A key to boosting your organization's fund-raising strength: the human touch

NONPROFITS INC.

January 24, 1994|By LESTER A. PICKER

During the last few days of 1993, I received several calls in response to my column on year-end charitable gifts. Most of the callers buzzed with joy about unexpected year-end gifts, some in the six and seven figures and nearly all involving appreciated property.

Those gifts were in apparent response to the Clinton administration's recent tax-code changes that favor charitable gifts of such property for people affected by the Alternative Minimum Tax.

One of my favorite calls came from Helen London, executive director of Central Scholarship Bureau (CSB), a 70-year-old nonprofit organization that provides "last-resort" loan aid, financial planning, career counseling and guidance to students seeking higher education. Last year, I covered their successful $300,000 fund-raising campaign and the lessons it offered to the nonprofit community.

London recently received a very official letter on an attorney's stationery, asking for one of CSB's donor names to be removed from their list. At first, London was tempted to simply follow the directive. Instead, she called the woman directly, sincerely trying to determine what had prompted the removal request. Was it something that offended this steady contributor?

Apparently, the elderly woman, a modest donor to CSB, was simply overrun by requests for contributions from the multitude of organizations that fill all our mailboxes, especially at year's end. No, it had nothing to do with CSB. And, yes, the woman did believe in the work of CSB.

London uncovered the woman's fear that her name was being sold to other charities. After assuring her that CSB never does that, and that it would remove her name if she desired, the woman changed her mind. She asked London to send the traditional year-end appeal.

"We value every donor and care about each one," London said. Her pleasant telephone demeanor radiates that concern and obviously served her well in her conversation with her elderly patron. Four days before the end of the year, a check for several thousand dollars arrived from this same woman, some 30 times her previous highest contribution.

London and I agree that the incident reinforces well-established fund-raising and friend-raising principles. Given that your organization is credible and communicates its accomplishments to donors, what triggers gifts of this kind? Plainly and simply, it is the human touch, the personal interactions and relationships that involve benefactors in helping your clients directly through your good works. From this involvement comes the kind of commitment that boosts individual giving.

How will you interact with donors this year, adding that unexpected little extra human touch that says, 'We care about you'? A simple way is to set a weekly goal for a set number of calls to donors to just say hello, describe what their contributions are accomplishing and ask them how well they perceive your organization is doing its job. Then, sit back, pen in hand, and listen.

If the donor is impassioned about your work, if there is a history of increasing contributions, or if your call triggers a larger gift, call that person again, real soon. See if there are any ways you can involve that person in highly targeted, time-limited activities that enable them to contribute more than just money. Their advice, their call of support to a legislator or potential funder, or their feedback as a community member are all valuable and will increase interaction. Invariably, a larger financial commitment will follow, although that should clearly be a secondary goal.

Another incident that London offered reinforced traditional fund-raising wisdom, this time revolving around the maxim that people give when asked. Turns out that CSB made it a goal in 1993 to send a year-end appeal for the first time to former recipients of its services. The potential pool of more than 4,000 people yielded a smaller, but solid group with accurate addresses.

Again, with only a few days left to the calendar year, in came a check for $25, with this note attached: "A belated thanks for your help in 1937."

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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