Don't Let Your Biggest Donors Slip Through The Cracks (Non-profit)

At the end of the year an influx of donor information can mean overwhelming amounts of correspondence and customer data, and it’s easy for some of it to slip through the cracks. How can you keep track of important donor info?

Don't Let Your Biggest Donors Slip Through The Cracks (Non-profit)

It’s no secret that end-of-year is the biggest, busiest time for non-profits. Having just come off fall event season, you’re still recovering as you go into #GivingTuesday and your end-of-year (EOY) campaigns. Combine that with the holidays and donor stewardship, and you’re probably feeling more like Grand Central Station than a non-profit.

Chances are, if you work for a non-profit, this isn’t the time of year when you get a lot of extra sleep or vacation time. Non-profits run notoriously lean, and rolling with the influx of activity as it hits during your EOY can be rough.

The biggest fear keeping executive directors up at night (besides, of course meeting the needs of their population), is losing track of your biggest donors and potential donors, or making a misstep and offending someone who helps your organization.

‘Tis the season when mistakes happen. This is when acknowledgement letters get forgotten, and divorced spouses get sent holiday greeting cards. This is the season when you’re planning your volunteer holiday party, and you inadvertently forget to invite a major contributor or leave their name off the program. Plans are changing, the weather’s changing, and people are cancelling left and right. do you keep up with it all? The stress is enough to leave most directors wishing they could hide under the covers and drown their sorrows in rum balls until after New Year’s. You need help--you need something that can manage these major donors, potential donors and keep up with the address changes, the contacts, the invitations, acknowledgements and holiday tidings. You need a CRM.

But what’s that? You thought CRM’s were only for the for-profit sector? They don’t really meet your needs, and who has time anyway, right? Wrong. You might think you can afford to lose track of donor data and make mistakes, but most non-profits hang by a tenuous thread. You have to keep track of your data.

Your donors are your bread and butter. They’re the very lifeblood of your organization. They keep you in the black (or at least not too far in the red) and help you serve your constituents who desperately need your help and attention. What’s more, they WANT to help you! Donors want to do charitable end of year giving. They want to attend your events and help your cause. If they’re returning donors it’s because they believe in your mission. You’ve touched their lives and they want to give back. You need to reach out to them, and keep in contact so they can keep giving.

This is how to help them do it.

1. Acknowledge Everything

If you receive a donation, small or large, acknowledge it immediately. Development staff and Executive Directors spend many nights awake, trying to come up with creative ways to acknowledge donors and to really make their stewardship stand out. While a creative approach is nice--prompt, sincere acknowledgement is vital.

Nothing is worse than having a donor have to contact you to request an acknowledgement letter. You could send them a singing telegram or a hand-calligraphed keepsake letter, and if so much time has elapsed they have to ask, they’re not going to feel appreciated or happy.

Make it your policy to acknowledge donations immediately with a letter--turn them around within a matter of days. Even if it’s a form letter and you feel it’s cold or impersonal. Send the letter, and then follow it up with the card, the book, the hand signed note from everyone in your office, or whatever beautiful tribute you’re waiting to put together. Don’t wait, because waiting might mean you lose track.

2. Update Contact Information

It may seem like a little thing, but every time a donor tells you their spouse passed away, they got divorced, they hyphenate their name, or they’d like the PhD in their title, take care of it immediately! Update it in your CRM, and make sure it’s changed going forward.

Look at it this way--they care enough to reach out to you and let you know, which means your correspondence reached them and they read it. It also means they feel close enough to you to express concern about the way their name is written. In turn, you should care about them enough to fix it. No one likes to be reminded of painful things--the death of a loved one or a separation--by a holiday card in the mail or when their donation is listed on your website.

You’re acknowledging them because you want them to feel special, and when you don’t pay attention to their name changes, address changes or other information, it does just the opposite.

3. Aim for Quarterly Touches

When reaching out to your donors, aim for quarterly touches, at least. You can solicit multiple times per year, but if they’ve given a gift within the last six months or so, tread lightly. Instead, make your touches opportunities to remind them of the amazing difference their gift has made. Share a heartwarming story or news about the impact of your organization. For major donors in particular, feel free to share an article that you think they might be interested in or an anecdote specific to their interests.

Keeping track of different little things that are important to your donors, especially if they’re very important to you. It may seem silly to remember a donor has pet dogs, celebrates Chanukah, or just reached her fourth cancer-free anniversary, but how special is it to the donor that your organization--THEIR organization, took the time to remember those little special things?

When it comes to major gifts, cultivate your donors with personal touches and really individualized and personalized acknowledgment. Track commonalities and particular areas of interest. If you intersperse a mailing about your annual campaign, and an invitation to your Annual Golf Classic with a personal note on their adoption anniversary, or photo about a child they helped, imagine the impact and results it will make over the course of a year.

Your goal should be to make your donor think of your organization as THEIR organization. This is how Legacy gifts and endowments come to fruition--a lifelong connection and love of your organization as well as acknowledgement, stewardship and appreciation. If a donor knows their dollars are truly making a difference, they will continue to give.

4. Keep Emotion in the Picture

Your donors stay with your organization and continue to give, because they love what you do. It’s important to them. Somehow, your organization has touched their life. Maybe they were once part of the population you serve. Maybe a loved one was helped by your organization. Maybe they’re friends with Board Members, or live in the neighborhood and can see the ripple effect of what you’re doing.

Learn your donor’s story. Why are you important to them? Why do they support you, out of the thousands of organizations they could support? Find out what makes them connect to you.

How do you do this? By picking up the phone, and making contact with these donors. Get them to meet you for coffee, or ask them to come in and see their dollars at work. When you have an event, ask if you can interview them and share their story in your program, or honor them for their gift with a mention at your tribute dinner. When they share their story, others will relate, understand and connect.

Managing the information, your donor stories and impact of your organization can seem like a tall order, especially when you’re also managing volunteers, your target population, employees, and a Board of Directors. Still, without your donors you couldn’t do the life-changing work of your organization. They are the backbone of your non-profit. Don’t let them slip through the cracks.

Image via Shutterstock

About the Author

Jennifer Huber

Jennifer Huber is the Development and Community Relations Director for Milwaukee’s Hillel Academy. She also works as a writer, contributor and consultant for several companies, including Broydrick & Associates, lobbying and public relations firm. She holds a BA in Community Leadership and Non-Profit Management from Alverno College. Follow her on her personal blog:, or at connect on LinkedIn.

Full Biography