I can't thank you enough

Sometimes it’s the simple things that transform the relationship with a donor into something magic. As part of my quest for examples of the best donor-centric fundraising for The Commission on the Donor Experience I came across an inspiring story I’d like to share with you. This is the fantastic story from the talented Sarah Roberts, from the time when she worked as Major Donor Fundraiser for Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

“For years I attempted to connect with a supporter who’d once made a gift of $10k many years ago. I sent hand written notes on the back of all mailings, invitations to special events, annual reports, emails and appeals with no response. I tried to connect via the phone and via people of influence but we’d lost any personal connection and I was having no luck getting through. However I was persisting and continued to reach out.

One day, completely out of the blue, after 3 years of persistence our supporter responded to a mail appeal with a gift of $20,000. Immediately I picked up the phone to say thank you. Thank you – the simple art of thank you – is where this all began. I’d read all the articles about the 7 magic thank yous but it wasn’t until I saw the relationship transform that I realized quite simply how important it is to genuinely, warmly and often thank those people that keep your organization in action. Connecting with and valuing the support of your donors is what major gift fundraising is all about. During the thank you call I invited him to pop into the office to meet with the CEO. I also arranged a thank you call from the CEO and a meeting was arranged.

During this initial meeting I asked the question: “what was it that inspired you to give this gift after so many years?” and the donor replied “perhaps you weren’t asking well enough”. And then to my horror the conversation went completely off track into a technical conversation about climate change and we delved no further into how we could ask better.

Luckily the International Executive Director was visiting Australia in the coming months and I scheduled another face to face meeting where importantly the IED warmly and genuinely thanked him for his support. Again to my utter horror the IED pulled out my briefing notes and proceeded to read from them. “It say’s here in this briefing you mentioned in your last meeting that your support stalled because perhaps we hadn’t asked well enough – would you mind elaborating on how we could ask better?” And to my utter delight he laughed and promptly responded by saying how he thought we were doing a great job and in fact wanted to increase his support. That day in addition to his recent donation he increased his monthly gift to $2,000 a month.

And we continued to meet and build a deeper understanding of what made us tick – both ways. We met regularly, genuinely discussing the impact of the organization’s work and motivations for supporting it. Importantly as an organization the entire team from CEO to campaigners to the ships volunteers were valuing and recognizing the impact this individual was having on the organisation. During these catch ups we met one day at a coffee shop to discuss an oceans/forests trip I was joining on the Greenpeace ship the Esperanza in Papua New Guinea. Our supporter had recently read a book by Ted Danson on the plight of our oceans and was especially interested in our oceans and ships – on the spot he decided he’d like to make another gift – this time for $100,000, and in particular, towards completion of our new ship, Rainbow Warrior III.

I should have cottoned onto it then – but these frequent and steady increases were a sign that our supporter was engaged deeply with our work and was perhaps ready to commit to a more impactful and lasting gift. But we just continued to value him, meet with him and deepen the relationship. In addition to sharing frequent updates from Papua New Guinea I spent the afternoon with the crew making a small thank you video using hand painted letters spelling out ‘thank you’ to our supporter. When I returned we met and we discussed the time onboard the ship and I shared the video and a printed group shot of everyone together. The printed photo was hung next to our supporter’s computer in his study and everyday he’s reminded of the global reach of his philanthropic gift and what it means to our work.

Within 6 months of the initial thank you call our supporter posed the question “How much do you want me to give?” A day or so later he contacted us and said that the correct question should have been not to us but to himself: “How much do I actually need, to be financially secure?” – followed by – “Then I should aim to give until I get down to this level.” To respond to that question he first had to grapple with and overcome a lifetime of mindset based around increasing his assets so as to maximize security. To deliberately reduce net assets took courage. As a result of this introspection, his gift increased to $50,000 a month and a few years later he made an additional $1million donation to the organization.

We’ve definitely thanked him more than 7 times. He is integral to our work and I cannot say thanks enough for what he does to keep us in action.“

Do you also have a great example of donor-based fundraising? Let me know!