I bet your favorite brand makes you feel great every time you interact with them. Brands like Tiffany’s and the Ritz Carlton cater to our needs, but we don’t always treat our donors this way. In this episode, Rachel Muir shares stewardship techniques that will dramatically increase your individual donor loyalty and revenue.
Rachel Muir, author of Makeover my Board and founder of Girlstart, discusses how to enhance your donor cultivation by acknowledging all gifts, remembering donaversaries, making thank you calls, and getting to know donors as more than just a credit card or checkbook.
(5:45) Incentivize loyalty
(7:37) Amplify your donors’ experience using surveys
(10:00) Acknowledge donors’ gifts
(13:00) Inspire your donors to give again
(14:00) Send a message: how a thank you letter for a $3 gift encouraged a $100,000 donation
(15:45) The negative effects of “stewardship minimums”
(17:25) Thank you calls before board meetings
(19:30) For online gifts, use an email acknowledgement that sounds like a human wrote it
(20:45) Trees Atlanta goes above and beyond to thank Dolph for a small gift
(23:00) Everyone loved an Ontario nonprofit’s “thank you letter from a bird”
(26:00) How to approach your donors that “downgrade” their giving
(28:00) Low-hanging fruit: meaningful phone calls with donors
(31:25) Embody the core value of gratitude
(33:45) Dolph’s life lesson on responding to donors and supporters
(36:20) Rachel shares her experience on the being on the receiving end of donor cultivation
Rachel’s website: www.rachaelmuir.com
Rachel’s upcoming course, Makeover my Fundraising: http://makeovermyfundraising.com/
Rachel’s Guides: http://www.rachelmuir.com/guides/
Handouts from Keynotes: http://www.rachelmuir.com/handouts/
Rachael’s Blog: http://www.rachelmuir.com/handouts/
Dolph Goldenburg: Welcome to the Successful Nonprofits™ Podcast. I’m your host Dolph Goldenburg with another great conversation that will help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment. Today, we will be speaking with Rachel Mirror about how to steward donors like some of the top brands in the world, you know, brands like Delta and Tiffany’s. I just named those two brands because I’m going to give you two quick personal stories about how each of these brands has stewarded me. So as a consultant, I fly on Delta jets a lot and once upon a time, I took my blazer off, and it was one of my favorite blazers. I put it on the back of my seat, and I sat down. I enjoyed the flight. It was an evening flight.
I probably had a glass of wine. I got off the flight, and I left my favorite blazer on the plane. Totally did not even think about it. Got out of the airport. I’m in an Uber on my way home, and the phone rings, and it’s actually one of the airline stewards from the plane, and she says, “Mr. Goldenburg, we found this beautiful jacket on your seat back. We pulled the plane’s list of who was sitting here, and we saw it was you, and we have your contact information. We would love to get this back to you. You can come by anytime you want and pick it up. Of course, the next day I went, and I picked out my favorite jacket. But I will say to you that over the next two to three weeks I probably told that story 25 times.
Of course, that meant that 25 times I told people how impressed I was that Delta took the time and the attention to get a jacket back to me. Another example I’ll give is when my now husband and I decided to exchange rings before gay marriage was legal, he and I got each other a rings, and I went to Tiffany’s to get his. And two days after I bought his, I got just an amazingly beautiful note from the salesperson who, who waited on me and it was not just a beautiful note. It was on gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous cardstock stationary, probably the nicest stationary I have ever seen in my life. Eight years later when we could legally get married and we needed to go buy new rings, do you know where I went? I went to Tiffany’s. I tell these two quick personal stories just to kind of really underscore that some for-profits really do a great job of stewardship and some nonprofits do a great job as well.
So, I know that I’ve shared the impressive and personalized thank you letters that I received from Trees Atlanta, and they are truly personalized letters. For every nonprofit like Trees Atlanta, that has done an exceptional job of stewarding their relationship with me as a donor, there are probably three that have failed to even send a thank you letter in a timely manner. If ten, have done a great job, probably 30 have not even sent that thank you letter. And this is why when I saw that Rachel Muir had spoken about this at a conference recently, I immediately knew that I wanted her to be on the podcast and talk about this subject. Rachel started a nonprofit in her twenties that has grown into a $10,000,000 organization, and she has had a very successful career that has spanned the for-profit and the nonprofit sector.
Her career includes leading online fundraising consulting practice for a major software company, managing major gift portfolios for some of the country’s largest nonprofits. She also has her own consulting practice where she is a sought-after speaker keynote leads, retreats, and does online classroom and custom training for people to help them become confident and successful fundraisers. Rachel has been recognized across the board. She is a winner of Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award. She’s a three-time finalist for Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year and was also named Outstanding Fundraising Executive of the Year by AFP. So, to say the least, we are incredibly fortunate to have Rachel with us today to speak about how the best nonprofits can steward their donors the same way
Dolph Goldenburg: Hey Rachel, thank you for joining us on the podcast today.
Rachel Muir: Thank you so much for having me. I love both of your stories. Those are fantastic.
Dolph Goldenburg: You know, it’s interesting because I don’t tell the Tiffany’s story as much but or three weeks after the Delta experience, I probably told it 25, 30 times. Over the last few years, I’ve probably said that story a hundred and 50 times, and every time I’m just singing the praises of Delta.
Rachel Muir: Yeah. And that means a lot of word of mouth has a huge impact. Are you like high-level in terms of having Delta rewards? You mentioned you fly a lot.
Dolph Goldenburg: I have medallion status, but let me say yes, the New York Atlanta route, which I’m on a good little bit, there are people with much, much higher status than me on that plane, so I’m not a top tier medallion status person.
Rachel Muir: You know, there are a lot of airlines who give outrageously fantastic customer service even when it’s not around points, but I think a lot of times people do. We know about great loyalty, and we’re incentivized to be loyal because of those kinds of structures and great customer experiences. The reason this is so important, and I’m so excited to talk about this today with your parents, is because if there’s anything we’re not ambivalent about as Americans, it is outrageously fantastic customer experiences. We expect them, and the truth is that our favorite brands have trained us to expect them. The secrets to treating your donors like kings and Queens without breaking bank. I love talking to you about this topic because it’s just like a different lens through which to look at your fundraising. You know, I can’t go into the GAP and buy a shirt without being asked to take a survey about my experience. Where the dressing rooms clean? Did someone help me right away? Did I find my size and our favorite brands and private brands?
They asked for feedback a lot, and that’s something that we as nonprofits don’t do often and don’t do nearly enough.
Dolph Goldenburg: Are you suggesting maybe that organizations ask their donors to take surveys on a regular basis as well?
Rachel Muir: I think surveying your donors is fantastic. The truth about customer experiences, whether it’s donors or it’s a for-profit, is you want to intervene to fix a bad experience in the moment that it happened or to amplify a good one in that moment that had happened. You know, that’s when you want to swoop in and come to the rescue. Surveying your donors and asking for feedback often gives you the opportunity to do that so that you aren’t trying to clean up a bad experience once they’re an angry donor that complained a lot about it or they’ve become a lapsed donor. You spent a lot of money trying to win them back. I think it is good. It’s that one thing that we don’t do nearly enough. We don’t survey our donors, and there are so many things that you can survey your donors on.
Of course, satisfaction is a huge one, but it gives you an opportunity to find out their experiences and correct bad ones or amplified good ones. The truth is you can do a donor survey. We can do online surveys with our donors. We can also add quick ways to find out more and test our donors’ experiences into their interaction with us. For example, if you do a big telemarketing push, send your donors an email the next day. Acknowledge, “Hey, we know you got a call last night from Brandy. How was the call?” After they make a gift, ask them really simply, “What inspired you to make your gift today?” I don’t want you to ask that before they make the gift because I don’t want anything to slow them down or potentially distract them or take their attention from making that gift
Dolph Goldenburg: Or even make them think, well, what is inspiring my gifts? Maybe I don’t have a good reason to give.
Rachel Muir: Yeah, I mean, but maybe there is something. Maybe it’s something that happened recently in the news that they’re upset about or that they’re concerned about. Maybe something happened that changed in their family or in their family life or in their finances or being touched by your cause. The truth is, if your donor wrote you a check and included a personal note that told you why they were writing that check today, you’d be pretty excited to get that information, and it’s so easy to get that information from just on your Thank You landing page. It’s so easy and simple to do. That’s one like low hanging fruit way to find out. There are so many things that we as nonprofits can do that our favorite brands do, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that our favorite brands have somewhat trained us. The good ones have spoiled us with how we want to be treated, and we have a certain level of expectations around.
Personalization, promptness, to feel heard. We want to listen to you, and all those things are true about your donors. I think too often as nonprofits we don’t apply the same kind of experiences, and your donor experience is really everything he talked about. You know, donors not being banked and not having their gifts acknowledge. The truth is that we really fall down in that regard. Many nonprofits structure their entire programs around gift acknowledgement based on the size of the gift. That is a very erroneous way to structure your love and attention that you’re going to give on your donors. We know from research that donors are under giving with their gifts, and they’re waiting to see what we do. To hold back and withhold gratitude from them until they give a larger gift amount is almost guaranteeing that we won’t get the larger get them on. I work with so many nonprofit organizations that are of all shapes and sizes, but I can tell you many great examples of organizations with tiny budgets who are doing a fantastic job with stewardship. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be time-consuming and it doesn’t have to break the bank. It’s really about making your donor feel appreciated and acknowledged and celebrating that gift for really what it is.
Dolph Goldenburg: Timely and personalized Thank You letters or one way that organizations can really make their donors feel thanked. How else can they do that? You know, and again, the things that don’t break the bank, assuming it’s a $50 gift.
Rachel Muir: One of my favorite low hanging fruit tips that I would say is that it’s so easy to acknowledge the donor for who they are, where they are. For example, if this is a first-time donor, let them feel acknowledged and celebrated as such, and you could start your thank you letter saying, “I am overjoyed to see such a generous first-time gift from you and to welcome you into our donor family.” That’s beautiful. It makes me feel like, “Wow, thank you. Like you know who I am. You knew that this was my first gift to you, and you called it out as such; that brings me to another thing that I think is our lowest hanging fruit in fundraising period, but definitely in digital fundraising. Every single person that’s listening to the podcast knows the date of their donors’ first gift. You know it, and you have it in your CRM. This is a missed opportunity to celebrate your donors Donor-versary to acknowledge, you know, “Five years ago you made your first gift to the girl scouts and since then, blah, blah, blah.” This is an opportunity to make because the truth is you don’t remember how long you’ve been donating to the organization and you certainly don’t remember the date of your first gift, but to have them acknowledge it, whether it’s tough, you make your gifts to the ACLU just three months ago and already we’ve been able to stop blank, blank, blank or “Donald, ten years ago you became part of our family at Planned Parenthood, and since that time, you know, it’s an opportunity for me to remember, wow, I’ve really been supporting planned parenthood for a long time. You know, I forgot they were one of my favorite charities. Ten years. God, I can feel good about that. I’m a generous person. I’m a good person.
I love this organization. It helps us remember, “Wow, I really care about this organization. I’ve been supporting them” It makes me feel good about what I’ve been able to achieve with the organization and that inspires me to want to give again. Those are a couple of low hanging fruit, things that people can do. I would urge everybody, and I have a good on my website. I have a stewardship plan that’s a free download and I don’t have it structured in terms of gift amount. I haven’t structured by first-time donor, second-time gift, third-time gift because I really want people to roll out the red carpet to their first-time donors so that those first-time donors make a second gift because the truth is, we only retain 19 percent of first-time donors.
That’s really, really bad, and we have an opportunity to do much better. That’s the most, low-hanging fruit, affordable way to do it is to really acknowledge them, make them feel welcome, make them feel appreciated, make them feel like their gift had an impact. Too often organizations don’t do that. You mentioned at the beginning organization’s not doing any donor acknowledgment, and I had the opportunity to do an end-of-year course and one of my guests was Lynne Wester, the Donor Guru, who I love. If you don’t know her, she’s a riot. She’s a fundraising dynamo and a comedian on the side. I mean, not literally on a side, but she’s funny, but she gave this example from Cook County Children’s Hospital. The hospital got this handwritten note and little kidding in writing that just said for the other kids and it was like $3 and like bills and change.
They wrote back, sent a thank you letter, sent a gifted acknowledgement, thanking them for the gift, telling them how much they appreciated it. A few weeks later the hospital got a really generous donation. I believe it was $100,000, and the mom had written a letter, and the mom had said that they’d given donations to 20 different charities and that theirs was the only charity that wrote Max back. Theirs was the only charity that had given him a form, a gift receipt and the acknowledgement and the bank. You and I can tell you the reason why these other organizations didn’t is because they’re holding out their stewardship plans are based on these high gifting minimums. You have to give them $20,000 before you’re going to get a phone call from a board member or something else, but the truth is the one of the quickest ways that you can really transform fundraising and grow smaller donors, annual fund donors, mid-level donors is by rolling out the red carpet and giving more gift acknowledgement to some of these donors. They fall through the cracks and many organizations, and it’s a missed opportunity, and it’s really a waste of resources when you think about how much money we spend going out and acquiring donors.
Dolph Goldenburg: One of the things that I was loved doing as a fundraiser where the Thank-a-thons because it felt like such an easy way to get my board involved. I personally love doing the phone calls as well because it was almost fun for me. You call a donor. You’d start the conversation. I am calling just to say thank you. I’m not going to ask you for a penny, but they’re still kind of guarded. You know, they’re waiting for the ask. Then in the last 20 percent of the conversation, they realize that you’re really not going to ask them for a penny. You can just feel like they’re letting their guard down and they’re like, no one’s ever called to say thank you. You know, these are $50, $75 donors, and you can hear the smile on their face. They are so happy that someone actually called to say thank you.
Rachel Muir: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I had an amazing experience. You know, I’ve been preaching this for a really long time. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, and I get it. You have a lot of competing demands on your time. I mean, I’ve been in this sector for over 25 years. I know what it’s like. And you know, I always tell people that stewardship is a revenue center. It’s not a cost center. It truly is. I worked with an organization, and they were like, “Rachel, we took your advice with everything you said. We’ve been following your gospel of [inaudible].” They doubled their revenues and they rolled out the red carpet to those smaller donors and really appalled me. Personal calls, just thanking them for their gifts. Board member calls is a great bank of phones are great. I would encourage everybody listening to just take five minutes at the beginning of your board meeting and give your board members thank you script that sounds like a human being wrote it and not like a robot. Hand them that script and you know, tell them, “Okay, you’re calling Dolph. He gave $500.” Also, give them like three discovery questions in case they get a donor on the phone because nine times out of 10 they’re just going to get voicemail, but if they do get a donor on the phone, they can have some questions that they prepared to just ask the donor a few questions to get to know them better and get to know what inspired their gift and what do they like about the organization, how would they like to be more involved. It’s really important. I mean it’s great when staff does it, and it’s also great when board members do it because our donors are smart. They know that those board members are not being paid.
They know that they’re volunteers, and it means a lot just to have someone called just to say thank you and it really means a lot when it’s also when it’s coming from a volunteer, so either way you can’t go wrong. Thank you’s don’t have to be expensive. I would also offer other low-hanging fruit. Make your email autoresponder. Your email auto responder tells me that you’ve got the gift. It doesn’t really tell me how much the gift matters. You can warm up that copy and you can write some really great copy, and you can include a photo. You can include a photo in the email autoresponder of, you know, a recipient that you serve, and you can punch up your copy to sound like a human wrote it.
Another great tip. I got this thank you card recently from a really small organization. It’s the local arts organization. Their budget, maybe it’s a half a million dollars. I donated to a project that they were doing around aquatics, and my husband is a recreation director at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, so aquatics is a big part of his life. I made a donation to them for this aquatics program, and they sent me this photo back in the car, and it was just a photo of three kids jumping into the swimming pool in the summer at a public pool and on the back. They wrote, “Thanks for always jumping in with us,” and I was wowed. I mean I have the photo up on my wall. It’s just a great happy moment of a kid about to jump into the pool. It’s awesome. That sentiment is heartfelt because I love this organization. They get me to do things that I wouldn’t normally do, but I love supporting them, and they do such a great job with their acknowledgement. I don’t want to give them gifts to them again. Who knows what they’re going to send me next time?
Dolph Goldenburg: I’ve told this acknowledgement story on the podcast before, but it’s worth repeating because it pertains exactly to what you’re talking about. Back in 2014, I went hiking out west for a month, and I lost one of those really nice, expensive $20-Nalgene bottles. I lost it in the beauty of Zion Park, and I was really upset about losing the bottle, not because, you know, I lost 10 or $20 bottle, but because, I just spoiled nature. I came into this beautiful space, and I helped destroy it. And so, I decided the best way for me to make pennants if you will. I’m not Catholic, but you know, I figured the best way for you to make pennants was to make a gift to trees Atlanta and here in Atlanta, which plants trees in Atlanta. And so when I returned from the trip, I wrote out a check for like $50 is the only time I had never given a trees Atlanta before this point.
And I put it in a little letter that just kind of explained that I lost at Hiking in Zion. I just felt that I should do some pendants, and this is how I’m doing it. I actually got a personalized letter back that was signed by, not the development director, not the executive director, but you know, someone with a title like development coordinator, so probably reports to the development director that essentially said, “When we got your letter, I pictured your water bottle floating down the Colorado River. I realized how much you missed it and how much it missed you. While we can’t bring your water bottle back, we are so grateful that you decided to plant trees in memory of your water bottle.”
Rachel Muir: You know, what I love about that story is like I wish that we as fundraisers or license to unleash our unbridled creativity and talk like humans and express wistfulness over a water bottle that we lost or whatever else because we’re busy as donors. I get so much communication that sounds like a robot wrote it. It’s so sterile, and it just doesn’t stand out. Talk like a donor, like you were having a conversation with them, like, you know, all these thank you letters that are like on behalf of the board and the staff and then 10 million polar bears across the Arctic that we serve. We’d like to thank you for your generous gift. Take me to the action. Make me feel like I’m there like that person took you to the action of what they were imagining getting. We’ve got a chance to let our donors like see, feel, smell and breathe our mission in our communications with them, and it’s a missed opportunity when we give it up and, and talk and this really sterile, non-emotional language.
Dolph Goldenburg: Two years later, I was hiking somewhere else. I don’t remember. When I lost another water bottle. I felt that I had to write a check for $100 to Trees Atlanta. I came back home, wrote a check for $100, explained this is my second water bottle, lost it twice. I addressed it to the person who signed the letter of the first time, so I’m doing twice the penance. Then I did a joking P.S. and I said, “At this rate I’m going to be a major donor in five years. So, the funny thing is a week later I got a personal letter back from a different person who said, “Scott is not here anymore, but I called him and asked about your letter because it seemed really cryptic and this is such a great habit for you to form. Not losing water bottles but making gifts when you do, and we look forward to the day when you’re a major donor.” And then their P.S. was something like, “I wish I could tell you what river your water bottles floating down but I can’t.”
The next time I lose a water bottle, yeah, they are going to get it to $100 gift from me. I had never before that first water bottle even once thought about making a gift to Trees Atlanta, and had they not responded with a great thank you letter the first time, I probably would not have made the second gift.
Rachel Muir: Yeah. They did, and they show personality humor. There’s a great example of a fundraising appeal, but my friend Jen Love from Agents of Good, which is out of Canada, did, and it was a fundraising appeal that was for Ontario Nature and it was written from the perspective of a hummingbird named Ruby. It was this hilarious letter, and the nonprofit just kinda gave Jen the creative license and just had so much fun with it. I loved to take creative license to stand out and communicate with people. That’s a great opportunity. They had so much fun with this letter, and it really inspired their donors. Hey, I bet you’ve never gotten a letter from a bird before. Oh, that’s okay. I’ve never written a letter before. Here’s a shot of me for my good side. You know those profiles out of this Hummingbird. The outer envelope just had the birds footprints which looked like hieroglyphics and I think about the restraint that it took Ontario nature to hold back and not cover the outer envelope with their own branding, but the truth is that really made you curious or like, what is this?
What is this letter? What is this symbol on the outside of the theater? I have no idea what it is. If you knew it was just a fundraising appeal from Ontario nature, you might not open it, but then you open it. This hilarious note from Ruby the Hummingbird and one of the donors started writing back. There’s nothing that you want more money. Like you kind of have these pen pals now Trees Atlanta?
Dolph Goldenburg: Yeah, Trees Atlanta, yeah. Yeah.
Rachel Muir: You’ve got these pen pals and you’ve made. You’ve taken your own major gifts challenge from your own food and material, losing water bottles.
Dolph Goldenburg: How do you express gratitude when a donor downgrade? So you know, maybe it’s $100 donor who gives you a $50 gift. Like what do you recommend in terms of cultivation and expressing gratitude?
Rachel Muir: That’s a really good question. I would say your donor probably doesn’t realize that they downgraded their gifts. Our donors are not as well versed, of course, on our 10-point plan to save the world or like their last gift, the last gift amount. I’ve had so many charities say, well, they’ve always given me $5,000 bucks, and they gave me $1,000 and donors who said, oh my God, I did. I don’t even know that. They probably don’t even realize that they gave less money, but I would just like I would with any donor, continue to pursue them and engage them and get to know what they care about. Why do they care about you? What’s important? What’s their story? Donors give for their reasons, not ours. You want to be as curious as you possibly can with your donors to find out what it is they care about.
Who does the best job of keeping them engaged and how do they do it? I love asking questions like that because it tells me exactly what they like and don’t like what my competition is. Of all the gifts they’ve given, what’s the best gift and what made it great? Get to know you’re doing as you’re pursuing intimacy. I like serving and having low hanging fruit, ways of getting to know your donors. I coach people to really be thoughtful about planning a donor journey where you’re getting to know them more, their preferences, their hopes, their passions, what they care about because it’s those things that are going to give you the opportunity to come in and make a bigger ask and ask them to make a bigger gift.
Dolph Goldenburg: The other thing I just want to throw out there. I was an executive director of two different organizations that had happened at both organizations. One with a relatively small donor made a gift of like 75 or $100 a year and then the other was someone who gave a thousand or more. One year I got a letter from someone who normally gave $100, and obviously they got our solicitation letter and that donors response was, I’d love to give, but right now I’m out of work and I can’t, you know, and maybe I’ll give one I can again. I picked up the phone and I called that donor and you know, and as like, oh my gosh, I’m so sorry you had to work, are you, are you sick? Are you looking for work? You know, if you’re looking for work, what can I do to help you? The donor on the phone said to me, “I’ve sent a similar letter to eight or nine charities, and you’re the only one who’s picked up the phone and said, how can I help?”
The interesting thing is, given where that donor was looking for work, I couldn’t be much help, but it stood out. Do you know what I mean? You know? When they were able to return as a donor, I actually got a really nice letter with their gift just thanking me for calling, and I felt bad because I did all like literally other than calling to say, “Hey, what kind of work you’re looking for and how can I help you?” I wasn’t able to be much help.
Rachel Muir: Absolutely. And people never forget that. Like just like the thoughtfulness that you experienced from Delta people don’t forget that and it matters to them and so many organizations, and I’m kind of amazed the phone is really your friend at such an easy low hanging fruit way to connect with your donors. Be meaningful to your donors, check in with your donuts. It’s about showing your care. The best way to have a meaningful relationship with your donors is to be meaningful to them, and you were being meaningful to them, and that’s what gives you the opportunity to have a meaningful relationship and be remembered. They won’t forget that. I had a donor who I was taking her daughter. She only had one child. Her daughter was going away to university. She had the worst case of Empty Nest Syndrome I have ever seen, and I have twins, I expect to have a pretty intense case of Empty Nest Syndrome because it’s just going to be them leaving the house up and it’s going to be ripped off, but they’re only in fifth grade, so I’ve loved with time… she had this really bad case of Empty Nest Syndrome, and her daughter was going away to university. I had a note, a card I knew when she was leaving to take her daughter to school, so I just got a card waiting for her when she got home.
It said, “I know you’re going to come home. The same house is going to feel different, and it’s always going to feel different.” I just think knowledge this big shift in her life, this is a rite of passage. All of these things are big rites of passage that happened in people’s lives and just acknowledging it. You couldn’t solve that guy’s job to. You only acknowledged it and offered, you know, I only wanted to acknowledge this milestone, and I did so much to advance our relationship. All of these things that we as fundraisers may seem like an innocuous, not a big detail about someone’s life. They are big details, their passions. These are big details about people’s lives, and we have an opportunity to make them significant and build a relationship. That’s what I love about fundraising. I love the profession.
I think there’s no job more important than getting to be with another person and help them make the world a better place and get to know people and build relationships with people and bring them opportunities to be significant. I think that fundraising is also like a great career for a hopeless romantic because you get the opportunity to be meaningful in an express thoughtfulness and meaning and gratitude and in speaking of gratitude, in speaking about our whole topic today. Companies that celebrate gratitude as a core value are more innovative. There are better places to work. There are cultures that allow companies like the Ritz Carlton, Tiffany’s… companies that are famous for fantastic customer experience, those are great places to work and you have a great experience as a customer shopping there. There’s nothing accidental about any of that, and it really starts at the top, you know, it’s the leadership has to walk the walk and embody those values too.
I love core values. I think core values are one of the quickest ways to transform an organization’s health and success. I would tell anyone listening to this who was thinking about, “Hey, let’s do a core values retreat and let’s work on our core values and make them better.” I would really encourage you to have all of your employees be given the opportunity to put their footprint on core values and have an impact because too often in companies, I see it just be the executive leadership team whose articulating core values and I don’t have any bias in that. Those were just ideas that they fell in love with it. They don’t even live by themselves, and nothing will destroy an employee’s confidence or passion for the organization or for the mission more because employees see through that immediately. It’s worse to have hollow set of values. Think about like Dunder Mifflin. It’s worth to have a hollow set of core values. People see through that, and it just makes them more cynical.
Dolph Goldenburg: We are just about Rachel to do the Off-the-Map question. Before I do that, since I told a story, which makes me look pretty good, which is, you know, calling up someone who had just lost their job, who was a donor. I also want to share with you a lesson that I learned the hard way. It was actually at the time, it was very embarrassing. Now, it’s 15 years ago. It’s not quite so embarrassing, but I learned the hard way, the importance of responding to donors and supporters. I was running a community center in Center City Philadelphia and the Mayor of Philadelphia, Mayor Street, stop by the center and had a very small little public presentation. Essentially, he used our center as a backdrop for a press conference. Then I’d say two hours, three hours later at 7:00 in the evening, I’m still in the office, I’m trying to get home, and I see a text come through on my phone.
It’s 2003-2004, so text is kind of a new thing for me and uh, and I see a task come through on my phone and it says, thanks for your hospitality today, M Street, which stood for Mayor Street. I looked at that, and I’m like, yeah, there’s no way the mayor wrote that. It was probably a staffer or whatever. It’s late. I’m going home, I’ll respond tomorrow. I forgot to respond the next day. Then I was somewhere where the mayor was giving a speech, but not a lot of people were there. So, it was an intimate crowd. There were like 40 or so people, and he sees me, and then he says, “Oh, and I see Dolph is here today who apparently doesn’t return my text messages.”
Rachel Muir: Oh, my goodness.
Dolph Goldenburg: Every time I was in a crowd where he spoke, if he saw me, he would say, oh, dolphins here today, or does not return my text messages. He would say to the joke, he’d laugh. The crowd would laugh, but it really drove home the point for me that, you know, even if you think it’s being done by a staff person, even if you think it’s not that personal, it’s better to be safe and respond to your donors and your supporters than to say, “Eh, it’s not that important. It can wait until tomorrow.”
Rachel Muir: Wow.
Dolph Goldenburg: I figured since I told her really kind of a story that maybe looked at, I should also tell a story where I totally dropped the ball and I paid for it and let me say Mayor Street was incredibly supportive of our community centers still. He did not hold a grudge. That’s just the way things roll in Philly, you know, if you can nudge someone in the side, then you do it. He was incredibly supportive for all the rest of his tenure as mayor, you know? It did not impact necessarily how he would be supportive of the organization, but nevertheless it taught me an important lesson.
Rachel Muir: Definitely.
Dolph Goldenburg: I want to ask you the Off-the-Map question, and if someone is a new listener today, this question is a question that we ask our guests so that folks have an opportunity to get to know them just a little bit better. I am going to assume that are a donor yourself to more than one organization. My Off-the-Map questions kind of actually right on the side of the map. Can you share a donor cultivation experience that an organization provided to you that was maybe the best donor cultivation experience you’ve ever had?
Rachel Muir: I’ve had organizations have ward members call me. I’ve had organizations then they really nice thank you cards. Those are a couple that I shared. I’m sad to say that this winter I got some really, really sweet cultivation love from an organization that I support, and they sent me this whole awesome like science kit to do with my kids. That was really sweet and really thoughtful, and it was like 12 days of stem, science, technology, engineering, mathematics. I wasn’t expecting it. It was really sweet. They had volunteers deliver it. It was fun stuff to do with my kid. Kind of like a [kit, box, crate] or other kids where it’s like science stuff to do with your kids. That was a major donor, that organization, and I wasn’t expecting that, and that was really sweet and really, really thoughtful.
One organization did this as a campaign, and I love this campaign and speaking of engaging your donors and serving your donors. This is an organization that I love encouraging kids in math and science, especially girls. It was an organization that’s a public school, a middle school and high school, encouraging girls in math, science, engineering and technology. They asked all of their donors, do you have any advice for our graduating class? I thought that was a great engagement campaign. Do I have advice for graduating class? I knew that these girls are graduating high school, going to college, so I said, “don’t let the alarm sleep. Mac and Cheese is not a food group. Call your mom.”
Then they posted people’s answers, and I was so excited about this. I showed this off on social media. People thought, “Oh, you’re doing a keynote for their graduating class. I have no idea.” No, everyone’s being asked to give advice to the girls. It’s a great example of an engagement campaign. I feel like I’m out here singing the praises of loving on your donors, and I feel like for my experiences, I still feel like there’s so much that we could be doing with our donors. I’m like, you know, so holding the torch and like one dirty town at a time. I do encourage nonprofit fundraisers to take the time to make their donors feel acknowledged and appreciated because that’s what’s going to inspire them to make a more generous gifts the next time; it’s knowing that their first gift made a difference.
Dolph Goldenburg: Well, Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Our listeners can reach out to you at www.rachelmuir.com, where you also have lots of free resources. So, I was especially impressed by your guides. There were two that I downloaded. Make the visit, nail the ask and the other was board members guide to fundraising. There are significantly more guides there, and I suggest folks check those out. You also have handouts for many of your keynotes, including your one around donor cultivation, and you’ve got a reading list as well as a very engaging blog. Of course, at your website, people can also find out how to engage you as a speaker and as a trainer. So, Rachel, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
Rachel Muir: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me.
Dolph Goldenburg: Did you toss your Montblanc pen in the trash after not getting a thank you note from the sales clerk? If so, you might not have been able to write down Rachel Muir’s URL, which is www.rachelmuir.com. No worries. If you go to www.successfulnonprofits.com, you can get all of our contact information including a link to her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rachelmuirfundraising, and while you’re online, whether that’s Facebook or www.successfulnonprofits.com, make sure you subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on your streamer of choice. That is our show for the week. I hope you have gained some insight that will help your nonprofit thrive in a competitive environment.
(Disclaimer) I’m not an accountant or attorney, and neither I nor the Successful Nonprofits™ provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been providing for informational purposes only and is not intended or should not be relied on for tax, legal or accounting advice. Always consult a qualified licensed professional about such matters.