the same state. How would a smaller organization might run a gala in the pandemic, re-excite our contributors when we’re not centrally located?” You know what? So maybe a gala doesn’t make sense for your organization if your donors are scattered all over the country.

I think we’ve seen so many creative, innovative virtual events emerge in the last two years, so I think it’s going to be really hard for a small organization with donors scattered all over the country and the world to think about a gala. So what’s an online, creative, authentic, different… Put together your biggest donors and ask them to brainstorm, and come up with something that will work at your organization. All right, somebody’s asking where they can get the recordings of these Toolkit Talks, and that is on your favorite podcasting app.

The podcast is called All About Capital Campaigns, and the recording of these live Monday sessions are shared every single week, a day or two after we record them, on any of your favorite podcasting apps, called All About Capital Campaigns. And if you’re listening to the podcast right now and you want to join the live conversation, go to ToolkitTalks.com, and you will be able to sign up for the live Monday conversations. All right, we have time for one or two more questions, Andrea, and then we’re going to ask for some things in the chat that people are doing to be good to themselves this holiday season.

Is Displaying Major Donors’ Names on Plaques Antiquated?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
We have a question about whether displaying plaques for major donors in the lobby, for example, is antiquated or not. And I don’t think it’s antiquated, but I think it is coming into question. So just pay attention to whether it still fits for your organization. It certainly is not something that we’re saying, “Ew, you shouldn’t do that anymore,” and that’s not the case. But people are beginning to talk about who should be recognized and what people should be recognized for, and if people should only be recognized for their money as opposed to other things they might be contributing. So it’s a lively conversation. Those of you who were with us last week and heard [inaudible 00:46:56], we began a little of that conversation. But if people are happy with that practice in your organization and you want to continue it, then by all means. There’s nothing wrong with doing it. It’s just a lively conversation to be having now, which I like.

Amy Eisenstein:
I think at the Toolkit, we want to be as innovative and creative and forward-thinking and equitable and thoughtful as we can with our donors and our clients, and so we’re always looking for new, better ways to help organizations raise money and connect with their donors and be successful at whatever project they’re working on. And so that’s part of the point of these Toolkit Talks. It’s not doing the things the same old, same old way, but it is brainstorming and challenging the status quo. And one of those things might be donor plaques and names on buildings.

We want you to think outside the box, as long as you’re doing so in a thoughtful and strategic way. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water, for sure. There are best practices and things that work in capital campaigns, and we’re going to be sticking with those practices. But there’s other things that have been done for a long time, like consultants interviewing donors in feasibility studies, and we have come up with a better way. We think organizational leaders should be interviewing your own donors during a feasibility study, and we’re going to teach you exactly how to do that, to coach you through it, to mentor you.

So where things aren’t working as well as they should be, we want to change it. Where things are working well, stick with it. But that’s what we’re exploring on these Toolkit Talks, and we’re so happy you’re here along for the ride with us. All right, Andrea, I’ll give you the last word as always, but I do want to invite people to chat in what you’re doing for the holidays. What are you doing to make yourselves happy at the end of the year? What else? What should we be looking for here at the end of our Toolkit Talk?

Final Thoughts

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Well, I think it’s hard to overrate happiness, things that make you happy. Going for a walk, or spending time with a friend, or having a lovely conversation with a daughter or a grandchild, or just appreciating what you have in the world that so many other people might not. I just think this is a good time to do that. Somehow, I think people’s hearts are a little warmer this time of year. They’re a little more open. And I think if we just think about that, pay attention to that, pay attention to the people around us, trying to be a little kinder and gentler, it makes us feel good to do that. So I guess I encourage you and me, Amy, and everybody else, everybody we work with, to pull out our kinder and gentler self and to remember that making people happy often doesn’t take a grand gesture. It takes noticing who people are and seeing the good in them, and letting them know that that’s what you see.

Amy Eisenstein:
And Ellen’s sharing, “Doing my best for today and making sure I remind myself that I am enough.”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes.

Amy Eisenstein:
“And a monthly massage.”

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And a monthly massage.

Amy Eisenstein:
I love that. And Wendy says, “Unplug from technology and have no plans.” That sounds heavenly. All right, let’s leave it on this final note. We are going to see you next week for our last Toolkit Talk of 2021, and then we will be back in the new year, and we cannot wait. So we’ll see you next week, and then we’re off for a week. All right, everybody. Thanks for joining us.

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