Donor relations at Childcare Resources were limited when Pam King started her job there as the new Executive Director. "Letters were sent to the entire mailing list. We had no software, so we weren't able to personalize them or target them to sections of our donor base. We sent out 7,000 letters, all the same. Many donors were sporadic givers, giving once every few years, but there was no way to track giving history so it was hard to follow-up in an effective way. We were doing well considering these limitations, but I knew from a previous job how much help donor management software could be." Childcare Resources helps lower-income children receive high quality childcare.
King decided on two things to change the poor handling of their donor base-- start a membership program to turn sporadic donors into regular donors and begin using FundRaiser to refine the organization's donor management.
Now, when someone donates, they automatically become a member, with the exception of a few gifts that are clearly intended as one-time donations.
"We decided to start calling them members to identify our dependable donors, those that give to us on a regular basis," says King. "We let them know how much we needed them year-in and year-out. Membership makes people feel they are part of the team." It has worked. "It helped us to find out who's in and who's out. Not that there's not some change from year to year, but it gives us some dollar amounts that I can count on from year to year."
With FundRaiser also now in place, King is able to see her donor's giving history. "Now I can tell who gives every year and I am starting to see who our real donors are and that is critical."
Members are primarily offered the benefit of helping with the important mission of Childcare Resources. "I tell donors that, 'the benefit you get is the really good feeling of knowing that you improved the life of a child'," says King. "We do have one event a year, with tickets that costs $50, and members can come to that free. We've also started inviting them to our annual meeting. In fact we changed the bylaws, so we have to invite them. A few come and then I know that those are the ones with a burning interest. It helps me identify them."
Childcare Resources solicits membership with a card that is included in mailings and the newsletter. Although all donors automatically become members, "when they complete that card it is a clear indication of donor intent. It indicates a level of interest in the organization that might go beyond a one-shot donation," says King.
For renewals, King sends out two letters. "If they are due for renewal in May, I send out a letter on April 20. On June 5, I send out a second letter." She reports to the board on all lapsed members. "I produce a list and share it with them. That way, if they know someone on the list,they try and encourage them to rejoin. Sometimes I give a lapsed donor a call just to see why they didn't renew, but we don't push it hard. We're not a pushy organization."
For renewals that occur throughout the year, special membership management features in your software are important. In FundRaiser, joining, expiration dates, and renewal letters are all handled with the membership management module of FundRaiser, which King says, "is as smooth as silk."
An important focus of her work is encouraging members to increase their commitment. "We move people up the membership ladder by keeping them informed. We share a lot of success stories. Sometimes I'll just send a letter saying, 'Here's some good stuff going on and I want to make sure that you know.' We also have a lot of seasonal members, retirees who come down to this area for the winter. When they are gone, they don't see the local newspaper. Recently, that paper had an article about us. I made a photocopy and sent it to our top donors. I want to make sure they have a chance to see what is going on. We are starting to see that it is paying off. More members are moving up the ladder, seeing that Childcare Resources is a good place to put their money."
Something else that has worked well for Childcare Resources is smaller targeted personal mailings. "Recently, one of our board members wrote a letter herself and sent it out to 60 of her closest friends. We had a very high response rate on that, and some started at a higher level of membership. Even among the ones that did not, everyone has the capacity to move up the ladder."
To continue with the personal touch she is also starting to use house parties. "Wealthy people get so much mail every week asking for money, so you have to be special. We also have events to help get members more involved. We just had a thank you event, put on by one of our donors. She invited her friends who were also donors. We didn't ask for more money, but I'd be surprised if we didn't receive more donations as a result. I'm starting to think that the way to go is to have house parties."
When reporting to the board, FundRaiser helps King have the statistics at her fingertips that she needs. "I give the board a list of new and renewed members since the last board meeting. If one of our board members was particularly helpful in getting that new member, for instance if they wrote a note on the letter, I include that. The recognition is important. I also give figures comparing the number of people at a certain membership level this year and last year, which helps the board feel that we're making progress. In addition, I let them know of significant changes in membership level, for instance, if someone goes from $1000 to $5000 I want them to know that."
Increasing loyalty takes time. King emphasizes the overall importance of donor retention, one of the primary reasons to have a membership program, and how good quality donor management software can help with this.
"Retention starts the first day. You have to work to keep every donor. Getting a donor is one thing, but keeping them is what's important. You can solicit all day everyday but it is much better to keep them, and move them up the ladder. The stewardship end of it is most important.
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