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Turning $1,000 into $10,000 With a Personal Message

In a world where it seems like our whole lives are online, a personal touch can make all the difference. After a simple “Happy Birthday” message to a donor led to an increase in his annual contribution, Bonnie Sawyer realized how impactful those small details can be.

But that doesn’t mean she shies away from using the internet. Through her work at Herren Project, an organization dedicated to the treatment, recovery, and prevention of addiction, she relies heavily on social media but all with adding a personal touch. Tune in to this episode of Accidental Fundraiser to hear how she crafts posts to match her audiences.

Bringing your board into fundraising can change the game for a campaign. If you want to learn how to get these crucial stakeholders more actively involved, check out this true story about the difference your board can make at year-end as well as well as our webinar on financial best practices for managing your board.

Key Takeaways:

  • Cultivate meaningful relationships with donors & board members
  • Donor retention is key for nonprofit success
  • Don’t be afraid to overshare to build connections

Episode 5 Transcript

Bonnie: We have this unique thing happening where our need for services was going up. And then we have. Our fundraising going down or the means to fundraise going down

Kimberly: seems like a bit of a nightmare. Doesn’t it? I’m Kimberly O’Donnell. And this is Accidental Fundraiser, a show from Network for Good. That shares radically authentic stories from the trenches.

The Herren Project is a national nonprofit organization providing free resources and support for the treatment recovery and prevention of substance use disorder.

Their mission is to support, inspire, and empower those who have been affected by the disease of addiction. In the wake of the pandemic, they saw the need for services increased 250. Yes, 200% yet their ability to fundraise was diminishing relied on in-person peer to peer events, such as races Bonnie Sawyer, Executive Director of Herren Project, is a marketer by nature. She graduated with a marketing degree and her heart for giving back, always drew her to the nonprofit world. And with that comes funding.

She joins this episode to share the impact of the personal connection, no matter the size of your network and her advice for those just starting out in the fundraising world, let’s start there and be sure to pay attention, to hear her tips when taking on an unexpected leadership role,

Bonnie: biggest piece was.

You know, cultivating the donors, making them feel appreciated and showing them the impact that their donation. Making and whether it be a $5 donation or a $50,000 donation, everybody wants to feel good about the gift that they’ve made and to know that they made a difference. And I think that was something early on that.

Repeated over and over whether it’s sitting down having coffee, you know, sometimes we get so busy in a development office. And I know for me, when I first started, I was a one-person development office and there’s so many facets to a successful fundraising plan. And I think it’s easy to let the stewardship and that cultivation go to the wayside.

And that’s something that I’ve really tried to make. Probably the most important piece of, uh, my fundraising strategy, you know, every single year. And I’ll tell you a story When I first came on, I was just given this database of people and I was like, oh no, you know, like, what am I going to do?

I mean, at the time it was probably almost 20,000 people. Didn’t no one knew really anything about it. And over time, I was able to really learn about who these people were. And there was a man who kept giving a thousand dollars to Herren Project. And one day you reminded me, oh, it’s his birthday today? I had no idea.

So I went on, I did the video, I said, happy birthday. And first off he sent me a note immediately and was like floored. He said, that was so nice to receive. And he was so grateful. One year later that thousand dollar donation was tempered. And I do think that it had to do with that personal connection. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.

We want to know that the place that we’re giving and trusting with our donations and our financial means really is with you and on board and on that journey together. And you know, that together, you’re actually making a difference. So that’s something that he, you know, my mentor did definitely plant a seed in me a long time ago.

And. It’s just something that I carry with me to this day.

Kimberly: So you focus on the potential that lies within each donor and how they’re there are personal touches that we can do throughout the year, throughout the experience to really have that meaningful connection with them. And it doesn’t matter if you have a small database or a big one, you can find ways to be able to do that and celebrate those donors.

What other things would you recommend to small organizations that are, are easy and quick things that can make a difference. From a fundraising standpoint,

Bonnie: I try to do all the things that. I forgetting about these days, you know, everybody’s emailing and doing video, doing this, doing that, but how often do you get a handwritten note that just says, dear so-and-so thank you for being a donor for X amount of years.

And you know, that kind of thing. The other thing that we do that I think really makes it big difference even for like your major donors is, you know, we do like reports like an infographic and really outline. You gave this much money to Herren Project this year, or, you know, whatever organization. And this is the breakdown of how we used that money.

I mean, I think transparency and communication is key from that’s how we operate here.

So I think little touches like that, the notes, the videos are big, any type of personal connection. We have a monthly giving program. So we keep track of, you know, the donor versary and we send a little something that just says, you know, happy donor versary, thank you for, allowing us to sustain our mission because those are very important donors.

It all comes down to the connection. I mean, these things take just a couple of minutes to do, and it’s not always about asking for money either. I think that just saying I see you, you’re important to. Especially, I think sometimes too people fail. They forget about the people that are making the $5 donation, the $25 donation, the $50 donation.

I mean, when I said that Herren Project has 30,000 donors, that’s our donor base. I mean, our donors are $25 donors, $100 donors. I mean, they are so important and vital to what we do. So I just want to celebrate them every chance I have.

Kimberly: The focus on celebration can be really powerful and uplifting, not just for the donor, who’s being appreciated, but also for the organization and the board.

What kind of things do you do with your board to motivate them to help with fundraising?

Bonnie: We meet every other month. So I always make sure that I share where we’re at, obviously with like our current fundraising goals and that communication and transparency of, we want to have, see 100% of the board giving.

I mean, obviously they all have different means, so I don’t expect you all need to give a certain amount of dollars, but you know, that you are given in supporting the mission. I do give at the end of the year, They’re giving history and like that snapshot of how they made a difference, because I think more than anything, they’re probably the donors that get forgotten more than anybody.

Cause you take for granted that they’re on your board and you’re meeting them all the time. And it’s funny because they can’t tell you how often I’ll get a phone call. Hey, can you tell me how much should I give this year? They, they don’t know. So I think communicating with them on other ways that they can share the mission and create more awareness.

To hopefully bring more donors to the table. throughout the year we have 12 different events And a lot of our board members do participate.

They joined one of the teams and they get out there and run, or like do a Spartan race with us. So it’s, it’s pretty exciting. We were lucky we have a very dedicated and committed.

Kimberly: You are lucky because I hear from a lot of organizations, my board, isn’t a fundraising board and bringing it into the boardroom and having those regular reports and making it very actionable here is what you can do.

These two or three things and you make it a routine. Every board meeting helps them understand where they may be able to help you because in some cases they just don’t know, they really care, but they don’t always know how they can help you. Bonnie, can you give us some tips to people who might feel a little more hesitant?

It’s not really in their nature to be, uh, you know, to get out there and fundraise. What kind of mindset can they step into as they prepare to ask for.

Bonnie: That’s a good question. I it’s funny too, because I’m actually a very introverted person. So I don’t like to ask for money. I don’t like to ask for anything.

So when years ago, when I first ended up in this development role, I was like, how am I ever going to do this? I was scared, but as I started to realize, the more that you can. Allow yourself to get in tune with the mission and your story, and really believing and knowing and seeing the impact. It just makes that job so much easier.

So no, the data, I think data is really important. Take the time. To understand your nonprofit story and the data and the people that you’ve helped. I find that helps me. It makes telling the story easy and I believe it, and I know it to be true. And when you have all the facts. And you’re not going out there, like making up a story, but you’re telling a real, genuine, authentic story of your nonprofit.

It just happens. It’s a, it’s a magic that happens. And before you know it, as you start to share, and I found this, I realized how my passion for what I was doing, and I think find your passion for the mission and. No, your story inside and out. So that it’s a very real and genuine thing. And you almost don’t have to ask for money at that point.

Don’t be afraid when you’re sitting down with donors that, you know, maybe, you know, their means and they can be giving you a little bit more money than they have. Don’t be afraid to say, Hey Kenya, maybe add an extra a hundred dollars or maybe it’s another 500. If somebody’s just been giving year after year after year, and no one actually goes and asks them for full, for more money, guess what?

They’re not going to give it to you. Right. You have to ask. I know even myself, as a donor my children went to a private school and I would wait for the development officer to call me up and actually asked me for money. And they never did. And I never gave them, I could’ve given them money.

And I used to say, wow, I can’t believe that. So donors want to be asked. I think sometimes as fundraisers, we forget that they actually want to be asked. They want to be asked to give. So I would say don’t be afraid to, to ask that question.

Kimberly: And as they step into making the ask, what do you recommend as sort of a strategy?

Bonnie: You have to listen, do your research on your donor before you go. We have access today to Google. I mean, we can research people and. Before we even walked through the door. What they have a passion for. So do your research before you go. And I always go in with kind of a few things in my back pocket, because sometimes I think I know what the donor, where their heart is and maybe where they want to give.

But then through listening, you start to realize, oh, maybe this is something that we do at Herren Project that actually may be more. Up their alley and something that they would want to do over what I had thought. So I go in there and I always have, you know, like our annual report from the year before or the current year, so that I can open up to whatever page that they may have spoken about.

And maybe then talk about the opportunities. You should also have a strategy for how much. Like does 10,000 do for your organization. I break down every program and service that we offer down to a dollar amount so that I know, okay. If this is a $10,000 ask and I know that prevention programs are something that’s on their heart.

You know, I’ll take our Herren Project clubs, break it down and say, oh, well that $10,000, you could actually provide X two Herren Project clubs to schools. So I think treating it, like having mathematical equations in your brain, I kind of go and try to go in very prepared with possible ways to break down whatever it is that your nonprofit might offer as a service and meet the donor where they’re at listening is important.

You should almost be doing no talk. I think an important strategy too, is before you even get to an ask, make sure that you’re asking questions, personal questions, get to know the donor. You know, if, if you know their wife’s name is Suzy, say, how is Susie? You know, again like that research and.

Whatever you can about their wife or their spouse, their children, or where maybe their kids are at school. I think the more you can go in there, the more personal connection and the more the donor feels connected to your organization.

Kimberly: So as you are getting ready to meet with a donor or a potential donor,

How do you set up that meeting? And what do you say to kind of line it up as a real discussion around both getting to know them and also asking for support?

Bonnie: I know I always use it as an opportunity for excitement of a celebration. All the victories and the things that happened in the year. and I just say to them simply, like, I want to sit down with you.

I want to share all the amazing things that are happening at Herren Project. I don’t talk about money or anything like that. I want to show you the amazing work that we’re doing, because it’s actually real. I mean, I love to be able to share about the work and the mission of Herren Project.

I get excited about it and I share that excitement and, and sit down and no one’s ever said no to me. So.

Kimberly: That’s a great track record. That is a fantastic track record. Have you ever had a donor that maybe was, um, a little unhappy with something where you’ve had to manage that more challenging relationship?

In some cases, some organizations might just want to brush them to the side and go, I’ll just go to the next person, right? Like there’s, there’s so many other people out there and the donor retention rate average in the U S. 43%. That’s pretty low. And it’s pretty low when you consider it against like SAS companies where it’s 70% or a Netflix that has an over 90% retention rate.

What advice can you give? What insight have you had? Is there a story you can share? Thankfully,

Bonnie: we haven’t had. Of these, but we have had, I mean, you, can’t not go through fundraising and not have any people that are upset. And usually for us, it’s been around, you know, they gave a restricted donation and.

They felt like we didn’t do what we were supposed to with the money. Like a lot of times they want to see proof of it. And recently we had somebody where, you know, again, it was a busy, we’ve been going through a lot of busy stuff and they wanted notes from the person like we were doing scholarships and they wanted notes from the people that the scholarships were given to.

And we didn’t follow. On that in a timely manner. So I always come back to transparency and communication and was just honest and said, you know, apologies, please accept our apologies and let me get that. And they gave me the time to go through it. And I just reassured them that they are extremely important that we are again, using the money, the way that we said I mean, a lot of it it’s managing expectations. And I think that if you can, at the very beginning, be very clear about the expectations and knowing what each party is expecting.

You can certainly not have those types of things. I want to talk

Kimberly: with you for a minute about your role. You mentioned that you’ve newly transitioned into this executive director position, and I’d seen that you were sort of in an interim space before. Congratulations on that. Ooh, that is fantastic. There are a lot of, of people in the nonprofit sector who.

Become promoted sometimes very quickly, you know, into different roles and wear many hats within their non-profit. What advice can you give them as they become more deeply involved with the organization and also move up into higher leadership and roles in areas of responsibility,

Bonnie: no, everything you can about your organization and the cause that you are representing.

And to really. Have the confidence to work hard, be self-initiated and not so much take trash, but to create collaboration with the people within the organization and really take on that leadership role and just continue to, to make a difference. I mean, I know for myself, you know, I started on the board and then I was doing social media.

Yeah. I just saw different things and, and made sure that I would bring those things to people’s attention and follow through on it. I wouldn’t always just come up with an idea, but if you’re going to come up with an idea, follow through, I mean, most non-profit organizations are understaffed, so we all wear many, you know, wear many hats and to really, you know, rely on each other.

And just continue to do everything you can to advance the mission. And I think through that, hopefully leadership opportunities arise for you like they did for myself, but it’s really just being a hundred, 110% in and doing whatever you

Kimberly: can. How do you prevent prevent burnout for yourself and the rest of the team? Because it’s real.

Bonnie: It is real. And I’ll tell you as a nonprofit in the addiction space, it’s real for every person, whether you’re a development professional, you know, an executive director, but we have an entire treatment team and. We preach self-care at Herren Project. So I know as a leader, I even tell my employees, I mean, if I notice or see somebody that I think is struggling with burnout, I mean, we’re very communicative to say, Hey, take a day off.

It’s okay. We practice self-care we talk about it. We talk with each other and we’re very open with one another. If somebody looks like they’re struggling to. Top priority. And I mean, if you’re not practicing self care and you allow yourself to get to that place of burnout, you’re not going to be successful in reaching your goals either because you’ll start getting tired and you just can’t even share your message with anybody in a positive way

Kimberly: with us a little bit about your digital strategy at how has that evolved and what advice do you, would you give for people as they’re sort of setting up their digital.

Bonnie: So, I mean, that’s my strength with a marketing background. So I’ve always approached development from a marketing standpoint and it’s been successful for us. And I think that it’s telling your story. I mean, people want to see the story. They want to know that. People are being helped. They want to see that hope that can be found and you know, whatever you’re struggling.

I mean, we are, yes, we’re serving people with addiction, but some people are serving people maybe that are for cancer or diabetes and different things that people want to see those positive uplifting stories of how people can overcome. Again, it’s it’s like celebrating. I very big on social media platforms and making sure, you know, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, all of them have a different.

Demographic, you know, I think a lot of times nonprofits, Dell share the same thing on all four platforms. I believe in sharing something different on each platform because your audience is different on Instagram than it is on Facebook. And they’re looking for something different. So try to be unique and share those positive uplifting stories, um, whether it’s even quotes and different things like that.

And, and then with. The donation page. People want to see the impact and the stats, and they want to know the story. And I think the video is always helpful. And sometimes I think people shy away from it because like, oh, well, you know, we have to hire a video person to do it. No, you don’t. I mean, Take your camera and do it, or go on some software system.

People aren’t looking for like professional videos. They just, they want something real. They want to engage in that way. So we don’t hire videographers or anything like that to do it where I’m either doing it. We have different people on the team. They don’t have a lot of video experience, you know, the story, you know, the message and we just find different ways to share it.

And I think two people will share something. And they are like, oh, I got nobody to look at it. Or even an email, email marketing is, is very big for us, but you have to do it like seven times before people really start to see things. So don’t be afraid to share and share again and share again, you’re not bothering people because they probably haven’t even seen it yet because that is the, the marketing, you know, statistic is it’s about the seventh time that people finally see.

You put out there. So don’t be afraid. I know when I first started doing that, had people say, oh, you’re posting too much, or you’re doing this, or you’re doing that. I’m like, no. And it worked, you know, you have to, don’t be afraid to, to share too much.

Kimberly: Bonnie tell our listeners how they can connect with you and learn a little bit more about the Herren Project.

Bonnie: You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter, also Herren project.org, https://herrenproject.org/. Just head to our website. I mean, you can learn everything from all the free services that we provide for individuals and families. I prevention, initiatives, ways that you can get involved either through our team Herren Project or maybe doing an event or fundraiser in your own area to support our programs and mission.

Kimberly: Now it’s time for the state of the sector brought to you by Network for Good. Bonnie mentioned how the Herren Project’s board actively supports their fundraising initiatives. And they do that through participating in reds and walks and making annual financial contributions as well as helping to recruit new donors and support.

If you’re an Accidental Fundraiser, do you know how many of your board members are making a contribution each year and what that total percentage is sometimes when asking for grants or speaking with a major gift prospect, you may be asked for that percentage of boards. And the bottom line is that you may not have a hundred percent board participation in giving, but you should have a sense of the number.

If you’re asked now, many organizations strive for a hundred percent board giving, but that’s not always the case based on the role of each board member, some boards have give or get policies where board members are expected to give at a certain level. Or get other donors to help them hit that level.

This is where board members with broad connections can really come in handy. And if you ever give or get policy at your organization, be sure to be clear about that. Give or get policy before extending an invitation to a potential board member. Alternatively, some boards value, having diverse experience represented over a member’s actual fundraising capacity.

And there really isn’t a right answer for this. Do you really kind of push for a hundred percent board participation or do you have a policy where you just kind of ask for folks to support you? You may have a giver get. It isn’t a one size fits all. It’s what is right for your organization.

Providing individualized giving reports to each board member is also a great way to show your board member the impact that they’re making.

And this is really helpful when you’re showing year over year giving with your board members. It’s also a great reminder for those members who may not realize they may not realize that they haven’t given yet this year and I’ve actually had that happen. So a board report was really helpful when a board member said, oh, but I already gave, and I was able to say, well, I actually haven’t seen that here.

Here’s your report. And this shows your year over year giving sometimes board members forget that they haven’t given yet this year. So it’s a nice reminder.

One last bit about the board’s role in fundraising board source is an organization that’s been serving board members and executive directors for the last 20 years.

And they publish a report called leading with intent, the board source index of nonprofit board practices. When they asked about board performance and the board’s role in fundraising, What they found was that the board’s role in fundraising has consistently been rated among the lowest performance area.

And this is against things like understanding your organization’s mission or projecting a positive image of the organization, knowledge of programs, even monitoring legislative issues. They also ask responders to grade the board’s fundraising performance.

So if you think about it, you asked if you were an executive director, would grade on the board’s fundraising performance as would the board members. And you would think that those organizations that actually rated themselves highly for the board’s fundraising performance would also rate their fundraising is very.

But they don’t the level of board fundraising importance at an organization. Doesn’t relate to those that either overperform or underperform from a fundraising standpoint, the findings also show that organizations who place a board’s role in fundraising above all else. They do. So at the expense of other very critical board functions, including organizational strategy, relevance, and impact.

Isn’t that interesting. I often hear accidental fundraisers who wish that their board members were more active in fundraising. And so if you haven’t done so recently, perhaps it’s time to rethink your expectations of your board. Take some time and really think about what roles you are looking for them to play.

And perhaps there are opportunities to nurture, upgrade gifts or expand relationships among those board networks. But that said, how can you also fold your fundraising efforts? And their importance into the, your board activities without sacrificing board diversity member expertise, and that need for organizational strategy, relevance, and impact

to wrap up this episode, here are the four things that you need to take away from this one, build relationships. And remember that donors want to be asked. To donor retention is key three. Don’t be afraid to overshare and for fundraising and nonprofit work can be very challenging. Please remember the importance of self-care.

Yes, yes you can. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on Accidental Fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.

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