Last time we talked about the greatest sin a fundraiser can commit: making a donor feel small. This is what happens.
I was having coffee with a friend of mine. She’s the director of development for a wonderful nonprofit. Among other things we were talking about our year-end totals and all the thank-you letters those gifts precipitate.
My friend had a sad look on her face. I asked if anything was the matter.
“No, sorry. We had a really great year end. Very fortunate. A lot of hard work by our team. I just had a personal experience with a thank you that wasn’t so great.”
I asked, if it wasn’t prying, would she tell me?
“Sure. Actually, I’ve been wishing I could share it with someone, but my family and personal friends wouldn’t understand.
“You know where I went to college, right? It was a wonderful time of my life. When I started in development, I had grandiose ideas of being a big donor to my alma mater. I owe them a lot.
“But life got in the way.” She smiled. “Now I sound like one of my own donors!”
“My husband and I put our kids through private school, and you know where they went to college. It was really
hard for us to make that work but we did. In the meantime, my giving to my own college was nowhere near where I wanted it to be. It was sporadic and not up to my intentions. I was embarrassed about it, but we had responsibilities.
“Anyway, last December I told my husband I wanted to get serious about giving to them on a regular basis. We talked about starting at a modest level and increasing our gift every year, then including my college in our estate plan later on. We talked about them a lot, and a couple other causes we wanted to ramp up our giving to.
“So I sent my school $250. I know it’s not a world-beater, but to be honest, I was really excited to write that check. I even called someone in their development office to watch out for my gift because I didn’t have an envelope from them. I guess I was reliving what I had always wanted my giving to my college to be and now I was going to make it happen.
“It made me happy.”
I took a sip of coffee and told my friend, “Well, so far so good!”
“You’re right. Now, don’t laugh. I started watching the mail for my thank-you letter. I was like a little kid. It finally came one day.”
“By the look on your face, it wasn’t what you hoped for.”
“Oh, the letter was fine, I guess. It said all the correct things. But it was a form letter. The signer was the vice president. His signature was imprinted at the bottom.
“It was a lousy imprint.
“There’s no way that VP ever got within 25 feet of that letter, or my gift. It was so obvious it was prepared by someone in their development operations office.
“You know what? I really wish that person had signed my letter instead.”
I told my friend I felt badly for her experience. Was this going to affect her future giving to her college?
“To be honest, I don’t know. I’m still sorting out how I feel. It was probably my own fault for getting my hopes up. I don’t know what I expected.
“It was only $250.
“Deep down, I don’t feel I was thanked for my gift.
“I feel like I was processed.”
(Excerpted from “Winning: The Five Truths of Fundraising”)