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Donna Caputo
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I'm Not Your Member


The following is a true story.

Last fall, I made a gift in memory of a friend’s mother. My friend and her family requested gifts to one of two charities in lieu of flowers. I picked one and went to the organization’s website to make my gift.

The website would only accept a membership payment. The site offered a form you could print and mail in that included places to specify the memorial information and notification name and address. I printed the form, wrote out a check, and mailed off my gift in December.

On February 4th I received a thank-you letter from the organization. The letter was dated January 24th and referred to the “membership payment” I made on December 31st. Apparently I am now a member of this organization, which is halfway across the country from my home, whose benefits I did not request and cannot use. The acknowledgement envelope contained four pieces: reply envelope, information about planned giving, a letter/receipt, and a reply form requesting another gift.

So why am I not sending another gift?

This organization doesn’t know or care who I am.

  1. The thank-you letter does not mention the memorial gift. It is a generic membership thank-you including the text “It is members like you who provide us with the funds necessary to continue our mission of … ” and I can’t go on or I might identify the organization. I fear that the organization never notified my friend and her family of my gift.
  2. The reply form provides me the opportunity to make another gift, but it warns me that “This is a special appeal. Your gift will not renew your membership.” I’m not a member, I did not ask to become a member, and I certainly don’t want to renew my nonexistent membership.
  3. The reply form contains my member number. Good grief.
  4. And by the way, why did it take a month and a half to send an acknowledgement for my gift?

This organization is doing so many things wrong I almost don’t know where to start.

This organization is doing so many things wrong I almost don’t know where to start. Here’s how you can prevent one of your donors from feeling like me:

  1. Collect information during the giving process that will allow you to know who your donors are and why they gave to you. Use this information in your interactions.
  2. Don’t disregard important details. In my case the organization disregarded the fact that I gave a memorial gift and that I don’t live anywhere near their location.
  3. Treat your donors appropriately. Don’t treat a memorial donor like a member. Memorial and Tribute donors are typically much different from your regular donors and members. They give because of someone else, and it can be difficult to convert them into regular donors because they aren’t the ones with a connection to your organization.
  4. Don’t allow a generic process to get too generic and irritate your donors. Use the technology and tools available to you effectively. Automated processing is great, but it has to be smart and segmented enough to feel somewhat personal.

You might think all this sounds hard but it’s not. You gather information from your donors—make sure you capture it on your gift records. After you do, make sure to use it! Standard automated processing exists in every fundraising application in the marketplace. Blackbaud’s The Raiser’s Edge®, the most popular fundraising application around, has an entire module for managing mailings that includes acknowledgments, receipts, tribute letters, and specific membership communications. These standard tools allow a user to configure multiple letters based on conditions like type or size of gift, letter code, donor code (don’t want to send a generic thank you to a board member by mistake, right?) or just about any data you collect and record on a gift.