Letters or In-Person Solicitations

We only have so much time every day as development professionals, so we need to make sure our time is well used. When do you send out a letter, and when do you meet with someone in person? I’ve starting a full development process with every donor making sure they are adequately researched and that they are fully cultivated without any thought about ROI. This is not always necessary or cost effective. You will have some donors that want to and need to be cultivated in a grassroots and annual fund way.

If you have to raise $1 million a year you, can’t spend all of your time asking for $500 gifts in person. And on the other side, if someone regularly gives you $10,000, you should probably make sure you are meeting with them in person. In fact, if you have a donor that gives you $10,000 from a mail campaign – and you ask them for a specific gift in person – that individual’s gift size will increase. I find that can often be a hard line to draw; it is easy to get caught up in going through the motions of major gifts cultivation without think about the cost benefit.

What is your cut off for asking for a gift in person versus in a letter? Does your organization make regular practice of both ways of asking for money?

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9 Responses to Letters or In-Person Solicitations

  1. Dan says:

    I’m still very much a small time fundraiser, although I raise money for a larger foundation (the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation), so I’m not even close to looking for big targets really. I only have one or two large donations. In fact, I think most of my grass-roots folks get embarrassed because they don’t give the average of some $150 or so (rough guess) that my relatively few larger donors give.

    So I wonder if, when I think I’m missing some smaller donations because of this, I should make a personal in-person appeal for funds. Maybe that could help those donate who might only give a couple bucks, in the $25-$50 range?

  2. Jason Dick says:

    Dan how large is your donor database? If you only have a hundred or so regular givers then it might make sense to give them a phone call after their gift and tell them thank you. Those that give ask them if they would forward your appeal off to a few of their friends. I’m not sure that an in-person solicitation will be warranted for such a small gift. But it might be a great idea to bring some of these people together to help you build community interest and volunteer to ask their friends. Another tool you can do is ask those people that gave a $50 gift or your large donor that give $100 if they would consider a smaller gift but every month. That can be a great way to build your annual fund.

  3. Dan says:

    My donor base is definitely small. I don’t have the numbers with me at the moment, but we’re looking at probably less than 100 folks. I like the idea of contacting them, especially after they have donated, to thank them for it and maybe see if they would be interested in pushing that out to a second level. Thank you for the help!

  4. Christian says:

    Dan, I think that would be a great move. I tend to give a little to a lot of charities–$25 to $50 spread out, rather than “big chunk” donations. If I were approached by you, and told “hey, your $50 would go towards this” I would do it in a heartbeat.

    If you can show them that their $25 does matter, and that it’s not just lost in the shuffle, I bet you would get a lot more “smaller” donations. I think you’re right, people get a little embarassed that it’s not a $1,000 donation or they aren’t putting their name on a building, and they think they aren’t helping out. I think both you and Jason would tell them the opposite, that anything is a huge help!

    Cystic Fibrosis is a great cause, btw. I have a friend who has that and had a dobule lung transplant. I know she worked closely with the CF foundations.

    I took a look at your site, one suggestion I might offer up is a donation box right there–even better, a page specifically set up to “sell” the donation. Rather than losing it in the rest of the page, a specific page with a clear call to action and a way to donate right there would allow you to get donations from visitors on your blog and allow you to do email and snail mail blasts.

    I think the biggest benefit though would come by putting that page url on your business card (stridestocurefound.blogspot.com/donate for example). That way, when you are talking to people and they ask about helping or donating, you can follow up with them right there. “Great! Actually, here’s how you can help us right now! We’re trying to raise money for xxx, if you went to this page on our site when you get back to your computer, it would be a huge help.”

  5. Janice Chan says:

    Go CFF! This is a cause I support and have raised money for personally via the annual Great Strides walk. What you guys do is SO important. Keep up the good work, Dan!

    I think something important to keep in mind is what that donor is giving relative to the donor. There are obviously people who can write a check for $1,000 and not think twice about it. And then there are people who make room in their household budgets to donate $50 to XYZ cause every year and that’s all that they can afford right now, but it’s something very important to them and it’s the one organization they give to. Especially for CFF where I’m willing to bet most of your individual supporters have a personal connection. There are plenty of good and very important causes out there. I don’t support CFF b/c it’s a good cause. I support my friend who has cystic fibrosis by supporting the organization that drives most of the research for his treatment.

    Obviously there are a whole range of donors with a variety of motivations, but why the donor gives should definitely be considered when trying to figure out who to cultivate a little bit more.

  6. Dan says:

    You all are simply amazing! What a great blog that visitors help out so much! I will work on putting together a post about donating, and set up a link to our CFF team. Then I’ll keep it in our announcements. That’s a great idea.

    Christian, it’s ironic that you mention the business card idea because I’m having some made for a big Gala event that happens tomorrow. I’m so outclassed by everyone there, but I need to expand my fundraising, and if I can help the foundation in any way, I will do my best.

    Janice, I’m appreciative of how you bring out the fact that many of my donors have a connection to the organization. You’re quite right. I know just about every one of my donors personally. I guess that’s pretty much how it goes with smaller fundraising units.

  7. Amy Katuska says:

    All the comments in response to Dan have been very interesting for me to read, because I also have a small average donation. Granted, my organization, Doostane Farsi Zabane Man (a.k.a. My Persian-Speaking Friends), just started up very very recently (it’s less than 6 months old) and we’re not even a registered charity yet. I do wonder, however, if it would be better if I made more in-person visits. It doesn’t seem worth it at all to make a visit to someone who lives an hour or two away by car when they’re going to give you $25 or so, but, at the same time, my donor base is so small that it seems ludicrous not to add more personal touches. I’ve realized that, since my organization has audiences in multiple countries and scattered all over the U.S., the most personal thing I can do is write a thank you letter for every donation, no matter how small, and mail it to them within 48 hours. E-mail doesn’t do when thanking someone for their money and support, in my opinion, especially when my donor base is so small.

  8. Jason Dick says:

    Amy great comment. You should do a couple of phone calls and talk with your donors. If you feel like you want to do a bigger recognition thing, you could see if one of them might host a thank you party at their home and you could invite them and encourage them to bring a guest. Who knows you might even get a couple more donors out of that.

  9. Amy Katuska says:

    Jason- I had never even though of hosting a small donor party. Great idea! Thanks.

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