A gift from a new donor should be the first step in a long and fruitful relationship. Once someone shows support for your work by making a donation, it's up to you to keep that supporter engaged year after year. If you can do that, you can turn one-time gifts into regular, predictable sources of income and, if the potential is there, turn modest gifts into major gifts.
Here are tips to help you establish and maintain good donor relationships and encourage regular donations.
Make your donors proud. Consistently doing good work, telling your supporters they make it possible, and giving them bragging rights by telling your story far and wide will do a lot to encourage their generosity.
Ask for support on a regular basis. Some donors like to make one gift a year. Others like to make several smaller gifts. It's important to be there with a compelling appeal whenever the urge strikes. The right "ask" at the right time just may turn that one-time donor into one who gives more often. Many organizations send four or more appeals a year.
Make your appeals appealing. A good appeal grabs the attention of the reader immediately and, in a few well chosen words, supported by quality art, gives the donor a compelling reason to give.
Make your "ask" specific: State the need, how the need can be met, and impact of meeting the need.
Use a positive and upbeat tone.
Clearly state that the recipients' support will make a significant difference. Identify specific needs that donations will address, such as medical care, spay/neuter surgeries, or support programs to keep animals in homes.
Note: This is different from creating a special fund for a specific need such as medical care. For small organizations, it's usually better to focus on general appeals so that funds raised go to general operations and can, if necessary, be used for other purposes. If you create a special fund, use of any money raised is restricted to that purpose.
Many supporters prefer special giving programs, such as cage or kennel sponsorships. These sponsorships, promoted through your newsletter and website, support general operations but give donors the chance to feel closer to the animals they are helping.
Cage or kennel sponsors make a specified monthly or yearly gift. In response, they receive regular mailings that include pictures of animals in the shelter along with their stories.
Sponsors may also have their names placed on a cage or kennel for a specified length of time or their names may be listed on a display board in the lobby (or in your newsletter, if you have the space).
Avoid programs that restrict the funds you receive. For example, sponsoring individual animals requires that the funds received are used only for the designated animals. You want the flexibility to decide how donated funds are applied to your operations.
Tributes and Special-Occasion Giving
Provide tribute opportunities. Supporters welcome the chance to honor or memorialize pets and people publicly through gifts to your organization.
Have cards printed to send to those who have been honored and to the families of those memorialized. Send them cards when you send the thank-you to the donor.
List the names of all those honored/memorialized as well as all those making honor/memorial gifts on your website. This encourages others to follow suit.
In addition to an ongoing honor/memorial program, you can encourage donors to give additional tribute gifts at special events, such as a candle light vigil or a holiday tree "Lights of Love" campaign.
Encourage gifts to recognize special occasions. Raising funds for charity is part of the bar mitzvah/bat mitzvah tradition. It's also becoming more and more common for parents to encourage their children to request charitable gifts rather than raking in the birthday loot.
Listing these donations in your newsletter and on your website will encourage more of the same.
Include a story in your newsletter about a young person who generates significant donations for the animals and send out a press release. This not only gets the young donor some wider recognition and reinforces the very important message the child's parents are trying to convey, it could create a lifetime supporter of animal welfare.
Monthly Giving Programs
Monthly giving programs using credit cards are an excellent way to establish a steady cash flow.
Donors agree to a specific monthly donation charged to their credit card. Typically, giving continues indefinitely unless the donor requests to stop the payments.
For donors, the automatic payments are very convenient. Also, a donor who might hesitate to write a $350 check each year may be quite comfortable donating $30 a month via credit card.
Even if the individual donations are modest, they add up over time. And if you have lots of monthly donors, they add up very quickly.
You can encourage your donors to give more by creating gift clubs of donors whose contributions are at or above certain dollar amounts.
Use your existing concentration of donations to determine the levels of your gift clubs. The idea is to push donors to the next level.
Creating a $1,000 Leadership Club is an excellent way to identify those donors with potential to make major gifts.
It's not unusual to start with fairly low-level clubs and add more at the upper levels, such as $2,500, $5,000 or even $10,000 as your fundraising becomes more successful.
Include the gift club levels on the return card sent with your appeals. Be sure to include the club levels on the donations page of your website, too.
Many organizations provide incentives — the higher the gift level, the greater the incentive. An incentive (as in, "incentive to give") is a gift, service, discount, etc. awarded to those who contribute at or above a specific dollar amount. For example, a modest gift of a silver paw pin or a window decal with your logo not only encourages donors to give but also involves them in spreading the word about your organization.
Before you invest in incentives, however, be aware that in recent years, donors have become less interested in receiving gifts. More donors are interested in knowing the specific impact of their gift: number of animals neutered, vaccinated, adopted, etc. They want to know that as much of their donation as possible goes toward your programs. To satisfy this interest while acknowledging donors' generosity, many organizations bring their Leadership Club donors closer to the organization with a special recognition event that enables them to socialize around the mission and gives them some inside information about the agency's work.
Make It Easy to Give
Your donors should be able to give in ways that are most convenient for them.
Be sure to include a return envelope with every appeal, along with an option to pay by credit card.
Donors will often give more if they can put their gifts on a credit card. You can make it even easier by establishing a monthly giving option.
Include an easily accessible Donate Now section on your website with clear instructions for making gifts.
Say Thank You
Acknowledge every single gift. The IRS requires you to acknowledge all gifts over $250 with a receipt or letter stating clearly that no goods or services were received by the donor. It's true that you can save postage by not sending thank you notes for smaller gifts, but that might be a short-sighted policy. People like to be thanked and it's just plain good manners.
In addition, you have no way of knowing for sure which donors of small gifts are capable of much, much more. So, unless a donor has specifically told you he or she doesn't want to be thanked, send that thank you letter. Use it as an opportunity to make the donor feel so good about the gift that he or she will want to give again and again.
If requested, do not publish donor names. Some donors prefer that you not include their names in annual reports, websites, newsletters, etc. Always respect this preference, or you will certainly lose the donor.
A "Wow!" gift deserves a "Wow!" phone call. When you open an envelope to an unexpected or larger-than-expected donation that makes you say "Wow!", drop everything and pick up the phone. You may leave a voice message, but nothing makes a donor feel better than knowing she has made your day by providing significant support for work you both believe in.
Remember, people give to people. By making a phone call (e-mail messages don't have the same effect), you've personalized your relationship with the donor. That will go a long way to encourage that donor to give again.
Hold a thank-a-thon. Annual thank-a-thons, in which you call donors to thank them for giving, are a great way to let donors know how much you appreciate their support and that you are not always just looking for their next gift. Thank-a-thons are a good project for the board and other leadership volunteers.
Tip: Board members and leadership volunteers are also the perfect people to send those handwritten thank-you notes each month.